by patrick caneday
What would you tell two starry-eyed lovers about to embark on the rosy path of marriage?
That's the question my brother and his fiancée asked me to answer in a "short" speech on their wedding day. I told them there is no such thing. A short speech on marriage is like a "quick hike" to the summit of Mt. Everest.
After seriously questioning their judgment in people to turn to for advice, I tried to think of anything I've learned in my happy marriage that I could offer them.
First and foremost, I told them, be friends. In tough times, you'll need to return to the safety and security of that friendship to see you through. And in good times, well, in good times you get to be "friends with benefits."
Marriage is about the long, slow journey; the moments, simple daily moments. Lively bedroom conversations that last deep into the night; long, speechless road trips through the desert. The time she threw out her back and was paralyzed with pain and screaming little ones so you caught the first flight back from a business trip in Las Vegas. Or when you gave her bad directions and got her lost for hours in dark mountain woods late at night on that family vacation. These are the moments that make up a path stretching far into a future that you can't see or imagine.
Strive for trust and stability, not excitement and adventure. That's not to say you won't have the latter. You will. But adventure and excitement are the reward you get for first achieving trust and stability.
Marriage is about letting each other do the things that make you crazy. Don't argue over the little things like how she lets knives dry in the drying rack tips up; or how much you hate that old, worn out pair of pants he's owned for 15 years. When he tells you the same story for the fiftieth time, and each time it's gotten more fanciful, smile, nod and tell him what a great story it is. There are just some things men and women will never fix in each other. And they may best be left unfixed.
Rather than trying to change each other, learn to love each other for exactly who you each are. Be honest with each other, even if it hurts. Marriage is about allowing someone to hurt you and still loving them; it's about hurting them back and finding they still love you. Let that person tell you everything that is wrong with you, all the things you already knew but could never face alone. Then get over it.
Argue. Challenge each other. Push each other to do good and be better. Know that the baggage and issues you each bring into this partnership don't magically disappear on your wedding day. In fact, they'll most likely intensify. Be prepared to battle not only your own demons in the years to come, but each other's.
You are allowed to freak out at any time, and in fact it's encouraged. But not at the same time. One of you always has to be the safe harbor, the one that says, "Get over it!" or "There, there, everything will be all right," even when you don't know if it will.
Laugh. Laugh as much as possible, at yourself and each other. But always laugh at yourself first. It's unfair and unkind to laugh at others if you haven't first proven yourself to be an equal or greater fool.
Find your balance with each other. To use a sports analogy, you need a starting pitcher and a closer. My wife knows that it may take me years to start a household project. But if she starts it -- painting a room or tearing up the hideous green carpet in the living room -- I can't help but jump in to see it through. If she doesn't do her part, the job will never get started. If I don't do mine, it will never get done ... right.
A rough road lies ahead. Arguments, money struggles, interior decorating decisions, filing jointly. But something even more wonderful is about to come your way: Routine. Stability. Knowing. And at last comfort. A comfort you've never known was possible. A comfort that allows you to be your sloppy, world-weary, beaten-down and annoying self; the person behind that façade that said you had everything under control. You don't have to hide it anymore. None of that will change how the other feels about you. And that peace is so much greater than the excitement in the newness of love. You think love can't get any better than the way you feel right now. But trust me. It does.
Stop caring about the things that the rest of the world cares about -- image, income and new toys, Benghazi, fiscal cliffs or any Kardashian. Don't compare yourself to any other couples you know. Focus solely on each other. It's now you two, as one, against the world.
Long after the honeymoon take time each day to remember the feeling that brought you together on your wedding day -- that magical sense of knowing that this was the person you've been waiting for all these years. The feeling that isolated you two from the rest of the world and made you pity everyone else, for surely no one else has ever felt a love, knowing and joy like this before. Keep that feeling for yourselves like a firefly in a jar and put it up on your dresser. Bring it down at least once each day, open it up for a moment and remember.
As I was putting these thoughts down on paper, I received an email from my brother, and he said this:
"Yesterday was a long day. Woke up early, went to work, got home, cooked dinner, unpacked boxes in the new house, put beds together, collapsed into bed. This could have been any long day, with the exception that I was collapsing next to her. We didn't say anything to each other; we were too tired. She simply put her hand on my back as we fell asleep together. It was the warmest, most reassuring hand I've ever felt."
And with that I realized that there was nothing more I could say.
(To be published in MARRIAGE IS A PROMISE FOR LIFE, an anthology edited by Patricia Wayant, in March 2019)
by patrick caneday
It's just another tragic news story until it's about someone you know.
If you read the Glendale News-Press last week you saw a story about a man who closed the book on his life by jumping from the Glendale (2) Freeway overpass above Chevy Chase Drive.
His name was Michael Ivan Romo.
And he hated it when we used his middle name.
But I need you to know more about him than that and the scant details released in a police report.
He was my Miguelito. And I was Patricio. Still am to his family, in whose home we were all family growing up — a centrally located haven for a group of awkward but amiable neighborhood kids seeking independence, not knowing we were always under the watchful eye of loving, adoptive parents. It wasn't just the pool, ping-pong table and bountiful kitchen that sustained us. It was their grace, generosity and kindness.
Like many, Mike was a son, brother and uncle; godfather, jokester and local boy. But also a sufferer, of depression and demons unnamed; a man searching for peace and answers to questions greater than any of us could ever solve. Remarkable and common, all at once.
He greeted everyone he knew with open arms and exuberant, sometimes ridiculous, greetings personalized just for you. If you knew him, you know what I'm talking about.
In the 30 years I knew him, I don't recall him ever saying a bad thing about another human being and meaning it. As teenagers he never engaged in smack talk — the insulting humor at the expense of others the rest of us practiced. Sure, he tried, just to be cool. But such mean-spirited banter never looked right on him. And he knew it.
As adults he'd listen to your most ordinary anecdotes with intense interest: trips to the market, interactions with your cable company, personal physical ailments. Anything. Mike was on the edge of his seat, paying attention to every detail in awed wonder, making you repeat yourself so he could really understand exactly what happened.
He wanted to be there for the times he simply couldn't be there.
And if you let him tell you a story, pull up a deck chair. His simplest tale took you on more tangents and turns than the canyon road we grew up on.
What I wouldn't give for one last rambling, inconveniently timed call that was an avalanche of affection and more information than you ever needed or requested. I often wanted to tell him that voicemails need only be: “Hey, it's Mike. Call me back.”
I'm so glad now I never did.
All friendships go through trials, periods of disagreement, anger, even resentment. Especially those spanning childhood to adulthood.
But Mike never got that memo.
We use the word “unconditional” a lot to describe love and friendship, to the point the word loses its meaning. But the way Mike loved you, the way he looked at you and embraced you, truly was without condition, restriction or reservation.
Whenever you told him you loved him, that you were always there for him, you'd witness his soul breathing a sigh of much-needed relief.
He’d apologize profusely and annoyingly whenever he felt he hadn’t called enough or if he couldn’t be with you during benchmark moments in your life. He never realized that his love — not his presence — was his greatest gift.
No matter how little we ever thought of ourselves, our routine achievements and mundane lives, Mike always thought you were amazing. As friends go, he set the bar pretty high.
Hermano, I'm sorry for the times I saw your call but couldn't pick up. Sorry for the times I cut you short. Sorry I didn't call you more when I hadn't heard from you in a while. Because those are the times you needed a friend most.
You fought so very long against the relentless tides of torture no one else can see, because battles of the mind are waged painfully alone. And though we will miss you dearly, we know you are free.
That place on Chevy Chase we must all now pass to visit friends and family is not where you came down, mi amigo. It is where you went up.
The last thing the world should know about Michael Romo is not how his life ended. It's how much his life will always mean to those he loved.
You may have known him, or someone like him. He may just be the guy that made you late for work on 12/12/12.
But he was my friend. The best kind of friend you or I ever deserved.
Originally published in the Glendale News Press and Burbank Leader on 12/22/12
Dear Costco shopper,
It occurred to me last Saturday, as 200,000 of us simultaneously ran out of toilet paper and converged upon our Wholesale Mecca, that we need to get a few things straight:
You are not the only person on this planet.
Please take the first empty parking space you see. Blocking the driving lane with blinker on watching Grandpa load his '81 Pinto hatchback takes more time than if you'd left your car at home and walked.
At the entrance, have your membership card out. Waiting until the greeter asks to see it as 345 anxious people watch you dig lint and moldy tissues from the bottom of your purse is mildly inconsiderate.
Once inside, DMV rules of the road apply. Would you stop your car in the middle of a busy street, get out and walk to the sidewalk for a cup of lemonade? Then please don't do that with your cart in the middle of the main aisle for one free tortilla chip. Pull over.
This is not England. Please drive on the right side of the aisle. Keep up with the flow of traffic. No faster, no slower. Blindly cutting across four lanes because you spotted a good price on Jordache jeans is likewise ill-advised. If driving an oversized flatbed cart laden with a barbecue, sauna or Hummer, you have a greater responsibility to be careful. Our shins and ankles thank you.
When entering the main aisles, please stop and look both ways before proceeding into traffic. If your 7-year-old can do it, so can you. If you feel dizzy, contemplative or sneezy, please do us the courtesy of getting out of our way. There's a cozy day bed under that decorative gazebo in the middle of the store. Relax there.
The food wranglers hand out bite-sized processed-food snacks. Not marital advice, diamond bracelets or Lakers tickets. A microwaved beanie-weenie is not worth a 30-minute wait. Along with that $6 T-shirt, get some self-respect.
There is no difference between that 68-pack of genetically engineered chicken breasts and the other 4,000. Grab one and move on. If the 8-pound jar of almonds is not being tended to by an employee in one of the designated most inconvenient areas, it is not to be sampled.
Twelve pounds of pre-cooked bacon? Really, ma'am? Put it back.
Yes, it probably is more than you need. It doesn't matter what you're considering buying, it's more than you need. And yes, it is a better deal than Pavilions, Einstein. It's Costco.
Acceptable places to throw the chili sample cup you just sucked clean: the trash can next to the food stand, your purse or pocket. Unacceptable: on the floor in front of me.
"Excuse me," spoken politely and clearly to the back of your head means I would like to move past you. If I ram my cart repeatedly into yours, it means you are not the only person who would like to travel this aisle. Yes, speedy, the searing heat you feel on the back of your skull is my hate-filled eye laser. Make way.
Despite his seeming wisdom, the smooth-talking gent selling "nutritional" supplements is not a doctor. Tomorrow he will be hawking ShamWows at JC Penney. The only harmful "toxins" to eliminate are the ones coming out of his mouth.
The lines in the middle of the checkout area are longer. The lines to either side are shorter. If you have not figured this out yet, please go back to Smart & Final.
The register is no place to ask for a price check. There are 18 very pissed-off people behind you with crying children and weakening bladders. It's a 3-square-mile warehouse, not the corner market. In 1994, an employee went to price check a 20-pound bag of diced Guatemalan pineapple and was never heard from again.
I can see that you have only one item, sir-with-woeful-gaze. But, no. You may not cut ahead of me in line. Shopping at Costco for one item proves your self-centeredness. Suffer like the rest of us.
Before stuffing your receipt under the detritus in your handbag, please keep it out so the attendant can pretend he thoroughly examined your cart and slash a yellow line across it.
For those of you in line at the food counter outside, please be honest with yourselves. It's cheap pizza. Not good pizza. Don't confuse the two.
The giant red border painted on the ground surrounding the store is a "No Parking" zone, not a "Just Waiting for My Wife" zone. No one "is coming right out" of Costco. I saw a baby conceived and delivered during a single trip to Costco. Please find a parking place.
But don't follow me in your car as I walk to mine. This is not your college parking lot. Stalking laws apply here too. If you do, I will unwrap the 98-pack of toilet paper and load the rolls one at a time.
And lastly, dear columnist: Please don't block the entrance to the vegetable cooler typing snarky observances on your iPhone while others are trying to shop.
Originally published on the Glendale News Press 2/25/2011: http://www.glendalenewspress.com/news/opinion/tn-gnp-0226-caneday,0,7452788.story
There is a hill in Griffith Park, a meandering two-lane asphalt scar cut into the brown and green, that takes you away from the busier arteries through the park. It's a short hill; a way to get from A to B no faster, perhaps, than any other route. But it is my nemesis.
It starts at Travel Town and ends at the playground called Shane's Inspiration. You could go the reverse way, of course — from Shane's to trains. Nothing wrong with that. But I find that only when one starts with travels do they find their inspiration.
When I'm feeling good about myself, I ride my bike up that hill. And when I'm not feeling good about myself, I ride my bike up that hill. Not because I want to, mind you. Not because I enjoy it or because it gives me pleasure. I hate it.
It's exhausting. It's trying, humbling and torturous. And I don't always make it.
But it is my choice to try.
This hill is where I search for answers — for columns, for insights and, yes, inspiration. A place to physically manifest an invisible obstacle; to make real that which can't be comprehended by our limited cerebral and spiritual capacities. Like communion.
The temperature drops when you enter the glen, as it always does when you find yourself within the fray. People speak of the heat of battle, of trials by fire. But when it is you alone with the goblins of your mind and the world is a vacuum of time and space, it's cold.
I start up its slope in high gear, grinding and determined. But quickly, at the first sign of steeper grade, I switch to a lower, easier gear. I immediately regret my decision and consider turning around, wanting to let the natural forces of the world take me back into their welcoming, non-combative embrace. And sometimes I do turn back. But when I don't …
My eyes wander about the shaded canyon, taking in the oak, sumac and scrub brush that is the background of our Southern California life. Alone with my thoughts and my aching, winded body, my frightened mind begs me to look up. Look up and see how much farther there is to go.
It's a fool's choice.
Why? Because you see just how much farther you have to go, of course. Or worse yet, you won't even see the top of the hill.
There is only one place to look. And it is the hardest place to stay focused.
Three feet ahead.
Focus your gaze on the pavement where tire meets road, where you and the world intersect. And pedal. And don’t stop pedaling. Let the voices say what they will, tell you how easy it would be to return the way you came and feel the wind briefly in your face. Let them howl. But don't engage them.
Look three feet ahead.
Maybe you're out of work and feeling worthless; a new parent and feeling sleepless. Maybe a deadline is looming and you don't have the slightest idea what to write. Maybe your marriage is in trouble, your son is poking needles full of filth into his arms or your daughter hasn't sold any Girl Scout cookies yet. Maybe you're losing your home, your mind or control of your body.
Look three feet ahead.
I admit, that's a pithy thing to say to someone battling cancer, the IRS or foreclosure. But looking three feet ahead gets me over that hill. Usually.
I want to give up. I want to turn around, let gravity and complacency take control again. But I know if I make it to the top, I'll feel the wind on my face for a much longer ride as I go down the other side to the inspiration that Shane knew. I'll have the struggle and the reward, not just the struggle. And the defeat.
Three feet ahead.
It's not a miracle cure; not a slogan for a self-help campaign or a public speaking tour. It's just something I thought of while riding my bike up a hill. It's been said in thousands of ways over thousands of years by people far more articulate and credible than me. I haven't figured out anything more than you have.
We could go around the hills, stay on level ground where the pedaling is easy, constant and uncomplicated. Let inertia anchor us to our circumstances. I do that more than I am proud to admit. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are alive; engage our demons and our conditions, bring them out of the ether and give them names. Struggle. Trial. Obstacle. Pain. Life. Hill.
Then look three feet ahead.
So many hills. So many choices. And only one way to get over them.
Originally published in the Glendale News Press 2/18/2011: http://www.glendalenewspress.com/news/opinion/tn-gnp-0220-caneday,0,3913838.story
There are movies that capture a time or feeling in our collective memory and, whether great art or not, resonate with us forever.
For ladies they might be “Terms of Endearment,” “An Officer and a Gentlemen” or “Steel Magnolias.” For men, they’re usually things like “Brian’s Song,” “The Longest Yard” or “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (if for only one scene in particular with Phoebe Cates).
And for most guys, we’d have to throw in “The Sandlot.”
The sandlot, in case you don’t know, is that physical place in your youth where you and your friends idled away time; where lifelong memories were born of the necessity to fend off boredom.
Your own personal sandlot may actually be the sandlot you played ball on. Or it could be the cul-de-sac you transformed into a football field between passing cars. Maybe it’s the mall or arcade where you spent too much time and your parents’ money.
Well, my sandlot is a golf course. But I never played golf there.
I grew up a short walk from the Chevy Chase Country Club, that quaint nine-hole private golf course tucked halfway up Chevy Chase Canyon — an open field of green grass, pine and oak trees set amid hillside homes that continues to make developers salivate. As a boy, it wasn’t a golf course, but a playground. My friends and I spent more time there than most of the members.
So I wondered what it would be like to play on that course now, to go back again, and see it with adult eyes. I was able to secure a tee time one recent Sunday afternoon, but I had to promise the members that my companions and I would limit ourselves to the game of golf, not any of our other youthful escapades.
Thanks to one of my golf fanatic friends, I learned that the course was built in 1925, and designed by the same guy who crafted Rancho Park, Brookside, Bel-Air Country Club and dozens of other notable courses.
Except for the enormous construction zone where they’ve just renovated and re-sodded the footprint of the underground reservoir, the course hasn’t changed. Huge, old-growth trees protect fairways and homes; so it’s unlike courses built in the last 10 years with their sterile, lifeless model home veneers. These old courses have a sense of place, a time-tested comfort in the very ground you’re walking upon.
Holes 1 and 9 parallel each other, their cart paths being the perfect skateboard racetrack. Like dragsters we’d line up at the top, then careen downhill, racing 300 yards to the finish line at the clubhouse, shredding our brand-new shoes in the process much to our mothers’ dismay.
Hole 2 sports a fabulous view over the entire course and canyon. It’s here I stood carelessly tossing firecrackers into the air as firefighters across the way at Station 23 watched with binoculars. Along with a couple of squad cars, they were waiting for me when I walked up the dirt road going home. When the policeman took me in to my mom, I was forced to hand over a bag as big as my head filled with M-80s and cherry bombs.
“These’ll take off a finger, son,” he scolded me. Downcast, I didn’t notice the parental wink he exchanged with my mom.
My tee shot on Hole 2 was long and straight, sailing directly into a ravine shaded by dense oak trees. This thicket was always one of the best areas to search for abandoned golf balls, and now I knew why. As I looked for my ball, I was 10 years old again.
This is where I went with Jimmy Chen — name changed to protect the guilty — hunting for golf balls in a different way.
“Hunch down low on the slope,” he told me, “so the golfers teeing off can’t see us.”
Then, when a ball was hit into the fairway before us, Jimmy leaped up, sprinted into the fairway, snatched it and bee-lined it back into the protection of the grove. We hunkered down behind a shrub as the golfers’ angry voices drew near.
Throwing rocks into bushes they hollered, “I know where you live! I know your parents!”
Jimmy lived for this. I feared for my life.
Hole 6 is a steep uphill par 3. But more importantly, it’s the perfect hill for ice-blocking.
Never heard of it? Think of the luge in the Winter Olympics, then imagine hurtling yourself down a steep grassy hill without a track, and instead of a sled you’re sitting atop a 25-pound block of ice. Repeat this as much as possible before the ice melts or someone gets a concussion.
When one of my companions would ask at a tee box how the next hole played out, I knew instinctively. On Hole 7, a tricky little par 4, the fairway narrows before crossing a brook to the heavily guarded green. The best polliwog breeding grounds anywhere were right there. It’s also the most serene spot on the whole course.
Was it always this beautiful, I wondered.
Yes. It was, and still is.
There were BB-gun safaris across the plain and torch-lit excursions deep into storm drains; boogie boarding down rain-soaked slopes on stormy days and wishful stargazing on clear nights.
They say you can’t go back again. But “they” are wrong. If you keep the eyes of a child in your heart, you may not be able to stay long, but you can go back.
And thanks to the raging case of poison oak I got hunting for my ball on Hole 7, I’m still there.
Originally published in the Glendale News Press and Burbank Leader 11/14/09