Friday, March 7, 2014

17- Counting Your Blessings

The 1970 road trip somewhere in Texas
In late September of 1970 I set off with two friends on a cross-country trip to find America and our place in it. Little did I know it would lead me to a life seminar on wealth and self worth.
On October 6th of that journey I met my first wife who, for the purposes of this narrative, we’ll call Pam, Pam Rosewood. We found each other, one exciting, sultry southern evening, in a little Dallas bar named Jim’s Place and parted company when I resumed my trip the next day. We kept in touch with phone calls and letters over the next three months before seeing each other again.
By the end of the year I was playing with Joe Davis and the Guilloteens at the Vapors Club in Biloxi, Mississippi when she drove down from Dallas in her VW to see me a few days before New Years Eve.
It was wonderful; love lost and found again. From that point on, Pam and I were together 24/7. I remember fireworks, romantic walks along the beach and incredibly long talks filling in the gaps in our lives. When I finished playing the gig in Biloxi she went home with me to Memphis where we shared a small house with Wade and his girlfriend Patsy.
Following a year filled with extreme highs and lows, the new one started off rough. Joe called it quits with the band and I was out of work again. In January of 1971 Memphis seemed full of missed opportunities and bad situations, one in particular which involved cops showing pictures of protesters, one who looked a lot like me, to my friends. Pam said she had contacts back in Dallas where we first met and suggested we move there. The future was not looking very good. My only gig was playing at a local burlesque theater for very little money. My savings were quickly dwindling. I had even resorted to selling blood. So, in February we decided to move to Dallas for a new start.
A new state. A nice town, but no work and no money. We stayed with her friend Mary until I could find a band or even a straight job. We were broke but under a warm roof and, what’s more important, we had each other and we were in love.
Within a week or two Pam asked if I’d like to meet her parents. I said sure, and agreed to dinner at their house. Over the previous weeks we’d talked about her family but only casually. I knew she had grown up in Dallas with her parents and a couple of sisters and that was about it. I was in for a shock.
As we pulled into the very upscale neighborhood, where she had failed to mention she grew up until now, I noticed her parents’ house, while only a single story, sprawled across the horizon from one side of my peripheral vision to the other. I pulled the collar of my coat up, perhaps to better conceal my ponytail and stepped out of the car, bellbottoms swirling over my pointy-toed boot tops. A Cadillac and a small sports car sat out front in the wide looping driveway.
I opened the door for Pam and we walked into the Rosewood estate. The entryway spilled into a large sunken living room with an expansive view of the pool, tennis court and putting green just beyond the patio windows. We were greeted by her parents, Joan and Lyndon. They were warm and gracious and couldn’t have been kinder to us. Conversation came easy and a delightful dinner, prepared by their housekeeper, followed. Afterwards, Lyndon asked if I played billiards? I said I played pool and he invited me to his billiards room. As we left, I noticed Pam walking, arm in arm, with her mother toward the other end of the house. The farther apart we got, the stranger the evening became.
The billiards room was like a scene from a movie and the timing of Lyndon’s question, right out of a script. As I drew back the cue stick to break for the first game he asked, “ Exactly what are your intensions with my daughter?”
I, of course, miscued…
A lot was said by both of us in a relatively short time but it was civil. No blows were exchanged or even threatened. It wasn’t bad. In fact, it was rather business like. He said he wouldn’t interfere with our relationship but he couldn’t give his “blessings to this arrangement, here in Texas, where we lived together”, what ever the hell “blessings” meant. Pam was getting the same thing from her mother at the far end of the house.
I didn’t show it as we left it but I was pissed. Who the hell did this guy think he was anyway? On the drive back home Pam told me of the conversation with her mother at the other end of the house. She explained how different our life could be if we had the support of her parents. My anger cooled. She was right of course. We had found a little bungalow to rent on, can you believe it, Lovers Lane, but we were still looking for work and our savings were down to nothing. Now, all I had to do was agree and things could change forever. The first “yes” was very difficult, but they got progressively easier. In fact, I don’t remember actually asking Pam to marry me. We just agreed to do it. That seems strange now, but that’s how I remember it. On the drive back to Mary’s apartment we just decided to take that road. The next day Pam moved back into her parents house and stayed there until after the wedding.
From that moment on I felt like my life slowly slid out from under me. I lost control. I just floated from one event to another for the next two years or so, like I was in a dream. It was seldom unpleasant but always unreal.
The engagement was received with great excitement. Plans were made, refined and then announced in the local papers. Money was never a problem again. I was first introduced to Lyndon’s favorite men’s store and given a closet full of new clothes to replace my current wardrobe; Then given a job selling houses for his company which built homes. In a matter of weeks I had gone from Memphis Police perp photos to the society pages of the Dallas Morning News. I still can’t believe how fast it all happened, or how fast I sold out. In spite of my love for David Crosby and his song “Almost Cut My Hair”, MY long hair was the first thing to go. By this time “yes” was much, much easier to say; much easier than I ever would have imagined. Day by day the hippy musician was transforming into something else…
The wedding was set for April 3, 1971, only six months after we first laid eyes on each other. It was held in the Slaughter Chapel of the First Baptist Church of Dallas Texas, then the largest Baptist church in the world. The well known Reverend W.A. Criswell, famous as spokesman for 1960’s right-wing, anti-JFK, sentiment, did the honors. He didn’t do weddings anymore but for this family, solid members and supporters of the church, he came back from retirement.
My family and friends came from all over the country for the wedding. Mom and Dad came from Texarkana. Wade Johnson and Herb Havens, who stood up for me, jumped a freight train in California. My brother Dave from Chicago filled in as best man for Joe Davis who had to deal with a last minute family commitment back in Memphis. Other than Joe’s cancellation, the wedding went off with out a hitch.
A large reception was held at the Rosewoods’ house after the wedding. Pam and I were part of a long receiving line at the door welcoming guests and I remember shaking hands and smiling until my face hurt. Pam and I left later that evening, in one of the Cadillacs, for a short honeymoon at Lake Texoma.
Deal done.
The whole affair must have cost Lyndon a pocket full of money. I guess this was one of the “blessings” he was referring to back in the billiards room.
While I wouldn’t say the relationship was a mistake, the marriage definitely was. Plain and simple, the marriage was her parents idea and pressure from them was the reason it happened. The sad part was we were adults and yet we easily allowed ourselves to be pulled, if not so much pushed, into it. It was the lure of promises, not the fear of threats we responded to. We became the dream that everyone, but us, envisioned. Then, we had to live it and that was the hard part. Neither one of us turned out to be the person we thought we’d met before that night at her parent’s house. And we were never the same again. In the short time we’d been together, we’d been a team; us against the world. Somehow the team had realigned, and our goals subtly shifted.
Left to our own devices we, as a couple, probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a few weeks anyway. We were quite different. Friends and family  pointed that out often enough and we were beginning to notice it ourselves. But the marriage sealed us in. So we made the best of it.
Not that our life was really so bad. Pam was given a job decorating her dad’s model homes. As a perk, she could use anything in the models to furnish the new house her parents gave us as a wedding gift. This was, obviously, another blessing. While this was going on I, in my new, short hairdo, was trying to sell houses and hating it. It was too much change, too fast. I must admit, it was exciting and a new world for me. I had never been around such wealth. But it was also a huge contradiction of values for me. I saw myself as a 60’s counter-culture warrior. These were the people I had been rebelling against. And now I was one of them?
That ate at me. I was desperate to do something to establish my own identity and self worth. The first thing I tried was quitting that stupid job selling homes and going back to graduate school.
I enrolled at SMU that summer as a film student. I also took a part time job at the Columbia School Of Broadcasting (Not affiliated with CBS as they used to say). I was hired to use my teaching skills but quickly found the pay was structured around how many students I signed up. If there was time between answering the phones and selling, I could use it to try to help students. But there was little time for that. Obviously this wasn’t the self worth I was looking for.
Through my classes at SMU I found another part time job at Southwestern Medical School at Parkland Hospital. I was hired there to shoot training films for the visual arts department but spent most of my time working for Dr. Charles Baxter who was head of burn treatment research. Between summer school and these two jobs I was pretty busy that summer. I can’t say that Pam and I grew any closer during that time. We were each busy with our own new lives; two totally different people from the flower children who met only a year earlier. For the first year, I don’t think either of us even noticed.
In the fall I got a break when I applied  for an opening at the Dallas news bureau of Ft. Worth TV station KTTV. I was hired as a Photographer/Reporter for a 15 minute news cast and happy as hell about it. It was part-time but my first real paying job in TV news. I learned a lot working there. I was a one-man-band. I set up the camera, turned it on, did my interviews and stand-ups, shot my B-roll on a smaller silent camera, went back to the bureau, then wrote, voiced and edited each story. It was great experience. Two months later a story I shot about a jet car crash caught the eye of Travis Lynn, the news director at WFAA-TV Ch 8 in Dallas. He offered me a full time job in, what was then I think, the 18th largest market in the country. I was on my way… and, oh yes, married.
By this time Pam and I had acquired Sybil, Minerva and Loki who were two cats and a dog. None of them liked me very much, probably because I didn’t spend a lot of time with them. They were always Pam’s animals. There was something about the house that bothered me too. It never felt like home. It felt like the model home it had been before it was given to us. It was perfect and filled with perfect furniture. Much of it wicker as I recall. I still hate wicker.
I wanted to get out of our too quiet, neighborless, suburban neighborhood and go camping, or do something in the city. Pam showed little interest. Not only that but, I felt like, she discouraged outside friendships with co-workers or anyone really. Her dad had season tickets for the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl the first year and bought tickets for us on the 50 yard line at the brand new Texas Stadium the second year we were together, so we did go to football games during the season. And we did drive back to Memphis for a few days to visit, but mostly we stayed in our perfect little house watching our perfect little TV.  Except for her family, we had no other friends.
I had always been in charge of my own finances but our relationship had evolved this “system”. A system where she kept the books and handed out the money. It started off because it was easier that way. We pooled our pay checks but, at some point, I started to gave my check to her each week. Money had been a struggle for so long, frankly it was a relief. It’s not like there was ever a shortage. She always gave me money for anything I wanted but, pretty much, everything was accounted for. I didn’t realize how confining that was. Now I see married women in this situation, with the man parceling out the funds, and I understand how it effects the relationship. It’s demeaning. It’s got to be a team effort or someone’s going to feel left out. We never spoke of this; one of so many things we never spoke of. It’s funny. When we first met, we couldn’t stop talking. Once we were married, we couldn’t think of anything to say.
By the end of our second summer I was approaching my anniversary at Ch 8 News and was very consumed with the job. Unlike my home life, nearly every day at work had been a new and exciting adventure. I enjoyed working at Ch 8 and made friends easily. Friends who, over the next year, were never invited to our home to visit and only rarely saw us as a couple at their functions. My best friend at work was female and Pam was never comfortable with that. I was proud of what I was doing, and seeing, every night on TV, and that may have got on Pam’s nerves. And seeing so much of my life, lived outside of our house, probably didn’t help either. We grew farther apart. I can see it now. Not so much then.
Pam began to hang around with Kim, an old girlfriend who was Maid of Honor at our wedding, and the two of them began to go out together. Kim was dating a biker and Pam went with her over to his club house a couple of times. One Saturday morning in early October Pam left with Kim for a group outing, a ride she said, and didn’t come home. There were no cell phones and no way to talk to her. I was sick with worry and, of course, didn’t sleep all night. We were scheduled to meet her parents to attend the Cowboy’s game the next morning. I called them with made up excuses, first about why we’d be late, then about not coming at all.  It was horrible. I almost hoped for news of an accident. At least then I’d know. It was with these thoughts, I went looking for her at the motorcycle clubhouse when she didn’t show up by late Sunday morning.
I must have looked pretty crazy and I was. I hadn’t slept much for several days, none the night before, and there was probably some crank involved when I walked into the biker clubhouse demanding to know where my wife was. They knew who I was. They knew knew who she was. They didn’t know if I was carrying. They said she’d left earlier. I was lucky I didn’t get killed. If there was laughter, it was behind my back as I left but I never heard it. At that point I don’t think I cared anyway.
Pam came home in the afternoon and I…     I spanked her.  Nothing dramatic. She walked into the bedroom where I was sitting. I stood up. I grabbed her. Sat down and put her over my knee. She resisted but didn’t hit back. I gave her a couple of swats and it was over. Nothing was hurt but her pride and my opinion of myself for resorting to this. I never did anything like it before… or since.
The separation was immediate. It was over on all levels. She moved out leaving me with the house, two cats and a dog at first glance. However, when all the smoke cleared, all I walked away with, at my insistence, was a motorcycle, some silver goblets and what was left of my self respect. That was about it. No lawyers needed or involved.
But it wasn’t that cut and dried at first. Her parents, not knowing all the gory details, thought the marriage could be saved and insisted we give it a rest and not see each other for a few weeks. That part wasn’t a problem. However, they wanted us to join them in Aspen for Christmas and see if we wanted to get back together. At the time it was hard to consider divorce as an option because that’s just the way we were raised. Besides I was just waking up from this long sleep and much of it still didn’t seem real to me. I was willing to try anything. Christmas in Aspen made as much sense as anything else.
So, in December of 1972 I climbed out of one life in the flatlands of Texas and up to another in the mountains of Colorado, enclosed in my father-in-law’s Cadillac with my wife, my chaperoning sister-in-law and the last vestiges of a failing marriage.
It was my 27th year. John Denver was playing on every radio station between Dallas and Aspen as I took in my very first Colorado Rocky Mountain High. On the drive, the chill between Pam and me was as cold as the falling temperatures outside the car. And with every hill we climbed, and every turn in the road, it became clearer, we would not be getting back together. One relationship was ending and another was beginning; my love affair with Colorado would endure; the marriage would not. So, I spent the next week learning to ski and the rest is history. To this day, I still consider that Christmas in Aspen and those several days of ski lessons to be Lyndon’s final and finest “blessings” of them  all.