Thunder Over West 44th Street

times-squareIt rained in Manhattan on our 60th wedding anniversary. Lightning, thunder, a relentless downpour, the whole flashing, roaring, drenching package of a storm that pounded over West 44th Street like the drums of eternity. I took it as God’s recognition of Cinelli’s endurance.

In the vast stretch of cosmic time, six decades is not very long. When one thinks in terms of Earth’s wrinkled age and all the growth and creatures that have inhabited it, 60 years is about a quarter click on an atomic clock.

But when you’re two fiercely independent, highly emotional people every day is a journey through a dense jungle, a shot into space, a dive to the deepest parts of the ocean, a race without a finish. Nothing is easy in a collusion of spirits.

That’s why the storm on that particular Thursday seemed quite appropriate. I will remember for a long time ducking through the calamity heading toward our hotel, umbrellas offering little shelter from the rain that lashed at us in horizontal gusts. We got to our room drenched, and we laughed.

It is the power of laughter that has helped prolong the drama of our marriage, the willingness to perceive life as an amusing trek, and the two of us as funny little travelers on an unforgiving orb. A shared sense of humor, with its whimsical blend of irony and inanity, has helped carry us past the point where others have failed, the laughter dead in their throats.

So I sing today of the woman Cinelli as the perfect companion, whether it’s getting drenched in the Big Apple or breathing in the perfume of night blooming jasmine on a perfect evening in the Santa Monica Mountains. She loves both locals. Our home in Topanga Canyon with its cool, forestry places to hide is the Eden of her soul, New York City with its clatter and murmur of human wildlife is the home of her spirit.

We see shows in Manhattan, visit a myriad of art and history museums and dine on fussy little foods at multi-starred restaurants tucked away here and there in the quiet shadows of the city’s imposing towers. My tastes are more gourmand than gourmet and I am rattled by the subtle ambience of a restaurant like Daniel, its décor once described as “the lining of a prim octogenarian’s underwear drawer.”

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In such a rarified atmosphere, Cinelli reminds me of my manners by whispering, “Pretend you’re not from Oakland.”

No Oakland guy would pay $513 for a pair of tickets to watch a little boy tip-tapping across the stage in “Billy Elliot.” I wouldn’t pay that much to see Dick Cheney in a tu-tu pirouetting drunk through Grand Central Station. But it was an anniversary so I shelled out the $513 and more to see a revival of “Hair” whose primary contribution to American culture was a celebration of drugs and nudity.

What intrigues both Cinelli and I about New York is the endlessness of it. While movement in the city may slow in the hour when old men are asleep, taxis still roam the main streets and lurk up and down the intersecting crossroads like lightning bugs in a neon forest. Garbage trucks muscle down narrow avenues vying for space with delivery vans. Limos slide through darkness toward hotels and mansions in a weary coda to party and pleasure.

When we talked about a 60th wedding anniversary trip she said New York and I said Paris, both of which we have visited many times. This time, I gave up the City of Light for another season, but I feel no loss of testicular standing in allowing Cinelli to make our decisions. She chose where we’d live when we moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to L.A. and it turned out to be a paradise in the mountains, a place of art and beauty and wildlife rare on the fringes of most large metropolitan areas.

She makes our decisions with honesty, wisdom and a sense of caring that involves more of others than herself. I rely on her to lead the way while I follow with a bag of words and stories that complete my life. She is my muse, my plot, my outline, my syntax. She is my beginning and my ending.

It is unavoidable to link as symbols the storms in our marriage and the storm that day in New York City. We have endured them all, Cinelli often waiting patiently, trusting that I will eventually have sense enough to come in out of the rain. My career in journalism has been a slippery race through a lot of bad weather, but that too has abated and I am free to reinvent myself, with Cinelli, as always by my side.

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I asked her as we dried off in our hotel room on the 60th year of our companionship, rain tapping at our window like a nervous stranger, that if she had to do it over, would she still marry me. She thought about it for the briefest of moments and then, turning away, said, “Probably not.” I sensed the teasing quality in her voice and knew that secretly she would. I sensed it in the thunder.

Al Martinez

Al Martinez on Everything Else

Al Martinez is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Los Angeles Times, author of a dozen books, an Emmy-nominated creator of prime time television shows, a travel writer, humorist and general hell-raiser. Try him. He’s addictive.

Republished with permission.

Published by the LA Progressive on September 3, 2009
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