I originally posted this entry on another blog, but thought I’d re-post it here for Valentine’s.
“Look, Mommy, Look!” my adorable four year old son exclaimed, as he pointed at the guys at the next picnic table.
Reluctantly, I looked up at the tall, ruggedly handsome (I would only notice this later) construction worker who was wearing a plastic pig nose, attached to plastic eye glasses, with fake Groucho Marx eyebrows topping them off. Currently, the guy I’d been trying to avoid looking at, was performing for his buddies, juggling full cans of beer. I was pretty sure that they had started drinking before they showed up.
I rolled my eyes, turned my attention back to my small son and told him, “Gerrod, don’t look at him, don’t talk to him, don’t encourage him.” The tall juggler heard me, and apparently I had tossed a gauntlet, and he had accepted a challenge I didn’t even know I had made.
Gerrod and I had been having a nice Friday evening, eating burgers at Shoreline Village in Long Beach, across the harbor from the Queen Mary. Originally, I’d been looking for Ports O’Call, but a sense of direction has never been one of my better skills, and Gerrod didn’t mind. Shoreline Village was a great place to take a small child on a Friday night. I tried to distract Gerrod with the boats and the seagulls while he slowly ate his meal, but then, of course, a young girl walked by handing out fliers advertising the “Live Jive at Five” performance that was about to begin further down the marina. The rowdy juggler grabbed a stack of fliers from her and declared, “Fliers? I’ll show you flyers!” And began to turn them into paper airplanes. All was lost. Gerrod was entranced, and I could hardly get him to take a few bites of his dinner.
The hamburger I’d ordered was huge, and I’d barely finished half of it when one of the juggler’s buddies, I had heard called Melvin, came over and said “hello”, then “Hey, are you done with that burger?” I looked at him with no small amount of disgust, but he just gave me a big grin. I slid the plate over to him, and he picked it up and started eating it, just as his juggling buddy came over and sat down across the table from me tossing a paper airplane to Gerrod.
“I’m Paul,” he offered, and put out his hand. I was totally taken off guard, and in those days I was much too polite for my own good.
“I’m Tari, “ I responded, as I put my hand in his, desperately wishing he would just walk away…. of course he didn’t.
“I’m Gerrod, “ my son offered in his most grown up voice. “You’re cool.”
And that was the beginning. He abandoned his buddies, and for the rest of the evening Paul followed us around the marina. We went on the carousel, he went on the carousel. Gerrod, who had been too distracted to finish his dinner, complained that he was hungry, and Paul sneaked away for a minute returning with a giant slice of pepperoni pizza. We went to listen to the jazz music announced on those captivating “flyers”, and Paul came along. By the time he asked for my phone number, he was Gerrod’s new hero, and he was such a nice guy (although I was still terrified of him) that I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, and I gave it to him.
A few days later he called me to ask me out, he sounded so different on the phone, not like the rowdy, out of control, ‘bad boy’ that I’d met on Friday, and I said yes. I’ll tell you the story of our first date another day.
A year later we were married between the picnic tables where we had met. Shoreline Village was not only kind enough to let us get married there, before they opened, but they steam cleaned the cobblestone for us, opened the carousel just for our wedding party, put out coffee and donuts, and several of the merchants gave us lovely gifts. All we had asked was for permission to be married there.
A few years later, we went back on our anniversary, and there was a full size restaurant where the little walk up hamburger stand had been. The restaurant was named “Oinks” which I thought was very appropriate for the place where I met my future husband while he was wearing a pig nose, and even more amazing…..on the menu was a Melvin burger!! So, Melvin, wherever you are, thanks for being part of the magic.
Now the place is named Tijuana Jacks….also known as TJ’s…which just happens to be my initials now that I’m married to Paul. We eat there often, telling every poor waiter who has to serve us, and every young couple who happens to be sitting near us our little story.
And, by the way, 21 years later I found my way to Ports O’Call, and in fact, I often walk there from our home.