To explain why Rob’s marriage was probably doomed to be a war from the start it is necessary to describe my old friend a little. Rob is also the most important character in this story as he was my connection to the other married men in the odd society of married men who spent a day at the beach every year. I’d met Andy through Rob (they’d been at an Ivy League college together) and later I met the émigré, the man for whose company we’d meet at the ferry terminal every summer. Keep that thought in mind, Rob as the nexus, since it will explain some things later.
Rob has always been a nervous person. He was a nervous boy when I met him in fourth grade when we became best friends, after he had skipped into my grade. He grew into a nervous man. A very smart kid and an intelligent, thoughtful man, I have rarely known him not to be nervous about something.
He comes by it honestly, I would say. Rob was raised by somewhat nervous parents, two people I knew quite well for decades. After Rob and I became friends our parents became close friends too. The families spent many holidays together. In some families (like Rob’s, actually) I would have called his parents Aunt and Uncle. The families were very close and I was familiar with Rob’s domineering maternal grandmother as well. Rob and I went in different directions in High School and fell out of touch for a number of years.
At one point Rob’s mother, Caroline, came across an envelope of James Bond trading cards Rob and I had pasted on to pages and written humorous captions for, many years earlier (Sean Connery was Bond on the cards). I’d found them in a closet and sent the collection to Rob, whom I hadn’t seen for a few years. On top of the pile I’d scrawled a note to the effect that “someday we’ll play guitars”. As I recall, Caroline framed that note, after weeping joyfully to my mother over the life-affirming optimism of an old friend reaching out that way to a friend he’d grown apart from.
We did play guitar a few years later, in San Francisco, where Rob was living at the time. The cover story for his sojourn in SF, as I recall, was that he was becoming a California resident to get in-state tuition for medical school. He was actually playing in a rock band, trying to be as close to a full-time musician as he could be. He had already abandoned the idea of medical school and was probably working on how to best break the news of his career change to his folks.
I plugged a guitar into a large amp in the concrete warehouse room where his band practiced. It was just Rob and me in the reverb-rich room. I loved the sound, played some bluesy line, sustaining a note against the wonderful acoustics of that big empty room and Rob’s jaw dropped as he told me how much I sounded like Clapton . This may seem a silly image to include here, but it will be useful to recall later on.
Sometime later, back in New York, we had a remarkable jam session in the basement office of a pediatrician named Dr. Geller (who turned out to have been Sekhnet’s pediatrician, she recalled his enormous hands). Geller owned the house Rob’s parents rented, the home where Rob and his older sister were raised. I’d had many a holiday meal in that house, in the company of our two families. I’d spent massive amounts of time in that house over the years, but had never been down to Geller’s office before that night. It was a remarkable session, with Andy on synthesizer keyboard. It was the first time I’d played with Andy and there was a certain magic to the musical connection that first time.
But none of this explains why Rob was doomed to a combative marriage, so onward. He’d had a series of fairly longterm girlfriends over the years, but as far as I knew, for many years, none of them were Jewish. In his mind he could only marry a Jewish woman, so this easy out kept his sexual relationships limited in a certain way. A way that eventually caused great pain, and sometimes anger, in his longterm partners. A psychiatrist finally pointed this pattern out to Rob, when he was about thirty. I remember Rob telling me about this breakthrough session when he realized, with the shrink’s help, that it was essential for him to date a Jewish girl and get married as soon as possible. He proceeded to do exactly that.
I liked the woman, though she seemed volatile. Her older brother (a guy Rob and I both knew in passing at Hebrew School), we soon learned, had opted out of the family, not contacting any of them for years. This happens in families, I figured, who knows what the whole story is? The haste with which they got engaged and married may not have been to my taste (I’m still not officially married) but it wasn’t my business, really. Yet there was still something a little unsettling about the lead up to the wedding and the wedding itself. A foreshadowing, if you will.
There was a dinner party before the wedding, at a restaurant, maybe it was their engagement party. Hitler, Andy’s wife, insulted Rob’s oversensitive sister in a curt, particularly brutal manner. I remember feeling a tension at that dinner that I can only say felt tense. The bachelor party for Rob, a few months later, was also memorable for something being off about it, even for a bachelor party. The main thing I recall is that the party was commandeered by the loud, overbearing, drunken asshole brother-in law of the bride, Eddie. My main memory is of Eddie loudly critiquing the body of a stripper in a bar he’d dragged us to, calling her a dog of some kind. Perhaps her breasts were not up to his exacting standards, although it could have been literally anything, or nothing, at that point. He was shit-faced and somehow in charge.
Eddie would not be Rob’s brother-in-law that much longer, he and Rob’s wife’s sister divorced not long after that idiotic display of alpha-maleness. I don’t disparage anyone for getting divorced from someone who mistreats them. I have been divorced myself several times over the years, even if not from a marriage. When all you are getting from a relationship is grief, harshness, abuse — time to get on the bus, Gus. In fact, for that reason, a terrible relationship, Rob’s wife wrote off her younger sister a few years later. The sister, apparently, is an unredeemable complete fucking bitch.
Rob and his wife finally reached the conclusion that they were better off apart. They could not find a way out of their own eternal war. A year or two ago they sat their two sons down and informed them of their plan to split up, to divorce. Then, miraculously, they unaccountably reconciled when their younger son moved across the country for college. It was like a rebirth for their relationship, a beautiful new springtime, though it was not very long before catastrophic storms swept back in.
Now this here, what I am doing now, this is what I always do. I write about things that are nobody’s business, betray people left and right, even if I don’t use their full names, or any names. They know it’s them I’m writing about, and that’s the unspeakable thing, that I am publicly probing into things they don’t wanted probed into, particularly, and most unforgivably, in the public space of the internet. I eventually write about ticklish details that make people who used to be my friends angry, defensive, sometimes vindictive. My beloved Sekhnet, on reading the previous post, had a related reaction and a one word review: “flush!”
In other words, down the drain with this whole nasty subject, done with the eternal bad feelings it engenders, these sad and distasteful details of disappointing, doomed disputes with miserable people. “Flush!” she said again when I began trying to explain why these materials are so useful to me.
She listened as I went on about the personal experiences and lessons of one’s life being the most important things to ponder and learn from, the richest things to write clearly about, the best tools for attaining insights and for personal growth. Plus, I pointed out, there is a great punchline to this particular story, if I can manage to tell it correctly, more than one punchline, actually. She eventually agreed not to say “flush” again, for this particular tale, at least.
So onward, but not today, my allotted writing time is at an end. Part three will put the final pieces in place and hopefully provide a satisfying, if mildly merciless, punchline.
(to be continued)
 I don’t want to get bogged down in this Clapton business right now. I love his tone, Eric’s vibrato is up there in a class almost by itself, the touch and the microtones are beautiful and subtle, etc. but he is an extremely limited guitarist. Great singer, excellent musician, can do that one thing beautifully on guitar, plus the nice acoustic blues picking, but truly, I don’t get why he is not a better and more versatile guitarist by now. It’s like a failure of imagination, a dull incuriousness, or an insane commitment to “brand,” or just an indication of a kind of rigidity, or something. His autobiography reveals him as something of a shallow jackass, maybe that explains it. Anyway, Clapton’s vibrato is beautiful, I’ve always loved it and I did indeed strive to master it, to the extent I ever did.