Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Archive for the ‘My Weird Family Life’ Category

When I was still in the business world, there was an expression I used frequently when I was counseling people who worked for me.  “You’ve got to choose which train you want to stand in front of.”  In other words, it’s a big tough world, and there are lots of things in it that you may not like, or are patently unfair, or just plain stink.  But you can’t spend all your time tilting at windmills, so choose your battle.  It also implies that, like Don picasso_don_quixoteQuixote, when you do choose your battle, there’s a good chance you’re going to get knocked silly.

My wife, Rhonda, is moving this weekend, and for the last several months she’s been looking for a new apartment here in Austin.

(A short digression here:  Rhonda has big problems making decisions and agonizes over everything endlessly.  Once she does makes a decision, she second-guesses it — forever.    These days I kid her that one of the benefits of her going through menopause is that she’s getting a little scatty and has finally stopped agonizing over which color towels she chose for the bathroom 30 years ago.  She really appreciates that.  By the way, I’m just the opposite; once I’ve made a decision it becomes the correct decision and stays that way — forever — often in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.)

Getting back to choosing an apartment in Austin.  We’ve discovered that most apartment complexes in Austin refuse to let you see a copy of the lease agreement until the day you come in to sign it.  And in most cases, they won’t let you sign it until the day you are moving  in.  I’ve objected to this strenuously, but have gotten little sympathy.

“How am I supposed to know what I’m committing to?” I ask.

“You can read the lease when you sign it,” they respond.

“And if I want to have a lawyer look at it?”

“Bring the lawyer with you.”

Right!  Picture it.  You’ve got the moving van and 4 moving men double parked outside the leasing office at $150 an hour.  And the lawyer is sitting next to you charging $250 an hour.  And you decide you don’t like something in the lease.  Something like, say, the fact that the lease explicitly denies any obligation on the part of the lessor to provide a habitable dwelling, but that you have to keep paying rent in perpetuity.  (By the way, words to that effect were actually in one of the leases that I did manage to get an advance copy of.)  So you decide not to sign the lease, and there you are with your goods in the moving van at $150 an hour, making the rounds of Austin apartment complexes.  Which, of course, you’re not going to do, so you sign the frigging lease.

Do you get the impression that this is exactly what the apartment complexes want?  You bet your sweet ass it is.

Fortunately, most of the complexes will tell you in advance that they use the standard Texas Apartment Association lease.  (Which they also refuse to let you see in advance, but is available in 100 places on the internet.)  Unfortunately, the members of the Texas Apartment Association are the apartment owners, so the lease is strongly one-sided in their favor.

For many years, I tried to read (and, if possible, mark up) every contract I signed.  Every car rental agreement, every hotel check-in form, every software download form.  Sometimes, I even managed to get away with it.  But eventually, I started agreeing to whatever moronic things the  contracts wanted me to commit to.  I guess, like everybody else in the world, I’m relying on the fact that 90% of what is in those documents is  illegal and wouldn’t stand up if it ever came to court.

You’ll have to excuse me now, I’m going to go sign an apartment lease.  This isn’t the train I’ve chosen to stand in front of.

The spring before last, my wife Rhonda decided that we had to buy the grandchildren, aged 3 ½ and 2, a playground set.

I started out looking for swings and a slide, but was quickly outvoted by Rhonda, my son and daughter-in-law, my other son and his fiancé, the lady at the cash register at Wal-Mart and, as far as I know, most of the rest of the population of Austin. This had to be the Taj Mahal of playground sets: three stories with a roof, two swings, a trapeze, two slides (one enclosed and in the shape of a corkscrew), and a climbing wall.

I placed the order online and two weeks later than scheduled (“What do you mean it’s on a loading dock in Des Moines? What the hell good does it do me on a loading dock in Des Moines?”) about 20 tons of building material and parts were dumped on my son and daughter-in-law’s driveway.

I flew in two days later to help assemble the set. By that time the frame of a skyscraper was rearing its head toward the sky, and my son, Eric was screwing planks onto the floor of the third story.

3 ½ year-old Ender, who is one of the most active children the world has ever seen, was helping! Picture the physicists’ latest vision of the movement of an electron. It doesn’t move from one place to another, it simply disappears and appears instantaneously somewhere else. Continuously. That’s Ender.

For the next 3 days while we worked, Ender was up and down the steps of the structure – note that for the first two days there was no railing on the 2nd and 3rd stories, but my son told me not to worry so much. On most trips, Ender brought us random handfuls of metal parts from the 60 or so plastic bags in the driveway.

“No, Ender,” Eric would say, “we don’t need those now. Put them down over by the tree.” And Ender would descend, vaporize, and reappear moments later with another handful of parts.

Eventually the 20 tons of material dwindled to the last 4 or so and – Surprise! – some of the parts we needed weren’t there.

“I can’t understand it,” said Eric. “All the bags were there when we started.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I exploded. “For the past 3 days Ender’s been bringing us parts and you’ve been sending him away with them. What makes you think that those parts made it to where you expected them to go  and aren’t under some other tree? Or in the creek? Or in the toilet?

Eric just shrugged his shoulders. I guess being the father of 2 toddlers raises your tolerance level for chaos.

So we made an inventory of what we were missing and headed off to Home Depot. Of course Ender came along to help. We made our way to the hardware department and Eric and I were beginning to make our way down the list when Ender appeared with a double handful of screws and bolts and nuts and spacers and ….

“Put them back, Ender,” said Eric and went back to working on the parts list.  I followed Ender, who by this time had picked up an escort of two store clerks who were trying to prevent massive permanent disruption to the operations of the store.

“I don’t know how much you guys make an hour,” I said to them, “but I’ll only charge you half that to keep him out of the store. That’s a great deal for Home Depot, because he can do more damage in 10 minutes than you guys are going to be able to fix in an entire day.

I didn’t succeed in closing the deal, because at that point Eric finished collecting what we needed, and I had to help him wrestle Ender out of the store.

By the way, Eric is 6’1”, 210 pounds of solid muscle, and a black belt in Kung Fu. Without me, he never would have stood a chance.

don-in-the-mountains1As an apparently single, eligible (read breathing) male in my late 50s, I seem to be flavor of the month for persons of the female persuasion in their mid 60s.  The thing is, I’m not single; it just looks that way.

Rhonda and I have been married for 37 years, and there’s no end to that status looming on the near horizon.  When we decided to return to the U.S. after living all over Europe for 30 years, she participated in the exercise to list what we wanted in a place to retire to and which places matched the requirements.  Boulder, Colorado won, and we moved there June, 2004.

In the next couple of years, however, a steady stream of grandchildren were being born in Austin, Texas, and Rhonda’s father became seriously ill in Gaithersburg, Maryland.  30 years of pent-up familial devotion quickly overwhelmed her, and she decided that she had never been all that crazy about Boulder in the first place.  So she started spending more and more time at an apartment that we rented for her in Austin and at her parents’ house in Gaithersburg.  Now that her father has passed away, she spends about 80% of her time in Austin, participating enthusiastically in the care of a horde of grandchildren, and about 20% of her time visiting her family in Maryland.

rhondaThat’s right, 80 plus 20 equals 100.  She’s not interested in being in Colorado and, while I adore my grandchildren, I’ve developed a life that I love here and I’m not interested in participating in full-contact child care.  We’re both too stubborn to budge, so when I want to see her, I get on a plane and go wherever she is for a week or two.  That usually turns out being 3 or 4 times a year.

When Rhonda tells women her age about our arrangement, they are horrified at first.  But then they quickly come to the conclusion that a distance of a thousand miles and visits of 3 or 4 weeks a year is just about the perfect situation.

In Colorado I spend my time writing plays and books and being involved in productions and publishing, working with several local theater and playwrights’ organizations, taking classes at CU, singing and being on the board of the Rocky Mountain Chorale, being on the board of the Boulder County Arts Alliance, and hiking when I can with the Boulder Outdoor Group.  The approximate female to male ratio in all of those activities is about 80-20, so a lot of my social life revolves around women. I always make it a point to explain my domestic situation to new acquaintances, but occasionally there is some confusion, and that’s when the fun starts.

For example, about a year ago I met a charming lady on a hike with the local Sierra Club.  To save her any embarrassment, we’ll call her Mary.  Mary and I hit it off immediately, and I invited her to have dinner at my house before going together to a public reading of one of my plays.  I had explained my marital situation to lots of people on the hike, but I guess Mary wasn’t one of them.   Because as the appointed day approached, I got stronger and stronger signals that she was interested in something more serious than occasionally going out together to dinner and the theater.  So as soon as she arrived at my house I took her on the “Rhonda” tour, which was my way of making my status clear without greeting her at the door with “By the way, I’m married.”

I guess all those years of living outside of the U.S. has given Rhonda and me some un-American ideas, but I really am capable of having platonic friendships with women and Rhonda is OK (I think) with it.  However, most people don’t seem to understand (believe?) that, and Mary was clearly one of those.  A couple of weeks after our get-together, I received an email from her thanking me for being so honest and saying that she was uncomfortable going out on “dates” together.  What would Rhonda think?  I replied that I wasn’t interested in “dating,” just having someone to socialize with, and that I had told Rhonda all about Mary and our evening both before and afterwards (on our nightly phone call, as we talk about most things going on in our lives).  I concluded, a bit facetiously I’m afraid, by offering to get Rhonda to send her a signed permission slip authorizing me to go out with her.

In the end, the permission slip was not required.  Mary and I are still friends — she came to my choir concert last weekend — and she has met Rhonda several times at productions of my plays.

So that’s the story of how I got to be an eligible-looking part-time husband, living alone in a great big house with a fantastic view of snow-covered mountains.