Marty: A Christmas Memory
No heat in the inn, the manger, or anywhere else
Some of you may have read this on the Vasari21 site a few years back, but here is a slightly revised version.
I can’t recall all the specifics about Marty’s ad on Match, but he had a highly original prose style that seemed to me somewhere between H.L. Mencken and Dr. Seuss, and his pictures were striking. He was broad-shouldered and looked to have some Native American blood—in one photo, he was standing against an azure sky with dark brooding mountains in the background. Sleeves rolled up to reveal impressive biceps, shoulder-length black hair blowing away from his face. If the Marlboro man came back as a Sioux brave, this is what he’d look like. He described himself as a musician slash carpenter slash construction worker—not an unusual combination in these parts. He mentioned that he loved to read; he liked George Orwell and had just finished a recent biography of Mozart. So far, so good.
We agreed to have dinner at a sweet little Mexican place near Chimayo, roughly the halfway point between Taos and Marty’s home outside Santa Fe (I had previously checked out the restaurant on a visit to the nearby Santuario, where I rubbed holy dirt in my deaf ear, hoping for a miracle….but guess what?).
Marty turned out to be not just tall, but massive—about six-five (which I knew) and easily 250 pounds (which I did not). A far bigger man than I’d expected from the photos or physical stats on Match. But he carried himself well, dressed nicely in polished cowboy boots and a leather jacket, and had a droll sense of humor. When I asked if his four brothers were as large as he, he claimed to be the runt of the litter. He was not of Native descent, but there was a freed slave deep in the family background, and with a tan he could pass for Geronimo. We exchanged the messy particulars: he was divorced, the ex had managed to run up about $600,000 in debt (perhaps a warning sign, but I ignored it), and they had a teenage son he clearly doted on. At the end of the evening, we both declared the date a resounding success.
He invited me to drive down for lunch the following Saturday and had already warned me that the place was still a work in progress. I found it easily enough and, yes, it was very much in haphazard building mode—cinder blocks on the front porch, along with a ragged butterfly chair and, mysteriously, a pair of bright pink sweat pants, too small for Marty, draped across a railing.
The interior furnishings were a mix of discarded office chairs, a beat-up Naugahyde couch, and a quaint tattered hooked rug such as you might have seen at your grandma’s 30 years ago (how do I remember all this? I used to take notes on dates….until it got too depressing). But if his ex truly had racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, I needed to cut him some slack. At least he had a house, even if unfinished, and a fire blazed brightly in a small woodstove.
I settled in at the kitchen counter and produced a bottle of wine to have with lunch, briefly forgetting that Marty didn’t much like to drink. One margarita at dinner had left him feeling a woozy, he claimed. So of course he didn’t have a corkscrew. But he managed to improvise using a nail and a pair of pliers, wrapping his thick hand around the neck of the bottle and giving a mighty pull. Somehow the trick worked.
I looked in dismay at the ingredients spread out for lunch: eggs for an omelette, along with a bag of frozen succotash, a block of Kraft Monterey jack, and one of those fluorescent green canisters containing what is billed as Parmesan cheese. I polished off a glass of wine as he tossed together one of the gloppiest egg concoctions I’ve ever tasted; it might have helped if he’d allowed the vegetables to thaw a bit more.
Soon after lunch, at that awkward point when I was wondering whether to split or hang around to see if coffee and dessert were on the menu, a violent knocking sounded at the front door. Marty opened it a crack and I spied a small woman in a down vest, wearing one of those knitted caps with ear flaps and tassels that look cute on kids but not on too many adults past the age of 25. He stepped outside and even through the closed door I could hear a heated exchange that went on for about 20 minutes.
When he returned, his broad handsome face was flushed bright red, whether from cold or from anger, I couldn’t tell. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but you might as well know, I have a stalker.”
I poured more wine. “Do tell.”
“I broke up with someone about three months ago, and she’s been harassing me ever since. She hounds me on email. If she sees a strange car in my driveway, she pounds on the door.”
“Block her emails,” I said. “Call the cops. Get a restraining order.”
He shook his head. “She’s a psychotherapist and has a practice in town. If I get the police involved, I’ll ruin her reputation.”
Now, reader, you may be wondering why I would hang in with a man who lived in such ramshackle surroundings, who was probably having serious money problems, and who was being stalked by a lunatic shrink. I asked myself the same. But the holidays were just around the corner, and I did not want to spend those alone. Besides, he was awfully sweet and courtly. He took my Jeep to his mechanic to have the alignment fixed. He played soulful tunes on the guitar, even John Dowland, the Elizabethan composer I thought no contemporary pop musician (other than Sting) had ever heard of. He said all the right things (“How could your husband ever let you go?”). When we discovered how expensive Christmas trees were in Taos (like, $80 to $100 for fairly miserable specimens), he strung up lights on the naked aspen in the garden behind my house and played a couple of carols on his guitar.
Disappointingly, though, there was no sex. Marty seemed content with a bit of kissy face and cuddling in bed at night, and pushed my hand away if I groped for more. “I’m just not ready yet,” he whispered like a shy virgin.
We did the seasonal Taos rituals, like the Ledoux Street walk, when about a dozen shops and galleries serve up mulled cider along with astonishing examples of mediocre Southwest art, and we celebrated the lighting of the huge Christmas tree at the Taos Inn. I felt safe with this man, protected by his generous presence, glowing with the spirit of the season. On Christmas Eve we attended a friend’s party in Santa Fe, and that turned out to be a lively gathering that included his shy, soft-spoken son. But when we returned to Marty’s house outside of town, there was no heat. Sheepishly he admitted that he’d forgotten to buy propane, and so we cocooned on the Naugahyde sofa in front of the tiny woodstove, with Marty draped around me like a large, gently snoring grizzly. The room temperature, when I checked the thermostat in the morning, registered 52 degrees.
Perhaps worse, on Christmas Day, there was nothing to eat in the house but Cheerios and toast made from Wonder bread. Sensibly—perhaps one of the few sensible decisions I made in the course of this misguided two-month romance—we had decided not to exchange gifts. I left after a cup of coffee and half a piece of toast with grape jelly, cross and bewildered but somehow not at all sad.
And that was the last I saw of Marty.
On the drive home, I found Handel’s “Messiah” on one of the local stations. The sky was a brilliant cloudless blue canopy over the snow-streaked Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance. I stopped at a McDonald’s for a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit and a diet Coke. It was possibly the best Christmas breakfast I’ve ever eaten. Hallelujah!