Start as You Mean to Go On


Jamie and I got married in February so we could go somewhere hot for our honeymoon. I don’t remember any of Jamie’s suggestions, but I was holding out for Hawaii. As a little girl I had been addicted to the televised exoticism of Hawaiian Eye and Hawaii Five O, but after visiting the islands with my parents a few years before I was completely seduced by the warm sand, the clear water, the waving palms, and the relaxed atmosphere so we booked three weeks at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach.

Our wedding was fantastic but the reception was interminable. No one wanted to go home. The band kept playing so the guests kept dancing for two hours longer than my dad had presumed people would desire to linger.  Since we weren’t leaving for Hawaii until early the next afternoon we had no excuse to leave, so we stayed and stayed.

When we finally made it to our hotel, we no longer resembled the shiny top-of-the-wedding-cake bride and groom we had been that morning. It had flurried and the dampness had made my hair curl weirdly; I had raccoon eyes. The eight-foot train of my elaborate Victorian gown had long since snapped the satin buttons meant to contain it and it crawled after me like bedraggled and recalcitrant swan as I staggered from the limousine. Jamie’s tie and cummerbund were crumpled and stuffed in his jacket pockets; his shirttails billowed behind him like a sail in the winter wind as he accepted the congratulations of the doorman. We looked exactly like what we were – exhausted newlyweds.

The desk clerk took one look at our disheveled appearance and nudged her manager. Seeing this I panicked, thinking momentarily that I hadn’t actually made the wedding night reservation; perhaps I had only imagined that I had. Oh, shit. Oh, please don’t let me have forgotten to make the reservation, I prayed silently; I just cannot face going outside to hail a taxi then driving to my parents’ house for our wedding night.

It turned out that I hadn’t forgotten, however, neither had I informed the hotel that the room was for our wedding night. The desk clerk was surprised to see us and wanted to upgrade us; the manager agreed. The nattily dressed bellman led us to the Secretary of State Suite, which took up most of one of the top floors of the hotel. It was breathtaking, decorated in muted blues and creamy beiges, and with more rooms than our Upper West Side apartment. Sinking into the plush pile of the carpet and staring through the glass wall at the view of the entire city twinkling beneath us, I rather thought I might like to honeymoon there. As lovely as the suite was, though, we didn’t get to enjoy it long past our room service breakfast, as my parents were coming to take away the formal clothes and drive us to the airport.

The flight was long but mostly uneventful; I had never flown First Class before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were a few more honeymooning good wishes (the crew presented us with a bottle of champagne upon disembarkation) and then we watched movies and dozed. It was early evening when we landed at the open-air Honolulu International Airport and immediately upon reaching the baggage claim felt the sultry island atmosphere.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. I had chosen the historic Royal Hawaiian on Kalakaua Avenue specially because it aligned perfectly with my romantic image of Hawaiian honeymoons and it had ever since I had first seen it in From Here to Eternity. It was one of the oldest hotels on the island, a huge pink stucco structure built by Matson Lines in the Moorish style; it had acres of landscaped grounds, a garden, a pool, the Cazimero Brothers performing in the dining room, and that world famous beach just outside.

I grabbed my tote bag and scrambled out of the taxi as soon as we pulled under the porte cochere. While Jamie and the doorman handled the luggage I entered the open, airy lobby. I was so thrilled to be there I was practically vibrating. Although it was still early evening, the time change coupled with the excitement of the past twenty-four hours was making me quivery.

Jamie and I held hands in the elevator as we followed the bellman to our spacious room in the original section of the hotel. After the bellman left I snapped off the air conditioning and swung open the balcony doors, then threw myself on the king-sized bed and gazed outside. The azure waves weren’t crashing but lapping gently at the nearly-empty sand and glittering in the fading gold and pink light of the setting sun. King palms swayed gently in the slight evening breeze. Musicians were playing soft island music in the barefoot beach bar under and slightly to the left of our window. It was an abrupt change from polar New York. In minutes I was asleep.

Jamie, however, was unpacking. He has never been able to enter a hotel room, toss the suitcases on the bench and relax. Or go out. Somehow he finds it impossible to do anything except unpack. It must be some deep-seated neurosis because it is the same thing he does with the groceries when we return laden with bags from the supermarket.

He woke me when he was done. “You hungry?”

I pushed my hair from my forehead and yawned. “Yeah, sort of.”

“Do you want dinner?”

“Mmmmmm, yeah, but not a lot,” I had eaten quite a bit on the plane. I glanced out the window at the sky; it was a deep grey darkening to velvety midnight blue. “ Do you want to just get room service?”

Jamie thought for a moment. “No, but I am too tired to shower and change for the dining room. Do you want to go for a walk and see what we see?”

“Sure.” I rose from the bed and turned toward the spotless dresser in the immaculate room. There was no sign that there had ever been luggage here. “Where are my shorts?”

We exited the hotel and turned right onto Kalakaua Avenue. The stores were closing and the sidewalks weren’t as busy as they would be during the day. We wandered along the street front and past the one hundred year old banyan tree anchoring the International Market, peering into darkened shop windows and hearing snatches of music from restaurants and bars. After about a half hour the events of the week began catching up to us and we were both exhausted. Having reached the end of the byzantine Market path we turned to face each other.

“Anything in here interest you?” I asked.

Jamie shook his head. “Not really. Not for dinner, anyway. That cinnamon bun place smelled great, though, didn’t it?”

I laughed. “Yeah, but not for dinner.”

“It can’t be; it’s closed. I’ll stop by early tomorrow morning. You’ll still be asleep.” His voice sounded hopeful in the dim tiki torchlight.

I pulled his hand. “Come on. We’ll worry about that tomorrow. I want to eat something light soon or I will chew up the pillow in the middle of the night.”

We wandered back through the Market and crossed the street, then entered a small open-air shopping center near a huge fountain in front of a Borders Books. Jamie thought it might be a short cut. Everything was locked and dark except for a rectangle of light at the far end of the plaza, so we followed that. Reaching it we saw that it was a small old-fashioned coffee shop called The Princess Kauilani. We both smiled simultaneously and looked at each other.

“Here?” Jamie gestured with his left hand, the hand that was holding my right one.

“Sure. Why not?”

“You don’t want something fancier for the first dinner of our married life?”

I thought. “Technically last night was the first night of our married life and we had a pretty fancy dinner at the country club. Are you sure you don’t want something fancier on the first night of our honeymoon?”

“No. But I am not the sentimental one.”

I grimaced. “Don’t I know that?” I muttered ruefully.

“Come on,” he yanked my hand and reached for the glass door.

So we went in, chose a booth, and had BLTs for dinner on the first night of our married life. And it was perfect.

The British have a saying; ‘Start as you mean to go on.’ So we did. We have had a lot of posh vacations and an even greater number of humble dinners in the past twenty-seven years. And we are still here.

In Praise of Higher Education


Semester Abroad; Oxford, England; Thursday night, the Bulldog Pub’s karaoke night; slightly more than halfway through our summer, 1994 term.

It was hot, the hottest summer in England in nearly one hundred years. My white Gap 100% cotton t-shirt stuck to my back. My curly blonde hair was pulled up in a jagged-toothed hair clip. I held a warm shandy while my friend Jon slouched nearby in relaxed Levis and a yellow t-shirt, clutching a pint of tepid Guinness, which was rumored to be nearly 10% alcohol in those days (which might explain why we did some of the things we did).

We had been going to the Bulldog for a while, every week as regular as a sunrise, to avoid writing papers and to plan our weekend breaks to London and Paris, while listening to backpack-clutching, disaffected Euro-youth sing “Love is All Around” and the Big Mountain version of “Baby I Love Your Way.” I don’t remember how we chose the Bulldog; we just seemed to have drifted there one night and stayed. I don’t even know why we did. The pub was stiflingly airless; the floor was sticky; the Euro-youth were doing their best to destroy our inner ears with their caterwauling; yet we wandered in every Thursday night.

One night, at Jon’s signal, Stephanie Tinley and I pushed through the side door to the relative cool of the alley to hear Jon announcing to the rest of our classmates that we could no longer observe the howling karaoke; we had to participate.

After registering our disbelieving stares, he explained that we needed to express our Americanness, our very New Yorkness, to the European pub rats. Although no one had yet agreed with him, he outlined his idea. Musically-speaking, nothing says America better than Motown and nothing says New York like the Village People. Motown, okay, but the Village People?  On one level I understood his analogy: Motown does say funky, talented, high-achieving America and the Village People do say New York – specifically Greenwich Village, where we had all met at New York University – however they said it in a language I wasn’t sure I wanted to shout out in a pub.

It took some cajoling, but eventually Stephanie and I agreed to sing – and spell out while dancing – the disco hit “YMCA,” although privately I wondered just how drunk I would have to be to actually climb onto a stage and sing in public. Jon and some other classmates, David and Mikael, decided to be the Pips while Clydette sang Gladys Knight’s part on “Midnight Train to Georgia.” The plan was good as far as it went, however, in those days before Ipods, the Internet, and downloaded music, to do this adequately, one of us needed to have either a phenomenal memory for lyrics and tunes or a Sony Discman and a compact disc of the songs.  Fortunately, I had a Discman back in my room and at the time there was an HMV music store on Cornmarket Street, so the next afternoon after lunch and before tutorials, Jon and I bought the necessary CDs.

We began rehearsing that evening. It was truly idiotic for Stephanie and me. We giggled, we overacted, and we fell onto my bed in hysterical tears. The problem wasn’t just that the song was stupid: we were both spectacularly untalented. Regardless, we kept at it. The days passed and, caught up in our own performance, plus all the academic work Trinity College appeared to believe that we should complete, we didn’t discuss it with the others again until after dinner the Wednesday before our performance.

“Are you guys ready?” Jon asked as we sat on a bench outside the Junior Common Room watching the sun streak across the evening sky.

“Yes,” I answered, glancing at Steph who nodded in agreement.

His eyes went from my face to hers. “Are you sure?” he asked with a trace of disbelief in his tone.

Steph answered this time. “Yeah, we’re sure.”

“We aren’t very good,” I interjected as she frowned at me.

“Hmmmm. ‘Not very good’ in what sense? ‘Not very good’ because you didn’t practice enough?” Jon asked snarkily.

“No, ‘not very good’ because we have no performing talent,” I snapped.

He waved a hand airily. “Oh, that doesn’t matter.”

Easy for him to say, I thought.


Oxford, England; another Thursday night; the Bulldog Pub’s karaoke night, two weeks before our summer term ends.

All of the regulars were there on the sweltering evening Jon chose for our musical debut. I was nervous and needed a shandy. Hell, I needed two. I am an English major, for crying out loud; I am happiest curled on a sofa reading from books, not standing on rickety pub stages following lyrics along a teleprompter screen. Evidently I was not the only performer in need of lukewarm liquid courage; Jon was on his third pint. One of the regulars, a skinny, shaven-head, gap-toothed guy in Levis, a combat jacket, and Doc Martens, looking like a National Front organizer, decided to honor the American visitors by performing “New York, New York.” Doing his best Sid Vicious imitation, he snarled his way through the poor, tortured song. Finally, mercifully, done, he winked at Stephanie and me, then lifted his pint from a wooden ledge, and, toasting us, drained it.

We were next. The trumpet intro of our disco number blared. Too drunk and way too frightened to find the stage, Stephanie and I climbed onto the nearest table and began shaking our little Wonder-bra’d breasts and shouting “Young man! There’s no need to feel down. I said, young man! When you’re in a new town.”

I could see Jon in the back of the pub nearly spray out his Guinness at the sight. (Later he observed that we resembled nothing so much as two crack-crazed cheerleaders.) We formed the YMCA letters over our heads, thrust our pelvises, and shouted the lyrics. Thankfully for all concerned, it ended pretty quickly.

Jon, Mikael, and David climbed onto the stage followed by Clydette. Their performance was breathtaking. While Steph and I looked exactly like what we were – half-drunk, frightened young women – the four of them make singing in a pub look natural, like it was something they did every day of their lives, as though they just happened into the Bulldog on their tour of Oxfordshire. While Clydette wailed (unlike Steph and me, she really could sing), Jon and the other Pips shuffled their feet and spun in time and in unison, raising their arms into the air and mimicking pulling a train whistle for the “woo woo” part.

When they finished the crowd of Euro-youth cheered. We cheered. The bartender cheered. Even the National Front skinhead cheered. Later, when I learned that the intricate choreography had been Jon’s idea, I wasn’t surprised. The Jon I knew always made an effort, always aimed high, always sought perfection; he never sat in the folding chairs on the sidelines and watched life pass in front of him.

It has been decades since that night – the Bulldog Pub has long since been gentrified and Jon has been dead for nearly twenty years – but I laugh whenever I am in a checkout line and hear “YMCA” playing. If I hear “Midnight Train to Georgia,” I cry.