September 15, 1990
It was a match made in an art gallery. I was there to support Maryland Art Place in its annual bid to keep its head above water. She had a piece in the benefit show. It was the best piece there: a glass book.
My art making philosophy is simple: A + B = C. That is, put one incongruous idea next to another and, hopefully, it will yield something new and thought provoking. A glass book fit the bill perfectly. Ten minutes later I met her. She was with another man, her date. He introduced us. We started talking as he wandered away. His loss.
She left a message on my machine saying she was going out of town for a couple weeks and would give me a call upon her return. She never did. She recounts today that she had just about given up on meeting that special someone even though she thought of me every day. I had to do some serious sleuthing before I found her.
January 26, 1991
Our first date. I was living in Baltimore but was coming into DC for the anti-war rally on the National Mall (you remember Gulf War I). I was staying with friends and she and I agreed to talk after the rally to set up the specifics.
The phone rang and the machine picked up before my friends answered. Unbeknownst to either of us they listened as we negotiated our first date dance. The audiotape recorded our overly polite posturing for posterity. We only found out about this when they played it for us on our first anniversary.
We ate Ethiopian for our first dinner and found out we both collected cacti. It was a match made in the Southwest desert. I was happy we recognized each other after the four months since our first meeting.
We dated for a quite a while before deciding to take the big leap: a trip together. I was giving a talk in London. She was organizing a show of her work in Hamburg.
The very first argument of our lives together occurred in Kasel where we went to see Documenta. We were staying out in the Kaselian suburbs and had to catch an early train for Cologne —she had an appointment to show her work to a museum. I spoke German, she didn’t.
While I was busy dragging our luggage to the street, I suggested she find the concierge and ask her to call us taxi. It was going to be impossible to hail one in that quiet neighborhood. As I stood there she came out and said she couldn’t find her.
She came out too fast. I knew she hadn’t even tried to talk to her. It was the first time I had caught her in one of those tiny white lies I’ve learned to love. We were late and were about to miss our train for her appointment.
“You didn’t even try, did you?!” The tips of her mouth moved imperceptibly. But I could tell. She had obviously never been caught before. “We’re going to miss the train if you don’t find her.” “But I don’t speak German.” I put my fingers to my ear and mouth. In my best early morning imitation of a phone receiver I mouthed the words Telephone and Taxi. “It’s the same in any language.” I said. She turned around and went back in.
When she returned she was beaming, as if she’d just climbed Mt. Everest. She recounted her ascent. “I knocked on her apartment door and she answered, her hair in curlers. I gave her your message and she understood immediately [See!]. She was very apologetic. I think she said she should have known. The taxi’s on its way.” Relief.
We just made the train and laughed about our tête à tête on our way west. Hmmm. Laughing after an argument. That was a new and very surprising sensation.
July 11, 1992
I took her to my safety deposit box and showed her my mother’s wedding ring. My father had given it to me soon after my mother’s death. When I gently returned it to its box, her disappointment went totally over my head (even though she’d been wafting her ring finger in front of my face for weeks). She could have shot me right there and no court would have convicted.
I stood on my manly precipice. It was a worn and historical place. Many greater men have stood there before and since. My sister called to ask what I was waiting for. I couldn’t think of a reason.
July 17, 1992
She took me to the Baltimore Museum of Art to celebrate my birthday. After two cups of coffee and no premeditation I proposed. We both went into shock: I because the words seem to flow out of my mouth so effortlessly; she because, after the safety deposit incident, wasn’t expecting anything newsworthy for at least six more months, if that.
On the way to her mother’s to make the big announcement my engine light went on. Our first stop ended up being the car dealership. The first person to hear our announcement was the mechanic. He wasn’t surprised. I saved the receipt for his work.
May 30, 1993
The big day arrived. After months of negotiations over guest lists and menus and designing a special invitation and return card that matched our artistic sensibilites, our families finally met. We got married at the George Peabody Library in Baltimore (you might remember it from the movie Sleepless in Seattle). The wedding was a combination both our artist and our parents’ sensibilities could accept. Artists and parents, friends and family, Jews and Presbyterians. It was a most exceptional event.
Susie made her wedding dress with quotes about love silk-screened on silky white fabric (a portent of our influences on each other’s work and her work to come). Her wedding bouquet was in the shape of an artist’s palette. I wrote “Breathe In” and “Breathe Out” on my palms to make sure I survived that day.
My wife’s sister and husband, both classical musicians, provided the ceremonial music. Susie, of course, walked down the aisle to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Our friend, Margie, made us the most beautiful chupa. When the Cantor was late, the minister who was marrying us (a most wonderful and spiritual person) asked my wife, of all people, if she knew anything about conducting a Jewish ceremony. She was saved by the Cantor’s arrival.
We left two chairs empty in the front row, one for my mother and one for Susie’s father. I asked the minister to leave out “till death do us part.” Death never ends a relationship.
Carol was my Best Woman and Tony was Susie’s Man of Honor.
The cake was a present from our friend Hank Adams. Some say it was his finest sculpture. Since we met because of a glass book and were getting married in a most grand library, it was only fitting the cake be in context. It was a six foot long pile of books, each lovingly constructed in my wife’s kitchen (she found cake crumbs in every room of her house for weeks). It was so big they had to remove a window to get it out and into a rented refrigerator truck for its 54 mile journey to the ceremony. Hank ran out of frosting and had to alert the caterers not to serve from the back, which he had frosted in beautiful white Crisco, a perfect match for the real thing. Two life-sized heads adorned the top with flowers showcasing our features. It was a perfect match.
Our arts administrator friends (Tony, David, Mary Margaret, Dan, and Suzanne) thought they were being funny by giving us a National Wedding Gift Program for Artists that [sic] Marry (NWGPATM) art grant. We had to apply for our gift! Along with the copious application form we were required to fill out, we had to write a justification for said gift. We had to make sure we addressed all the review criteria they had set up. We got to pick the gift, but they had to pre-approve it first. We applied for a scanner. That scanner lasted these 10 years and is still working —although we had to buy a new one just last month due to port obsolescence on my latest computer. If you’ve ever had to fill out a grant application, you know this is a hellava way to start a marriage.
Our friend, Lisa, was in Berlin with her mother and couldn’t make it. She faxed us drawings of their heads to make sure they would be in attendance. Our friend, Nancy, brought cards with captions so that each wedding image might have an additional textual layer —an homage to my own artistic endeavors.
The next day, my wife spent the day with her friends and I with mine. After all, they had come from all over the country and we did’t get to see them often. My aunt thought we were very modern to begin our marriage that way. Now they’re all our friends.
We spent our honeymoon on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. At sunset on the beach we attended our friends’ wedding as they had done for us the week before. But we left ample time for just ourselves. When my wife got seasick on a catamaran, I threw up in sympathy. We were intrinsically linked.
May 30, 2003
It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years until you examine them in detail. Trips around the world, two children, new friends and old friends, new issues and very old ones, and close relatives lost to the eons.
And that glass book? My wife gave it to me on our wedding day.