Married to Mickey

It’s not always easy being married to Mickey. He traces his complexes back to first grade when his mother dressed him in a full Donald Duck costume for Halloween, and the other kids called him names and threw rocks at him because of it. I just blame his mother.

Often my friends and neighbors will say to me, ‘I saw Mickey on the street, but he didn’t recognize me.’ The only thing I can say to them is, ‘ He doesn’t recognize me out of context either.’ Sometimes, I really wonder who else he thinks would call out,

‘ Honey, honey… HONEY!!!’ to him on the street, but I prefer not to go there.

Recently he had dinner with a neighbor I’ll call Igor. A few days later, he got on the elevator with an attractive woman and assuming she was Igor’s wife,  proceeded to talk about the boys’ night out. After a while, he noticed that the woman was looking at him as if he was crazy.

‘ Aren’t you Ludmilla?’ he asked.

‘ No,’ she replied, ‘ but I do speak Russian.’

The first time I noticed he wasn’t really aware of his surroundings was when we moved to the North Shore. I was still in an exploratory mode and would often ride my bike north for a couple of hours into Winnetka and Glencoe. One day I somehow got stuck on Old Green Bay Road and kept looping between Sheridan and Greenbay. I came home exhausted and irate five hours later.

‘ I’ve been lost in the Twilight Zone, ‘ I said stripping off my gear. Mickey, not looking up from his computer, said ‘ Oh, were you gone? I didn’t notice.’

However, he must have remembered that lesson –when wife goes missing, be concerned–and filed it away for future reference.

A couple of years ago, Mickey’s sister, Nely, decided to move, and I went to pack her since that happens to be one of my outstanding talents. Nely lives a couple of hours away, and in traffic it is a bit of a drive. I got there, was delayed by the fact that Nely had prepared about ten sheets of packing paper for about twenty ceramic pots that her daughter had made. ‘That’s enough for one pot. Now go to the store and buy more paper,’ I commanded.

Once that was taken care off, I spent the day finishing the job and came home at about eight-thirty in the evening.

Mickey, napping on the sofa with his favorite cat on top of him, opened his eyes, asked me how it went and fell back asleep after listening to my entire story about traffic, paper and pots. I took a long shower, washed my hair and went to bed. About midnight I heard my cell phone ringing and thinking it must be a life or death situation leapt out of bed and ran to my office to answer it. I was surprised to hear Mickey’s voice at the other end.

‘ Where are you?’ he asked with genuine concern.

‘ I’m in my office, ‘ I answered, perplexed.

He emerged from around the corner and seeing me in a pink polka-dot nightie that my mother had bought for me [ fit for a six year old, since she still imagines me to be that age] asked, ‘ Did you just walk in the door?’

Horrified but not yet knocked off my toes, I replied, ‘ Yes, I often drive across counties in my nightie.’

Recently he came home exasperated after running some errands. It seems his eyeglasses, which he needs for night driving had gone missing. He ransacked my car and his, every drawer and jacket pocket, both of our offices, when he started in on my dresser drawers.

‘Hold on a second,’ I said, ‘ when was the last time you remember having your glasses on?’

‘Halloween,’ he replied thinking for a minute.

‘Why don’t you check if you packed them away with your Ninja scorpion costume,’ I said. Hearing a triumphant shout, I knew that I had guessed right.

Of course that still doesn’t mean that Mickey thinks I know anything. Recently I went grocery shopping, noting we were out of kitty litter. I couldn’t find the right brand at the store and went to two others in search of it. At the last stop I gave up and bought what they had, not noticing it was the clumping kind, which Mickey hates. The next day, I scooped and was on my way to the trash can. Seeing me, Mickey insisted that I flush the litter instead.

‘I don’t think I should, it might clog the pipes,’ I said.

‘No it won’t,’ Mickey insisted. Yes, no, yes, no and so it went, until I finally capitulated. The end result was that Mickey spent the rest of the day and that evening unplugging the toilet, while I went out for Vietnamese food and cocktails with my kind and empathic friends.

‘Where is Mickey?’ they asked.

‘He’s hating me right now’ I replied telling them the story.

‘He loves you, Lily,’ they assured me,’ he just has Asperger’s Syndrome.’

Postscript: Mickey just read this and is still insisting I caused the damage because I put too much litter in at once!

Walking Across Bulgaria

My sister and I are looking at a family photograph. It’s Belgrade before the war. My mother, aunt, grandmother and great-aunt are fashionably dressed in their spring coats and hats, carrying handbags and wearing gloves. Everyone is happy except my mother who is crying. She is tiny, pretty, dark haired and about four years old.

Why were you crying?’ my sister asks with concern.

I wanted a doll and they didn’t have enough money to buy it for me,’ my mother says. You would never know it from they way they look. They are beyond chic. I happen to know that my grandmother sewed all their clothes.

You were materialistic even then,’ my sister says without missing beat.

My mother likes fine things, and she likes to live well. Usually the kind of life she likes to lead has been beyond her means. And often as she had been about to attain it, the rug has been swept out from under her feet.

Her Romanian father died shortly after she was born but not before leaving his lands to his own family and my grandmother destitute. Granny, as she is called now, was not only beautiful but clever and resourceful. Like many women at that time, she had her share of protectors, and when she got too old for those she married five more times. I don’t know who took that photograph, maybe it was the illegitimate son of the Hungarian count, who nevertheless became the sole heir of his father’s estate. Or perhaps it was the renowned journalist, more than twice her age, who wanted to marry her and send her children to Swiss schools where they would have escaped the war. He like so many others was arrested by the Nazis and was never heard from again.

In any case, these events happened after the war, after the hiding and fear was over. The Bulgarians who had fought on the losing side were suddenly converted to socialism and invited the children of their long suffering Serbian brethren to enjoy a holiday on the Black Sea.

My mother having heard about this adventure at school signed her sister and herself up right away. She would have never missed an opportunity to leave home, having unsuccessfully tried to  run away from seven times by the age of seven.

And so they departed, my mother, happy, my aunt, the good child, in tears.

They arrived not to a beautiful hotel as promised but to a sanitarium where tuberculosis patients were housed. The patients were a godsend, however, since the Bulgarians had made no provisions for the visiting children. My mother, ever resourceful, literally sang for her supper and the patients gave her their food which she shared with my aunt and some girlfriends who would otherwise have been forced to subsist on the onions growing in the garden.

But once the patients were moved, the girls fell on hard times. My mother and a few others decided to run away, while my aunt carefully composed a letter to Granny and decided to wait, a leap of faith considering that there was no regular postal service, and most of the roads were still out.

My mother set out with the others, who quickly returned. She survived by knocking on doors, saying she was hungry. People fed her freely and let her sleep in their barns. The weather was warm and it was no hardship she claims.

She finally arrived in Sofia, the capitol and, claiming she was a war orphan, was promptly taken in by the childless Mayor and Mayoress. She stayed with them for over a month in great comfort, receiving gifts; frilly pastel dresses that she had always coveted and more dolls than she had ever dreamed of having. The Mayor and Mayoress were drawing up adoption papers when Granny arrived in town manning a requisitioned motorbike with the children she had collected from the sanitarium trundled in the back and the sidecar.

Granny, a red headed spit-fire or ‘that cobra’ as she was often referred to by men who did not admire her, had begun her journey two months before by enlisting the help of the ‘comrades’ as she unceremoniously refers to them. The comrades had given her a ride in a military vehicle to the border, then she had ridden trains, walked and hitch- hiked to the Black Sea. I don’t know where the motorcycle came from or what she had to do to get it. In any case my mother was publicly exposed as a liar and had to give all of her dolls back, although she did get to keep the clothes.


About the time my first marriage was ending in the late 90’s, my widowed mother decided to sell her suburban house and buy a condominium in the city. She asked me to accompany her on her viewings, though I can’t say why since she never takes my advice. When she finally settled on a vintage property in Lakeview, her very tired Realtor said, ‘ You know that daughter of yours was born to sell real estate.’ Mother only shared that sentiment with me later.

In any case, I found myself having to earn a living for the first time in my adult life and wondered what I could possibly do since I had no skills and a degree in anthropology. I suppose I must have remembered that as a little girl growing up in Oak Park, I was so enthralled with Prairie School architecture that I would knock on peoples doors asking if they lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. This request would generally be met with disbelief, followed by laughter and an invitation inside [a good preparation for things to come in the business world.] I’m pretty sure that my parents would have beaten the crap out of me if they had known what I was up to, bothering decent people like that, but they never did find out.

And truthfully, I do have to admit that I was influenced by my own Realtor, an amazing woman whom I’ll call Sarah Royal Marshall. She was never a salesperson but always a patient caring friend who had her clients’ best interests at heart. If I had only known then that Realtors work on commission, I would have bought the most expensive property she showed me regardless of my personal taste.

In any case after completing real estate school, I somehow managed to convince another fabulous Realtor who was active in my building to get me an interview in one of the most prestigious Gold Coast brokerage firms.

I arrived for my interview at the appointed time and was met by the managing broker who took me to his office which faced a lovely hotel. I had never been on a genuine job interview before and suddenly realizing I would have to sell myself, proceeded to talk a blue streak.

Laughing, he said, ‘You know, you remind me of M. who came here with no skills, wearing head to toe Ferre and demanded a desk because she told all her friends she was starting on Monday and couldn’t bear the humiliation of not getting the job. She’s one of my top people now.’

‘Oh Ferre is my favorite designer!’ I said, thinking swell he’s gay,we’re going to get along. I was just going to describe some of my favorite acquisitions when he exclaimed, ‘There’s a naked lady in the window of the hotel, and there’s another naked lady with her. No, its a man. Oh, I have to see this. Excuse me for a second,’ and getting up, rushed to the floor to ceiling window.

What sort of place is this? I wondered, glancing over at the handsome couple who were putting on a show for all eyes.

Once they had drawn the curtains, he came back and said, ‘When can you start?’ In my best diva manner I replied, ‘I have two other interviews and have to make the best choice for myself. I’ll give you a call when I’ve made my decision.’ I mean really, what was I going to be, a sales lady at the cosmetic counter at Saks?

I did start the following week, and my colleagues often joked that I was trying to cut my first deal before I even had a desk. It didn’t work out, but around that time I must have realized that I had to procure my own clients. Somehow I thought that the firm would be assigning them. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

I soon realized that in that office, people did business on the strength of their social connections. I had about five good girlfriends raising children in the distant suburbs and was in the middle of a divorce, one in which I knew my husband’s friends would side with him.

What to do? I wondered.

Fortunately, I’ve generally been well liked even among the scary divas in that office, and I was taken up by older colleagues who taught me the art of cold calling. Naturally, this was prior to the no call era. I began with a list of Streeterville buildings. I dialed the phone, holding a script I had gotten off the Internet.

‘Mr Smith, this is Lily Temmer with so and so, and I was wondering if you were thinking about moving?’ I said.

‘Yes, Lily. I’m thinking about moving my bowels right now,’ was the answer at the other end.

‘Well, sir, I’ll let you get to it,’ I replied.

‘Call for sale by owners,’ my mentors said. ‘Make friends with them. They usually capitulate within a month of trying to sell their properties on their own.’

I made another list and the first call went well. The gentleman and I hit it off, but he sold his own place within the week. My second call was less successful. I could tell I was losing him and ventured, ‘You must have a very impressive kitchen. I see in your description that you have 42 cabinets.’

I truly didn’t realize I had said anything wrong until I saw my colleagues collapsing in fits of hysterical laughter.

’42 inch cabinets,’ the bemused potential client explained adding,’ Lily, you’re a nice girl. Call back when you have a little more experience.’

I did get more experience, though with my next two successive clients, I was shaking so badly that the listing brokers had to fill out the contracts for me. Somehow I has assumed I would go to Realtor prison if I didn’t do things perfectly.

Around that time I had a referral from my banker. The client was a lovely woman who was looking for a house in the Taylor Street area. I did know the area somewhat but was a bit overwhelmed by the thought of having to navigate, drive, park, open lock boxes and talk at the same time. Somehow the idea popped into my head that I should ask my husband, Mickey, then still my boyfriend, to act as my driver. That was when he was still crazy about me, and he readily consented. We picked the client up in my giant Mercedes, and he was perfectly discrete and professional the entire time. He even drove less aggressively than he usually does!

At one point, I got out to check on an address, and the client making polite conversation asked, ‘ Are you the son of the founder of the firm?’

‘No ma’am,’ Mickey replied with a straight face, ‘I’m only the company chauffeur.’

By the end of the year, I was doing high end deals and had acquired the loyalty of someone I thought I would have a life-long business relationship with. Unfortunately he ended up in Federal prison after being on America’s Most Wanted List for nearly a decade. But that is the beginning of another story.

Mating Season in Santa Fe

In the 1990s I had a very good friend who lived in Santa Fe. We had known each other since girlhood but had only become close after her divorce in’ 92 , and long telephone conversations about the meaning of life, spirituality vs materialism, the new age, quantum everything in the energetic universe and other such topics that were floating around at the time.

In any case she had been inviting me to visit for some years, and finally I decided to go in late summer of 96. She wanted me to stay at her house, but owing to my aversion to shared baths I opted for a hotel. I wanted to stay in town, but she convinced me that I would be happier at a ranch down the road from her place. I told her that I hadn’t driven since I had moved to the city years before. She said that she would do all the driving, and we’d spend the entire week tooling around enjoying town and the surrounding countryside.

I consented and prepaid the fee at the ranch. However, I must have had a presentiment of things to come when she invited another group of girlfriends to stay the week prior to my visit. I then fell back on my closest companion, my beloved and eccentric sister, Layla, who jumped at the chance to visit the land of her dreams.

I felt entirely justified when my friend announced the evening before my arrival that she was fed up with house guests and had to take care of herself. She added that she wouldn’t be picking us up at the airport as previously agreed. If I hadn’t already paid up, I would have canceled my trip. As it was, I sighed and said, ‘ Fine.’

I should mention at this point that my sister is a bit of a worry-wort and likes to be prepared for all contingencies. When Ebola broke out in Africa, she arrived at my doorstep, ashen and announced, ‘There’s a new disease out there now, and it’s going to make AIDS look like a picnic.’

When she realized we would be more or less on our own, she said, ‘ Lil, I looked up Santa Fe, and one of the largest federal penitentiaries in the country is right outside of town. If we rent a car, promise me we won’t pick up any hitchhikers.’ That was an easy promise to make.

In any case we arrived, found the bus to Santa Fe, met my girlfriend who was big enough to drive us out to the ranch, which turned out be about thirty miles west of town, contrary to what she had told me before. I had had the impression that we could walk to town. She then left us to go out on a date. Since Layla and I had nothing else to do, we spent our first evening making friends with the animal residents on the ranch: dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, goats and peacocks, while coyotes howled in the background.

The next day we got a driving lesson from the girlfriend’s cousin and a ride into town where we rented a car. From that point on we had a grand time which was only marred by the fact that we thought it would be wise to be home before dark. I suppose we could have stayed out later, but New Mexico has the highest rate of highway casualties in the US due to drunken driving. Since I hadn’t driven for years, and since the roads were not lit the way they are in the city of Chicago, I was afraid to risk it. Mostly I was afraid my mother would blame me if anything happened, which must be the reason that to this day, I still insist on holding my sisters hand when we cross the street.

I tried to maintain cordial relations with my girlfriend who insisted that Layla and I see Taos, an easy drive from where we were staying. And so it was until we had to cross a small mountain. ‘You’re doing really well, Lil,’ my sister encouraged me, while holding on to the dashboard for dear life as I navigated the bends. Anyway when we got there, the pueblo was closed for the corn ceremony, and needless to say after lunch we had to start on the journey home so that the dark wouldn’t catch us.

I don’t remember if it was that evening or another but we both finally had enough and in a foul mood retired to our casita which was located at the very edge of the property abutting the Rio Grande. That evening sentiments spilled over, and we got into a huge fight as only siblings can. As our tempers flared, and the argument escalated, our voices became higher and screechier. We might have gone on for some time, but we were alerted to danger when we heard a loud thumping on our roof. Thump, thump, thump, clearly the sound of a grown man jumping up and down.

‘Lil, its the escaped convicts!’ my very tall sister squealed, rushing to my side.

The thumping went on, accompanied by shrieks. Exchanging perplexed looks, I said,  I’ll handle this.You stay here.’

I inched my way to the door, closely followed by my sister who was not going to let me die alone. We cautiously opened the door and peered out into the darkness. A thump and a shriek resounded as a huge peacock jumped on to the roof to join three others.

To this day Layla and I don’t know if they had come to defend their territory, or attracted by our shrill voices, thought they had found their ideal mates.