By David Henry Sterry
I’m 37 when I meet Bobbi. Two b’s. One i. She’s what the Beach Boys were singing about. Perfect sunny blond bangs. Perfect perky nose. Perfect California body covered with a perfect California tan.
At this time in my life I have given lots of careful thought to what I want in a mate so I won’t again choose the person capable of doling out the most misery possible to me and mine. So I’ve boiled it down to a simple check list:
Sense of humor
The 5 S’s.
Bobbi has them all.
So how did things go so terribly wrong in the Bobbi Era?
I’ll tell you.
It starts with a chance meeting in a vegan bakery near the La Brea tar pits, in which banter and sparks fly over a wheat-free fructose-sweetened no-fat muffin, I ask her if she’d like to have dinner. Her exact words are:
Dinner is not possible.
I’d like to but let’s do lunch instead…
Maybe on the weekend, but it’s hard for me because of my work…
Let’s forget about dinner and go right to champagne and oral sex?
Why don’t I have the good sense to just say thank you and walk away? Frankly, I’m blinded by all that blond. So I set out with every fiber of my being to make her love me, make her love me, make her love me. Like the chump I am.
First I razzle her. That doesn’t work.
Then I dazzle her. That doesn’t work.
Then I sweet her. That doesn’t work.
So I start digging down to find the real Bobbi. Dig dig dig. Excavating underneath the perfect nail polish and the perfect earrings and the perfect matched outfits and all the perfect couples kissing from all the walls of her perfect apartment.
Finally I get all the way down to the real Bobbi.
The first thing you notice there is the giant bottle of booze casting a vast black shadow over everything. She hasn’t had a drink in over 10 years. Does that mean you’re not an alcoholic anymore, I ask? Oh no. Once you’re an alcoholic you’re always an alcoholic. That’s how it is with Alcoholic Anonymous. Bobbi’s climbed all 12 steps. Several times if I’m not mistaken. Surrendered to a higher power. Admitted she has no control. Living 1 day at a time. Apologizing, atoning, sponsors, sponsorees, the whole AA shmegegee.
God knows I’m a twisted broken soul, so who am I to judge? I go with her to meetings. I watch her speak. Bobbi’s a dazzler in the public speaking department. Brutally honest, laugh-out-loud funny, glowing, in control, spiritual, earthy, sexy, and alive. So I become a friend of John. Or Bob. Or Fred. I can’t remember, but that’s the code you say when you’re in public and you don’t want anyone else to know. I’m a friend of Bob/Fred/John, you say, nudge nudge, wink, wink. This is a group with a great hook. Once you’re in, you’re in for life. You’re never recover-ed. You are always recover-ing.
When I walk into my first meeting the first thing I notice is a lot of misery in this room. A lot of surly people looking like they need a drink, hung-over strung-out moths, juxtaposed with the beaming ones who shine like candles. The Bobbis.
It’s a family to people who have no family. There’s succor here for people who’d otherwise be on the streets ranting about bugs crawling into their eyes. And I love their sayings. “Don’t quit 5 minutes before the miracle.” That’s my favorite. If I was a needle-pointer, I’d needle-point that.
So determined was I to make Bobbi love me that I went to meetings for partners of Alcoholics. And I did find it helpful and educational. To be honest, though, most of the time I was sitting there thinking, “These losers need to dump their boozehound partners, and move on.”
But I show up. Every day. Apparently that’s 90% of the battle when you’re an alky. Just showing up. And I’m ready to be the partner of an Alcoholic.
The next thing you find out about in Bobbiville is the Elimination Issue. Bobbi has to go through an elaborate ritual involving metamusil, laxative, fresh strong coffee, a newspaper, and pictures of the Virgin Mary and Doris Day in order to coax her bowels into movement. I was more fascinated than taken aback by the whole thing. Crippling constipation? I can deal. I will make you love me.
So I throw myself headlong into evacuation research. I attack the challenge with a true idiot’s zeal. Find an herbal colon cleansing program which involves taking 10 horse pills for 7 days in a row, in combination with morning and evening enemas. I get the pills and read the books, and I make a bold decision based on either blind love and staggering desperation. I show up one day and I say Hey Bobbi, let’s cleanse our bowels together!
Boy do my bowels get clean.
We fast and we juice and we cleanse for 7 days. By the time that week is over I am revitalized, renewed, rejuvenated, and cleansed to within an inch of my life. Bobbi claims the pills had no effect on her. She says she doesn’t feel much of anything. Hard to believe.
Looking back, I see that there was always a terror lurking just below the surface of Bobbi, an alcoholic constipated manic terror. I chose to ignore this because one key to getting into a really dysfunctional relationship is to disregard everything except your own unquenchable thirst for love.
1 day she came back from a run all hot and flushed and sweaty. I was sitting in her living room, surrounded by all those perfect people kissing on her walls. She walked in and shot me such stone cold black adder anger it practically knocked me out of my chair.
1 time she was getting dressed in the bathroom and I was watching her thinking, Damn, look at how beautiful this woman is. No offence to Lou Gehrig or his disease, but today I am the luckiest man alive. Just then she feels me watching her and wheels around glaring seething fangs bared hissing, “Why are you staring at me? Stop staring at me! What is wrong with you?” That’ll whip you out of your romantic reverie pretty quick.
1 time we were in Paris, having a magnifique day, strolling on the West Bank, wandering through the Picasso Museum, taking in Notre Dame. I kiss her sweet deep and Paris romantic. “You’re so gorgeous, I can’t wait to be inside you,” I say. Bobbi pulls back. She looks at me like she’s got a 5 alarm fire inside her. “I have be alone,” she says.
Then when you get deep in Bobbi country, you encounter the parents. What a couple of specimens. The mom always drinks milk through a straw. Only it isn’t just milk. It’s laced with vodka. She gave up a promising career as a singer and a shot at stardom and fame to be mother to Bobbi and the rest of her ungrateful brood. and now she’s basically giving herself an IV drip of dolce de leche all the time.
Dad is one of those over-energetic guys who’s always slapping you on the back a little too hard and calling you Chief, or Champ, or Young Fella. 1 time when he was off in the shadows in the corner and Mom was deep in her Cups, I caught him staring at Bobbi like she was Miss November and he was a GI who hadn’t had any R&R in 6 months. Creep-Ee!
Then there’s the sex. Bobbi likes to use a silver vibrating egg. The thing I remember most about the silver vibrating egg is the sound. A relentless inhuman infernal buzz. It made me feel like I was having intercourse with my dentist. Why the silver vibrating egg, you’re wondering? Exactly the question I asked. It’s the only way I can get off. Okay. I can work with this. I become master of the Silver vibrating egg. The Egg King. The Grand Vizier of Egg.
The next thing Bobbi reveals is that she’s slept with 100 men. I am number 101. She has them all written down in a book she’s been keeping since she first did the deed in her teens. It is, I dare say, more disturbing that she kept the list than that there are 100 men on it. Of course, as I ponder my own sexual past, which is like a travelling Freak Show full of bearded ladies, sword swallowers, fire eaters and not quite human creatures, I realize that for me, being number 101 is neither here nor there. Bobbi explains that 80% of the list was accumulated during her Lost Weekend, which lasted about 10 years. Well, actually this is good, I’m thinking to myself. I’ve been with lots of women who were doing the whole virgin thing, and none of them liked having sex as much as me, so good: now I’m with someone who’s in touch with her silver vibrating egg loving inner freak.
Next Bobbi tells me she’s been with a number of celebrities. I won’t tell you which ones if you don’t want to know, she says. Who wouldn’t want to know? Of course I want to know. So who was the most famous? I ask real cool, real casual, like I don’t really care.
Warren Beatty, she cools me right back. I immediately imagine the celebrity penis of Warren Beatty, star of Shampoo, Reds, and Dick Tracy, inside Bobbi. Damn, I’m thinking, this Bobbi babe can really Walk the Walk. Apparently she had a ten year affair with the guy. During the Lost Weekend Years. Apparently Warren Beatty is a quite the loverstudguy. Hypnotic. He still calls her late at night with that whispery velvety voice, never identifying himself, like an obscene phone caller on parole.
Now I have the whole picture. Alcoholic, constipated, suspicious, angry, wary, silver vibrating egg, pedophile-looking father, alky train wreck of a mother, dinner not possible. But still, Bobbi is smart, sweet, successful, sexy, and has a sense of humor. All five S’s.
So naturally I propose marriage. Bobbi has been married once before. To a guy she’d known for 10 days. Named Hook. Hook didn’t have a car, or an apartment, or any money, and was an ex-heroin addict. Ironically he had lived with Faye Dunaway, who of course starred with Warren Beatty in the groundbreaking film Bonny & Clyde. So they had that in common.
Hook moved right in with his stuff and his friends. He was trying to get a record deal at the time. Apparently he was a very talented harmonica player who couldn’t get a break coz the Man was keeping him down. He lived with her for about a year, and didn’t pay any rent and didn’t buy any food, and had her Dad buy him a car which he absconded with when she finally pried him out of that apartment with a crowbar. The final blow was when he wouldn’t have sex with her, then ordered pay-per-view porn after she was asleep, charging it to her cable bill. I’d say that straw would pretty much break any camel’s hump
I am the next guy to ask Bobbi to marry him, after Hook. Naturally she says yes. So we are engaged, with a ring and everything. Bobbi and I then head up to the Oregon coast for a big reunion with my family. Cousins, nieces, nephews, aunt, uncle, brother, sisters, the whole repulsive crew. It’s in a lodge with 4 bedrooms downstairs, and one big room upstairs filled with 12 cot/beds. Bobbi and I don’t have our own room. We’re assigned bunks in the big room.
As we get ever closer to our destination, Bobbi’s knuckles edge ever closer to white, and by the time we get there, she looks like she could use Mom’s alcohol IV drip. There are about a dozen blonder-than-blond, too-blue-eyed children under the age of 10 like we’re in some knock-off Village of the Damned movie.
Bobbi immediately wants to go stay in a hotel. I don’t want to stay in a hotel. I never get to see these people, and half the fun is going to sleep and waking up with them. But okay, I try to get a hotel room. Nothing doing. It’s August on the Oregon coast. There’s not a room to be had. My family is now asking Bobbi if everything’s okay, if she’s alright, I suppose they mean well, but it’s bugging the hell out of her, and she’s breathing shallow little breaths and looking green around the gills.
Bobbi has a miserable night’s sleep. Wakes up cranky, plumbing completely clogged. There’s no peace and quiet, no place to escape the screaming beasts and the incessant questions—is everything okay? Is everything okay? Panic sets in. So I go play golf. In retrospect perhaps not the best decision I’ve ever made. When I get back, she’s gone. The family’s freaking out, but pretending not to freak out, which only makes them seem that much more freaky. They’ve already searched the house. They ask me all jitttery if they should organize a posse to find Bobbi. No, for God’s sake, that’s the last thing we should do, I say, everyone should just go about your business and leave her alone. So everyone backs away whispering
Finally Bobbi appears, looking like a plucky soldier just off a red-eye from Bangkok. I try to be real casual, like nothing weird is going on, but I can tell that’s just making me look even freakier. My family are twitchy and bug-eyed, and the Blond Children of the Damned are screaming and Bobbi looks like she’s about to blow sky high. I whisk her upstairs where I excrutiate it out of her that she can’t execute her elimination. I take a deep breath. How can I help honey? Stand by the door and make sure no one tries to come in, she says. Okay. I can do that. I’ll be the Knight in Shining Armor slaying the dreaded Dragon of Constipation. So I stand guard. A brood of Blond Children appear out of nowhere and try to get in the bathroom door. Why don’t you kids play somewhere else, I whisper under breath. But acting as the collective Unconscious of the family, they ask, Is Bobbi in there? Shhhhh! I hiss – Go away! They start chanting-
Bob-bi’s in the bath-room!
Bob-bi’s in the bath-room!
Bob-bi’s in the bath-room!
Like we’re in a chilling Twilight Zone episode. I herd them away, telling them if they come back I’ll send a bloody monster to come get them in the night and eat their eyeballs. They squeal and sprint blondly away.
I stand by the door for about half an hour, trying not to think about how disturbing this is. Bobbi finally emerges, looking completely drained and dangerously close to the edge.
The next morning everyone’s getting ready to leave, packing, cleaning up. Bobbi sinks into the bed weeping. Everyone tries not to notice. I sit down next to her. What’s wrong? I ask. I can’t do this – she sputters. What? I ask. This – she says – all this. My family? I ask. She shakes her head no. Another vacation? No. But I already know what she’s saying. You mean the whole getting married thing? She nods her blond head yes.
Picture time! Everyone come on, someone calls from outside. it’s time for the Family Picture! As everyone trickles together for the Family Picture, I’m not sad, I’m not hurt, I’m not heartbroken, I’m pissed off. I babble some incoherent gibberish about how she’s making me look like an idiot, and how I‘m gonna sue her for breach of contract, and how a verbal agreement is binding. They’re calling us out for the Picture, everyone else is already assembled, and they’re waiting for us out there.
So I storm out there. Bobbi follows at a safe distance. I take my place in the back line of the Picture with all the Adults. Bobbi stands next to me. When the photographer snaps the family portrait, I stare into the camera, rueful, weary, wary, jaded. Bobbi has her arm around the wife of a cousin. They look like lesbian lovers. Bobbi is staring far away, a lost look on her California face.
They have a saying in AA. A relationship is like a rowboat, and every once in a while you have to stop rowing to see if the boat is still going anywhere. I stopped rowing and the boat stopped moving. Then it started taking on water at an alarming rate. Then it sank. I owe Bobbi a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you Bobbi, for dumping me. I hope you’re having fun somewhere and all your dreams are coming true.
David Henry Sterry is a professor of existential philosophy at Oxford University who—no, just kidding: he’s a professional wild man, a master ping pong player, a former sex worker (as detailed in his first memoir Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent); a former marriage counselor; a former MC at Chippendales (as detailed in his second memoir Master of Ceremonies: A True Story of Love, Murder, Roller Skates & Chippendales); a former standup comic; and the only former professional soccer player to run a US Department of Justice sponsored writing workshop for survivors of the sex industry. Today, he writes books, comments on soccer for NPR, and appears around the country with his wife, former literary agent Arielle Eckstutt, to host “Pitchapalooza”, an event at which writers get one minute to pitch their book idea to publishing experts. Eckstutt and Sterry also co-wrote The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published—which really is THE essential guide to getting published.