My daughter Ava and I were watching this really cool show on Netflix titled Doctor Foster. Ironically, considering this is my annual Valentine’s Day article, Foster is about infidelity. But there’s a scene in it where their son is enjoy- ing his parents (unbeknownst to the kid, his father is a cheating dog) telling a story about when the moment was when they realized they were falling in love.
Which led to Ava asking me the same exact question about my wife Debbie and I. Here were the first four moments that first sprung to mind.
Hailing a Cab
We now live in a world of Uber and because of our awareness of the perils of drunk driving, cabs and limos are also used now more than ever. But that was not the case in the early ’80s when I was a doorman at the Sheraton in downtown Philly. It was midnight and I had just gotten off work and I was driving my $200 “car” home. I had just turned the corner at Market when I saw her. Debbie, hailing a cab. She was waitressing downtown herself and had just finished her shift and was meeting some girlfriends at a club.
We had met at a couple parties and I knew who she was. She was living in my Southwest Philly neighborhood with her grandmother, so to me she was a “local girl.” And I had never seen anyone from my parish hail a cab. I know today that is hard to believe, but it’s the truth. She looked so hot standing in the street. Hailing a cab! That was something rich folks did in Manhattan or in the movies. I floored it and pulled up to her before a cab could get to her and drove her across town to the club. Nothing happened that night, but the mental note had been made. “Who is this cool chick?”
A few years went by and I was in Wildwood on a humid summer Saturday night. It was past midnight and all the parties my boys and I had crashed were duds. Or, more to the point, “we” were the duds none of the girls had any interest in. Then I remembered that I heard Debbie might be at this party in Margate. Now that’s a good 30-minute ride and then I would have to find the apartment when I got there, which back before cell- phones was not always easy to do. But off I went. Solo.
A miracle occurs and I actually locate the jam, but Debbie is not there and some drunk on a couch wearing a “Disco Sucks” t-shirt tells me she went out to Merrill’s. It’s now about 1:45 a.m. and the club is still packed as I walk toward one of the back bars. I swear to God, it’s like the Red Sea parts, and there she is. Sitting at the bar, shining like a million bucks, and when she sees me she shoots me a look like there’s no one else in the world that she would rather see at that very moment than me. No one had ever given me that look before and I’ve never forgotten it. We were off and running.
We were officially an “item.” Not married, not engaged yet, but an “item.” I was living with a bunch of slobs in this rented house in Collingswood. Deb and I had returned from the movies and no one was home. We had seen Sinatra a few months prior at Re- sorts, almost by accident, and we ended up seated at one of the front tables. We were both music lovers, but at that time my taste in music was almost exclusively rock and soul. Seeing Ol’ Blue Eyes live had converted me in a huge way. (Today, I have one of the largest collections of all things Sinatra in South Jersey.) But I was still in my 20s at this point and the crowd I ran with? Well, I was the official DJ at our house parties and if I had dared trying playing any Sinatra between Springsteen and the Four Tops, I would have been stripped of all music responsibilities immediately and forever. “Get that off!” would have been screamed out by the revelers had any Sinatra entered the fray.
But this night the house was empty and when I slipped on this Sinatra obscurity “All My Tomorrows,” I kind of jokingly asked Deb to dance and she accepted. Now, I’m not Michael Jackson. Play something funky and I come off like the white guy in a Soul Train dance line. But I can slow dance with the best of them and “All My Tomorrows” has a mellow groove and when we danced I felt like Deb just melted in my arms. Right there in the middle of the living room of this crummy rental. She had no problem whatsoever digging on the Chairman of the Board’s sound. I like to consider myself a music explorer (still do) and I remember during that dance that maybe I had found a music soul mate as well. I had and it was a huge moment. (I defy you to come up with better lyrics that describe the beginning of a relationship. Many friends of mine have used it as a wedding song over the years at my suggestion.)
One thing about Debbie that I always found attractive was her energy level. I always wanted to fall in love with a woman who was adventurous and enjoyed getting the most out of life. But you also have to get lucky and find someone that you dig hang- ing with when you do nothing at all.
I had a friend who worked for a big hotel chain and because of this we would occasionally get a room in Manhattan completely free. The fact that we would check in with about $40 between us never stopped us from going. And “go” we would. It’s called the town that never sleeps for a reason and we would tackle the Big Apple all night long.
We were up there on a rare Sunday night but we still had the night’s festivities all mapped out. We were just not the kind of couple who stayed in. But it was bitterly cold and it started pouring. The TV had about three channels and the classic film Casablanca was coming on. I had seen the film before but Deb had not. We watched the entire thing, spending a night in Manhattan not leaving the room at all, which we had never done before. Yet we had discovered something very important. That we could have a great night doing nothing at all except laying around watch- ing the tube.
So, if one of your kids wants you to describe the “moment that you knew you two had?fallen in love,” be prepared to answer. It’s fun. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Big Daddy Graham and Joe Conklin bring their Two Funny Philly Guys show (with special guest Tommy Conwell) to the Broadway Theatre in Pitman on Saturday, Feb. 11. Visit BigDaddyGraham.com for tickets and more information.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (February, 2017).
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