“Tell me a story,” Meryl says, and George replies by shaking his head and giving her the look. She knows the look well—she’s been on the receiving end of it for over thirty years now and counting. But the relationship specialist from Denver told her and the other 300 women at the seminar that the best way to rekindle the spark in a burnt-out marriage is to reenact the first date. So this is what Meryl is doing, or trying, as Conan O’Brien goes through his opening monologue, and while Bootsie, Meryl’s calico, stares into Bert’s and Ernie’s fishbowl.
“Goldfish,” she says. “A story about goldfish.”
She remembers being home from her first year of college, working at the Golden Ticket, a drive-in where George had shown up with a bouquet of daisies because he’d been there the night before with his buddies after too many beers, trying to sober up before going home to his retired Navy father and deadbeat mother. She remembers the way she told him to take a cold shower and only come back if he could treat her like a lady and act a gentleman. He wore blue jeans, sneakers, and a white button-down with a dark-green tie. It was the tie that sold her. The daisies with their yellow ribbon did nothing to win her over, but that tie—its paisley pattern, not to mention his slicked back hair—made all the difference. He took her to dinner after sitting through The Rocky Horror Picture Show and, before that, Save the Tiger, with Jack Lemmon—which later won the Academy Award. Then he took her to the beach, where she asked him to tell her a story where fathers didn’t walk out on daughters and mothers didn’t commit suicide by overdosing on Valium.
George nodded before starting the most wonderful story about two baby leopards raised by a blind woman. The woman, George told her, would get all dolled up whenever she went out. On a trip to the butcher’s, the woman mistook her lipliner for eyebrow pencil and ordered her T-bone steaks and chopped sirloin with lopsided red eyebrows. But the butcher never mentioned them. He didn’t laugh, didn’t ridicule, didn’t tease. He just sliced her T-bones, wrapped her chopped sirloin, and sneaked a hambone into her packages before wishing her a good evening.
“Goldfish?” George says.
Meryl smiles, reaches for her husband as he mutes the tube. “Yes,” Meryl says. “A goldfish named Paisley, please.”