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In 1989 I went to a movie theater to see a movie called When Harry Met Sally. I thought it was Woody Allen-witty thanks to Nora Ephron's writing, Rob Reiner's directing, and the acting by the two stars, Billy Crystal as Harry and Meg Ryan as Sally, so I decided to name this post When Harry Met Sally, but then I realized no one would know who the hell I was talking about or would think it was just another one of my usually crappy movie reviews, and since my name isn’t Harry and Martha’s isn’t Sally it would have been dumb to call us Harry and Sally anyway, so I changed the title of this post to When Charlie Met Martha, inserting my name for Harry and Martha for Sally so everyone will know The Way We Were in 1974, starring Babs Streisand and Robert Redford . . .
Please know that our story will not include any of the following wittiness, either real or pretend. There is no way I would ever attempt to duplicate or sully Meg Ryan’s classic performance.
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When Charlie Met Martha
In January 1974, I met Martha in a bar.
You’re sitting there at your computer screen, you’ve just read the first line, and you’re disgusted as all get out. Instead of all the romantic places to meet—halfway up (or down) Mt. Fuji, floating in the Dead Sea while still alive, Ed’s Hot Dog Cart outside the New York Public Library with onions, sauerkraut, and a gallon of mustard to slop around in—we met in a filthy bar that reeked of ten-year-old beer, smoke that was thicker than the Great Chinese Whorehouse fire of 1847, and floors that stuck to the bottom of shoes like super glue. I didn't care that the place was a pigsty; I was lurking around, trying to impress one of the female bar stool beasts into faking one of Meg Ryan's organism things for me.
You know, of course, that sometimes I'm full of shitness; that last paragraph is an excellent example of how I exaggerate, embellish, and embroider. I’ll start over with the real story.
When Charlie Met Martha, Take 2
In January 1974, I met Martha in a bar in Pueblo West, Colorado, a dusty, planned community scattered with mobile homes and tumbleweeds just a few miles west of Pueblo, Colorado (and hence the name, I suppose). We were both as sober as Mormons. I wasn't dressed like a lounge lizard, and Martha looked just as cute as a butterfly's lips.
I’d driven 110 miles south from Denver to Pueblo West (just west of Pueblo) to visit my old boss’s new restaurant. His vision was to bring fine dining, banquet facilities, and Budweiser on tap to Little Restaurant on the Dirt. I was behind the bar, assessing its layout and the fact that the speed rack was one slot short, while two girls waited patiently near the kitchen. One girl was Martha, who was applying for a banquet server position, and the other was her sister, who’d already secured a spot in the world of slinging rubber chicken.
I’m hazy on this part, but somewhere through the grapevine, someone told me that Martha thought I was handsome. I’d been called many things in my life, but handsome wasn’t one of them. And I thought Martha was just as cute as butterfly lips.
Once Martha got the job, I invited her to have a cocktail with me. To this day, I don't know what a cocktail is, so we agreed to have a beer together. We talked and laughed for a couple hours, and the rest is history.
THE ROMANTIC PART
There must be a romantic part, Callahan, and yes, folks, there is.
It was a Saturday, it was snowing in Denver, and the southbound interstate was open, then closed, then open, and then closed because of blizzard conditions. I kept changing my mind with the weather reports: I’m going, I’m not going, I’m going, I’m not going . . .
I went because something was urging me to go. I white-knuckled my way southward behind a big tractor trailer truck, his lights my only guide in the sideways-blowing blizzard. Once we got to north Colorado Springs there was no snow, and it was clear sailing the rest of the way to meet . . . Martha.
For the next several months, I conducted a commuter courtship. Off at work at 5, drive 2 hours south, visit with Martha for an hour or two, neck for another hour or two, drive 2 hours north, and arrive home anywhere between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. I was pooped, but I didn’t care because I was in love.
And I still am, thirty-six-and-a-half years later.
Dedicated to Pat, a modern-day Jane Austen Romantic.