I got a job as a computer programmer at Playtex in Dover, Delaware. Lou’s in a new job too, working at Coopers and Lybrand out of Philadelphia. Playtex paid for our relocation expenses from New Jersey, which included temporary living for me in a hotel as well as movers and such. We had been having multiple issues at our apartment that they weren’t fixing, so Lou withheld rent. Since Lou was working, I went to renter’s court alone and actually won our case, so the last few months of rent funded the down payment on this house.
We looked at a bunch of houses with a realtor, but didn’t find anything we both liked, and ended our day with dinner at Howard Johnson’s in Wilmington, DE. While waiting for my favorite chicken croquettes with mashed potatoes and gravy, I scoured the newspaper classified ads and found a listing for house for sale by owner that sounded perfect. After eating, Lou called about the ad from the payphone, and we drove right over. It was a dark night, but as soon as I saw the brightly lit house at the top of the hill, I got full-body goose bumps and immediately told Lou that this was the one. It’s a four-bedroom bi-level house, with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room and living room on the top floor. The lower level has a huge family room, half bath, bedroom, as well as a laundry room and access to the attached garage. There’s a pretty big fenced-in yard, and a two-level deck, with an outdoor cedar hot tub built into the lower deck. The decor inside is typical early 70’s: bright orange shag carpet in upstairs living areas, and brown shag downstairs. The kitchen wallpaper is splattered with birds and orange stripes, complimented by the yellow and orange linoleum floors, and the guest bathroom wallpaper is a mind-numbing shiny metallic silver and blue. We have plenty of work ahead, but it should be easy with all of Lou’s handyman experience. We don’t have furniture to fill the place yet, but that will make it easier to remodel. Most rooms are fairly empty except the family room and main bedroom. Lou put his desk in one of the other bedrooms that we will turn into an office at some point.
Lou has been doing a lot of travel for his new job with Coopers and Lybrand to a client in northern Pennsylvania every week, coming home only on weekends. I had to do all of the legwork in buying this house on my own and was nervous about getting approval on the mortgage. The real hurdle was that we both changed jobs, and neither had a good long-term employment history. I’m damn proud that I was able to get it all done on my own.
I like my job at Playtex. It was a tough start, since their computer programs are written in COBOL language, and I had misrepresented my level of COBOL knowledge. But I was living in a local hotel by myself, so I worked late just about every night to get my projects done. I did not ask for help and did not make coding errors, so nobody figured out I didn’t have the language experience in the beginning; I have the language down solid now, thanks to a couple books and modifying existing code. The real skill is in knowing how to write and test programs in general; the language itself isn’t a big deal. That’s what I said when I interviewed, and I honestly think it’s true. I didn’t technically lie; I simply said that COBOL wasn’t my strongest language. I don’t like to lie at all, but when I do, I usually say something that is true, even though I know it is misleading. I worry that if I lie about something, I’ll have some sort of karmic retaliation. If you call in sick when you’re not, then you will get sick, that type of thing. If I’m being deceitful, then I avoid conversations about the topic all together. So far, that’s worked the best in life. I guess it would be better if I was up front and honest about everything though. Yeah right.
On the night of April Fool’s Day, I was bored in my hotel room, and wrote a long letter to Alan. I made up this story about how I was drinking in the bar by myself and ended up having way too much, hanging out with a few guys, and took them all back to my hotel room for sex. At the end of the letter, I told him it was just an April Fool’s joke, which it totally was. I thought it was pretty funny, because he probably would be freaking out afraid that I had finally really lost it. If I sent that same letter to Lou, he probably would have been jerking off thinking I had really done it. Lou is always talking about stuff like that when we’re in bed and wanting me to get into the fantasy of it with him. I just kind of “mm-hmm” back, but it doesn’t turn me on in the least bit. He likes porn star type sex, and it must be on his mind a lot because he keeps introducing me to people by saying, “this is my wife, Jo Joy, doesn’t that sound like she’s a porn star or a stripper?” I try to remember to smile and laugh along. It was never funny, I’m tired of acting like it is, and truth be told, I wish I never changed my last name from Fonda. It’s a stupid sounding name and I hate writing it out on forms, saying it, and hearing other people say it and question it. But mostly I hate the stripper/porn introduction from my own husband. He should be saying what a loving wife or at least what a good sport that I was to take his name when we got married. Of course, I have never said any of that to Lou or anyone ever at all. Why? I didn’t choose Jo and I didn’t choose Joy. Yet here I am, stuck with the ridiculous name, Jo Joy.
I finally met Lou’s dad. He called one night while we were still living in Jersey, and Lou was out of town. I don’t know if his father had been drinking or not, but he was obviously very depressed. It sounded like he was basically calling to say goodbye forever. I talked to him on the phone for a long time and arranged for him to call back again and see if we could set up a time to meet, not even knowing if Lou would agree to see him at all. Since he got fired with the rest of the striking PATCO air traffic controllers, he hasn’t had any steady work, and no place to stay, except perhaps his car. He owes Lou’s mom so much alimony that he signed over the house to her. After I got off the phone with him, I called the suicide prevention hotline to ask for some advice on what I should do or say to help. They basically said that what I did was good. He called back when I told him Lou would be home, and they talked for quite a while. We drove to Long Island to meet him for dinner and arrived first at the dimly lit local pizza place near where Lou grew up. The bartender recognized Lou, asked about his father, and whether or not he was back from Saudi Arabia. Lou just said, “yeah,” and excused himself, knowing his father never traveled there. Louie says his father is a chronic liar who makes up stuff to sound important. His dad showed up, and we talked for a long time at a small corner table, but it was all trivial chit chat. He smoked his Camel cigarettes non-stop. Lou says that’s how it always was. His dad would buy himself a case of beer and sit on a folding chair in the backyard to drink and smoke all night long, while his mom smoked in the kitchen or in front of the television. Lou has never smoked, but his sister does. As far as I know, he still has no clue that I smoke sometimes when he’s not around. I don’t even know if he’d care one way or the other, but this way it is my choice.
His mom repeatedly tells the story about the day Louis was born on Christmas in1957, and Lou’s dad was hammered. She left him once when Lou was little, but they soon got back together. There were a lot of stories about drunken fights and threats. She treated her boy Louis like gold though. He was always dressed perfectly, in freshly pressed clothing, with matching sweaters and socks. Quite the little man in her eyes. Quite the Momma’s Boy in others’ eyes, until his father made her stop with the dress up doll routine sometime in middle school to keep him from becoming a total dork. She idolized her son, and would ask for his advice, and take it, even when he was little. One of her favorite stories was her asking Louis what greeting card she should buy, she chose the card he recommended, and a nearby lady said, “And the children shall lead us.” I’ve heard that story even more times than the one about the day he was born. She goes on and on about how wise he was beyond his years. I think being born on Christmas Day has a big impact on how she saw her kid. She never found the stash of porn her teenage messiah hid behind the wall in his room. From what she tells me, the last time she had sex was the night Lou’s sister was conceived, which she implied may not have been totally consensual. It is the first time since I’ve known Lou that he’s talking to everyone in his immediate family. His mother actually likes me at the moment. The turning point came when she had surgery for cancer, and I went on my own to be with her in the hospital and to help afterward at home. I didn’t do it to make her like me, but in her drug induced fog, after I cleaned both her and her false teeth after she vomited, she thanked me for caring for her, and said she was so wrong about me, and that I was an angel.