I had known her for four months.
She was the editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. The first day of
school she'd made me the paper's features editor and installed me at a desk next to hers.
Now she was asking a small group of staffers, including me, to a party at her house. I was too young to think to
ask, "Can I bring anything?" so I just said, "Yes."
"Do you like lasagna?" she asked, as casually as someone today might check to see if you were a vegetarian.
"I love it!" I announced, honestly and
The date of the party arrived. I arrived early, so as not to be late, once again, too young to think this might be a problem, not to mention rude.
I don't recall if she
asked me in (surely), or if I just followed my nose like a cartoon character being reeled in on an invisible fishing line.
My next memory is looking in the oven, seeing the bubbling sauce and cheese, the
browning top. It was like seeing the universe in all its majesty. Also part of this glory were what were surely long foil-wrapped pieces of garlic bread, the buttery-garlicy smell intoxicating even though
the silvery foil.
I finally noticed Toni, dressed casually but glowing, perhaps flushed from the heat of the oven which I'd so far been unable to pull myself away from.
I finally noticed the brown shag
carpet and the overstuffed colonial-style furniture of her parents' house, and the fact that it was all clean enough to eat off.
Toni told me she still had to finish the salad, and somehow I was aware
enough to ask if she needed any help. But I don't remember being any help.
I do remember her showing me her room, because I'd never seen a bed with so many down comforters—all of them satin. I remember
immediately thinking, "Princess and the pea," but only momentarily before the smell had managed to work its way into the room, drawing me back to the oven.
By this time, her friend Janet had arrived. Janet
was in desperate need of an "assertiveness training class" (for which Toni would eventually sign her up). But before this happened, Janet was the former newspaper editor-in-chief who Toni had engineeered a
coup against to take the job, and still managed to remain her friend.
The next thing I remember is Toni realizing she didn't have any salad dressing. I volunteered to go out and get some. I didn't notice
that she had expected Janet to volunteer, and since I'd already chimed in, she said, "Great," without a trace of enthusiasm.
At the time I drove a London Taxi. A real Taxi, previously owned by a cousin in
London who was an actual Taxi driver. Buying a used taxi cost next-to-nothing at that time, and it was a great car, when it ran, even if it never ran over 45 miles per hour.
Perhaps I didn't trust myself
to choose the right kind of dressing, so I asked Janet to come with me. I thought Toni smiled, which isn't what she remembers. Together, we drove to the market, up a steep hill, at a speed not to exceed
about 10 miles per hour. There are, of course, more kinds of salad dressings than there are hours in the day, so it took a while to decide on an Italian Caesar dressing with parmesan. It took even longer to
drive home, since the non-power brakes weren't great, which also meant driving very slowly downhill.
When we arrived back, there were six guests in all, all starving and waiting for the slow-to-arrive
dressing. I didn't really notice, because once again the fragrance of lasagna had me in a head lock. While they all looked starving, no one had eaten yet, which was, of course, a huge relief, at least to me.
To complete the picture of my mental state, I should explain that at the time I'd been on the Dr. Atkins diet for years. I rarely ate any kind of carbohydrate, including pasta, and in doing so, I'd
managed to keep close to what insurance companies call an "ideal weight." I don't know why they call it this, because it's just a number they made up, and if you really got sick you'd lose weight and be
emaciated which wouldn't be good for you or the insurance companies, but the point was that most people would have considered me "normal."
So to understand the true impact of lasagna, you have to realize
that I've always considered it the gods' gift to mankind, right up there with fire, and that under the Dr. Atkins diet I wasn't really supposed to eat it, which, of course, made it even more desirable—the
The salad was dressed, the bread was brought out, and then came the lasagna. If there was a natural panorama more beautiful than the browned, bubbling top of this concoction I had never
seen it. I was first in line.
I almost forgot about the salad, then thought it would be rude not to have some, and besides, the lasagna was too hot to eat. I took a piece of bread, yet another excitingly
forbidden item, just to be polite, or so I told myself.
I don't remember any dinner conversation. I don't remember who else was there (though Toni does). I don't remember anything but the lasagna and
garlic bread, and I can still remember it so clearly it's as if I could taste it—and that was 22 years ago.
I stayed and talked with Toni until 3am, at which time her parents returned unexpectedly from a
trip to Las Vegas. Toni tells me now she was worried because she wasn't supposed to have had a party in their absence, but when they saw she was with a boy, they were so pleased they didn't care, they just
went to their room. I remember her mother having big hair, wearing red and white polka dots and looking not unlike Dolly Parton.
Toni's memory of the evening fills in the details of what I, in a
lasagna-based-stupor didn't realize at the time.
She tells me that the whole idea of the party was simply so she cold spend some time with me. She'd forced Janet to have a New Year's Eve party, but she
said we didn't talk for more than five minutes then. All I remember is one guy had a joint and I'd never smoked marijuana (and still never have) and someone else was just getting into Transendental
Meditation (I always think "he he he" afterwards not because it's funny, but because the guru always made a little laugh I found amusing—and I once saw and photographed him riding the Autopia at Disneyland)
and so he couldn't smoke, so this guy just smoked on his own and I was afraid the smell would get on me and I'd be arrested on the drive home, so I left.
So Toni planned this party, with a few fellow
staffers, to spend some time with me. She says I wasn't the first to arrive, and she was really pissed when I took Janet with me to get the dressing, and I took forever about it, and she wouldn't let anyone
eat until we returned. I hadn't a clue, but it did work, since we talked, yes, talked, long into the evening.
After that we worked on the paper together down at the printer, and I remember going with her
to an old Italian deli/restaurant in downtown San Diego with her, and going more places with her, and going over to her house. But they were never "dates," we were just kind of both there.
In fact, I
firmly believe we never really went on a real date. We went to an antique show where I'd forgotten my wallet and I had to sneak in and thereby earned a short-lived nick-name of her "little idiot friend." We
even went to a movie, some terrible semi-porno thing with Richard Dreyfuss but I fell asleep in the middle of it and don't remember it.
Three months later she moved into my house. I was living at home, but
my parents, who'd divorced, weren't, so there was lots of room and she rented one (yes, my mother insisted on rent).
We spent more and more time together, and then started buying antique furniture
together from the auction where she worked. We had no plans for the future, but we did have furniture, so it made sense to get an apartment. Then get married.
I married Toni within months. That was 22
years ago. She still makes me lasagna, and happy.