Out Into The Night You Went: Part 2

Dear Michael,

And what was wrong with that? Going out late at night, I mean. You were younger, maybe 18 or 20 or 22, and you loved the night life and so did your friends. Everything you might want and dream about could be out there in the night.

Her, for example.

And so out the door you would go, in pursuit of a promise, a prayer yet unanswered. Or maybe you were just looking for a little buzz and a few laughs. Maybe for those hours you were out there in that bar with the music going and the Saturday night crowd milling around, you would be glad just to forget about the rest of your life, or at least get it in better perspective.

School, for example.

And while you were out there, I was rooting for you to discover something in that long, dark night. True, we were both wondering where you were and with whom, and we were worried about when you would get home and what might happen on the “F” train as you rode along at 6 in the morning.

But I understood why you did it, why you ventured forth into the unknown, because I once did it, too, a long time ago, and even though I often found nothing at all, I’m still glad I did it, because that’s how I met Elvira.

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Out Into The Night You Went

Dear Michael,

You sure did love the night life. Out the door you would go, at 8 or 9 or 10 p.m., headed to the Lower East Side, to some bar, or to Brooklyn, to some other bar. You certainly got to know the bar scene.

Sometimes, of course, we had no idea where you were going, and that was because neither did you. You would be with friends and your plan was to hang out.

So out the door you would go, your t-shirt tucked in just so, your hair done just so, leaving a scent of cologne in your wake (too much, Caroline would say, just between us).

You would definitely be looking good and feeling fine and anything could happen.
Maybe that night would be the the night. You would see her and right away you would know and then something good would happen. Or maybe you’d just have a drink of some kind and make Mike crack up with some wiseass remark and feel pretty loose.

What time you might get home, of course, was anyone’s guess. You would come back today or tomorrow, but most likely tomorrow. It might be 3 in the morning, but then again it could be more like 4, but come to think of it, it might be around 5, but on second thought my best bet is closer to 6, or you might just sleep over some place after all and call it a night and be back maybe around noon.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

How Being Different Makes a Difference

Dear Caroline,

I know how different you are from so many other girls. I see how they act, what they wear, the cursing. I have an idea what goes on.

I’ve read the articles and seen the TV news, all about cursing and sex and drinking, all about getting pregnant and catching AIDS. So much stupidity flourishes out there. I know how you might have turned out, going to public schools as you have, mostly in Queens, then Manhattan.
But no. You’re you, after all, and Mom is Mom, and what you were always destined to be, above all, is a little lady. No small accomplishment, that.

Ladies are in short supply these days. Now, by the word “lady” you may think I mean a woman in a hoop skirt who enjoys high tea with her pinkie out.

No. I’m talking about a basic sense of propriety and manners and culture.

You know how to order in a restaurant without sounding like you think the waitress is beneath you.

You know how to make conversation in all kinds of company, and to cite your accomplishments without seeming to brag.

You speak with clarity and courtesy, and know the meaning of “please” and “thank you.”

You’re no stranger to Broadway theater and Lincoln Center and the city’s great museums, restaurants and landmarks.

You can hold your own with anyone.

I’m proud my daughter is a lady, just as you should be. A lady through and through, just like your mother and her mother before her – a third-generation lady. It’s a tradition well worth carrying on.

Sometimes different is good. Sometimes – yes, I’m going to say it – different is even better.

P.S. — Question of the day: Is “different” better . . . or worse . . . or just different?

The Next Generation Goes to the Office: Part 2

Dear Michael,

My grandfather, Benjamin Sheft, had worked in Manhattan, too, in the accounting office he shared with his partner on East 42nd Street, right across from Grand Central Terminal.
My Uncle Leonard had worked in Manhattan, too, most recently on Third Avenue and 55th Street, at a law firm he shared with his partner.

Why, even my great-grandfather, my grandmother Sheft’s father, Isidore, had worked in Manhattan, as a tailor at Saks Fifth Avenue, on Fifth and 50th.
And of course I, too, had long worked in Manhattan. My first job, in 1976, was only a few blocks away, at a weekly community newspaper – also journalism! – on Park Avenue South and 17th Street.

I’ve also held jobs on 57th Street and Seven, and Sixth and 50th, and Lower Broadway near City Hall, and Third Avenue and 55th, and Eighth Avenue and 49th.
And now the receptionist here at Discover magazine (http://discovermagazine.com/) knew your name. Someone came out from the back to lead me toward you. We passed offices and cubicles, all the editors and artists in front of computers, tweaking text and adjusting images for the magazine. We went down one aisle, then turned down another, until finally we approached the library.

And there you were at your desk. You looked up and smiled, proud and sheepish at the same time. Your smile said to me both that yes, this was a pretty big deal, but also no, this was no big deal at all.

I certainly saw it as a big deal, and I always will. You were the latest in the line of generations of family I knew working at a job in Manhattan (as Mom had, too, by the way, at several jobs, all within the Garment District, right around Seventh Avenue and 40th Street, from about 1970 to 1990).

There you sat, looking so smart and professional, so proud and sheepish, the library behind you, working on the magazine’s next issue. You said how the library was the only place with any room left for you. And I said, Hey, all you need is a desk and a computer and you’re good to go.
It was a glorious moment, a favorite moment for me, a proud moment. You were getting going out there in the world and I was lucky enough to be there to see it.

The Next Generation Goes to the Office

Dear Michael,

You worked as an intern at Discover magazine for a few months some years back (http://discovermagazine.com/). You culled through the freelance manuscripts submitted, the so-called slush pile of unsolicited materials, among other chores. Quite a responsibility, that – passing judgment on what writers sent in.

You were – what? – all of 21 maybe.

Still, a cool job, better than working the aisles at Sam Goody, more stimulating, I would think. You also fact-checked articles, as I recall, researching, for example, the “20 Things” column. And you also contributed an item or two about a contributor or two.

I know you must have had other responsibilities at the magazine. You probably attended some editorial meetings. Somehow you must have picked up, in those three months or so, some sense of how a magazine is put together month after month. Either I forgot the details you shared with me about the job or you never told me very many; either could be equally true.

It makes no difference. What counts most, I think, is you told me you liked it there, liked your role, liked the people, and found yourself well-liked, too. Does anything else much matter? It seemed, all in all, a rewarding experience for you.

For me, too. I came down one day to see you there. I forget the exact circumstances, but I think we planned to go somewhere afterwards, maybe a movie premier. I was definitely coming down to pick you up to go somewhere. But I do remember approaching the receptionist that day and asking for you.

Obviously the receptionist recognized your name, and right away that made me feel so good. Here I was, in an office building on lower Fifth Avenue, where a major monthly magazine of no small repute was being put together, and there you were, too, my own son.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow…

Valentine’s Day Special: My Last First Date

Dear Michael and Caroline,

We double-date the first time, Elvira and I, with her friends Diane and Carmen. We hit a restaurant in New York City’s Little Italy, Puglia’s on Hester Street. Fettucine, garlic bread, the whole nine yards.

Immediately I’m taken with Elvira. She’s adorable, but she’s also got a good heart, and she’s smart, too. Naturally, she makes me nervous.

So I do what a guy in that situation might do. I clam up, too jittery to say anything. I also drink too much red wine, the house red – much too much – all without eating.

Afterwards, we head back uptown, to the apartment building in the Chelsea neighborhood where I live on the third floor and her Diane and Carmen on the first. We’re all saying goodnight, and then Elvira and I are alone.

“Would you like to come up?” I ask, feeling pretty frisky.

“No, thank you,” she says gently.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’m going to stay here tonight, with my friends.”

And then I say something I never should have said. Something that I find it hard to believe I said. Something that I’m still sorry and embarrassed and ashamed I said.

“What are you,” I say, “a lesbian or something?”

Now, you’re welcome to chalk up this remark to all the red wine I had drunk, or to rank immaturity, or to a guy being a guy, taking the only recourse left to his manly pride after seeing his advance rebuffed – questioning a woman about her sexual preferences – or just garden-variety idiocy. Or all of the above.

Whatever my motivation, I know instantly I’ve made a major mistake.

Surely Elvira will now react in kind. She’ll slap my face or call me rude or walk away or challenge me to do something anatomically impossible to myself. Or all of the above. No matter what happens, I suspect, I will somehow have to pay the consequences.

But no. The 23-year-old Italian girl from Brooklyn with the doe-like brown eyes and cute bangs never blinks or balks. Instead, she laughs it off and looks me right in the eyes.

“You’ve had too much to drink,” Elvira says to me. “It’s late at night and you have no idea what you’re saying. So let’s just ignore it and wish each other good night.”

Well, I think as we part company, that is certainly going to be that. Under no circumstances will I ever get to see this one again. I’ve blown it. Our first date is going to be our last date

But that, too, proves untrue. I call Elvira the next day to apologize, and she accepts. I then invite her out again, and she takes me up on that, too.

Elvira and I keep going out together, seeing no one else. The next year, we move in together in Queens. Two years later we become engaged. The following year we get married. Before the decade ends, we have two children, a son and a daughter. Next month we mark our 32nd wedding anniversary.

Talk about close calls. Our romance almost ended before it began – one blind date, over and out, all thanks to a comment that showed my judgment to be highly suspect at best. It haunts me to consider all the opportunities we would have missed, the wedding never held, the love never gained, the children never born.

Luckily, Elvira gave me that second chance She saw something redeemable in me, whatever it might be, and bet the house.

Valentine’s Day Guest Blog: Dear Kids, Here’s How I Met Your Dad

Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is a guest blog from a long-time friend of mine. The author is a mother of three, a wife of over 30 years (to the same husband yet), and a busy executive in New York City who prefers, at least here, to remain anonymous.

My Dear Dear Children ,

We were in college. I was a sophomore, he was a junior. It was a volatile time in my life and I was in turmoil. It was a calm time in his. I had a friend in a special degree program who was working on a special project about which she wanted my opinion. She was working on her project with a guy I had never met or heard of and he would be there.

He walked in and I was immediately smitten. I was head over heels in love at first sight. I could think of little else but him. I had to be in a relationship with him. It felt different from anything I’d had with any former boyfriend (and I’d had a good few before).

Of course, he hadn’t the slightest interest in me.

I chased after him as subtly as I could manage in the state I was in. I’m sure it was anything but subtle to him, but I was determined. I found out what classes he was in and hung out when he’d be coming and going to them. I got his phone number and called his house when I knew he had to be home. I’d ask him for help with my classes. I made all sorts of excuses to get near to him.

He was lovesick for someone else who wasn’t interested in him. I made myself so nice and so there all the time that he couldn’t avoid me. We went out on a first date and I accidentally let it slip. Yes, I said those three little words on the first date. “I love you,” I said.

Amazingly, it didn’t scare him off.

Thirty-plus years is a long time to be married. It doesn’t feel now like it felt then. It’s no longer an infatuation. It isn’t exciting every minute like it was then. Today, our love is a completely different experience. We’ve been each others’ partner, each others’ family, for a long time. We’ve built a bond that can stretch pretty far without breaking. It’s a richer kind of love.

It probably doesn’t look like something you want to emulate but look around. There aren’t many marriages today that last nearly as long. It’s an accomplishment to have such a relationship. It’s worthy of the work it takes to keep it going.

On Valentine’s Day, we think about love, and in particular, romantic love. It’s a good time to remind you that it was an expression of love – ours, for each other — that brought all of you into this world.

Love from your friend,

Mom

The Valentine Prescription

If marriage came as a pill, here’s what the label on the bottle might say — from an article I wrote in 2009 for The Washington Post:

MARRIAGE (hitched)
No advertisement can provide all the information needed to determine if marriage is right for you.

INDICATIONS: Marriage is the therapy of choice for treatment of the condition of being unmarried. Marriage is approved to manage the dread of growing old alone and missing the opportunity to have dinner every night with a special someone without talking. Clinical trials reveal that marriage is recommended if you have found either a true soulmate or someone who has an excellent 401(k).

WARNINGS: You should avoid marriage if you believe the opposite sex should come equipped with a mute button or are unable to hold your own in an argument, however stupid. Never drink alcohol during marriage, as it may ease the inhibition you ordinarily feel about telling your spouse the truth. People suffering from a chronic inability to compromise or adjust the toilet seat immediately after use should also never get married.

PRECAUTIONS: Until you know how you will react to marriage, avoid activities that require alertness, such as a conversation with your new partner. Marriage before either of you is ready may result in divorce – or, equally common, a life together based largely on mutual indifference.

ADVERSE REACTIONS: Marriage may be safe and effective for up to a lifetime. Then again, individual results may vary.
If you notice yourself having any unusual or disturbing thoughts during marriage – such as suicidal impulses – consider it the norm. You may also experience loss of memory, particularly details of your own mistakes. Listening to your spouse for prolonged periods may cause drowsiness, dizziness and headache. You may also feel an urgent need to leave whatever room your spouse currently occupies. Other serious side effects include the growth of a chip on your shoulder.

SPECIAL CONCERNS: Marriage may cause monogamy. It may also cause adultery. Marriage may cause sudden loss of interest in sex with others, or a surge of such interest. Marriage may cause pregnancy. It may also cause children.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: Marriage should never be undertaken in combination with pending divorces, unresolved paternity suits or an undisclosed prison record.

OVERDOSAGE: Marriage is available in several dosage strengths ranging from Staying Together Too Much (100 and 200 mg) to Keeping Apart As Frequently As Humanly Possible (25 and 50 mg).

BENEFITS: Marriage may have multiple rewards. You may find yourself grateful to be relegated to being only the second most important person in the world now. Taken properly, marriage may lead to trust, intimacy and the honoring of vows, as well as an unprecedented ability to bend over backwards. Long-term use, in conjunction with a low-fat diet and regular aerobic exercise, may lead to cooperation and companionship and contentment, not to mention the sharing of the Sunday paper without being asked. Eventually, marriage may bring about long-overdue apologies for misbehavior, plus a newfound willingness to forgive all sins.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2009/02/09/ST2009020902159.html

We Two Funny Valentines

Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is a piece I wrote for Newsday a few years ago that celebrates humor in marriage.

In almost 28 years of marriage, my wife and I have often joked about how deeply I’m in her debt.

Luckily enough, the other day I finally found the opportunity to bring this running joke home. As my wife sat at the desk in our bedroom paying bills, I noticed her calculator nearby. I stepped over and pecked in a few numbers, pretending to be doing some important figuring.

“Hey, guess what?” I said. “It’s true after all.”
“What is?”
“I really do owe you everything.”

Every Valentine’s Day, the experts weigh in about how romance starts and offer the keys to keeping it going. Biologists cite pheromones and psychologists the whispering of sweet nothings into the ear. All well and good, but let’s remember a sense of humor.

I happen to know this to be true. Years ago I met a young woman from Greenpoint, Brooklyn named Elvira. Quickly I realized that, besides being cute, smart and kind, she was endowed with an excellent sense of humor. Elvira invented nonsense words and did silly walks and made faces and mimicked Betty Davis in “All About Eve.” I learned from her mother that once, as a teenager, she traipsed out in front of her family with a basket of artificial fruit propped on her head, imitating Carmen Miranda in the movie “The Lady With The Tutti-Frutti Hat.”

As it turned out, her brand of humor suited me just fine. I, too, had certain tendencies in this direction. Early on, thanks to my cracking wise and pretending to walk into doors, my fellow high school students literally elected me Class Clown (male division). No joke. I kept playing court jester well after college, too, with my puns and spit takes, and generally showed few signs that adulthood was even remotely imminent.

We clicked, bigtime. I asked for her hand (no, the other one) and nuptials ensued. Over the years, we’ve made fun of anything and everything, including the world, each other and ourselves.

Our humor, mine and hers, is born of pain. Mine, because my mother was born profoundly deaf and never heard my voice, hers because her mother slaved to make a living to raise her without much help from anyone. We’ve gone through our share of crises as adults, too, from a daughter hospitalized at age three to my getting laid off twice. Our disappointment, frustration and anger seep out through our pores as jokes.

I’d ask you how you are, I once said to her, but I’m worried you’d tell me.
Hey, she retorted, did I ever let you know that meeting you back in 1976 was doubt at first sight?

You’re the only person I know, I came back, who usually needs a second chance to make a good first impression.

Listen, she concluded, look on the bright side: Nobody’s killed you yet.
Once, after I misbehaved, she gave me a sympathy card. Inside, she had written, “Because you are so annoying, my heart goes out to you.”

Through it all, such humor has promoted a sense of unity for us. You might almost say we married for funny.

Researchers, too, now recognize that a sense of humor can act as a kind of medicine for a couple. A dose of humor, taken regularly, can alleviate suffering of all sorts, everything from anxiety to grief, potent enough, even, to safeguard against alienation and divorce. Studies show, for example, that the husbands and wives who are most satisfied with life together give each other high marks for humor, and that couples who share private jokes thereby enhance intimacy.

So here’s my advice to couples: Humor each other. You know what they say: laugh, and someone else may, too.

Take it from us. We’re still kidding each other, still laughing together 30 years later. My wife and I have long since learned how best to settle an argument. We take a mature approach. We call each other stupidheads.

Why, just last week, during yet another domestic dispute, Elvira joked once again about how much she looks forward to the day she gets to collect on my life insurance policy. Seeking forgiveness, I asked her what I could do, right now, that would make her happy.

“You mean,” she said, “other than your immediate demise?”

Thus does humor remain the most valuable tool in our personal survival kit. And I think we know why. Our love for each other is much too serious for us to take too seriously.

A Valentine’s Day Special: Why My Wife is the Best Investment Ever

Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is a piece I wrote in 2007 for The Christian Science Monitor:

Dearest Spouse,

From the moment I laid eyes on you, looking so cute with your pixie haircut and your cool red-leather jacket, I knew you would deliver above-market ROI. I’d acted on a word-of-mouth tip from an analyst, my neighbor in the apartment downstairs, with an eye for value. No sooner had he recommended a buy than I opted to review your prospectus. And then there you stood, shyly smiling hello to me, and I decided to get in on the ground floor.

That night, as we dined out on our double date in Little Italy – remember the waiter who played the spoons in his lap for our entertainment? – we ran through the preliminary phases of research and development. The transaction proved even better than touted. Right away I saw your promising earnings potential and liked my chances. Putting all my cards on the table, I asked you out. And out we then went, every week for months, usually on the cheap, pizza here, falafel there, creating an infrastructure for trust and intimacy.

Little more than a year later, with all economic indicators pointing toward progress – your advances, for example, always leading your declines – I saw you really start to take off. Clearly you could outperform any competition, whether commodities, precious metals or other women. So we moved in together, into a one-bedroom apartment with a doorman and a terrace, establishing a hedge against inflation. Closer and closer we drew, and after eight months, in a dramatic shift of strategy, I, a lifelong sole proprietorship with an outlook typically short-sighted, began to think long-term.

One night, then, I positioned myself on our living-room sofa for maximum advantage and, all variables be damned, asked for your hand in marriage. Never for a second did I rely on guesswork, nor did I have any kind of system in place. I acted on faith. Crying, you consented to the merger.

Nine months later, on March 11, 1979, after doing all our due diligence, we incorporated our partnership. Wedding gifts provided a welcome infusion of capital. We furnished our headquarters, pinched pennies and turned ourselves into a going concern. Within four years, we expanded our franchise with a subsidiary we named Michael, and five years later with a new female division we called Caroline, doubling our payroll. Nonetheless, we kept building equity and hit the break-even point faster than projected.

Little ever went quite as planned, though. Early on, still facing doubts, even occasionally flirting with panic, I would ask, Is this right for me? I would check your share price daily, even hourly. And we’ve had operational issues, too. Job layoffs, illness, the death of our principal shareholder, your mother. As co-CEOs, we’ve clashed over everything from liquidity to whether you’d be better off divesting yourself of me.

But through it all, even in the teeth of disappointments and downturns, you’ve always hung tough, ever-resilent, recession-proof, staunchly blue-chip. Your trading volume never slowed. You never lapsed into volatility. You never needed a price correction. Jumps in interest rates never caused you even a flutter of fluctuation.

Rather, your capitalization always climbed. And as we matured together, you cultivated both our signature products into splendid specimens. You threw off handsome dividends, your rate of return consistently beating the S&P 500 average. Your value only waxed, never waned. You never failed me, or us.

If either of us ever has sold short, clearly it was I, with my limited emotional intelligence and otherwise questionable fiduciary skills. But give me a little credit. At least I had the good sense to hold rather than fold. I never drafted a succession plan or looked for an exit strategy. Nor did I ever feel tempted, for that matter, to cut my losses, let alone diversify my portfolio.
Maybe I deserve more than just a little credit after all. I knew from the get-go that you looked every inch the investment of a lifetime. All your assets – your kindness, common sense and your humor, not to mention your understanding and generosity and loyalty and love – keep bringing home a strong bottom line. You’re a classic growth stock, the fortune I always forsaw.

Hey, I know a full upside when I see one. I’ve done the math. Clearly, I’ve got a winner here. It just shows that any lucky fool can hit it big.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0309/p18s03-hfes.html

Valentine’s Day Guest Blog: How I Met My Husband

Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is a guest blog about how Gina Barreca met her husband. A Professor of English Literature and Feminist Theory at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Barreca (www.ginabarreca.com) is a popular speaker at professional conferences the world over and author of eight books, including, most recently, “It’s Not That I’m Bitter,” and the bestselling “They Used To Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted.”

Hey Guys,

You know exactly how your father and I met. We met 22 years ago at work. I’d been teaching there for a year while he’d been on sabbatical, so we were introduced only after I’d pretty much met everybody else in the Department.

But you might not know that I actually remember the first time I saw your dad: he came into the faculty lunchroom wearing a crisp blue suit — he was still on sabbatical, living out of town, dropping by just to say “hi” after a meeting with a publisher — and the rest of the professorial yahoos teased him mercilessly.

“You just come from your First Communion?” was one remark I remember. I think it was the former Department Chair who said that.

It’s true that they all adored your dad and that they were torturing him precisely because it was a show of masculine affection, but they had a woman sitting at the table now.

Having already learned to ignore the riff-raff, I complimented your father, telling him that he looked very handsome, and his face lit up. After everybody went “OOOOooooo” as if we were all in fifth-grade, your father and I were introduced.

We didn’t see one another again for six months or so, until he moved back into town and resumed teaching. You were young teenagers then, stung by your parents’ separation and baffled by the ways your own lives were changing. The last thing you wanted was to be introduced to some new woman he was seeing. You wanted your social lives to have their appropriate space. Dealing with your father’s emerging romantic involvement did not fit into the blueprint. There wasn’t any designated spot for me.

But we figured it out. Amazing? Absolutely.

It wasn’t easy, but we all worked at it. And the very act of “trying to get it right” (and knowing there is no real “right”) is what has made us a family—and a strong, confident family—during the twenty years your father and I have been married.

You both have joyful, lasting, loving marriages of your own now and that’s a tribute to your own resilience, intelligence, and—let’s face it—sense of adventure.

You know marriage isn’t easy and that it isn’t simply based on good intentions and luck. You know that any important relationship is grounded in a willingness to understand, accept, and enjoy the other person.

You know that we love you. And now you know about the First Communion Suit. Feel free to tease him mercilessly.

XXXOOO Your Stepmother, Gina

Valentine’s Day Exclusive: An Interview with Cupid

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming this week to honor Valentine’s Day. Here, to start us off, is an essay I wrote for The Washington Post in 2005.

At his crystal mansion perched high on Mount Olympus, the mythic figure Cupid swoops down to a poolside balcony to give his first interview in 2,782 years. As he stills his fluttering wings and peels off his trademark blindfold, the Greek immortal looks remarkably well for someone almost three millennia old. With his signature bow- shaped mouth and tousled blond hair, Cupid still appears positively childlike — post-cute, perhaps, is the right term — the only sign of his longevity the thick, black bifocals he now wears.

Last sighted in public during the Reagan years — at Spago, wearing the obligatory Armani toga and sandals — he eventually went reclusive, leaving in his wake only a brief statement citing personal issues. Now he has emerged from voluntary exile to promote his tell- all memoir and unveil a sweeping new policy statement about romance.

“Contrary to popular opinion, it’s no picnic being the god of love,” Cupid reflects. “Oh, I had a good run. You’ve heard of love at first sight, right? My concept. Romeo and Juliet? My premise. All the great romances in history, stretching from Antony and Cleopatra to Donald Trump and himself? My doing. Hey, I almost emptied my quiver on Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney.

“But suddenly everything started to change,” Cupid continues. “Just look at the United States. Only 59 percent of the population is married now, down from 72 percent in 1970. Back in 1980, only 6 percent of us were divorced — now it’s 10 percent. Cable TV got oversexed and the Internet brought along all that porn. For the first time, I had a lot of competition — video games, 900-numbers, you name it. I tell you, romance went right down the toilet. For a while I even considered outsourcing.”

Cupid sips some nectar and peers beyond his pool (Olympic-size, of course) to his manicured 75-acre estate.

“My personal life took some wrong turns, too,” he continues. “One controversy followed another. The Federal Aviation Administration, right out of the blue, came after me for flying without a license. Ambulance-chasing lawyers brought a class-action suit against me, claiming that inducing instant love had cardiovascular side effects. Plus, Zeus cut our dental plan.

“To top it all off, I got kind of drunk on my own power. So I made a few extra bucks feeding celebrity exclusives to the supermarket tabloids. Some other Olympians got wind of my lousy attitude and held an intervention. From then on, all decisions about whose hearts I could pierce would be made by committee. I lost my bearings, and clinical depression set in. My eyes got worse, too, throwing off my aim. Remember Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee? A total accident. I came really close to committing suicide. Then I realized it’s out of the question if you’re an immortal.

“Probably just job burnout.

“Now I’m back,” Cupid says. “And it’s true what they say: You really need that face time. So we held a few focus groups, conducted some market research and did some brainstorming and came up with a to- do list. Proposed international guidelines and reforms; 112, to be exact.”

Here’s a taste:

Second marriages should be tried only once. If you try to buy love, your check will bounce. Love at first sight lasts only if you take a second look. Get rid of prenups. Stop stigmatizing one-night stands — it’s Darwinism at its purest. If you go on a blind date, keep your eyes open. Teen sex should consist largely of blushing.

“It’s all spelled out in my new book,” Cupid says. “It’s called ‘Shooting for Love: Cupid Shares His Time-Honored Secrets.’ We’re in discussions with Laura Bush now about drafting a Leave No Lover Behind Act.

“As for me, I never found the right girl,” he concludes. “Here I am, god of love and all that jazz, creating matches made in heaven for the whole world, and I’m going almost every Saturday night without a date. How’s that for irony! I looked everywhere, tried everything: personal ads, singles cruises, the Yellow Pages. Even tried to shoot myself with one of my own arrows — missed. Finally, I just got tired of the whole bar scene, tired of getting stood up, jilted and two-timed. The only conjugating I ever did was of verbs. With all due respect to Joseph Campbell, you can follow your bliss till the cows come home and still be left hanging there on the last call for drinks. So I saw a shrink. Turns out it’s generally pretty hard to find true love when your mother is Venus.

“I mean, talk about a tough act to follow. No wonder I’ve had serious commitment issues. Problems with intimacy, the whole nine yards.

“I never found the right girl — until just recently, that is,” Cupid adds with a wink. “Yes, she’s agreed to be my valentine, and we plan to get married Feb. 14 in Reno. She’s perfect for me: knows nothing about Greek mythology and has no fear of flying. So there you go. Rumors that romance is dead are exaggerated. Love is still everywhere. If I can find it, anyone can.”

The Girl Who Went Gourmet: Part 2

Dear Caroline,

Then, of course, once you’ve ordered, comes the big moment: the food arrives at the table. Your eyes take it in, all of it.

Oooohhhh, you’ll say, that looks good.

You’ll take your fork and dig in, your senses on high alert, your palate registering every flavor. You’ll munch on your taco or enchilada or empanada, and smile, humming with satisfaction.
Again and again you’ve gone through this scenario, whether with fried cauliflower or pumpkin ravioli or the greens at Virgil’s or the chocolate mousse or the hash browns at McDonald’s or a sundae from Carvel or the New York Super Fudge Chunk from Ben & Jerry.

It’s lovely to witness. You’re a treat to feed. In your love of food, your appetite for adventure and experimentation, you’re very much Mom’s girl, and Grandma’s, too. Food is one of the great frontiers and you’ve always acted like a pioneer.

Every true parent, every parent with the real nurturing spirit, loves to feed his or her children.
Sometimes, if we’re lucky, that love is reciprocated, with a child, who, in turn, loves to eat – and, better still, is fun to feed.

It’s wonderful you can share this passion with your family, especially Mom. And what makes it all the more special is that you’re also a smart eater. Highly discerning, quite selective, as concerned with nutrition as with taste, a perfect food fan. You understand the secret: food is more than fuel; food is also fun. Your love of it brings me as much pleasure as it does you.

P.S. – Your kids like food, too, right? Tell us all about it.

The Girl Who Went Gourmet

Dear Caroline,

You’ll be at some restaurant – okay, let’s just say Frost http://www.frostrestaurant.com/ – looking over the menu. Should I get this ravioli, you’ll ask, or the chicken parmigiana? You’ll ask this question as if the question itself is somehow delicious.

Or you’ll be at Rack & Soul http://www.rackandsoul.com/, again mulling over the choices, all listed before you, with that same sense of the delectable in the offing. Should I get the fried chicken, you’ll wonder aloud, or the barbequed chicken? (You always consult Mom, never me, quite practical of you).

Or we’ll be at the Tower Diner http://www.towerdiner.com/ and you’re debating with yourself between the waffles and the French Toast as you weigh the evidence to render judgment.
Ah, but ordering your choice is only the first of several steps. Ordering the meal involves the delights of decision.

But still, as I see you deciding, I realize anew how much you love food. You’re open to just about any experience. Your palate seeks adventure. And you particularly love restaurants.
Years ago, you would go with Mom to Dawat, that fine Indian restaurant in Manhattan. You would sample all kinds of dishes – chicken curry, poori bread, whatever. The manager there took great pleasure in seeing you arrive with Mom. You had to be all of – what? Seven or eight years old? – quite the pixie. He even showed you the Tandoor ovens personally.

So your current sophistication about food is long in the making. You’re a real restaurant gal.
How many different restaurants have you tried? Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Italian, Burmese, Japanese, Spanish, the works. You’ve eaten at The Water Club http://www.thewaterclub.com/ and Tavern on the Green and that Asian place near Lincoln Center with the overpriced and undersized dumplings. Nick’s, Niko’s, the list goes on and on. Virgil’s http://www.virgilsbbq.com/,
the Pop http://www.popdiner.com/, that Indian place down below the sidewalk with the low ceilings in the East Village.

We should have collected menus for a scrapbook.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.