Love Boat Era
Home Stroke of Midnight

 
 


INTRODUCTION TO THE LOVE BOAT ERA

Written by rick archer
January 2020

 
 

Rick Archer's Note:

The story of the SSQQ Love Boat Era is an seven chapter excerpt taken from the book I have just completed. 

Although the Magic Carpet Ride is essentially an autobiography, the main purpose of the book is to illustrate the role that 'Fate' has played in my life.  Studies have shown that roughly half of America believes in Fate despite deep skepticism from the scientific community.  I am fairly certain that percentage would rise if my book ever makes it to the public domain. 

On a day to day basis, very few people give Fate more than a passing thought.  Weird things happen to all of us from time to time, but rarely is a coincidence dramatic enough to make us sit back and wonder.  In my case, strange things kept happening with shocking regularity.  My story lists 90 Supernatural Observations that took place within a specific 30 year period of my life.  Several of these events defied the laws of probability so radically that I was hard pressed to think of a 'Reality-based' explanation that made more sense than the Mystical possibility.

Born with a questioning nature, I refused to shrug my shoulders and write these events off as just one of those things.  Faced with too many events to ignore, I chose instead to examine each event as a way to prove to myself there is more to this world than meets the eye. 

In the process I became convinced that Fate exists.  I think anyone who reads my account of these events with an open mind will reach an identical conclusion.  The first event may not do the trick or the second event or the third event.  But after a while, maybe the 20th event, maybe the 50th event (who knows which one it will be?), you will see my point.  The Magic Carpet Ride will leave you shaking your head in so much wonder, you will no longer be confident the prevailing scientific view of Reality is totally correct.

 

I began writing the Magic Carpet Ride in 2013.  The book is divided into three parts.  Part One deals with my childhood and the major setback of my life when I was thrown out of graduate school.  Part Two deals with the strange coincidences that led to the formation of SSQQ which eventually grew to become the large dance studio in America.  Part Three covers the Love Boat Era. 

The story of the Love Boat Era is very interesting for a variety of reasons.  We start with a love story which details how I met my wife Marla.  Then I throw in a curve ball which demonstrates in a very convincing way that our relationship was a Fated event.  From there I explain how my dance studio developed its cruise trip tradition.  I will conclude with the story of our very remarkable Wedding Cruise.

In addition to leading a weird life, I have led a very interesting life.  It will not matter if you could care less about my mystical mumbo jumbo.  The story of the Love Boat Era is quite a tale.  If you love to travel, then you like it even more. 

I do have one favor to ask.  I have written my book with virtually no feedback.  Any impression you wish to share... criticism, suggestions, encouragement, a request for further explanation... by all means share it with me.  Any comment you make will remain confidential.  I have no way to improve my story unless I know what people think.  So please help.

Rick Archer
January 2020
rick@ssqq.com

 


BOOK
THREE - THE LOVE BOAT ERA

 

 

CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED TWENTY FOUR:

COMEBACK

Written by Rick Archer 

 

 
 
 


SUBCHAPTER 976 -
FAILURE

 

Sunday, December 24, 2000.

On Christmas Eve 2000 my wife asked for a divorce. 

Back in those days, SSQQ dance studio doubled as the Quaker Meeting House on Sunday mornings.   I was a Quaker by birth.  Several times in my life, the kindness of people I had met through the Quaker Meeting in Houston and in Baltimore had rescued me from tight spots.  In the late Nineties, I was given a chance to return the many favors.  The Quakers were trying to build a new Meeting House in the Heights area of town.  However, they were badly strapped for cash.  I suggested they stop paying rent at their current location and use my dance studio for free.  I was thrilled to let this group use the studio while their lovely new home was being built.  The Quakers were thrilled as well.  From what I gather, the Quakers enjoyed holding their Sunday Meeting at SSQQ.  They had total privacy and absolute silence.  Considering the Quakers very much enjoy peace and quiet, the dance studio was perfect for their needs.  

However, someone made a mistake on Christmas Eve 2000. 

On this particular day, Quaker service started at 11 am.  This is when the group held their traditional Christmas Eve candlelight service.  Afterwards they stayed at the studio for much of the afternoon.  This was a happy time for the group because it included a potluck dinner and a warm social gathering to follow.  They had a lot to talk about.   Not only was this the day before Christmas, but they were excited because their new Meeting home in the Heights would soon be ready.

 

I did not attend the gathering.  In fact, I rarely attended Quaker Meeting.  Quite frankly, I felt so overwhelmed by my job that I could not force myself to come to the studio during my one free day even for a religious gathering. 

Late in the afternoon around 5 pm, I got a phone call from the Quakers.  After cleaning up, the last few people were getting ready to leave when they discovered the only person with a key had left without remembering their duty to lock the door.  The person on the phone had no way to lock the studio door. 

I was very irritated.  I would have to stop what I was doing and spend half an hour of my time on Christmas Eve driving to the studio to lock the door and return home again. 

I got into an argument with Judy over this phone call.  We were both worn out and neither us wanted to be the one to get up and drive to the studio to lock the door.  Looking back, obviously I should have been the one to drive to the studio that day.  The Quakers were my problem, not hers.  However, to my surprise, Judy abruptly stood up and stomped out the door.  Shocked, I stared at my 9-year old daughter Sam who stared back at me. 

Sam asked, "What is Mom so upset about?"

I shook my head.  I was just as confused as she was.  The argument had not been that heated.  I was irritated, yes, but I wasn't angry at Judy.  It wasn't her fault the door was unlocked.  One impression that did stick was that Judy's mood seemed much darker than the moment called for.  One hour later, Judy returned.  She got right to the point. 

"I want a divorce."

 

My first marriage in 1984 had not lasted very long.  Pat was an interesting woman.  I could write a book about Pat or I could write a paragraph.  I think I will settle for the paragraph.   Pat had a lot going for her.  Talented woman.  On paper, the marriage was perfect.  The only problem was that Pat liked to argue.  In my opinion there was nothing to argue about.  We had money, we had health, we had jobs, we had security.  We didn't drink, smoke, cheat, or gamble.  What was there to argue about?  Well, jealousy for one.  Which was a shame because I only had eyes for my attractive wife.  However she didn't trust me.  Oh well. 

I married again in 1991 to Judy.  When Samantha was born, I made a solemn vow that I would do a lot better job raising my daughter than my parents had done with me.  Back when I was Sam's age, my parents fought every night for a year.  Many nights I fell asleep crying out of fear and insecurity.  When Sam was born, I vowed I would never put my own daughter through an experience like that. 

Here on Christmas Eve I was 50 years old.  The studio had enjoyed its most successful year in history.  I had reason to believe we were the largest independent dance studio in the country.  That was the good news.  The bad news was success demanded my full attention.  I put every spare moment into handling the details necessary to keep the energy going.  I knew there were serious problems in my marriage.  However, I was so preoccupied with running my business and raising my daughter that the thought of divorce had never entered my mind. 

However, we did argue, I won't deny that.  And when Judy and I argued, Sam hid somewhere and cried.  So much for my vow to never put my daughter through an experience like that.

 

Granted neither Judy nor I were particularly happy at the moment.  However I was one of those stick together for the good of the child types.  In addition, I had a lot of respect for Judy.  She was a good mother and a good business partner.  She deserved a lot of credit for the studio's successful Year 2000.  My gratitude for her many contributions explains why Judy's request had caught me off guard.  However, now that I gave her request some thought, I decided both of us would benefit from being apart.  One minute later I gave her my answer. 

"I will agree to the divorce if I can have joint custody of our daughter."

Judy nodded her assent.  "That seems fair."

Feeling overwhelmed by a sense of failure, I wanted to be alone.  So I grabbed my keys and drove to the studio.  Oh boy, Christmas Eve alone in the giant dark dance studio.  Just my idea of fun.  With nothing else to do, I had plenty of time for reflection.  I'm not sure that was such a good thing.  Throughout the night my ghosts of Christmas Past dropped by to haunt me.  Now I could add the memory of getting divorced on Christmas 2000 to the growing list.

There is no way to wallpaper over a divorce and disguise the ugliness.  As I sat alone in the dark at the dance studio, I could not recall feeling more miserable.  Not only had I failed in two marriages, I had let my daughter down.  So much for that good old Christmas Spirit. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 977 - SKI TRIP REVELATION

 

January 2001

I suppose word of my separation made its way through the Grapevine.  One day in early January my friend Tom Easley gave me a call.  Tom and I went all the way back to the days of the Winchester Club in 1981.  He met his wife Margaret at the studio in 1987.  Six months later I attended their wedding. 

Tom got right to the point. 

"Hey, Rick, I need a favor.  I want to go skiing at Lake Tahoe, but I need a roommate.  I heard a rumor you might be available."

"What about Margaret?"

"Margaret doesn't want to go this year.  Why don't you come with me instead?"

Tom's invitation to go skiing was a real blessing.  I needed to get out of town and nurse my wounds.  How funny that Tom should come to my rescue again.  Tom had also been there to save me when my first marriage broke up back in 1986.

 

Tom was part of a large ski group that I started back in the early Eighties.  After I handed off the responsibility in 1988, the group continued throughout the Nineties.  Over the years, the ski group had developed a tradition to go skiing together every January.  Virtually everyone in this group of 40 had either met at SSQQ or came with someone from SSQQ.  Not surprisingly, through many shared adventures this group had formed deep and lasting friendships.   Charlie and Beverly Roberts had met at the studio.  Gary and Linda Kryzwicki had met at the studio.  Doug and Sharon Hollingsworth had met at the studio.  Irving and Sharon Carter had met at the studio.  Ted Jones and Margie Saibara had met at the studio.  Tom Easley had met Margaret at the studio.  Six SSQQ marriages on this trip!

Then there was Ken Schmetter, Michele Collins, Dan Taft, Tom Edens, and Jim Ponder.  This entire week was an SSQQ version of the Big Chill.  Although I knew half the people on the trip from the dance studio, I had not seen most of them in years.  I got goosebumps watching how happy these people were to be with one another.  I noted with quiet satisfaction that my days as 'Leader of the Pack' back in the Eighties had been largely responsible for helping this wonderful group of people connect. 

 

I dealt with a lot of strange emotions that week.  I had once been very close to these people.  Not only was my studio the reason they met, I had organized the ski trips in the 1980s that had led to this tradition getting started.  However, now I was the outsider. Judy was not interested in skiing, so I had lost touch with this ski group during the Nineties.

Fortunately it did not take long for the warmth to return.  I was having a blast reconnecting with my friends.  Every day I skied with all those couples who had met through SSQQ.  It was like old times again.  The week I spent with the group was a definite shot in the arm because it reminded me of all the good will the studio had created over the years. 

On the other hand, I realized the camaraderie I had created back in the Eighties had not carried over into the Nineties.  I had no one to blame but myself.  I was single most of the time in the Eighties and used my freedom to organize activities.  However, once I got married, I lost my edge.  I would far rather spend time with my wife and daughter than go dancing with the gang on my free nights. 

Well, now that I was free again, I began to wonder if there was something I could do to bring the Magic of the Eighties back.

 


SUBCHAPTER 978 - REKINDLING THE MAGIC

 

February 2001

I suppose every career has its ups and downs.  Of course there is the excitement of making it for the first time.  However, as the years add up, it isn't so easy to bring the heat day in and day out.  As owner of the studio, I was the obvious leader.  To be effective, I needed to participate in as many important events as possible.  However, now that was I teaching five nights a week, private lessons on Saturdays plus two Saturday night parties per month, I was really worn out.  I had Sundays plus two Saturday nights a month to rest. 

People would say, "Rick, come join us at the dance competition this Saturday!  Ted and Margie are competing for the championship.  We would really like to see you!"

I would always decline with some face-saving fib.  They were crazy if they thought I was going to give up my one free night of the week to go watch a bunch of people dance.  Don't get me wrong, I loved Ted and Margie and my admiration for their dancing was off the charts.  However, no matter how much my heart tugged at me to hang with my friends from the Good Old Days, I needed a breather just like anyone else. 

It hurts to talk about this, but I had run into a major problem at this stage of my career.  I called it the 'Seesaw Effect'.  It worked like this... the more miserable I was, the better my studio did.  The happier I was, the worse my studio did. 

I suppose this phenomenon is not as unusual as I thought.  A lot of people speak of the difficulty balancing the demands of career versus the demands of family.  But I resented the fact that I was continually forced to sacrifice personal happiness to serve the needs of my highly successful business.  Any time I participated in a studio-related extracurricular activity, I helped boost the energy of the event.  In other words, the more often I went dancing with the students, attended weddings, went to a swimming pool party, showed up at a dance competition or simply went around saying hi to people at the studio, the more the social side of SSQQ began to click. 

 

However, when I was married to Judy, I cut my activities in half.  Although the dance lesson side of the business still did okay, there was a definite drop off on the social side.  I hated myself for withdrawing like I did, but as the marriage began to fail, so did my enthusiasm for being around people.  In the latter half of the Nineties, I ceased being the leader of the pack.  After class, rather than stick around and dance with the students, more often I went home and let my large staff of teachers be in charge of drumming up the enthusiasm. 

So one might say what about V-Ann?  Let her run the social activities!   V-Ann had quit the moment I married Pat back in 1984.  Since she never gave a specific reason, I don't know if V-Ann ever forgave me for breaking up with her best friend Judy Price.  Boy, did I miss V-Ann!  And so did the studio.  In the 17 years since V-Ann had been gone, no one even remotely like her had ever appeared on my door step.  You can pay people to do a job, but you can't pay them to care about it like V-Ann did.  She was irreplaceable, one of a kind.

When I was single during the Eighties, hanging with the In-Crowd of the day wasn't an issue.  I excelled in my Leader of the Pack role because I was lonely and happy to see my friends from the studio on a regular basis.  However, every time I entered a relationship, my interest in playing Leader of the Pack diminished dramatically.  After teaching dance six nights a week, I was a lot more interested in spending my seventh night alone with my girlfriend or wife than I was in going dancing at a Western club with the group.

In short, whenever I was single and miserable, my dance studio thrived.  And when I took time away from the studio to enjoy myself at home, the studio stagnated.   This dilemma set up frequent struggles with my conscience.  Take weddings for example.  Good grief, people were getting married right and left!  Not a month passed without another wedding.  I prayed the latest couple would not invite me, but I knew they would.  I would force myself to attend the weddings because I knew it was the right thing to do, but unless I knew them well, I secretly wanted to be home watching the football game.  I was suffering from an acute case of burnout. 

With this 'hide from the world' attitude, not surprisingly, the social energy at the studio during my marriage in the Nineties was nowhere near as strong as it had been back in the Eighties.  I was well aware of this problem and bitter about it.  Nor did Judy help much.  She was reclusive by nature.  This was one of the major points of tension in our marriage. 

Now it was 2001.  With the divorce, a ten-year chapter of my life was ending.  I was free again and miserable, the perfect situation for the Leader of the Pack to make his comeback.  What would be the next chapter in my studio's destiny?   The January Ski Trip gave me plenty of time to reflect on this issue.  Whenever I had a spare moment, I thought about the distance I had put between myself and the students at the dance studio.  I still taught lessons with enthusiasm, but I no longer got involved in people's lives like I once had.  I was something of a stranger at my own dance studio.  My dance teachers were the current leaders, not me.  Oddly enough, the classes were filled to the brim.  Two successive dance fads, Swing Dancing in 1998-1999 and Salsa Dancing in 1999-2000, had the studio hopping.  I was probably the only person in the world who realized the Spirit of the studio had dimmed. 

Now that I was reminded of how much good I had done helping Tom's network of friends to form, my impending divorce would give me the perfect opportunity to connect to the current generation of people at the studio.  I decided the studio needed an adventure.  It was too late to plan a ski trip.  The best time would be this coming summer.  What could I do?  What about organizing a cruise trip? 

As an experiment, I had organized a studio cruise trip to Jamaica in 1998.  We had 30 people.  I did not enjoy that trip much at all.  I played hermit most of the time, preferring to read a book, play computer chess or hang out with my daughter Sam.  I barely lifted a finger to get to know anyone on a personal basis.  I could not wait for the trip to end.  Still, I had noticed one thing... our guests had a ball dancing every night on the trip.  They also enjoyed the dance lessons I taught on sea days.  That observation had stayed with me. 

 

Well, that was 1998 and this was 2001.  Now that I was single again, I had a free hand to do things my way, so I decided to give a studio cruise trip another try.  What would happen if I opened up a little?   It wouldn't hurt to be more sociable. 

I called Alan Fox, a friend of mine who played basketball with me every Saturday morning.  Alan owned a travel agency.  He was the one who had suggested I offer our first SSQQ cruise back in 1998.  He was more than happy to help me arrange our 2001 Trip as well.

This time I decided to take promoting the trip more seriously.  In February I announced the cruise to every class.  I looked people in the eye and told them how much fun this trip was going to be.  I knew from experience that personal contact worked better than just laying flyers around the studio.  Sure enough, the personal touch worked.  One person after another signed on for the 2001 Cruise. 

As the months went by, the total climbed. The buzz was circulating.  2 joined one day; 3 joined the next.  Our total reached 40 people.  At this point, what started as a pleasant campfire turned into a bonfire.  Soon we were up to 50.  60.  The number kept climbing. 70, 80, 90.  In the final week before the trip, we finally crossed the Magic 100 threshold.  

I shook my head in amazement.  Wow!  101 guests.  As I reviewed our long list of people, I sat back and smiled with satisfaction.  It had been a long time since I had played Leader of the Pack.  Even though I was now 50 years old, it was nice to know I still had the touch.  What a joy it was to be miserable again!  ha ha ha.  This was a role that made me feel good about myself.  I liked creating energy at my studio.  It was good for business and good for the soul. 
"Welcome back," I said to myself.  

 

Now that I was single, it had been relatively effortless to organize this major event.   But then I frowned.  A sense of déjà vu had entered my thoughts.  I had been in this same spot before.  As always, I was far more effective at raising the energy level at the studio when I was single.  However, whenever I sought happiness in my private life, the studio energy dropped.  Did I always have to be lonely for the studio to thrive?  There had to be a middle ground somewhere.  But where?

 


SUBCHAPTER 979 -
THUNDERBOLT

 

The first time I ever heard the term 'Thunderbolt' was a scene in the first Godfather.  Michael Corleone is walking in a Sicilian valley with his bodyguards when he sees a stunning woman cross his path.  Michael is stupefied.  He can't talk.  He can't move.  His bodyguard grins and says, "I think Michael just got hit by the thunderbolt."

It was November 2000, one month prior to Judy's divorce request when I first laid eyes on Marla.  When I saw her walk past, I stopped breathing.  I had just been hit by the Thunderbolt.  When Marla stopped to ask me where Room 4 was, I stuttered so badly I had to walk her to the room.  After showing her the way, I asked what her name was.

When her class finished later on, Marla passed by me on her way out.   I took advantage of the occasion to utter some really clever words. 

"Goodbye, Marla!

Marla hesitated to smile, then kept going.  I remember trembling as I watched her leave.  Marla was a brown-eyed beauty with brown hair and brown skin.  Due to her dark complexion, tossed salad hair and amazing figure, Marla reminded me of actress Gina Lollabridgida, so I wondered if she was Spanish or Italian.  Turned out Marla was Russian by heritage. 

 

For some reason, I felt like I already knew Marla, so one night I asked. 

"Yes, you were the one who insulted me a year ago when I took your Whip class.  You said I moved my hips too much."

"That was you?  You seem different."

"Very observant.  Yes, I am different.  I've lost thirty pounds since then."

"You never came back to class."

"I was not in a very good place at the time.  I was upset over my appearance and I took your criticism the wrong way.  But I'm back, so I guess I forgave you."

For the rest of November, I noticed Marla whenever she walked past.  She always took my breath away.  I would watch carefully because she was so good-looking.  Although my strict rule against affairs was in effect, I couldn't seem to get her out of my mind.  In fact, the strength of my desire upset me.  If my head could be turned this easily, there must be something missing in my marriage. 

When Marla failed to return for classes in December, I was very disappointed.  It was probably just as well.  Temptation is a lot easier to deal with when it is out of sight.  Slowly but surely Marla passed from my mind.

 


SUBCHAPTER 980 - MR. INVISIBLE

 
March 2001

After taking my ski trip in January, I announced my upcoming cruise trip scheduled for August.  Here in March, I was starting to get used to my new life.  Judy and I had managed to remain friends.  The uncontested divorce was on track to be finalized in May.  Judy said she would continue to work at the studio and we had reached an amicable decision on the division of property.  Thank goodness Judy had kept her word on joint custody of Sam. 

Sam was 9, an only child.  I too had been an only child.  I too had seen my parents divorce when I was 9.  I knew what she was going through and my heart ached for her.  Our custody arrangement was peculiar to say the least.  We cut Sam in half.  I kept Sam on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.  I drove her to school on Wednesday morning and her mother picked her up that afternoon.  Sam stayed with Judy Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  We alternated Saturdays.  I was not at all sure I had done the right thing by turning Sam into a suitcase kid with this strange on and off living arrangement, but it was the best I could think of.  My father had abandoned me after the divorce.  I would not do the same to my daughter.

It was strange not having Judy around, but the two of us got used to it.  Sam was trying to be brave, but I could tell it was tough.  The saving grace was Duchesne, her school.  I had chosen Duchesne for its strong academics only to find out it had a strong nurturing side as well.  Seeing Sam in pain, several teachers took her under their wing.  There was considerable irony at work here.  After my own parents' divorce, my school St. John's was the only thing that kept me going.  Although I was grateful to Duchesne for the help, it angered me no end that my bitter history kept repeating itself.  I had made a sacred oath to do a better job with Sam than my parents had done with me, but had failed miserably.  The guilt was overwhelming. 

 

I had no real desire to begin seeing anyone.  I was still far too grouchy.  However, by the time March rolled around I was forced to admit I was starting to get lonely.  Unfortunately there was no one I was interested in.  That changed when Marla reappeared.  During the three months she had been gone, I assumed I would never see her again.  So imagine how happy I was to see her.  I walked in a couple minutes late to start my Advanced Swing class.  The moment I saw Marla, I froze.  She was standing there in the middle of the room waiting along with the other students.  Realizing she had signed up for my class, my heart immediately began to go pitter-patter. 

When I got the chance, I asked my dream girl where she had been.  Marla was a sales representative for the kind of items one buys at a gift shop.  Marla explained that every January she had to face an ordeal known as 'Market' where she drove to Dallas for two weeks.  However, now that the dust had settled at her job, she decided to resume dance classes after her three month absence.

I secretly hoped Marla had taken my dance class because she was interested in me.  After all, Marla was the only woman to actually make me sit up and take notice.  Historically, any time I was this interested in a particular woman, the interest was reciprocal.  Not this time.  To my dismay, Marla did not pay a bit of extra attention to me during class.  Darn it.  This was not going to be as easy as I had hoped it would.  My self-confidence had been too badly damaged by the divorce to risk letting her know how I felt.  Thrown for a loss by Marla's obvious lack of interest, I retreated to my dance teacher role and spent the rest of March getting to know her during class.

One thing I noticed is that Marla always came to the studio alone.  Nor did any man meet her at the studio who might have a claim to her affection.  That was a pretty strong clue that she was unattached.  I also discovered that Marla had a smart mouth.  She and I would engage in friendly banter throughout dance class.  I would tease her and she would tease me right back.  In fact, Marla typically sent whatever jest flying back across the net with a lot more zing than my initial effort.  That didn't bother me a bit.  In a sense, I had met my match.  I liked the fact that Marla never backed down.  Every time I saw Marla, I liked her even more.  I began to wonder if our rapport in dance class would be just as effective on a personal level.  Screwing up my courage, I decided to ask her out.

One day at the end of March, Marla showed up early for dance class.  On the spot, I decided this was my chance.  I immediately felt very nervous.  I had not asked a woman out on a date in ten years so this was a big step for me.  Let me add one other thing.  This was also the first time in ages I had considered asking a woman for a date without being pretty sure of a positive response in advance.  Back during my 'Johnny Angel' days, I had women swirling around batting their eyelashes.  That was then, this was now.  Marla wasn't batting anything at me, much less her eyelashes.  Marla had never given me a single reason to approach her socially. 

Seeing Marla sit down on a couch, I went over to say hello.  Marla smiled and returned the greeting.  There was an open spot on the couch, so I sat down and began the standard 'Get to Know You' interview.  "What do you do for a living?"  "How did you get into that line of work?"  "Oh, you moved here from California?"  "What do you think about Texas?"

Then I asked what had brought Marla to SSQQ.  In response, Marla dropped a bombshell.  Marla told me her boyfriend Chris had first brought her to the studio a year or so earlier for a Saturday night crash course.  My ears perked up.  There was something about the way she said 'boyfriend' that sounded present tense.  What boyfriend?  Marla had always come to the studio alone.  My next question revealed that Chris was very much in the picture.  When Marla revealed they had been going together for six years, I flipped out.

Six years!?!  Oh shit!  That's a long time.  Actually, that's a really long time.  My heart plummeted with anguish.  Reeling from the bad news, my plans to ask Marla out  faded quickly.  Doing my best to disguise my disappointment, I withdrew from the conversation at the next opportunity.  I was really upset.  Recently divorced, Marla was the only woman I had met who might stir me out of my doldrums.  But she clearly wasn't available.  Darn it! 

There were other attractive women who crossed my path in this time, but Marla was the only woman I ever considered asking out.  This was my first attempt to try dating again, but it had not gone very well.  After Marla failed to show interest during my recent Interview, I was too weak to pursue her further or anyone else for that matter.   I was far too hung up on Marla to open myself up to other women at the studio.  In no mood to get rejected, I went back into my shell and went through the motions.  Every day was just another day.

I was single, but I wasn't alone.  I had a nine year old daughter who I enjoyed spending my free time with.  As I thought about Sam, I realized that whomever I brought into my life would need to click with her as well.  For the time being, it was less complicated to avoid getting serious about anyone.  However, let's face it, the real reason I did not look at other women was due to my crush on Marla.  Every time she showed up at the studio, she showed up alone.  That was so suspicious that I wondered if there were problems in her relationship.  Finally I couldn't take it anymore.  The next time Marla showed up for class early, I conducted Interview Two.  Same results.  Marla showed no indication of interest plus she spoke of Chris again several times.  I shook my head in despair.  Marla's discouraging news about the boyfriend didn't give me much hope. 

But then she would show up alone the next week.  Not only that, she acted like she was unattached, so my hopes would rekindle.  However, due to the mystery, I was completely lost on what to do next.

 


SUBCHAPTER 981 - A CURIOUS DEVELOPMENT

 

April 2001

Here in April, I was pleased that Marla signed up for my next Swing class, but she still failed to show any interest.  Frustrated, I sat around brooding.  One day in mid-April there was a development.  To my surprise, my travel agent called to report someone named Marla had just signed up for the August dance cruise.  My eyes widened.  No kidding?

"Did Marla sign up alone or did she have a partner?"

"She signed up alone.  I've already assigned Sherry as her roommate."

Well, I'll be darned.  This nugget confirmed my instincts that Marla really did have one foot out the door.  I immediately decided to try Interview Three.  The next time I saw Marla, I welcomed her to the upcoming cruise and used this opportunity to chat with her a little longer than usual.  To my surprise, Marla acted like it was no big deal.  If there had been a breakup, there was no sign on her face that I could tell.  Confused, I probed for more information. 

"You know, Marla, we have more women than men on this trip.  Is there any chance your boyfriend will be signing up?"

Marla shook her head.  "I doubt it.  Chris prefers land trips.  For example, last year we went to Costa Rica.  Since Chris doesn't care much for cruise trips, I thought it might be fun to go on this trip by myself and hang out with my new friends."

 


I was flabbergasted.  If ever there was a time for Marla to reveal a rift in the relationship, this was it.  No such luck.  I had not detected even a hint of rancor in her words.  My hopes dashed, I walked away rather than let my disappointment show.  This was useless. 
Marla's response made it clear I was reading too much into the situation, so I tried to keep her out of my mind.  However, each week I found myself staring at the door waiting for Marla to come to class.  If she skipped a class, I would miss her terribly.  Where is she today?  Is she with Chris?  It really bugged me that I was attached to a woman who barely knew I existed.  I hated being so invisible. 

If I had any sense, I would have quit and moved on.  The only reason I continued to hang in there was the mystery of the missing boyfriend.  As the weeks passed, it seemed more and more odd that her boyfriend never came to the studio.  Didn't Chris ever worry Marla might meet someone?   After all, I certainly wasn't the only man who noticed how pretty she was.  I wasn't getting anywhere, but at the same time, my instincts insisted there was a problem here.  On my good days, it seemed to me that Marla did not act like she was attached.  On my bad days, I dismissed my conjecture as wishful thinking. 

Now that Marla was on the cruise, I had an easy opening for our talks.  For the next couple months, Marla and I would briefly chat about the cruise whenever she came to class.  I would sit on the arm of couch to seem less intrusive.  Unfortunately, Chris entered every conversation.  Whenever I probed, invariably Marla would bring him up in response to some indirect question I asked.  Was it my imagination or did I detect a waning of interest?  During our conversations, I noticed there was never any enthusiasm in her voice.  Every time we spoke, not once did I sense a strong commitment to her boyfriend.  I was positive something was wrong.

Unfortunately, to my consternation, Marla kept her personal life to herself.  Not once did she come close to hinting they were having problems.  I was baffled, confused, unsure, perplexed plus any other adjectives that means the same thing.  I began to obsess over the missing boyfriend.  My instincts told me her relationship was on the rocks.  But until Marla gave me an opening, I was too scared to take a chance based on a flimsy hunch.  I had always believed if a woman was interested in me, she would find a way to send up a smoke signal.  No such luck with Marla.  She was always friendly towards me, always cordial, but it was a 'formal warmth'.  Not once did she ever signal the slightest romantic interest in me.  Nor was she interested in a friendship.  By her demeanor, I could tell I was not on her radar.  It was painful to accept, but I was her dance teacher and that was as far as it went.  Marla barely knew I existed.

 


SUBCHAPTER 982 - CAT AND MOUSE

 

May 2001

Marla returned for the next Swing class in May.  Now that she was developing a friends here in this class, Marla was part of the gang.  As long as she continued coming to class, I clung to the hope that Marla might someday warm up to me.  Unfortunately I refused to hurry things along.  They say faint heart ne'er wins fair maiden, but the divorce had stripped me of the confidence to make my intentions known.  In my conflicted state of mind, I wasn't about to drop to one knee and declare undying love to a woman who had yet to give me the time of day.  That left me with no choice but to play a cat and mouse game to protect my pride.

Refusing to make a bold move without encouragement, I continued to limit myself to gentle chats whenever Marla came to class.  Unfortunately, our superficial banter revealed little of note.  I remained completely in the dark as to her status.  I hated the fact that my crush was completely one-sided.  I should have given up, but I didn't.  As long as her boyfriend continued to stay out of sight, my hopes continued to simmer softly in the darkness.  

I kept looking for a break. Since Marla didn't push me away during our little chats, I felt safe approaching her at every opportunity.  I kept thinking one day Marla would let something slip that would allow me to pry a little deeper.  There was one question I was dying to ask

"Marla, why isn't Chris going on this trip?  Doesn't Chris realize the risk he is taking?  No man in his right mind lets a woman with your kind of looks go on a singles cruise alone!"

However, Marla never once gave me the slightest opening to dig deeper.  There was a reason this Cat and Mouse game was going nowhere.  I was the only one who was playing. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 983 - ONE LAST TRY

 

June 2001 

My divorce was final in May.  Here at the start of summer, I was starting to get some of my old confidence back despite my confusion over Marla.  As news of my divorce got around, some of the ladies at the studio decided to kick the tires and see if I had anything left to offer.  Unlike Marla, they had no trouble signaling interest.  They asked me to dance with them and seemed to enjoy our trip around the floor.  All I had to do was say the word and my life as the Solitary Man would come to an end.  Unfortunately, we always want what we can't have.  Mind you, Marla wasn't playing hard to get.  Actually, she wasn't playing at all.  Yes, she didn't flirt with me, but then she didn't appear to be flirting with any of the other guys either.  Marla wasn't even in the game.

It finally dawned on me that if Marla truly wasn't interested, it was time to move on.  A couple of the ladies at the studio were starting to turn my head.  But first I had to give it one last chance.  Almost as if on cue, Marla showed up an hour early for class one night in June.  Her work day had ended early and it was easier to come sit at the studio than drive all the way home and back again.  The moment I saw her walk in, I was instantly on edge.  This was the night.  Enough cat and mouse.  It was time to ask a direct question. 

The moment Marla sat down on her favorite couch, I went over.  Usually I sat on the arm of the couch, but tonight we had enough time to warrant a more comfortable pose, so I sat down next to her.  Marla said hi and I returned the greeting.  I began Serious Interview Four by telling her what number we were up to on the cruise.  Marla smiled at my obvious pride in the growing total.  After some pleasantries, I gulped and plunged forward. 

"Marla, I know we spoke about this once before, but is there any chance your boyfriend will sign up?  Lately it seems like the boy-girl ratio just keeps getting worse.  Is there any chance you could talk him into coming?  We could definitely use a few more guys." 

Note my clever use of misdirection.  Ah, the art of the innocent... and totally bullshit... question.  Let's see if it works.  Marla frowned for a second, then replied, "Well, Rick, here's the problem.  Chris has no interest in dance.  I don't think he would have much fun.  I would rather go by myself and hang out with the new friends I have made here at the studio."  

That was an interesting answer, but it didn't reveal anything.

"Won't he miss you?"

"Yes, but we give each other space.  For example, Chris just got back from his own trip to France with his rugby team.  Now it's my turn.  Chris doesn't care if I go alone.  I guess he knows me too well.  He doesn't worry about me at all."

My heart sank.  This was not the answer I wanted to hear.  I wanted Marla to say this cruise trip was a fiery demonstration of her new-found independence.  But the way she said it, it sounded like Chris was so secure in their relationship he could care less what she did.  I frowned.  What a lucky guy.  Any man who didn't worry about losing Marla to an army of potential Romeos was a confident man indeed.  And with that, I lost all remaining patience.  Right in the middle of our talk, I got up and abruptly walked away without a word.

I had been very rude, so rude that Marla had noticed.  During class that night, I saw Marla staring at me in confusion.  Did she say something to offend me?   Marla had no idea what was going on.  All she knew was that I had talked to her for three minutes and then without warning rose to go talk to someone else.  Oh well, there was no point in explaining it to her.  This situation was hopeless.  Marla was simply not available.  End of story.  Time to move on.

 


SUBCHAPTER 984 -
BIDING MY TIME

 

July 2001

I did my best to forget about Marla.  Over the July 4th holiday, I took my daughter on a trip to Northern Virginia to see my beloved Aunt Lynn, a sightseeing trip into Washington DC, plus a visit to Johns Hopkins, my alma mater, in Baltimore. 

When I returned to the studio in July, I continued to see Marla once a week in class.  However my casual pre-class visits came to a halt.  I told myself I had given up on my crush, but who's fooling who?  I still watched her like a hawk whenever she was around.  I wanted to see if she was pursuing any of the men at the studio.  From what I could tell, Marla didn't give anyone much of an opening.  That was good enough for me.  If I couldn't have her, I didn't want any other guy at the studio to have her either.

It helped that I was getting distracted.  Judging by the increased attention I was getting from the ladies, apparently the obligatory waiting period on me was over.  Ever since my separation back in December, the women at the studio had kept a pretty wide berth.  I suppose I was considered radioactive.  No doubt the first woman stupid enough to get close to me would get badly burned.  The cynics suggested it would be better to let some foolhardy woman be the first to incur my wrath and let me get it out of my system, then move in.

 

I didn't blame the women for keeping their distance.  Let's face it, I was damaged goods.  I had failed in two marriages.  I had a well-known temper, a sarcastic tongue, and a tendency to be very moody.  I had a thin skin and little patience for criticism.  One wrong word at the studio and I might be grouchy for the rest of the night.  When I was in a good mood, I was an interesting guy, but 'complicated' as one woman explained it to me.  Plus no one had any idea how long my good mood would last.  I was like an old house.  With some fixing up, I might be worth something.  However, it was going to take a lot of hard work and plenty of fresh paint.

They say there are stages of grief.  Maybe that applies to divorces as well.  For a while, I was crippled, feeling sorry for myself, intensely self-critical.  Despite doing the best I could in both marriages, my best was obviously not good enough.   Now I was in the next stage.  I was angry all the time.  I was angry at myself, I was angry at women, and I was angry at the world.  I was in a 'Never Fall in Love Again' scorched earth kind of mood.  I visualized myself buying a cabin in Colorado and becoming a recluse when Sam left for college.  I was cynical about life in general and I certainly wasn't ready for another committed relationship.  I admitted I had anger and deep trust issues towards women, but then what divorced guy my age didn't?  The anger helped me maintain a 'comme ci, comme ça' indifference towards women.  Women come, women go.  There would be other women on the cruise trip, so it was time to quit worrying about Marla's mysterious love life.  

Yes, I was a failure in love, but I had a few things going for me.  Some women thought I was funny.  I was athletic and I could dance.  I had hair and a job.  On the rare night I was not pissed off at the world, I could even be outgoing.  As one woman put it, I was worth a second look on the resale shelf.   

Meanwhile, apparently some of my old charisma had returned.  As July progressed, every time I entered the studio, the number of ladies who smiled seemed to increase.  For the first time, I began to flirt back.  However I kept it superficial.  I had absolutely no desire to get back into a relationship.  Besides, there wasn't one lady I liked more than the other.  The attention I was getting was plenty enough for now.  And so that is how it stayed for July.

 


SUBCHAPTER 985 - NEVER MAKE YOUR MOVE TOO SOON

 
August 2001

We were getting down to crunch time.  The cruise was just weeks away and we had finally crossed the 100 total.  I was quite pleased with myself.  Putting my skill at addition to good use, I counted 55 men and 45 women.  Then I switched to subtraction.  With ten extra women on the trip, I was certain some fair lady was bound to take a chance on me.  Hmm.  Who did I have my eye on?  Scanning the list, I circled the names of three women I was attracted to.  There were two women along who were excellent dancers.  One was attached, one was a free agent.  I had my eye of the free agent.  There was one who was beautiful.  She had shown considerable interest in me, even going to the effort of inviting to meet her for lunch.  I had turned her down due to my interest in Marla, but things had changed since then.  Maybe she would give me a second chance.  The third woman exuded warmth.  She was really easy to talk to and I always felt safe around her.  I could definitely see myself spending time alone with her. 

And then there was Marla, woman of Mystery.  I did not circle her name, but I did put a question mark beside it.  I was amazed to discover that hope really does spring eternal.  Despite six months of disappointment, I still carried a torch for this woman.  Now that I had put over a month between me and my June temper tantrum, I realized I had to make a play for Marla on this trip or I would never forgive myself.  Knowing that this upcoming cruise presented a golden opportunity, I made a firm vow that at some point on this trip, I would seek out Marla and get to the bottom of this boyfriend issue.  If only for my own peace of mind, I had to know what the truth was.

 

Recently I had seen the romance classic titled An Affair to Remember on TV.  It told the story of two very attractive people on a cruise who just happened to be engaged to someone else back home.  They say a woman's heart is in peril at sea.  Ocean waters do strange things to a woman's mood.  How could I forget the sight of pretty Deborah Kerr as she swooned all over Cary Grant?  Watching her systematically weaken day by day, those legends about romances at sea seemed true.  By the end of the cruise, Deborah had ditched the man she was engaged to.

If there was one thing I had learned from my many years at the dance studio, there is no such thing as an 'unattached woman'.  Or at least not a woman who looked like Marla.  No matter what woman I was interested in, I would have to win a battle for her heart.  Even if Marla was truly on the level about this six year relationship, now that much of my confidence around women had returned, there was no reason why I couldn't make a play for her.  Of course I was no Cary Grant, but few men are.  If Cary Grant could steal a babe like Deborah Kerr from her millionaire fiancé, there was always the chance I could pull off a similar coup against a guy who barely paid attention to his girlfriend. 

To listen to Marla, her virile rugby boyfriend must bristle with self-confidence. to take her for granted like that.  But I was suspicious.  To begin with, Chris did not have an ounce of common sense.  Exposing Marla to temptation at sea was taking a big chance.  In addition to me, there were 30 unattached men in our group.  Knowing that every one of them would ask Marla to dance at some point, no man in his right mind would allow a woman who looked like Marla to go on a singles cruise alone Not only that, who waits around for six years?  That meant one of these two people had cold feet.  If Chris could not wrap up Marla after six years of trying, he should be ashamed.  Now it was my turn. 

Just because Marla had a boyfriend did not mean it was hopeless.  Okay, so I had some serious competition, but I was ready now.  Back in March, I did not have the fight in me to pursue her without encouragement.  Here in August I was much stronger.  Now that I had regained most of my confidence, I was ready to step up and take a swing.

 

As they say, never make your move too soon.  Here on land, my chances of prying Marla away from the mystery boyfriend were remote at best.  The ocean was a different story.  Since the cruise ship would be powerful turf for me, the percentage play was to wait for this upcoming opportunity. 

Even if Chris was for real, I had three powerful advantages on water.  One, I would have four full days and five nights to make my case.  Two, I was the respected leader of 100 guests.  Three, I could dance.  At some point, I would invite Marla into my arms.  If that didn't grant me an audience afterwards, then nothing would.  Furthermore, assuming it was true what they say about sea breezes and moonlit nights, if I could get Marla to be alone with me, maybe she would let down her guard and hear me out.

In addition, my instincts continued to suggest this whole Chris thing was bullshit.  There was a part of me that still refused to believe Marla was nearly as attached to this Chris guy as her party line indicated.  Trusting my instincts, I made a vow that at some point on this trip, I would do everything in my power to isolate Marla and have a serious conversation.  I needed to know the truth.  If I could not have Marla for myself, at a bare minimum I wanted the secret of Chris' hold on Marla as a consolation prize.  Otherwise I would never get over this frustrating crush. 

But then, out of the blue, something went terribly wrong.  In a flash I suddenly realized my daydreams were a waste of time.  It was hopeless. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 986 - CRUSHED

 

August 2001

With the cruise trip two weeks away, on a Monday morning Marla phoned me.  Immediately my pulse began to race.  We had never talked on the phone before.  What was this all about?

"Rick, I need your help.  Chris and I are going to Miami this coming weekend.  Chris sells insurance and won the trip in a contest.  Chris promised to take me to a Salsa club in Miami.  I know it is short notice, but I want a private lesson for me and Chris so we can learn to dance to Salsa music.  Would you be willing to teach the lesson?"

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.  I could not breathe.  I could not believe my bad luck.  Marla's Miami weekend would come right before the cruise.  March.  April.  May.  June.  July.  August.  Six months of obsession over this woman had just gone flying out the window.  Just when I had reached the conclusion that Chris was hanging on by a thread, Marla's request made it crystal clear this guy was a lot more in the picture than I previously believed.  Not only that, now Chris was even willing to learn to dance!  I was absolutely devastated. 

I was so lost in my disappointment, I didn't know what to say.  But there was one thing I was sure of.  There was no way in Hell I was going to do this private lesson!  

Why beat my head against the wall?  I wasn't about to sit there for an hour teaching Marla's boyfriend while I was going nuts with jealousy!  Seeing him touch her, there was no possible way I could hide my feelings under those circumstances.  Despite my unrequited crush on Marla, so far I had not made a fool of myself.  The crush was still my little secret, but it wouldn't stay a secret for long if the three of us were in the same room together.  The vision of Marla in this guy's arms was too much to take.  I needed to preserve my dignity at all costs.

"I'm sorry, Marla, but I am not much of a Salsa instructor.  Let me recommend Martin.  He's on the cruise trip with us and maybe you've met him.  He is a very popular Salsa instructor."

 

Marla said she would give Martin a call, so that was the end of the conversation.  After hanging up, I leaned forward and buried my head in my hands.  For the past six months I had operated under the assumption that Marla was using this cruise trip as an excuse to hit the Exit Door.  All this time I had been hoping that Marla was ready to move on.  Unfortunately, this Miami phone call changed everything.  The news that Marla's relationship was alive and doing well left me stunned.  Marla was flying to Miami for a romantic weekend just days before our cruise departure!  Well, that did it.  All fantasies were gone, every remaining hope was dashed. 

Now that Marla's Miami trip with her boyfriend had put the final damper on my dreams, I moped around the house.  I was so depressed.  Damn it, this really hurt.  I was crushed.  Maybe some girl would take pity on me, maybe not, but it wasn't going to be Marla, that's for sure.  And with, I threw in the towel.  Marla was history.

 

MAGIC CARPET RIDE, PART THREE

Chapter TWO HUNDRED TWENTY FIVE: 
THE STROKE OF MIDNIGHT

 

 
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