Read an Excerpt
One week before my thirty- ninth birthday, my mother gave me a gift. She and my father had driven up to Maine from their house on Cape Cod to have dinner with us. After first lubricating me with her seductive and carefully chosen words, my mother handed me the gift. I didn’t open it, telling her that I’d rather wait until my actual birthday.
Truth be told, I was afraid. I hadn’t seen my mother in eight months. She and I have always had a stormy relationship, but it had gotten worse since I myself had become a mother. And much like the weather patterns on planet Earth, the last few years had been especially tempestuous, leaving me weak and exhausted. So I cut off communication with her, and the clime became calm and pleasant, allowing me to focus on doing some serious repair work. In other words, my therapist’s couch saw a lot of my big butt. After eight months, I decided that I was in a stable enough frame of mind to have my folks up for a brief and well- orchestrated visit. I wasn’t stable enough, however, to open any gifts from my mother.
My mother’s gifts tend to fall into two categories: the baffling and the provocative. Those in the latter category, which really open up my wounds, are the books.
A juxtaposition of their titles suggests that my mother views my husband as a great intellect and me as a childish dimwit.
Not that I have an inferiority complex or anything. My Ivy League—educated hubby’s got nothing on me when it comes to smarts. Even though Princeton University, where Craig graduated magna cum laude, has seen the likes of such luminaries as F. Scott Fitzgerald pass through its ivied halls, I can smugly boast that UConn is the alma mater of not only the Hausfrau but also Ron Palillo, who played Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter.
I could tell that the gift that my mother had selected to mark my thirty- ninth birthday was a book: It had that special size and heft. And earlier that evening, she’d given Craig Team of Rivals, the biography of Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I could only imagine what lay in store for me.
I put the book up on the buffet, where I decided it would stay until I had the strength to open it and risk being wounded afresh. My folks went home, and the week passed. And I don’t know whether it was my morbid curiosity, my propensity for torturing myself, or the fact that my mother kept calling and calling to ask if I’d opened her gift yet, but one afternoon, as I walked by the buffet, my mother’s gift called out to me with a siren song. As Oscar Wilde wrote, I can resist everything except temptation. I grabbed the gift and ripped open the wrappings.
OK. So I need to give a little background. “Romo” (aka Bill Romanowski) was this guy I had gone to high school with back in the early 1980s. He dated and in fact deflowered one of my closest friends and stood around the same kegs o’ beer I did, out on the dirt roads near our hometown. I remember him as a heartthrobby, grinning jock who never took off his letterman’s jacket.
And get this: Sophomore year in high school, I was a cheerleader for Rockville High’s boy’s basketball team. Bill Romanowski was a three- season athlete and played basketball. I did a special cheer for him that went a little something like this:
Cheer for Romanowski!
Yay, Billy! Yay, Romanowski!
Yay, rah rah for Billy Romanowski!
Yes, I participated in an extracurricular activity in which I jumped around, cheering for the opposite gender’s accomplishments on the basketball court. I also danced in a halftime routine to “Our Lips Are Sealed” by the Go- Go’s. And as if that wasn’t humiliating enough, our coach forced us to weigh in every week in front of the entire squad, and if we gained more than two pounds during the season, we’d get kicked off the team. Ah, the eighties!
Billy went on to play football for Boston College and then was drafted into the NFL. His career6 included five Super Bowls, lots of concussions, and some rather unsavory behavior.7 But in the 1990s, while Billy’s star was rising, he was Vernon, Connecticut’s favorite son. Parades were thrown in his honor. Bill Romanowski Day was declared. I’d moved to Boston by that time, but my parents kept me up on Billy’s accomplishments. And it really irked me that the pinnacle of fame in my hometown was reached by a linebacker. As I struggled to pay the rent each month by patching together freelance writing gigs, Billy was raking in so much dough that he was able to finance the creation of a high- tech athletic facility and nighttime playing field at our old high school. While I ate ramen noodles and stayed up all night writing short stories, Billy was jetting to Hawaii and partying with the likes of Adam Sandler. When my parents told me the news of Billy’s triumphs, I filed the info away resentfully and fantasized about eclipsing his star one day with some award- winning prose.
OK. So now flash forward to a few days before my thirty- ninth birthday–when I finally opened my mother’s gift and discovered the treasure that is Romo: My Life on the Edge: Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons by Bill Romanowski with Adam Schefter and Phil Towle.8 The book stirred up all sorts of muck that I had deluded myself into thinking I had resolved in therapy. Instead of interpreting my mother’s gift as a joke, I let it give me a serious psychic ouchie. And like a raving lunatic, I told anyone who would listen about what my mother had done.
It was in the dramatic retelling to our friends Jake and Leah over dinner one night at our house that I slowly began to move through my ego- driven rantings. Jake had been a football fan since he was a kid and knew all about Romo and his career. Leah knew nothing whatsoever about football. Together, their insights prompted me to crack open the cover and take a peek inside.
I had never actually considered reading the book, such an affront it was to all things well considered and eloquently stated. But that evening, once Jake and Leah and their kids had gone and our kids were asleep, I began reading Romo: My Life on the Edge: Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons by Bill Romanowski with Adam Schefter and Phil Towle–a book that would change the course of my destiny.
However, at first its lessons were lost on me–so caught up was I in spotting the myriad grammatical errors and also obsessively comparing the trajectory of Bill Romanowski’s life with my own, detail by painful detail (as follows).
1988: While Romo was a rookie for the 49ers, his first trainer interrupted the game film they were watching and shouted, “Romo! If I ever see anybody push you in the back and you don’t do something about it, I will personally kick your ass!”
1989: Romo writes, of discovering phentermine, an appetite suppressant with amphetamine- like effects: “What phentermine did for me was put me in the zone. I truly wanted to run into a brick wall as hard as I could. You cannot believe how good it felt to hit somebody. It was like, give me more of this, give me more of the hitting, give me more of the pain.”
1993: Romo marries a “knockout brunette” named Julie. He writes: “We fit together like San and Francisco.” See rendering at left, from a Sports Illustrated shoot; note the taut abdomens and ripped biceps.
1999: By this time, Romo and Julie have two children: a six- year- old boy and a two- year- old girl. Romo describes his favorite sound in the whole wide world thusly: “To me, [someone moaning at the bottom of a pile of football players] is a sound as sweet as ocean waves. There’s nothing better than knocking somebody out, seeing them struggle to get up, and watching a stretcher brought out to carry them off.”
After his fourth Super Bowl win, Romo and Julie got to pick out a new car of their choice: “Julie fell for a fully loaded black Mercedes SL600 convertible with a V12 engine, one of the rarest models in the country. [We] drove off the lot in the $138,000 car.”
Romo suffered dozens of conscussions in his lengthy career, and bodily punishment begins to take its toll. He loses his senses of smell and taste and suffers from memory loss.
2004: Romo goes to Hollywood, landing a part in Adam Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard. Later that year, Romo bumps into Sean Penn in a New Orleans hotel lobby: “We spent the next seven hours, into the early morning, talking about improving relationships and growing and changing as a person.”
1988: During a critique of one of the Hausfrau’s short stories in a fiction- writing workshop, the instructor remarked: “I want to know what’s at stake in this story. I mean, do you really earn that ending?”
1989: Drinking three to four dark-roast coffees a day, the Hausfrau begins her love affair with the little brown bean. She comments, “After some coffee and a cigarette, I was like, give me more of the typing, give me more of the writing, give me more of the pain.”
1993: The Hausfrau marries high school English teacher Craig Lapine and moves to Ohio to pursue a master’s degree in writing. She muses: “We fit together like Cleve and Land.” Note the Hausfrau’s baggy Tshirt and men’s boxers, which cleverly conceal the flab that lies beneath.
1999: By this time, the Hausfrau and her hubby have one son, George, who is two. He is the light of his parents’ eyes and also what some describe as “highneed” or “spirited.” The Hausfrau has two favorite sounds: the glug- glug of a bottle of good wine being poured into a glass circa 6:00 p.m., and, more rarely, her hubby stating: “You sit. I’ll deal with the boy.”
2004: After birthing two babies, the Hausfrau says bye- bye to vaginal tone and continence while sneezing, running, or jumping on a trampoline.
It really ticked me off that Bill Romanowski got to hang out with Sean Penn all night while I had been loving him since he played Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High–a movie I watched obsessively at my friend Marney’s house in 1984–because she had a VCR and we could rewind and replay the Sean Penn scenes over and over again and fast- forward through the Phoebe Cates scenes. Marney and I never tired of Sean’s crooked grin, his pot- smokey voice, his knobbykneed saunter, or the way he delivered one of my favorite lines in all of cinematic history: “Aloha, Mr. Hand!”