You Have To Kiss a Lot of Frogsby Laurie Graff
Forty-five-year-old actress Karrie Kline doesn't usually lose a lot of sleep over her age or her single status. But after one too many bridal showers, a notice on her apartment, an expired unemployment claim and her acting prospects drying uptoo old to play the ingenue, too young for the role of matriarchshe's awake at 2:00 a.m. and… See more details below
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Forty-five-year-old actress Karrie Kline doesn't usually lose a lot of sleep over her age or her single status. But after one too many bridal showers, a notice on her apartment, an expired unemployment claim and her acting prospects drying uptoo old to play the ingenue, too young for the role of matriarchshe's awake at 2:00 a.m. and determined to get perspective on her life. Starting with the men she's dated.
From the man whose parents loved her more than he did, to the famous actor who had more bark than bite, Karrie traces back through her love life to uncover how her experiences have shaped her and how to find meaning in the past.
Told with warmth, wit and poignancy, You Have To Kiss a Lot of Frogs shows how to face your memorieseven the darkest, most secret oneswith courage, humor and hope.
"A provocative and intelligent look at the ways that people search for a meaningful life."Publishers Weekly
"More than just a catalogue of loser guys and bad relationships, Graff's smart and funny novel shows just how hard finding the right man can be and how easy it is for a relationship to fail."Booklist
"We're rooting for her to find everything she's been missing-which turns out to be less than she imagines."Daily News
"Loved the book!"Fran Drescher, actress and New York Times bestselling author
"A provocative and intelligent look at the ways that people search for a meaningful life."-Publishers Weekly
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APRIL FOOLS' DAY
HELL'S KITCHEN, NYC 2003
I like being a woman. I also like being friends with other women. I don't, however, like feeling forced into participating in some ritual with an entire flock of them I've never even met. It's like having to wear those dumb party hats, and blow on those even dumber paper things at midnight with a bunch of strangers on New Year's Eve. You're thrown in with people you don't know and don't want to be with, but you're all going to share this intimate event with glee. If it kills you. And that's how I feel at this bridal shower.
Here I am. Tuesday. 6:00 p.m. Right after work, if you actually have a normal job, and I'm standing in a Mexican restaurant in midtown Manhattan, holding a margarita I'm not drinking because I don't like the salt. I'm stuck wearing gray wool slacks because I came from an audition for a soup commercial, a la Winter in Vermont, and realized way too late that the bag with my dress was at home on my bed, and not with me. The bright fluorescents highlight the brown roots on my red head, and a silver barrette is holding together a few strands of hair, attempting to disguise a bad bang trim. That time-of-the-month bloat is making my size-four pants feel tight, and my hair feels hot around my neck. I can't help but compare myself to everyone around me. They seem perfectly coiffed, and groomed, and excited to be here. I'm one of fifty overeager women waiting for Marcy to arrive to surprise her because, finally, after twenty-five years of dating, she's met some guy she's going to marry. And everyone's gabbing how they're sooooooo happy for her. Frankly, I don't believe it.
The married ones must be remembering their showers. The too many toaster ovens and Crock-Pots, the friction between the maid of honor and the other best friends, and now the contemplation if the marriage has lived up to the fanfare of the shower.
The single ones are standing with plastic smiles, wondering if the person getting married is really better off than they are. That's me. I wonder, is Marcy really Happy Now? And is that to say she really never was before? After the years of angst and dates and therapy and plans for when The One arrives, when It happens, what does it feel like? What does it feel like to be with Mr. Right, Mr. It? Does it feel great? Does it? Does it feel better than it did before? Does it feel better than I feel standing in the middle of it? Watching. Comparing. Are other people unconditionally happy for this person or is it just me?
"Sssshh, she's coming."
"QUIET QUIET quiet "
The lights in the restaurant are out, and there's chatter coming up the stairs to the balcony. Everyone pushes together in the middle to see. To see how Marcy will react. She thinks her mom and aunt are taking her to see The Phantom of the
Opera. Aunt Tessie's visiting from Philadelphia and wants to see it, she's heard "The Music of the Night" sung so much over the years. Marcy thinks they're coming to Fajita Fajita for a bite before the show. Little does she expect that tonight, eight weeks before her wedding and years after attending God knows how many showers herself, instead of seeing Phantom, she would see every important female she knows tell her, "I'm so happy for you. I told you it would happen. It happens for everybody. It just has to be your time."
"Watch it, Marcy," I hear a gravelly voice say. "You stepped on my toe."
"Oops. Sorry, Mom."
"I can't see," says the other one. Obviously Tessie. "Go ahead of me, Marcy, dear. It's dark."
The lights snap on, and Marcy sees every woman she's ever known in her entire life before herwide-eyed, drunk from waiting and wishing her well in her new life. Marcy is heroic, because Martin has found her. Marcy is elevated to another level, because Martin has picked her. Marcy is thrown to the other side. The side that is validated. She's no longer going to be Single. It's happened. It's happening now. And as a result, Marcy can't move.
I lift my five-foot-one-inch frame onto my toes so I can get a better look. Marcy's leaning against the banister of the balcony. She turns to face us. Her bright auburn hair falls back, and her smile spreads so far across her face it's inside her ears. She looks like she may faint. The banister is holding her up for dear life.
Marcy's face is frozen in terror. No. Not terror. Happiness. Terrorized happiness. Her small body's wobbling. Will all this happiness make her keel over?
"Ehhhhhhhh!" Marcy cries out. Her grotesque smile opens wider and wider, and her eyes bulge. "Ehhhhhhhh!"
We are happy for Marcy. We are. But now we are worried. Our smiles are plastered to our faces as we watch her meld into the banister.
"You're getting maaarried!!!" a cousin calls out. Her red nails wave at Marcy, and her gold-and-diamond rings catch the glimmer of the light shining above the picture of a bullfight that's painted on red velvet.
"Look at all your guests!" shouts her sister-in-law to be.
"Everyone sit!" says her maid of honor, who'd been spending the last few minutes at the banister trying to catch Marcy if she were to fall.
Marcy is walked over to a table by her mother and aunt Tessie, each holding half of her up. They smile at everyone, as if they were in a procession. Marcy remains in shock, until she passes the pile of one hundred beautifully wrapped presents that should cover almost every item on her registry. She is suddenly composed.
"Let's eat!" announces Marcy, taking her seat in the center.
We watch a moment. Marcy has caught her breath, and so we catch ours. We sit down to eat the guacamole. I take a seat near the gifts. I want to get a good look at what I'm missing.
Seven weeks later I wake up in the middle of the night. I have just turned forty-five and no Martin came and saved me from it. I am still in my apartment, or what I hope is still my apartment. The notice to buy me out of my rent-stabilized lease arrived the day before my birthday. My unemployment claim expired, and my acting prospects quietly disappeared in my forty-fourth year, just to make my forty-fifth as frightening as possible. I never bought that "Forty" was the "New Thirty," and feel petrified to find out that "Fifty" is the "New Forty." I am currently boyfriendless and in no shape to date.
Perhaps I should kill myself.
This seems like an interesting idea. I can kill myself tonight and just slip away. What am I supposed to do tomorrow anyway? Gynecologist appointment, gym, audition for a vacuum cleaner commercial Now might be a good time. I have to slip away one day anyway. At least I'd have the say as to when and how.
I'd no longer have to worry about money. That would be a relief. I wouldn't be afraid I'd get raped running the reservoir, hit by a car or blown up by a terrorist. I wouldn't have to keep up with fashion trends, do laundry or search for the perfect haircut. I'd never have to overhear another ridiculous cell phone conversation on the bus, or waste my time running ridiculous errands. I wouldn't have to wait on hold for a representative to come on the line while simultaneously waiting for AOL to get me online, only to waste more time deleting junk email when I finally got there. Never again would I have to press one for more options, or watch Dubya, looking oh so presidential in jeans and cowboy boots, give another inspiring speech recited off a TelePrompTer. I'd never have to hang around and watch people I love grow sick and die, or witness my young face and body turn old. I'd never get some awful disease, shrivel up in the hospital and lose my dignity while chin hairs grew unruly and unattended. I wouldn't have to look for a new agent, and I could finally stop dating.
Good idea. Now. How?
Instantly every idea seems awful. No guns. No razors. No noose and no ovens. The only possibility would be pills, and who am I kidding? I don't have a prescription and I'm not going to get one, because I'm never going to do this. I don't want to die. I want to get a great acting job, and fall in love, and get married. I want to honeymoon in Italy, and buy a huge co-op on Central Park West. I want to go to Zabar's, and eat cherry cheese strudel.
With the exception of the cherry cheese strudel, dying seems easier to accomplish. But if I screwed up, which I would because I don't want to do it, it would only be interpreted as a call for help. Then I'd have to use the balance of my medical insurance to go to some kind of rehab and therapy, and for sure I would lose my apartment. By the time I got back rents would be even more expensive, even more of the good guys would be taken and everyone would point at me as the one who tried to off herself. It would probably go on my permanent record. No. It's easier to take two Tylenol, warm up some hot milk, read a chapter of Heartburn and a few tarot cards until I fall back to sleep.
Forget that. I cannot sleep. I am obsessed. Forty and single. My God, wait, I'm forty-five and single! How did this happen? Oh, so what if I am forty-five and single. So was my mother when she married Henry. No, Millie was just forty. And she was Divorced With Child Single, not Never Been Down That Aisle Single. Still, how much worse is it than when I was thirty and single? Or thirty-five and single? Or fort Oh Ohh
Much worse. Much, much worse.
Decades of people's good-intentioned sayings flash before me.
"It only takes one."
"There's lots of other fish in the sea."
"When it's right, you know."
"Every pot has a cover."
"When it's your time, it will just happen."
"Let go and it will come to you."
"You never know what a day brings."
"What's yours is still out there."
"Trust in the universe. All unfolds according to plan."
Decades of dates flash before me. I think about those men. What were their names? Oh yeah, I remember and then there was that completely idiotic, .andOH!!that was truly.
Hmm I can think about that. Those stories. Count them like sheep. Instead of feeling mortified, maybe I can laugh. Embrace it. Rejoice. This is it. This is my life!
Well, I don't have to go that far, but it wouldn't be such a bad idea to simply accept it as mine. I'm still here. I'm not dead and I can still date. And maybe it's really not so horrific. Maybe it's not such a big deal. Maybe you just have to kiss a lot of frogs.
BROOKLYN, NY 1969
My mother took me to my favorite store, The Little Princess, on Queens Boulevard to buy the dress. It was dark blue velvet with an empire waist, and a white satin ribbon that tied under the breasts, though I didn't have any yet. I wore it when she married Henry.
It was a nice wedding. I was the flower girl. I walked between the folding chairs, and threw rose petals on the hardwood floors of Rabbi Bernstein's study. Millie, my mother, thought that was a goyishe thing to do, but I had insisted since they always did it that way on TV. The rabbi forgot to pour the wine into the glass, and Henry pretended to drink it during the prayers so as not to hurt his feelings. My mother laughed so hard she shook, and my grandma Rose thought she was crying.
"Now she's finally taken care of," my grandma told me when she tucked me into bed that night. I got to stay with my grandma while my mother and Henry went to Miami for their honeymoon. I was sleeping in Grandpa Lou's bed. My grandparents had had single beds throughout their marriage. Grandpa Lou died three years ago. I was eight. The year before he died my mother brought me to Brooklyn for my Easter vacation to learn how to swim at the local YMCA. It was a special program that guaranteed that in just five days every child would learn how to swim. Faithfully every morning, Grandpa Lou and I walked what felt like miles to the Y. He waited in the lobby while I took my swimming lesson. The instructors called me Blue Eyes and told me I had the prettiest bathing suits. I wore a different one each day. But I hardly got them wet. I only sat on the ledge of the pool like a beauty queen or waded in the shallow end. I didn't want to go in the water. It was cold. I was scared. After every lesson I would see Grandpa Lou and cry. He didn't want me to go back. He and Grandma Rose had a big argument about it.
"Gants gut meshuggeh with the swimming lessons," I heard him tell Grandma Rose in the kitchen. "She's going to get pneumonia."
"Sha! The kinder will hear." Grandma Rose talked in a loud hushed voice. She talked in English and Yiddish. "Millie wants her to learn how to swim," said my grandmother.
I didn't want to stop going. I just wanted to stop being scared, and I didn't know how to do that. So every day we went. Every day I cried. Every day they fought.
At the end of the week my grandmother came down with hives, and my mother came to the final class to see my progress. Every kid swam the length of the pool except me. With much coaxing I was able to do a ball float. I didn't learn how to swim until Henry taught me.
I lay in Grandpa Lou's bed and thought about how he would come in the locker room after each lesson. "Cover up," he said, while he took off his coat and put it over my bathing suit. I could tell Grandma Rose was thinking about him, too, as she tucked me in.
"Are you in tight, mamala?" she asked. She brushed a few wisps of hair off my face and stuck them behind my ear. "You'll see, Karrie, one day you'll be a bride. You'll marry a rich man. He'll buy you a big diamond ring, and he'll take care of you. And you'll do it right the first time. Not like your mother. Okay. That's finished. Henry's a good man. A mensch. Not like your father, that clown."
She wasn't joking. My real father had run off to join the circus when I was four. At least that's what I thought. For a few years we received postcards from around the country saying, "Hi, Cookie! What's doin' tips and all? The circus has come to town. Love, Mel."
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