Tag Archives: Romance

The Café du Monde

When I was 18 years-old, I began to lose my way, as many young men and women do, no matter what generation we belong to. What follows is a passage from an older draft of my Costa Rica essays, recalling who I was, and 15 years later, who I wanted to be. This short essay ends with a question, one that all of us ask when we’re in love: “How did you ever choose me?” The answer refers to Costa Rica, but really, it’s another question: “Tell me again… I love the way you tell that story.”

Readers, let me know if you’d like to hear that story, too.


When I turned eighteen, I left home for college, claimed my independence, and fell in love for the first time. I’d never even kissed a girl before, but I was a fast learner. Soon we were making wedding plans and dreaming up names for our children. That Christmas, I bought what the jeweler called a pre-engagement ring. My fiancée-in-waiting always closed her love letters with the infinity symbol—a horizontal figure eight—shorthand for her secret sign off: “Forever and always, for time and all eternity.”

Then, a year later, I started noticing a pretty blond girl in my history class.


In college, romance turned reckless for me. I was hardly alone. In the late seventies, the age of AIDS was years away, and back then I’d convinced myself that monogamy was a creation of the church, institutionalized in loveless marriages. Who could ever love just one person forever until death do you part?

Back then, I couldn’t.

In the years that followed, I started graduate school, got married, but I also continued to see other women. My wife knew about my infidelities. Our arrangement seemed perfectly logical. I loved writing poetry, dancing, drinking beers with friends and listening to blues in college town night clubs, pleasures my wife didn’t share. So some nights, I was on my own, and not often—but often enough—such solo evenings led to other pleasures.

And why not? All my life, I’d had Mick telling me to get what I need, Janis screaming don’t you turn your back on love and get it while you can. And if I couldn’t be with the one I loved, hell yes, I should love the one I was with. I’d sing that song all night long.

I remember talking with a friend, who knew about my open marriage. He and his wife had been married for ten years, and after much soul-searching, they’d finally agreed to have a child. Suspended between panic and desire, my friend was both terrified and fascinated.

“Marty,” he said, “you have what every married man in the world dreams about.”

“Is that what you want?” I looked my friend in the eye, waited to hear what he’d say.

“Well, no, but it’s every man’s fantasy, don’t you think?”

By then I was thirty-two years old, childless, and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that I remember feeling flattered by my friend’s opinion of my lucky life. But another part of me couldn’t dodge the question that had only recently begun to nag at me: If I’m living every man’s fantasy, why in the hell am I so unhappy?


Back in those days, I wrote long love letters to the women who touched my life, sent flowers to their offices or apartments, dedicated poems to them. What I wanted was passion, a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” how the 19th-century Romance poet William Wordsworth had famously described poetry. Of course, I’d ignored the rest of the poet’s advice, how poetry “takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” Who had time for tranquility? I was on the move, and falling in love half a dozen times in twelve years.

Those days, I really thought I was in love. I meant every word in those letters I wrote. And those flowers I sent? I cherished each rose. I wanted those women to love me, to tell me that I was the man they’d waited for all their lives. Sometimes we’d talk about poetry, music, or nothing at all. We’d talk about the world in all its tragic glory.

I always told the truth about being married. I don’t know, maybe some women liked an honest man, even if he was married, while others liked a passionate man who came with no strings attached. Eventually, some were relieved that I drifted away, while others simply, and understandably, discarded me. As much as I’d professed passion, I wasn’t making any promises. Those days, I was living perpetually uncommitted, free to do as I pleased, and as I was learning, the price of that freedom was serial solitude.

When I reached my mid-thirties, got divorced—I know, you’re shocked—I realized that, despite all the logic, the love-the-one-you’re-with songs, what I wanted was damn close to what I’d believed in when I was eighteen years old. I wanted to love one woman, forever, and share the world with her. And I wanted her to love me as if I was the man she’d waited for all her life. For 15 years, I’d wasted my life.

And that’s when I met a woman named Libby.

Before we ever met, Libby had lived in Japan for two years, teaching English to school boys, bored housewives, and ambitious salarymen. When we met, she confided to me how she’d felt so at home in that faraway country. “I think I’m part Japanese,” she used to say.

Years later, in an old letter Libby had written when we first started dating, I found a forgotten gift of spring she’d sent:

…in the library today, I came across a book of Japanese Haiku written in the springtime—I flipped through and was immediately brought back to images of Japan—especially the cherry blossoms—so cherished and beautiful but very short-lived… Anyway, just wanted to share with you some gifts of spring.

Beside the English translations, Libby inscribed the Japanese kanji characters. Now, when I gaze again at her letter, I’m struck by her calligraphy, the bashful curves, the bold strokes. Libby once told me that, in Japan, humility and duality were essential virtues. How long had she labored to create those beautiful kanji characters for me?

Around that same time, I wrote a poem that I dedicated to her. But unlike poems I’d written to others, I surprised myself when I wrote lines that asked this simple question:

How did this happen,

that I am in love for the first time

with a woman, and not

the idea of a woman?

How did this happen? Surely part of me knew, even back then, but I’d only begun to tap the answer to a secret that had eluded me for 15 years.


On a hot summer day in 1995, Libby and I were sharing café au lait and beignets at the Café du Monde. I remember we’d left our hotel early, walking in the French Quarter before most tourists were awake, before the heat of the day turned the air to steam, enjoying a quieter and breezier New Orleans. In six weeks, we’d be on a plane headed for Costa Rica.

I’ve looked through all my old notebooks, and I can’t find any entry about our New Orleans weekend. I do remember sipping mimosas at the Court of Two Sisters and sharing Bananas Foster for dessert at Brennan’s Restaurant. I remember holding hands and strolling along the Mississippi Riverwalk. I found nothing I’d written about our weekend in New Orleans, but I did find tucked away a note. I don’t remember now what “things” Libby refers to. All I have is what she wrote, and what I remember later about living in Costa Rica:

…these are just a few things to prepare for our journey ahead. In order to prepare, of course, you not only need to pack a suitcase or read a travel guide, but need to prepare your soul… I hope you can use these gifts to do just that and to feel with all your five senses the spirit of another land, another people, another way of living. Looking forward to opening my heart with yours to befriend the wonder awaiting us in the world of possibilities…

Now, if I could turn back time, perhaps I’d go back to that little table at the Café du Monde and ask Libby the simplest of questions: Why me? Hell, for all I know, maybe that’s just what I asked her that New Orleans weekend.

“What do you mean?” she might have said.

“How in the world did you ever fall in love with me?”

Near our table, a lonely blues man blows into his old saxophone. As always, Libby tries to turn the question around. Sometimes she used to say—and how sweet she was to say so— that I could have chosen any woman in the world, why her? I always played along, yet my answer was also serious, and always the same: Sure, I’d say, and I chose you.

But this time, I’d pose the question all of us eventually must ask our lovers and ourselves.

“How in the world,” I’d say, “did you ever choose me?”

I’m sure Libby would pause, think about what she might say next.

“Do you remember that night when you asked me to run away to Costa Rica?”

“Of course,” I’d say.

And perhaps that long ago night was when all our questions and answers really started. But sitting at our little table in the Café du Monde, Libby would have waited, reached out and held my hand. She would have encouraged me.

“Tell me again,” she’d say. “I love the way you tell that story.”

Homeward: World Series 1995, Costa Rica

Libby wore her old green raincoat, the one that draped over her thighs, the hood pulled over her forehead. She held an umbrella above her backpack. I wore my fire engine red windbreaker and broad-brimmed grey hat. We must have looked like two pilgrim clowns.

It was the last Saturday morning in October, and the past week, every morning seemed to start with rain. We were walking in a thunderstorm through the muddy forest to Soda Pininini, where Lloyd Wright Daley had told us we could catch the bus for San José. “Be here ’round nine-thirty,” he’d said. “The bus stops ’bout then.” We sat at one of Lloyd’s tables, drinking café negro, trying to dry off before the bus appeared. We were headed to the city to watch game six of the World Series between Cleveland and Atlanta, our hometown baseball teams, a game I’d dreamed about all my life.

After living in Costa Rica for nearly two months, I hardly thought about life back home. Libby had recently phoned her mother, who talked about Hurricane Opal, the storm that devastated Florida and even knocked down trees and power lines in Atlanta. We found out that a jury had acquitted O. J. Simpson of murder charges. To me, the news seemed like legends. Living without a telephone, radio, television, or even a newspaper, without a car, without mail delivery, without any of the technology or services that organized and informed our lives in the United States, I’d lost track of the modern grid. Had I ever really sat mesmerized in front of a television, watching a Ford Bronco crawl along L.A. freeways followed by a dozen police cars?

And yet I wanted any scraps of news about my beloved baseball.


In October, baseball’s playoff season, I relied on Lloyd for the scores. He subscribed to La Nación, knew that I was rooting for Cleveland, and before I could ask, he’d give me “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” After my team had clinched the American League pennant, beating Seattle’s star fireball pitcher, at first Lloyd shook his head, turned his thumb down, but then he laughed and said he was teasing.

He couldn’t have known the heart he was toying with.

My team had never made the playoffs, not in my lifetime. But for the first time since 1954, as if the baseball gods had conspired against me, Cleveland reached the World Series. In Costa Rica, I’d followed my heart, taken the big chance with the woman I loved, yet I’d exiled myself just when my boys of summer had finally reached baseball’s Promised Land. I felt like Moses, looking down from the mountaintop at the faraway homeland he’d never set foot upon. I know that sounds silly, but if you’re a baseball fan, you’ll understand. Lucky for me, Libby could cheer for her own hometown, Atlanta.

Why in the world, you’re probably thinking, does this man’s love affair with baseball show up in the middle of his Costa Rican romance? Good question. I could tell you how the long season, featuring almost daily games from early April to late September, requires a serious commitment from players and fans alike, and how emotions range from anguish to joy.

I could delve into baseball’s mysterious design. The distance between each base on a four-cornered “diamond” is ninety feet (why not an even hundred?) yet even stranger, the distance between pitcher and batter (what divine insight or accident could have produced this number?) is exactly sixty-feet six-inches. The game is based on the magical numbers three (think of the Christian Holy Trinity) and four (the ancient base elements of earth, wind, fire, and water). Three “strikes” is an out; there are three outs per inning. Four “balls” is a walk, and the batter is awarded a “free pass” to first base. There are four bases, and the game’s journey starts and ends at “home plate.” Players hit the ball and run around the bases, always circling back home again. As generations of players have improved athletically—growing stronger, faster—their physical evolution has never required an adjustment to the game’s numerical design.

Yet baseball is also a game of infinite dimensions. There is no time clock, and there is no limit to how far the field’s right and left borders extend into the horizon. Others have memorably described baseball’s romantic infinities. In The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, novelist W.P. Kinsella tells the story of two teams that magically continue to tie the score, extending a normal nine-inning game for weeks and months (tie games are merely “suspended” until later; there is no “sudden death” in baseball), as if one game could embody an entire summer’s season. And theoretically, a game of baseball could last forever, since no buzzer or horn ever announces that time has run out.

Or you might know another Kinsella story, made into the 1989 movie Field of Dreams (and based on his novel Shoeless Joe), where a grown man, “Ray” Kinsella, throws away all common sense, listens to voices in his head, and plows under several acres of perfectly good Iowa farmland to build a baseball field. But he builds no “homerun fence.” Instead, the outfield grass ends at what seem to be infinite rows of corn, where famous (and dead) players from the past emerge to play the game they loved, and then, after each game, disappear again back into the corn.

In the movie, after one game, before he disappears between the tall stalks, baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson turns and asks Ray, “Is this heaven?”

Near the end of the story, Ray plays catch with his long-dead father, one of the lesser players resurrected from the cornfield. In college, the son resented his old man, wouldn’t even have a game of catch with him. Suddenly, Ray recognizes his father and realizes that he was the one those voices in his head had said would appear when they promised: If you build it, he will come.

I could tell you that, whenever I watch this movie, it makes me cry. I think about my own father, a high school and college all-star who for years was my baseball coach, a man I thought I’d outgrown when I was in college. Only in my thirties—a few years before I left for Costa Rica—had I begun to reconnect with my dad.


In Costa Rica, I told Libby all about my love of baseball. I can’t remember what she might have said, but what I remember for certain, even so many years later, is what she didn’t say. Never once did Libby ridicule me for wasting my time, or demand that I grow up, put away my childish distractions, stop dreaming, and live in the real world.

That was over 20 years ago. Cleveland lost to Atlanta in game six. I waited two more decades for Cleveland to climb back into the World Series (only to lose to the Chicago Cubs, who hadn’t won the series since 1908, so I guess if I’m a true blue baseball fan, I can’t be angry at lovable Cubs fans). But it’s July 12, 2017, Cleveland’s in first place, and I’m giving up my old baseball fan’s lament wait until next year. See you in October!