This past December 24th marked my 5th wedding anniversary. We spent the day skiing in Big Sky Montana, topped off by dinner at the famous 2nd Street Bistro in Livingston Montana, a place I learned about when one of my favorite writers, Jim Harrison (Home Before Dark, Legends of the Fall), ate there with Anthony Bourdain, the entire tantalizing meal recorded in an episode of No Reservations. The chef describes his restaurant as ‘low impact’ – the food is entirely local, from the elk and bison grazing up the road, to the trout fished from the nearby river running through it – even the spinach and morels picked that morning.
The meal lived up to its billing and if you are ever up that way, I highly recommend a stop at the Murray Hotel, where the bistro is located. To top off the celebration I gave my husband (affectionately known to my friends as The Man) a ring, a sort of ritual reminder of our engagement, which also featured me presenting a ring, and another, sweeter and more moveable feast….plus some horror and fear for good measure. Let me explain.
We like horror films, the Man and I. Our first date was “Final Destination” and we loved it. Or rather, he loved it, and I think I loved it – I sometimes (lots of times) clap my hands over my eyes while sticking my thumbs in my ears and shutting my left eye and squinching my right eye way down so that it is just a slit because when it comes to horror movies, seeing the eyeball ripped from the head with an ice cream scoop, or the throat beribboned by a slavering werewolf, the zombies ripping into their intestinal feast or the bodies hurtling from the roller coaster can be bad – but hearing can be way way worse.
We’ve since seen all the Final Destinations (second one, meh, third one awesome! four and five, so-so) , and – it should be noted – we have enough presence of mind about our affection for horror films that when people ask us what movies we’ve seen lately we will not include the numeral. Numeraled movies, most people agree, are for kids. Or losers. Or weirdos. Or something.
After that first horror flick together (now referred to as The Greatest First Date In The World – for many reasons, the film being just one) there was no stopping us. We were both coming out of long marriages that did not include a shared love of horror, so we had a lot of pent up, um, demand.
We like every category – supernatural devil stuff like The Entity, The Exorcist (odd that this scares me, the agnostic, so much), a Paranormal Activity (the first one was the only good one); slasher serials like Hostel and Saw (again, only the first one was any good); Halloween (Rob Zombie’s remake is worth checking out), the Nightmare On Elm Streets (the first one, and the last 2, are the best).
Then there is the vacation that went awry genre (Open Water, Adrift, Into the Void, Grizzly Man); zombie flicks (all of George Romero, especially Land of the Dead, plus 28 Days Later, and 28 Weeks Later): graphic novels made into film such as Constantine and 30 Days of Night; the “if this could really happen it would happen this way” movies like the Final Destination series, and of course the found footage genre, including Cannibal Holocaust, Blair Witch Project, Cannibal (do not rent this under any circumstances – it was that upsetting) and Cloverfield.
I was so happy that the Man loved horror as much as me, I might have proposed to him on the strength of that alone, but it turns out that he is a wonderful cook, a sweet and serious dad, a thoughtful lover, a gifted athlete, a smart and funny and interesting man and all kinds of other delightful things, not to mention devilishly handsome with the spectacular body of a Greek God – so, after a couple of years of dating, I was pretty much good to go. He was a keeper.
I naturally planned the entire proposal event around a horror film – this was 1408, based on the short story by Stephen King. John Cusack stars, and it’s a tour de force of a one man show. We saw the previews and we knew it was one of those we’d go see on opening night (sadly, a rarity for the genre).
I bought the ring at a jeweler in my neighborhood, a friendly Chinese man who has run his own shop for 20 years. His window always features a tasteful display of unusual pieces (he does a lot of jade pieces for Gump’s) so I snuck The Man’s retired wedding ring to him, and he made him a platinum band just the right thickness and width.
“Who would not say yes to you!” he told me sweetly, when I shared my plan.
I bounced out of the jewelry store and went to Walgreens to buy the supplies – a box of Good & Plenty, a box of Dots, a box of Milk Duds – all super sized.
I carefully opened the boxes, emptied them of their original candies, and refilled each with some custom M&Ms I had made.
I superglued the boxes back together and stuffed them into an oversized purse along with a headlamp for the moment when he said, there’s something wrong with this candy! and I could give him the light to check it out while I feigned interest in the movie. I should note here that a headlamp isn’t an odd item to have with me, as the Man – like all good Michigan born lads of the Upper Peninsula – has a certain boy scout readiness about him at all times: he carries a knife, a headlamp, feet warmers, and Deet in his car, for example.
(Re-reading that last paragraph, I’m thinking, Jesus, what kind of dorks a) carry headlamps around with them and b) explain to others why this is totally normal?)
Finally, I placed the ring in a bejeweled box, and hid it under his pillow.
I bought the tickets ahead of time and we engaged in a little pre-film, erm, partying the better to appreciate the suspense.
At the movies, the Man’s eyes were glued to the film, while my eyes were glued to him. He could feel me gazing at him in the dark and would lean over to kiss me and squeeze my thigh. I loved how happy he looked. I can still picture his intent eyes, the way his mouth slowly curved into a smile as he felt my regard.
“I’m hungry,” he whispers, and I whip out my big ol’ box of Milk Duds. I hand them to him, and my heart starts beating hard. This is it! Moments away from the moment when I – or rather, my M&Ms – make my declaration.
The Man opens the box, eyes never leaving the screen, where John Cusack has just noticed that the toilet paper in his bathroom has been mysteriously refolded, though he is alone in this ‘supposedly’ haunted suite.
The Man frowns when he encounters the sturdy super glue. He then opens the box, which rattles (and here I sit up alertly, because of course he’ll notice something is amiss, of course everyone knows that Milk Duds do not rattle with the castanet sound of M&Ms, but rather emit a blurry shuffling sound when shaken together – milk thuds, you might say.) They are the kind of candy you eat one piece at a time, chewing thoughtfully as you reflect on the movie, the yumminess of caramel, the age of your fillings, the girth of your waist.
But the Man doesn’t notice. He takes a handful and eats them. My glances at him are more and more frequent. Dude! I’m thinking. Milk Duds are round and caramely and soft and sticky! M&Ms are crisp and crunchy little flying saucers, of such low satiety milk chocolate that the more you eat the more you want, the kind of candy you eat rapid fire, mindlessly, and never ever feel guilty about (how can you feel guilty about eating something you can never remember eating?)
In short: how can you NOT notice the difference?!
I should probably note now that the Man is not a big candy fan. Never eats it. So my bringing the candy was a sort of signal. Like when you play Old Maid with a kid and let the Old Maid card stick up a little higher than the rest, and the kid just misses this obvious hint and grabs it and you pretty much die laughing at how dork-dumb they are. Sound thinking, you might think, but then you’ d have to think again.
After two small handfuls the Man says to me, gimme those Good & Plentys, that’s what I need. A “something’s not right” expression flickers across his face and is gone. On the screen, the painting one often finds above one’s bed in a hotel, a painting of a ship tossed upon a stormy sea, is now emitting a huge flood of stormy ocean water onto John Cusack’s bed.
So I give the Man the hot pink box of Good & Plentys. Again he absently struggles with the super glued flap, giving it a small irritated glance (a glance that says Man! No wonder I never eat candy! What’s UP with these boxes?) then looks back at the screen. He works it finally open, and eats a few. Then a few more. Then a few more.
Then, unbelievably, a few more.
I am now looking at the Man, the future husband, straight on, not even pretending to notice the movie. I mean, come on! Everyone knows that Good & Plentys are shaped like the drugs used to illustrate the cover of the novel Valley Of The Dolls. They are shaped like a sleep aid that was advertised a lot when I was a girl – I remember the commercial showed fingers pulling apart the capsule while tons of little magical medicine beads poured fourth.
Most of all, they are licorice flavored. The flavor most not like the milky milk chocolate with the sweet, tasteless candy shell flavor of an M&M flavor. I mean, really.
The Man eats a few more. I start laughing – I can’t help it. Never did it occur to me that the Man’s unfamiliarity with candy meant he does not, in fact, know the difference between an M&M or a Milk Dud, a Milk Dud or a Good & Plenty. Or shit and shinola.
I hand him the coup de gras – the Dots. Fruity, gum drop-shaped, sticky. Undeniably not like M&Ms.
“Open that for me,” the Man whispers, munching the yellow and white chocolate-flavored M&Ms that say Will You Marry Me – munching them as as if they were pink and white licorice-flavored Good & Plentys and everything was dandy. On the screen John Cusack has encountered his dead father in his hotel room bathroom. The father is now alive, and not very nice.
“How are those tasting?” I ask him.
“Not good,” he says, and hands the box to me. “I guess they made a mistake at the factory.”
I hand him the box of not-Dots and he munches a few, watching John Cusack who is now sporting a toupee of snow and frosted eyelashes, his not-haunted-or-so-he-thought (he is a man who investigates such absurdities) hotel suite looking like a frosty circle of Hell.
I stare at the Man. The Man chews. Chews some more. Chews some more. Swallows and, looking briefly at the box, gives a small puzzled shrug (a shrug that says “something is not right but I don’t have the time to figure it out just now”) and pops a fresh not-Dot in his mouth.
Marry me! it shouts in tiny letters – letters I can just read in the light of the film, which is clear and bright on account of the en suite snow storm taking place there.
But the Man munches on, oblivious.
Finally I give up and settle down and watch the movie, where John Cusack confronts the real reason behind his aggressively pragmatic there-ain’t-no-after-life viewpoint, and it is a heartrending reason indeed, the nonexistent ghost of his daughter, dead at nine or ten, is behind his bitter acceptance of the fact that gone is gone and dead is dead and no amount of believing in spirits in the world will get your dead nine year old daughter back in her Hannah Montana bed where she belongs. She lives on only in memory, which, after all (given the happenings in Room #1408) might be best…and by the by, have you added up the numerals in 1408? Go ahead. See? Numerals in a movie=trouble. Toldja.
It’s a good film and I’m glad for Cusack and I’m glad for King, both of whom started with a bang and middled with a whimper but are both showing some signs of edgy renewed life in their respective mature career years.
Towards the end of the film, the Man turns to me and sees my still-laughing face in the glowing screen and giving me a puzzled happy smile, says “I love you!” and kisses me. On the screen, John Cusack lights his room on fire as a heavy-footed and certainly demonic entity from another dimension approaches from behind the now-rippling, bleeding walls of the hotel suite. I’m still laughing so the Man pulls back and says “What?!”
I offer him a box. “M&M?” I ask, and he says “Yeah!” and then “But they don’t taste right…” and for the first time all evening he peers into the box.
At last! My heart speeds up.
“Hey!” he says. “They’re all…light colored. Weird! Is that because it’s dark chocolate? Are these the new ones?”
“No,” I say, laughing my head off. I hand him the headlamp (“Hey you!” he says in approval) and he shines it into the box.
“Because they taste…hey, wait. What..what… It says…it says…Is that for me?” he asks in a voice so small and uncertain that, had I heard it on a recording, I might not have known it was him.
On the screen, John Cusack finally defeats the spirits of 1408. Either that, or they reluctantly let him go, calling it a draw, it’s hard to tell.
“Is this YOU asking ME?” he asks, his voice surprised and, I think, hopeful. I nod, laughing in the last light of the music credits and the final and somehow grand movie industry logos and copyrights that no one ever sees but for some reason need to be there all the same.
“Well, sure!” he says, and we kiss in the final glowy minute before the screen goes dark, boxes of yellow and white M&Ms spilling all round us with their message Will you? Will you? Will you? Mary me!
And that’s how I asked him to marry me.
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