You Don't Bring Me Flowers
Well, to begin with, he was never my boyfriend. As a matter of fact, I would never even have met him except that he was dating Renee, my roommate at the time. Renee was nineteen, the same age I was. She was still a virgin and wanted to stay that way, at least for the time being.
Ramon was in his twenties, and evidently a bit more aggressive than she felt she could handle by herself, so she would only agree to go out with him if it was a double date. He had a friend named Rafael, also in his twenties, and the four of us used to go out on weekends to the movies or to shoot pool, and afterwards to the local burger joint for dinner. Rafael didn't speak much English, and my Spanish was very limited, so our actual relationship was nil. Basically we were chaperones, nothing more.
Anyway, about a month after we started going out as a group, Ramon suddenly decided that Renee should move back in with her parents. It wasn't seemly, he said, for a young single woman to be living on her own. It was bad for her reputation. Renee was reluctant. She and her mother were barely on speaking terms, but Ramon was adamant. So Renee packed up her gear and moved back home, in the process "borrowing" my small suitcase (which I never saw again) and stiffing me for half a month's rent and all the utilities.
The following Friday at work, Renee informed me rather proudly that she wouldn't be seeing Ramon that weekend. He had a very important job in San Fransisco, and would be gone until Sunday night. Ramon played trumpet in a mariachi band, or so he said; I myself never actually saw him play, although he did have a battered mouthpiece that rolled around on the dashboard of his old sedan next to the requisite Madonna statuette. So now imagine my surprise when I got home that evening to find Ramon waiting for me on the front balcony outside my apartment.
"I thought you were going to San Fransisco this weekend," I said.
"I was, but the gig was cancelled at the last minute."
"So where is Renee?" I asked. "Aren't you and she going out tonight?"
"She had to stay home," he told me. "Her mom is sick,and she has to take care of her." He then offered to take me out to dinner, "just as friends". I explained that I had to go to the bank and cash my check and then do my grocery shopping for the week. "So why don't I drive you?" he offered. "It'll save you a lot of time and trouble."
Now, this was absolutely true. At that tine I didn't have a car, only an old 3-speed men's bicycle which was really too big for me, and it really was a pain trying to carry a big sack of groceries home in the small front basket. So he drove me to the bank and then to the local supermarket where I picked out the few groceries my $3.27 would buy. (This was 1967, by the way, and I lived mostly on milk, and tomato and lettuce sandwiches.)
When we got to the checkstand, there was a plastic cylinder next to the cash register filled with bunches of artificial flowers and other items of that ilk which a person might buy on impulse if you were given to that sort of thing. Ramon pulled out from among the assortment two or three "stems" of wire onto which were glued a number of marble-sized plastic balls. The whole assembly had been dipped into blue paint, and sprinkled with some kind of white flakes.
"How do you like these?" he asked me. Truthfully, I thought they were pretty tacky, but I assumed they were for Renee, and her tastes were quite different from mine, so I said they were nice. He bought them, I paid for my groceries, and he drove me home. I put away the food, and then he handed me the "flowers."
"These are for you." he said.
I was stunned, to say the least, and not exactly thrilled, but I managed to be properly gracious, and laid the stems on the kitchen table. They were already shedding white flakes. Ramon then drove me to a local restaurant, a mid-priced chain which was nevertheless a definite step up from the hamburger house the four of us normally frequented. We talked about this and that, I really don't remember what, and then at about a quarter to eight, he excused himself to make a phone call. He was gone maybe five or ten minutes, and when he came back he said he wanted to ask me a question.
He laid out his eating utensils on the tablecloth, and explained to me how the fork and spoon were really good friends, and how the knife was dating the fork, but it also found itself attracted to the spoon. He wanted to know what I thought the knife should do. I told him I was not very good at giving advice, but I thought the knife should probably stick with the fork until it could make up its own mind what it wanted. He agreed, and we finished the meal and left the restaurant.
When we got back to my apartment he asked me if I was free the next day. I said I had an orthodontic appointment in my hometown about thirty miles away, and would be gone most of the day. He wanted to know how I was going to get there, and I told him I was going to hitchhike, which was what I'd been doing every month for the last six months. (Like I said, this was 1967, and a young girl actually COULD hitchhike just about anywhere without fear of being raped or murdered.)
Of course, Ramon wouldn't hear of such a thing. He was going to drive me, and that was that. I suppose by this time I should have gotten a clue, but I was young and inexperienced in the ways of men, and I actually believed him when he said he just wanted to be my friend. I told him my appointment was for ten-thirty, so he should be there by nine-thirty so we could get there in plenty of time.
AT nine-thirty the next morning my doorbell rang, and there was Ramon wearing - of all things - a blue and gold brocade jacket, white shirt with ruffled front and sleeves, black string tie, shiny black slacks, and black patent leather shoes. He looked as if he were ready to play with the mariachi band, not to drive a friend to her orthodontist appointment. However, I didn't argue, I just got in the car, and we drove off.
My apartment was about two miles from the freeway, and just as we got to the onramp Ramon suddenly announced that his car was low on oil, and if he didn't get it changed immediately we would never get where we were going. I protested, but he was adamant. Not to worry, he insisted. It would only take a few minutes, and we would still get there in plenty of time. Luckily there was a service station right there, so he pulled in, raised the hood, and went inside.
Half an hour and some activity later he informed me that he didn't like the way they had done the job, and he would have to do it over himself! Of course, I was quite upset. I didn't want to be late for my appointment, but he swore that it would only be a few minutes more, and it absolutely had to be done.
Unfortunately, by the time he finished doing whatever the hell it was that he did (and I have to tell you that he came out of it with shirt sleeves immaculate), it was past ten-thirty, so I asked him to just please take me home. Well, he said, he had just one small errand to run, and if I would just go with him for that, he would take me straight home afterwards. I was aggravated and irritated, but I reluctantly agreed. Was I naive? Certainly. Foolish? Of course. But I was young, gullible, and trusting.
Ramon started the car and off we went. Now, I've never been really familiar with the LA freeway system, and to this day I'm not entirely sure where we went, but it took about two and a half hours to get there, so we could have been almost to San Diego for all I know. His car had a bench-style front seat with no seat belts, so I was sitting next to the passenger-side window, and Ramon kept bugging me to move over closer to him.
"We're friends, aren't we?" he said. "Friends should be close to each other."
"Sure, we're friends," I told him, "but Renee is myfriend, too, and you're her boyfriend, not mine." Anyway,when we finally arrived at WHEREVER, he parked in front of a little white bungalow, and asked me to come inside. It would just be a few minutes, he said. (Does this sound just a little bit familiar?) He knocked on the front door and it was answered by a Hispanic woman in her late forties - early fifties. Ramon introduced me to (taa-daa) HIS MOTHER! Naturally she didn't speak any English, and as I said before, my Spanish was none too good, but judging by her enthusiastic reception I got the distinct impression that he was trying to pass me off as his girlfriend.
She invited us in, and since it was by then about one o'clock, I assumed that she would offer us something to eat. No such luck. The smell of Mexican food was heavy in the air, so evidently they had just eaten, and I guess she took it for granted that we had done the same. An elderly woman sat in the living room watching TV, and Ramon now introducedme to his grandmother, who of course also spoke no English. He had me sit in a chair next to her, then he and his mother sat in another part of the room conversing in Spanish while Grandma and I watched Mexican sitcoms. Did you know that in those days many children's roles on Mexican TV were played by adults dressed as children? Weird.
After about an hour of this, Ramon got up and announced that it was time to go. He kissed his mother at the door (such a good son) and we got back in the car. Again he tried to get me to sit next to him, and again I refused. A few blocks from the house he pulled over to the curb and stopped. He slid over next to me and put his arm around my shoulders.
"How about a kiss?" he said.
"No," I told him. "Renee is my friend, and I'm not going to get involved with her boyfriend."
"We're not 'getting involved'" he insisted. "We're just friends, and friends kiss each other."
"Well, I'm not going to kiss you, and that's that." It took a few minutes and some minor wrestling, but he finally got the message and gave up. He got back behind the wheel and we were under way once more. It was now well past two o'clock, and I hadn't eaten anything since about seven that morning. I kept expecting him to stop for lunch, but he justkept on driving. Finally about four o'clock I'd had it.
"I'm hungry, Ramon," I told him. "I've been riding around with you all day, and I need something to eat NOW!" Well, he was none too pleased, as you might imagine, but he did stop at a little geasy-spoon diner and we had burgers and fries or some such, I really don't remember. He finally got me home at about six that evening, and he walked me to my front door.
"Don't say anything to Renee about today," he said.
"I won't," I assured him. I didn't intend to, either. I'm not a trouble-maker by nature, and I figured she'd probably blame me, anyway. The next morning about ten o'clock my doorbell rang, and who should be standing there but Renee and Ramon.
"Look who's here," she beamed. "He got back early from Frisco and came by this morning to pick me up." She wanted to know if I wanted to go with them wherever it was that they were going that day. I was totally flabbergasted. I couldn't believe he could have that kind of nerve, and I declined as politely as I could. Of course, I realized later that it had to have been her idea, and he couldn't very well tell her "no" without giving her a good reason.
I spent the rest of the day trying to decide whether or not to tell her the truth, and I finally decided I had no other choice. The next day at work I waited until lunch time and the two of us were alone, and I told her the whole ridiculous story.
"You're lying," she said. "You're just jealous because I have a boyfriend and you don't, and you're trying to break us up. I know he was in Frisco because he called me Friday night from the restaurant where they were playing."
"Was it about a quarter of eight?" I asked her.
"Yes, how did you know that?"
"Because I was with him. We were at a restaurant in Canoga Park, and that's what time he left the table to make a phone call." I assured her that I wasn't trying to steal her boyfriend, I just thought she ought to know what kind of man he was. She still didn't want to believe me, but when she confronted him with my story, he admitted that it was substantially true. He wanted to keep seeing her, but she told him she couldn't trust him any more, and she broke up with him. A few weeks later, he left town.
Now, you probably think that's the end of the story, but you're wrong. About two months later Renee got a package by registered mail. When she opened it, she found a one-and-a-half carat diamond ring and a letter from Ramon. He was in Texas, and he wanted her to come there and marry him!
She asked me what I thought she should do, and I told her that in my opinion the best thing would be to mail it back and tell him to go jump. She said I was probably right, but it sure was a pretty ring. She kept trying it on, and the more she wore it, the more she liked it.
I said it was probably fake, and even if it was real, where did he get the money to pay for it? You don't make that kind of dough playing weddings and birthday parties. But she had it appraised, and she had it sized, and then she wrote and told Ramon she wasn't moving to Texas, but he could come back to California if he wanted to marry her. Well, he did, and she did, and that was that.
I'd already thrown his balls away.
Copyright 2002 by Kathleen Mc Pugh, all rights reserved