After what seemed an eternity, it finally happened: they died. Paula's mother (87) went first, and two months later, her dad (89) came tumbling after.
"Oh, Paul," she sniffed. "Now I'm an orphan, too."
"There, there, babe," he said with a smile, "we all gotta go sometime." And they began to talk about whether to sell the Palm Beach condo immediately or to rent it month-to-month while they considered their options. Three weeks later, the magnificent property (two bedrooms, three baths, golf course view) was gone: a million seven. Which brought their share of the total estate (one sibling, after taxes) to a decent but not outrageous, $673.4265 K.
Was it mere coincidence that their names, Paul (Mergers) and Paula (Acquisitions), were so similar? Hardly. A decade earlier, and about a month into the negotiations for what they would soon be jocularly calling their "non-hostile mutual takeover," the name question had popped up at an expensive restaurant.
The expert waiter, having finished serving the snails, and having opened the excellent bottle of Pinot Egrigio for both diners to taste and praise, glided off into the restaurant's dim recesses. The foreground music was loud and sexy: romantic.
"Paula and Paul," Paula said, reaching over to take Paul's hand.
Looking into her eyes he said, "Paul and Paula. It was meant to be."
"Yep. To love."
Clinking glasses, they drank to that.
* * *
For the first year or so after the demise of their second, and last, set of parents, the "orphans" sailed along swimmingly. They earned (two salaries, two bonuses, 2.6), they spent, they exulted. Another year passed, passably.
* * *
"According to the famed French philosopher, Rene des Shopping-Cartes," quipped Paula one mid-summer Saturday afternoon as they stood before the perfume counter of a fine department store, "J'achete, donc je suis."
Paul smiled dutifully at the forced adage, but inwardly he frowned. Sucking in seven or eight fragrances with one big gasp, he held them in his lungs while his mind flashed to the connubial bottom line. Yes, he had to admit it: after eleven busy years, his wife's frequent wit, with its ambivalent edge, was finally getting to him. Not for the first, or even the second time, he knew in his heart that something was wrong with their relationship, something was missing. And, as he finally exhaled, he knew exactly what that something was. Yes, it was time for the well heeled, well adjusted, thirty-something couple to have parents -- again.
"Is it possible, P.? Do we really miss them?" Paula asked rhetorically. "The perpetual crises? the sense of entitlement? the demands? the immaturity?"
"You know we do," Paul replied. "Yes, it's irrational but, on some level, in some crazy way, all children need parents. Maybe it's just guilt, maybe it's a need to feel superior. Whatever. It's real."
So they agreed: they needed parents. And they needed them sooner, not later since, after all, the biological clock was ticking and, in not too many years, Paul and Paula would be too old for the exacting task of "childing" -- that is, of having parents.
But fortunately, as both of them also knew, it is the easiest thing in the world to buy love. Their ad ("Personals") in Modern Immaturity, that widely-perused magazine for the target population, tempered a pound of bluntness with an ounce, at least, of tact:
Elderly couple wanted for full-time, live-in position as surrogate parents for financially secure, orphaned, thirty-something couple. Must be ambulatory, continent, able to assume position immediately.
Excellent salary/benefits, comfortable accommodations, plentiful food, usual parenting duties. Equal Opportunity employer. (No seniles, please.) Emails only: http://www.modim.com/pers#442/11
After two weeks, hundreds of applications, most of them unsuitable (including several pairs of overt perverts), and four interviews (negative), P&P finally found their couple. According to the terse e-app, Myron and Myrna (fearful symmetry) had just moved back to the city from (life is rich) Palm Beach, Fla.
This, the fifth and final interview took place in the living room of Paul and Paula's split-level climate-controlled penthouse condo (three bedrooms, three baths). As the tan old couple sipped their "virgin" G&T's and tried not to succumb to the mixed nuts, Paul threw them an opening softball.
"So, then, folks, tell us why you're moving back to the city."
"Way too many old codgers just like us down there," Myron explained, gliding his loafers back and forth on the plush white carpet as if he were skiing while sitting down. "Then, there's the heat, the humidity! Whew! The travel brochures sure don't mention those things. May through October, the whole state is like a giant pizza oven. And we're the pepperoni."
P&P smiled politely as Myron pretended to pant and mop his brow. Myrna vigorously wagged her blue-rinsed head and flashed her Medicare-quality dentures, top and bottom.
"Pizza ovens are dry, not humid, dear," she corrected. "And how about the cost of living? There are so many millionaires down there we could hardly afford to buy our groceries and other necessities. And do you think they have senior-citizen discounts? Ha! Not on your life!"
"Ha ha," Myron said. "They have junior-citizen discounts! But that's enough complaining, dear. Don't mind Mother, folks, she's a great kidder. Speaking of kidding, did you hear the one about the rabbi and the alligator?" They hadn't, so he told it.
As soon as the mutual compliments had been completed and the door had closed softly behind the short, elderly couple, and after only a few snorts over their matching Wal-Mart golf outfits, Paul and Paula agreed that the search was over.
"Aren't they cute!" Paul said.
"Those are parents anyone could be ashamed of."
"Yes, they're exactly what we need."
It was true, Myron and Myrna appeared to be the quintessential parents: their sins seemed totally venial. Accordingly, the very next day, as per instructions, the P's white-shoe lawyer drew up a contract and, without hesitation, both couples inked said contract, money changed hands and, just like that, the P's had hired the M's. Two days later, furniture to follow, the old couple moved into the spacious guest bedroom, full bath attached, and cohabitation began.
* * *
In some ways, the M's gave excellent value for their generous salaries, perks, and allowances. Paul and Paula felt something like parental pride when a couple of middle-level managers from their office were practically rolling on the floor over Myrna's wonderful Victor Borgia imitation (she proved an accomplished piano hobbyist) and Myron's cascade of off-color limericks. The young couple was also gratified by the fact that M & M took an interest in the careers of "their" children. The new parents' quick grasp of the arcane machinations of modern high finance was a pleasant surprise.
Like any parent-child relationship, however, this one required adjustments on both sides. For instance, steps were quickly taken toward establishing a changed apartment routine. It was now fall, and every morning at eleven, while the maid cleaned their room and bath, the old couple would toddle off to a nearby park to watch the pre-school set cavorting in the playground. (Once, Myrna grabbed Myron's arm in the nick of time as he was lifting his leg to climb into the sandbox.)
There were, of course, the usual ailments endemic to second childhood -- arthritis, lumbago, arrhythmia, dysphagia, dyspepsia and so on -- but fortunately, the younger couple's generous health insurance plan included a rider for Medicare supplements.
Then there were the messes, which could have become serious bones of contention. During the first few dinners together, P&P would silently grieve and gnash their teeth at the distressingly frequent spills onto their priceless antique pink damask tablecloth.
"Maybe they can eat in the kitchen with the rest of the help," Paula ventured.
"No, no, dear, dinner is a unique opportunity for quality family time." Four top-of-the-line plastic mats with a pattern based on Monet's water lilies brilliantly resolved the matter.
Toilet training (mess #2) was another potential deal-breaker. Myron was nearsighted, his stream spastic, and soon the maid was grumbling and making noises about quitting. But no sooner had the issue been tactfully raised than, without a bit of fuss, the old gentleman graciously agreed to do (all) his business sitting down, and the seat was permanently lowered.
Quick studies both, P&P readily consensed that they would have to do some proactive heavy lifting to keep the generation bridge in good repair. Towards the end of the first trimester, on a weekday evening when nothing else was on, they decided to pump a few hours into the family account. After they had batted around several non-starters, Paula came up with the perfect plan: they would take M & M to the movies, "to a (not too) exciting CG 75."
"Ha ha, 'CG 75.' Good one, P," Paul allowed. "And we won't even have to talk to them."
"Not nice, P." Paula admonished. "Your own parents? Am I seeing the proverbial cloud no bigger than a man's middle finger here?" Paul inwardly frowned at this recidivism (double-barreled) on the part of his irrepressible other, who had not (seriously) lapsed since a wedding about a month before. On that occasion, having been assigned to a table with eight strangers as they picked their way through the mediocre catered meal, Paula had fired off (audible whisper) one of her polyglot specials:
Meanwhile, back at the condo, finger pun ignored, the movie plan was broached. Myrna was "tickled," so dinner having been eaten and spilled, off they went.
"What are we seeing?" Myron asked, as they popped and crept into the cab.
"Surprise!" said Paula.
"It's a great flick," Paul chimed in. "Trust me."
Myron, it must be said, looked as if he smelled a rat.
The movie was a revival, but as Paul had observed, "Bet the ranch on it, they haven't seen this one!" The proud young couple sat one row behind, and to one side of, their wards, both to allow them their independence and to watch and enjoy their reactions.
The now-classic film was as startlingly violent as P&P remembered it. At one point the main character comes across a severed ear, shown close-up and crawling with insects. A grinning Paul nudged Paula, for Myron and Myrna's jaws looked as if they had come unhinged, albeit, in Myron's case, because he was ingesting popcorn as fast as an industrial vacuum cleaner. When they got home, the family unit recapped their night out.
"Wow!" said Myron, doing his indoor skiing routine, "I haven't had that much fun since the Scarface remake. Remember the chain saw behind the shower curtain?" Myrna, who was knitting a sweater for a grand (in both senses) niece, kept her counsel.
Later P&P sat propped up on their huge pillows, stretched out on the gold satin bedspread of their ergonomic king-sized 9K Scandinavian bed, wearing their matching reading glasses, laptops humming in harmony (minor fifth). Looking up for a moment from the mega-merger (15.4 b) he was putting together, Paul observed, "Apparently, seventy-five percent of all participants in this evening's entertainment rate it a complete success."
"Check," Paula concurred, entering a (different) number into the report on the smallish hostile takeover (2.7 b) she was vetting. "Gangbusters."
* * *
And so it went, a tissue of annoyances (many) and satisfactions (some). Then sadly, twelve or thirteen weeks into the quasi-parent child relationship, as it reached what might be called its adolescence, the cloud grew huge and dark, then burst. As is so often the case, music proved the treacherous rock upon which the family vessel foundered. Both M's were partially deaf; both passionately loved Mantovani and Lawrence Welk.
" 'A one-and-a-two-a'," Paul quipped. "If they play that elevator shit one more time, it's bubbles in the cyanide for them!"
And when the sensitive issue was broached, even though, after his homicidal private outburst, Paul did temper his language, the reaction was predictably oppositional.
"Darn it," Myron exploded, "can't we even listen to our own music? We never have any fun around here."
"That'll do, Myron," snapped Paul. "Go to your room! Now! Both of you."
Sulkily, with their blood pressures approaching dangerous levels but without another word, off the old couple trudged. Paul and Paula remained at the table. Trying to calm down, Paul twirled a leftover bread stick while Paula breathed deeply and stared into space.
A few minutes later a thud was heard over the intercom. Its source was the guest bedroom, and it was immediately followed by a second thud. Paul and Paula stared at each other in wild surmise. Then Paul groped for his cell.
* * *
As it turned out, two hearts that had beaten as one for half a century had stopped beating, almost as one. Two days later Myron and Myrna were interred in a double box at a nearby cemetery. A top-of-the-line floral display (donors absent, anonymous) dominated the cortege.
The day of the funeral, after dinner, the couple (young) sat in silence in their matching red leather club chairs before the fire in their climate-controlled living room. After a few minutes they both looked up.
"We're orphans again," Paula sighed.
"That's life, babe. It comes with the territory." He paused for a moment, maintaining eye contact. "Shall I, uh ..?"
"Yes, please. Say something about 'musical tastes'. "
Popping his laptop, Paul booted up and cut and pasted the Modern Immaturity ad into a new one.
"How's this?" He read her the (revised) 2nd paragraph:
Excellent salary/benefits, comfortable accommodations, plentiful food, usual parenting duties, musical compatibility a must. Equal Opportunity employer. (No seniles, please.) Emails only: http://www.modim.com/pers
"Send it," she said.
To be continued ... on April 4th
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