I Married OJ (part two, draft one)
OJ and I didn’t wind up moving to Arizona. When my parents got back from their trip we had dinner with them. My parents were not the easiest people to impress, to put it mildly, but everything went fine and OJ was very charming. They seemed to like him. Fortunately for everybody, my fucking uncle was not at dinner with us that night, fouling the mood like a flapping harpy. He would have made one of his indigestibly snarky comments when OJ left his usual very generous tip, after picking up the check. “Jesus, OJ, only a 40% tip? Was the waiter a putz?” Actual quote, from lunch at the Jackson Diner on another occasion. My father and mother exchanged a pointed glance at the size of the tip (they always calculated their 15% to the dime), but that was it.
One of the things I loved about OJ, which was in complete contrast to my skinflint family– OJ enjoyed the finer things in life and liked living large. He didn’t hesitate to give his money to people who made him happy, or to buy things either of us wanted. I saw a beautiful pair of cowboy boots one day when we were walking in the city. They were ridiculously expensive, but exquisite. He saw that I loved them, yet I resisted getting them. And then, ten minutes later, I was wearing them, carrying my former boots in a bag. “If you love it, and you have the money, why hesitate?” OJ said, after casually dropping hundreds on the boots that made me so happy. I had never heard it put so simply and so directly. Nobody in the history of my family had ever spoken such words, or handled money with such a light, non-possessive touch.
He didn’t care what the price was, it was just a number, he always said. If it made you happy, it was yours. When we moved in together it was the first time I ever experienced that easy way of life. It was so liberating, not to agonize over whether you really needed something. If you like it– buy it! Why not tip the sales girl who had been so helpful? Hey, they work hard, don’t get paid much, she was great, why not show her some love, money makes everybody happy. It’s a pleasure to be generous, particularly when you come from a family that watches every dollar the way mine always did. I felt liberated from a cramped cage I hadn’t even realized I was trapped in.
We had two very good incomes and no children back then, although our two little rescue dogs, Heckle and Jeckle, were like our kids. Heckle was black and Jeckle was white and OJ joked that we had smashed the racist stereotype of those two cartoon magpies by integrating the duo. My uncle gave me shit, of course, about my new collection of high-end cowboy boots, but, that was him. Why do we work hard to earn money if not to enjoy the things it can buy? A question my uncle never had an answer for, funny for a man who considered himself a great moral philosopher and who lived like a penitent monk.
I made a good living managing a health club and OJ was taking in an excellent income as a salesman. He sold high end fine art reproductions for a company called Portal. Portal had the license to print the works of the Impressionists, Van Gogh and a lot of other beautiful paintings. The reproductions were gorgeous, we had a couple framed in our home. They also had a line of fine art greeting cards and what is now called “merch” with their beautiful licensed images on them, mugs and t-shirts and things like that. He used to say Portal’s stuff sold itself. He was part of a team that was very close and the boss really loved OJ. How could you not love someone like OJ? All he wanted was to be happy and make other people happy. He was very popular at Portal and the star of their softball and basketball teams.
In fact, my uncle himself said that the home run OJ hit at Central Park, in a pickup game my uncle was also playing in, was the hardest hit, longest home run he’d ever seen outside of a major league ballpark.
Then the Recession hit. It hit everybody, but, of course, in sales you feel it first, particularly if you are selling discretionary items like fine art reproductions. Business slowed a little bit and OJ did something that in retrospect was a bad mistake. He realized one day that the enormous sample book he carried with him in his car, with hundreds of beautiful items, was worth a lot of money.
He started selling it off for cash to store owners who were looking for a deal. It was a mistake. He sold the samples and then told the boss his car had been robbed and the sample book stolen. Although they loved him at Portal, and immediately replaced the first lost sample book, when the second sample book entered the stream of commerce, and unbeknownst to OJ there was a tiny code on the back of each sample page that led straight back to the salesman, he was done.
My uncle the piker had inherited $25,000 when his wife died. He had the remaining $20,000 or so in a CD, which at that time paid something like 10% interest. Then he got a letter from the IRS that made him paranoid, since he hadn’t filed taxes on his meager income in several years. He didn’t want the IRS to seize his measly $20,000 so he asked OJ and I to keep it in a CD under our names. It was really no problem. If he ever needed money from the CD we would withdraw it, take him out to lunch and give him the money.
So one day over lunch OJ told my uncle that he’d lost his job, was out looking for work and mentioned that we had a temporary cash flow problem, and that we were trying to get pregnant, my uncle was soon going to be a great-uncle. He asked my uncle if he could borrow the money in the CD. He told him he’d pay it back, with interest, in a very short time. To his credit, my uncle didn’t hesitate, though it still strikes me as odd all these years later.
In the clear light of hindsight, that loan was the real beginning of everything turning to shit with my family.