A love story about a boy, a girl, and her best friend, written by Adam Rifkin and Michelle Gardner, as narrated by the former (and approved by the latter).


I was just going to write "I asked. She said yes. And that's all I got to say about that." And that would be the entire story of the weekend Michelle and I got engaged. However, ever since we got home from our fantasy weekend, everyone from Beavis to, well, Bob, has been asking what the heck we did while we're gone, and why their mother is now wearing this huge rock on her left hand. So we dedicate this story to our boyz, and ask that they please stop meowing at us now, and also refrain from vomiting on the rug any time in the near future.

This story is divided into 3 parts:

  1. Act 1: Friday, March 15, 1996.
  2. Act 2: Saturday, March 16, 1996.
  3. Act 3: Sunday, March 17, 1996.

For fun, some links that might help the interested reader better enjoy the story:

ACT 1: FRIDAY, MARCH 15, 1996.

After a grueling day of mind-twisting, gut-wrenching hardbody work at Caltech, I was ready for a weekend of "getting away from the everyday routine." I opened my backpack to check for the last of a thousand times that day, and thank heaven it was still there: half carat, brilliant cut, E colorless, VVS1 flawless, mounted in a cathedral setting between two 15-point ruby trilliums (which, to be fair, look more like hearts than triangles, hence the title of this little ditty, hearts and diamonds -- actually, it's "hearts and diamond" if you want to be technical, but please just don't go down that route), white gold, three months in the preparing but well worth every minute of waiting.

Michelle picked me up from the gym at 7pm. Actually, it was more like 7:30pm, thanks to my keen sense of California timing. I chuckled to myself: Michelle thought we were going to Las Vegas that weekend, but I had other plans in mind, thanks to Jennifer at Hot Spots [(800) 793-7666]. Heh heh. I hadn't had this much fun since Mardi Gras.

After a quick detour at Taco Bell (mmmm.... cinnamon crispas....), I requested that Michelle hop on the 101 north and take it to heaven. Okay, not heaven. But just to take the 101 until I said STOP. Unbeknownst to her, I had made plans to stay at a quaint little B&B waaaaaaaay in advance thanks to my keen sense of California timing (that would be, uh, the day before). Actually, I was confused as to whether we were staying at the Bayberry Inn, or the Mary May Inn, since I had been told on separate occasions that we were staying at one of those. But heck, I'm a guy, I'm not asking for directions even if my life depends on it. Until... I shift into present tense for dramatic narrative emphasis...

Suddenly I'm in a panic. We're rocketing at subsonic speeds on the 101, and the Santa Barbara exits are passing us like they've eaten a box of prunes. So I ask Michelle ever-so-gingerly to exit the 101 so we can get directions. I swallow my pride, we pull up to a gas station after travelling on several poorly-lit roads, and realize we're around the corner from the place.

We drive up to the Mary May Inn, which is a mere block from State Street (the main drag in Santa Barbara -- which, incidentally, is pronounced SAN ta bar BAR uh, despite what the locals say) and play with their three cats for a short while (there's a black cat, an orange cat, and a striped cat, and suddenly we're missing our boyz Beavis and Bob who we left with our friends Alison and Duck for the weekend, and that's all I got to say about that). We then look on the door and it says checkin is at another house, to which we proceed.

Upon arriving at the second house, there's an envelope on the door labelled "Adam", so naturally I assume it's for me and grab it. The letter inside says that we can let ourselves in with the key, but of course we assume we're staying at the Mary May and we walk back to that house and the kitties recognize us but don't bother moving toward us because of course we'll move toward them. And the key to get into the house doesn't fit. We must have sat there 20 minutes fiddling with it, trying to open the door, to no avail. We then go back to the other house to see if there were other directions.

There weren't. So on a whim we try the keys out in that house (which, incidentally, is across the street from the Cheshire Cat B&B), and of course they work, and we realize later that we're actually staying in the Bayberry Inn B&B, which was purchased by the owners of the Mary May just last month. Very confusing stuff, but okay, we're in.

The Bayberry house is a Victorian style 19th century abode, complete with a really-difficult-to-unlock door. We enter the place, and there's classical music coming from *somewhere*, but it's anyone's guess as to where that somewhere actually is. The door opens into the sitting room and dining room areas, and the place is filled with all this old furniture and antiques that I'm afraid to breathe on for fear of having to replace them. Funny how in retrospect, I think of the place as feeling "really old", whereas Michelle thinks of the place as feeling "just like Floyd", her home town in southwestern Virginia.

There's flowers everywhere -- roses, lillies, pretty buds that I can't for the life of me recognize, daisies, and so on. There's also a birdcage on the veranda, and I knock on it a few times, but either the occupants are sleeping very soundly, or they're dead. I find out in the morning that there are two cute finches in the cage, and they're irritated with me for banging on their cage the night before, but no bother. They're in the cage, after all, so what can they do to me?

On the table next to the finches there are plates of homebaked chocolate chip cookies just there for the taking, so of course I take. About a dozen if I recall correctly. Heck, for the price I was paying for this little weekend, I felt like I was entitled to a couple dozen. There's a croquet set next to the table, so I figure we'll have to play sometime during the weekend. But enough of the house.

We take the wooden staircase beside the front door upstairs and instantly recognize this particular B&B's motif: all the rooms are named after (ahem) BERRIES: there's the Strawberry Room, the Cranberry Room, the Hollyberry Room, and so on. I looked for the Chuck Berry room, but to no avail. Of course, we had the "most romantic room" in the place (or so the owners would have me believe): The Blueberry Room. Now, Michelle is a big fan of the movie _Pulp Fiction_, so the word "Blueberry" brings back pleasant memories of Bruce Willis' little girlfriend who wants the pot belly, so already Michelle is loving this place just because of its name. We turn the key and open the door...

To a canopy bed with the softest down pillows I've ever felt. We instantly notice that everything in the room is *some* shade of blue, and in retrospect, what exact shades are kind of fuzzy in my mind, but I do have this vision that they were very *old* blue, if that makes any sense. There's also a smattering of pink in places. Blue and pink. In the Blueberry Room in the Bayberry Inn in Santa Barbara, California. Oh, this is going to be some weekend.

Where was I? Oh, the Blueberry Room. There's an antiquated (but very comfortable) blue and white quilt on the bed, and lots of mirrors on the walls. The room is very Victorian-looking, which basically means there's no heater, no air conditioning, and no alarm clock. How are we going to make it to the 9:30am breakfast? There's a stuffed animal -- a cat in the "meatloaf" position -- on the bed, and instantly we're missing our boyz Beavis and Bob again. Sigh.

But then we see the bathroom, with an enormous bathtub (what, no shower?) and a couch (in the bathroom? what's up with *that*? do people really like couches that much?). Those Victorian people really knew how to live it up; I mean, a couch in the bathroom is pretty decadent if you ask me. There's also a little alcove leading out from the bathroom where one can sit and look at the stars. The Blueberry room and bathroom are littered with lots of old furniture (clean, but clearly old) and lots of new "chick" magazines (such as Allure, Cosmo, Homebodies, and Make-Him-Yours) and lots of bizarre books (on subjects like cameras, evangelists, teaching, and churning butter). Also, there are little dishes of peppermints everywhere, and fresh flowers (a pink rose, dalliums) in several places around the room. How exquisite.

My mind turns to the chocolate chip cookies (mmmm.... chocolate....). Plus, Michelle's friend Elsie had given her a cake for her birthday. Yum. Her birthday! I check my watch, and it's midnight, Saturday, March 16, 1996, commencing Michelle's 27th birthday and the 75-month anniversary of our first date. There's only one thing to do in a situation like this.


ACT 2: SATURDAY, MARCH 16, 1996.

Upon realizing it's midnight, I open a bottle of champagne we had brought from home. Michelle and I split the bottle between us, eat some cake, and enjoy the romantic mood. Somewhere in there, we fall asleep, and when we finally wake up (remember, no alarm clocks!), it's 9:30. Breakfast! We get ourselves ready in a mere half hour (a record for Californians, according to the Guinness people) and dash down to breakfast.

All tables of four are occupied or have two available seats, so we pick what we think is the least obnoxious-looking couple. Bernie and Begonia, from San Diego, we thought, were they, but we were mistaken: once Bernie got it in his head that my name was Sam, he was forever more calling me Sam. I did not like that here or there; I would not like it anywhere. My name is Adam, and Adam is the only name with which I am presently comfortable. There's a lot in a name.

We avoided gagging during the whine of these MAJOR yuppie types (and what a fine whine it was... NOT) only because the food was so palatable. There was a finely prepared vegetable omelet (mmmm... omelet... :), and a bowl of exotic fruits like papaya, pineapple, and apple. I think there might have been a roll or muffin or something too, but the yuppies were very distracting (in fact, Michelle can't remember, either). There was some really good coffee, too, right by the chirping finches (who were irritated because someone had disturbed their beauty rest the evening before). Fresh ground. Too bad they didn't brew a fresh batch on Sunday. The same coffee, a day later, *tasted* like fresh ground. As in, mud. But on Saturday, the coffee was divine. Even Michelle thought so, and she doesn't drink coffee (which explains perfectly why she applied for a job with Starbucks... hello!?).

Breakfast started a couple of trends that would last throughout the day. I am only mentioning them once here, because repetition is tedious, tedious, tedious. So it is left as an exercise for the interested reader to insert during any and all pauses that there might be in the narratives below one or more of the following events:

  1. Michelle kept trying to call her parents, but they weren't home. She wanted to talk to them on her birthday. She started calling them after breakfast, and must have tried calling about 50 times before finally getting through to them around 7pm.
  2. I kept trying to call Richard, a mutual friend of ours, to inform him that I was doing the engagement thang. I needed Richard's help, as a corroborator in a cunning story I had devised to throw Michelle off the trail. See, after 75 months of dating someone I got it in my mind that it's next to impossible to surprise her with a ring, which is precisely what I wanted to do that evening. So I concocted this bogus scenario in which Richard and I wanted to date each other, and I was leaving her for him, and this weekend was like my final gift to her, like for her years of service or something. So throughout the day I'd drop little snippets to her like, "It's really hard to break up with someone after 6 years, but if you're gonna do it, you have to do it with style... much like this weekend" and, less subtle and somewhat more malicious, "Do you think Richard is cute, because I've been thinking about it, and I think he's really cute."
  3. I was *really* nervous all day. Whenever Michelle asked why, I made up this ruse that I was anxious about taking her to a 4-star restaurant that evening because I've never been (Lie! I've been to the Trellis in Williamsburg, Virginia...). This must have happened 100 times in conversation. She claims she never bought it as an excuse in the first place, but she never pressed me for it.

Okay, so insert Michelle attempting to call parents, Adam attempting to call Richard, Adam implying he was going to break up with Michelle, Adam fidgeting, Michelle asking Adam why he's nervous, Adam lying through his teeth, and Michelle comforting him, throughout the adventures of the afternoon and early evening.

Meanwhile, back at the Bayberry, while Michelle was attempting to call her parents for the third or fourth time, I met Kathleen, the owner of the place. I reminded her about the engagement-to-be, dropping the hint that if she wanted to do something special for us, I wouldn't object. She didn't take the hint, and charged me the full rate anyway. (Hello! Doesn't four hundred bucks for two nights sound wickedly expensive to everyone besides MAJOR yuppie types?)

Michelle left the sitting room and went upstairs to freshen up (you know how breakfast can be so unrefreshing!), so I took the opportunity to call the Four Seasons Biltmore hotel and make sure they still had our reservations for dinner. A full fledged panic attack ensued when the person I was talking to wasn't finding my name anywhere on the list for that night. I'm sitting there, moaning that it was my girlfriend's birthday, and the 75 month anniversary of our first date, and I was planning on asking her to marry me at dinner, and they LOST my reservation? The person on the other end is silent for a few moments, and then says, "This is the front desk; I'll forward your call to the restaurant." Duh. Did I mention I was *very* nervous? The manager at La Marina restaurant in the Biltmore confirmed reservations for 2 at 8pm, and assured me we would receive "very special treatment."

Just then, Michelle came downstairs looking, well, refreshed. What would we do for the day? It was beautiful outside, sunny and 72 and blue skies and clean air (gee, Toto, I have this feeling we're not in Los Angeles any more). The myriad options spread before us. Go to the Danish food festival? Visit the 70th birthday party for the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens? Check out the zoo? Sit in on the Annual International Film Festival going on that weekend in Santa Barbara? Attend the Orchid festival (I am not making this up!)? Check out "wine country" with Bernie and Begonia ("Really, Sam, the wine from Santa Barbara is just exquisite!")? Go to the beach? Go back to the room and do "romantic" things? Sleep?

We decided to just walk down State Street, which is the main shopping drag in Santa Barbara, and ends in Stearn's Wharf. The Bayberry is one block from State, and 17 blocks from Stearn's Wharf.

Okay, now if I describe to you every little shop we passed and went in, I'll have essentially created a new cure for insomnia, so I'm going to give you a Reader's Digest version of the Cliff's Notes for what happened. We passed many theaters (complete with celebrities in town for the film festival, and I refuse to name-drop mostly because I didn't recognize any of them, but they *looked* important), restaurants, bars, jewelry huts, art and poster stores, CD and book stores, a totally outdoor mall (complete with mallrats!), fudge factories, stationary and tee-shirt dens, quaint little novelty shops, and so on, ad nauseum. We shopped till we dropped. We bought the "Weird Al" Yankovic boxed set for Rohit, because he gave us lots of information about Santa Barbara, Michelle sampled several types of chocolate (mmmm.... chocolate....), and I bought a stack of postcards with witty sayings on them for no particular reason. Oh, and there were lots of those aforementioned recurrent events, too. That lasted a few hours.

I guess we got to Stearn's Wharf about 2pm. We hung out with some homeless types for a while (more pleasant than the yuppies, but unfortunately more aromatic as well), including one guy who was "homeless but not helpless" and making a model boat (I guess that he was planning on selling, though I'm not sure to whom).

Stearn's Wharf has a small pier (at least in comparison to Pier 39 in San Francisco), but it was pleasantly old-fashioned and unfamiliar, so we approached it will equal parts vim, vigor and verve (oooh! score twenty for alliteration on the V's!). The pier had some more little shops, but Michelle showed mercy and we didn't go in most of them. I was all shopped out. So instead we looked out on the beach at the calming waves and the silly people who thought 72 degrees was beach weather.

On the beach below us, we saw a starfish that had been beached. A number of bimbos walked right by the poor suffering creature, not giving it a thought. We were a little miffed actually; we thought about calling down to those people, requesting that they throw the starfish back in the water. Before we could get up the nerve to embarrass ourselves by asking a stranger to unbeach (disbeach?) the starfish, a seagull swooped down, scooped up the starfish, flew a tad, and dropped the starfish in the water. It was a very good omen. We returned our attention to a walk on the ocean. Staring at the sea can be quite calming.

We walked to the edge of the pier, and just stared out at the waves for countless moments as fishermen fished, sailboats sailed, and kayakers kept falling over into the water. We even saw a pelican briefly, and then it happened: Michelle whipped out her camera and started making like she was Ansel Adams. Of course, I couldn't let her take all these scenic pictures without getting myself into them, so I hammed it up so much, you could have called me Hamlet.

All that picture posing was making me hungry, so we decided to share a clam chowder that one of the outdoor restaurants was serving (in its own sourdough bread bowl, just like Disneyland!). We also split a Dr. Pepper, which of course we downed quickly because the chowder was so peppery. I was too cheap to offer to pay for another Dr. Pepper, so I asked Michelle to go back to the guy and use her feminine guiles to win us a freebie refill. She was unsuccessful in getting the soda pop, but I think she got the guy's phone number. No matter, I said, wearing my homosexual ruse like a badge on my sleeve. She says now she wasn't buying the ruse, but she seemed nervous at the time. Then again, I was nervous, so everyone else seemed nervous from my perspective, too.

We finished the chowder, but the sourdough bowl was *really* sour, so we decided to feed it to the birds, since we didn't have any more tasty beverage to wash it down. Birds never seem to care about tasty beverages when they're eating, which probably explains why they never evolved into higher life forms like us. To further exemplify why they belong on a lower rung on the food chain, these birds didn't just EAT the bread; they took it in their beaks and WHIPPED their little heads around so that a few crumbs fell into their mouths, and the rest of the bread pieces went flying. So you have to picture this flock of seagulls and pigeons, throwing their food around wildly, squawking up a storm, surrounding us and our ever-diminishing bread bowl. Quite a spectacle. Michelle had a fondness for one of the birds, which apparently had only one leg. Why do birds even need legs, anyway? It's not like they're going to set any land running distance or speed records. Birds can fly, and if you can fly, you're free to roam the world. It must be nice to be free as a bird.

I wasn't this cynical or critical at the time, though, so us sitting around, feeding the birds, was a tender, romantic moment. And then I messed up the moment bigtime, because I am a big, stupid male. A woman walked by, and I looked at her (oooh! Adam's a criminal! Lock him up and throw away the key!). So much for my gay ruse.

Okay, it was a stupid thing to do, I admit it. It is a general rule that a male in a romantic situation with the woman he adores should not be looking at another woman. But I did, and so I spent the next 10 minutes paying for it. I had to get down on my knees to apologize -- but heck, I thought of it as practice for later, rather than a capitulation of my pride, so it was okay to do so. I discovered that kneeling for a woman that one loves isn't so bad after all. And it was almost 3pm, so I only had 9 hours left if I was going to propose!

After I profusely apologized for being a big, stupid male, I got up off my knees, and we saw a biking path, so after a series of deliberations that resembled the O.J. Simpson criminal jury in both length of time and depth of intelligence, we decided to rent bikes.

One of the bike places advertised "2nd hour free!", and before I could think about the fact that we didn't really WANT to be pedalling for two hours, Michelle and I had rented a surrey with a fringe on top. Since the main audience of this narrative is a pair of cats, I feel like I should explain what a surrey is. A surrey is shaped like a golf cart, but we pedal it like a bicycle (and, as cats, I'm sure you know exactly what a golf cart is shaped like). Most bicycles-built-for-two are shaped like tandems, with one person in front and one behind, but this bicycle had us sitting side-by-side. The "fringe on top" was nice, because it provided us with shade (pedalling is hard work, you know). The surrey itself was bright as yellow canaries.

I don't know much about surreys -- this was my first time on one -- but sheesh, you can pedal like crazy, burning dozens of calories, and barely move at all. All these repugnant rollerbladers and hotroding single bikers were literally rolling circles around us as we worked our way down the bike path (which was, I might add, right on the beach so it was quite beautiful and romantic). We encountered lots of slower surreys, and it was a challenge to pass them on the left without driving the rollerbladers and single bikers onto our imaginary windshield. Needless to say, we didn't always meet the challenge: in particular, we drove one little yuppie larva off the road several times. Heh heh. The kid was psychotic anyway: he kept following us, and it seemed like he *enjoyed* wiping out.

One thing that's weird about Santa Barbara is that the beaches are to the south, and the mountains are to the east and west. And I have no idea why I just felt the need to spew that little nugget.

We got to the end of the bike trail in under an hour by taking a short cut around a boggy marsh. The end of the bike trail was actually a few blocks from the Four Seasons Biltmore, so we knew exactly where to go for dinner, and it was now around 4pm, so we decided we should head back to the Bayberry to get refreshed and put on our 4-star restaurant (a/k/a uncomfortable) attire. The surrey return trip had more of the aforementioned goodies, including the ADD-infected wipeout king. Once back at the surrey base, we harrassed a worker there until he took our picture ("You know, black and white would really capture the moment..."). We paid our dues, and headed back up State Street toward the Bayberry.

By then, Michelle had caught her second wind for shopping. Whoopee. Oh, and recall that all those repeated events are still going on for the 17 blocks as we strolled up State. Michelle had in her mind that she wanted a Subway sandwich ("Tell 'em Happy sent ya!"), but we had difficulty locating the Subway, since we were so excited that Michelle had found a jewelry store. "Honey, are you sure you want to ruin your birthday by buying jewelry? Don't you think that trinkets just cheapen the whole birthday experience?" But no, she bought earrings and a ring (hey!) anyway, and she wouldn't even let me pay. "But *I* wanted to get you a special piece of jewelry for your birthday!" This from the guy who kept dropping hints that he wanted to break up -- real subtle, Adam. You're one sly dog; that must be why the cats are often afraid of you.

Then I calmed down a little, and agreed with her (well, in my mind at least) that it wouldn't be proper for me to give her jewelry just prior to our breaking up. Oh sure, but taking her to a four-star restaurant for dinner was really sweeping the nation as a breakup activity; hey, I was *really* *nervous*, so just about any logic would have made sense by the time we got back to the Bayberry at 5 (having detoured briefly in a convenience store to get some more tasty beverages).

Okay, between the hours of 5 and 7 are kind of hazy in my memory. That's my story, and I'm sticking by it. I do remember that Michelle's cheeks were pink from being in the sun all day.

Around 7, we got all dolled up in our 4-star duds. Now I was so nervous, I practically needed to be dressed. Thank goodness I had a girlfriend handy to do just that. Also, thank goodness she spent a long time fixing herself up in the bathroom -- it gave me the opportunity to view the HEARTS AND DIAMOND several thousand times. Also, by that time, Michelle had gotten through to her parents, and I had given up on both Richard and the charade that I was anything but a helplessly heterosexual, big, stupid, male.

Where was I? Oh, getting dressed. I wore my double breasted black suit, with a white shirt and an avant-garde tan-red-and-green art decco tie. Very classic, in my not so humble opinion. For my feet, I had my uncle's black fancy schmancy shoes. Harper Lee once wrote that you never really know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. Well, I walked a mile in my uncle's shoes that night, but I still don't feel like I know him. So the analogy gets completely botched when taken at face value.

Okay, I thought Michelle was wearing this slinky little ensemble I have in my head, but according to her, my memory is completely wrong. Hey, I was *really* *very* *NERVOUS*. According to her, Michelle wore a bluish green business suit jacket and a long bluish skirt (with hints of green and tan). Whatever. I mean, if she says so. It's like the time my sister hung out on Andy Dick's couch. I didn't see her on his couch, and she has no pictures, so I'll have to take her word for it. Although, Andy Dick did come out after that and corroborate her story. Apparently, he's more reachable than Richard.

Actually, now that I think about it, that analogy completely breaks down, because Michelle and I went picture crazy again at that point, so assuming the Fotomat doesn't destroy our negatives, we should be positive about what she was wearing when we pay the small ransom to have our pictures developed.

By 7:15, I was feeling a little funny, like when we used to climb the ropes in gym class. So, even though we had a map, and even though we passed the place just a few hours earlier in our surrey with a fringe on top, we got lost trying to find the Biltmore. Santa Barbara roads aren't very well lit at night, and street signs aren't in places where they're convenient to read by an edgy person sitting in a Volkswagon (all that farfignuggen is downright distracting, you know).

Anyway, we had left early enough (45 minutes early, for a 2 mile drive?) that we arrived at the Four Seasons at 3 minutes to 8. I decided to be economical and not pay for valet, so we parked on the street, and bolted to the restaurant. Unbeknownst to us, the Biltmore has two restaurants side by side, and of course we went into the wrong one, and I had a repeat performance of my jaw dropping to the ground when they explained that I wasn't on their reservation list. A few moments later, we were referred to the other restaurant.

So we found La Marina precisely at 8pm (we couldn't have been any more on time, and that's a fact, Jack), and the Manager George winked at me as he took me to the table they considered "very special treatment". Up to that point, I was planning on proposing in the restaurant, but after I saw our table, I knew I'd have to come up with an alternate plan. And by this point I was far too nervous to succumb to a panic attack, so I just sort of sat there, thinking happy thoughts, trying to come up with some way to propose some time in the next 4 hours.

Now you're saying, what is SO special about March 16, 1996? I mean, besides it being Michelle's 27th birthday, and besides it being the 75-month anniversary of our first date. The answer is, that for the last 2 years, I had had in my mind this date as THE cosmically, karmically, biorhythmically, politically correct date to propose. Everything was to be in alignment for that day, and so I just *had* to propose on that day. I picked the day so I wouldn't sit around waivering forever; this was basically my opportunity to push something in my life forward one step. As anyone who knows me can attest, I'm very slow to push anything in my life forward one step. I need a catalyst. To me, March 16, 1996 was precisely that catalyst. I have another catalyst coming up to pole vault me over the Master's and Candidacy stages of my graduate education, but I don't want to reveal them and jinx myself, so don't even ask.

Back to the Biltmore. At this point I'm too nervous to do anything except roll with the punches, so when they seat us at the "very special treatment" couch, all I can do is... sit on the couch. Yes, that's right: the most romantic table in the place involves couching, Beavis and Butt-head style, just like Michelle and I do whenever we eat at home. Whoops.

Well, to be fair, it was a little different: there were all these exotic old things everywhere, which made for great dinner conversation. For about three minutes. Actually, what did make for great dinner conversation were all the MAJOR yuppie types sitting around, doing their big, stupid, 4-star restaurant things. I always thought before that the reason I didn't like people who were extravagant with their money was that I was jealous of all the things they could do that I couldn't do. Now I realize that jealousy has nothing to do with it: the fact is that most people who are extravagant with their money are, by and large, tremendously dull, superficial people. You know the kind: they live predominantly unexamined lives, and pursue big, stupid things like power and wealth instead of worrying about saving their souls.

Whoa. I'm not sure out of which synapse that little thought came, but let me try to get back to couching at La Marina. Did I mention I was nervous? I kept sitting on my hands -- actually, it was so I could feel my pocket and make sure the ringbox was still there. I guess I was worried it would spontaneously combust, or maybe fall into a wormhole and get sucked into the other end of the universe, or something. I had a lot of time and money invested in that ring, and I wasn't letting any wormhole have its way with my hard-earned ring. Michelle told me to relax, that it was only a 4-star restaurant, and that these were just people, and we should sit back on our couch and enjoy the whole experience.

Oh, so this is why I *couldn't* propose in the restaurant: when they pulled the table in front of us, there was literally no room to get down on one knee. We were boxed in, sitting on our little sofa. I was hoping for a window seat. However, since the moon was new, and the sky was now cloudy so no stars shone through, the night was black as Silent Bob, so the window seats had a lovely view of... well, nothing. In a full moon, with lots of stars, we probably could have seen the ocean, but as it was, there was nothing to lose sitting around the couch instead of being near a lot of pane.

Besides, George probably couched us instead of windowing us because I didn't tip him when we entered. I was going to, but the opportunity didn't present itself then. I had the twenty dollar bill sitting in my pocket, waiting to be given as a tip. And it sat.

Now ensconced in couch, a frequently recurring topic of dinner conversation was whether or not my Andrew Jackson should make its way to George. He wasn't the Maitre D', after all; he was just the general manager for a 4-star restaurant, so maybe trying to tip him would have been insulting or something. And yet, he was giving us the "very special treatment," and isn't "very special treatment" worth 20 bucks? I kept trying to get Michelle to sneak over to the front desk and use her feminine guiles to get them to tell her whether or not we should give George a gratuity, but after the afternoon's chagrin in asking for Dr. Pepper refills, Michelle wasn't budging. She wouldn't do this one simple little request for me, but I was going to ask her to marry her? And all the window seats were taken, so we were draped in couch? And my ring is trying to find its way to a wormhole to another galaxy? Waiter, bring us a wine list, pronto!

Well, the wine "list" was actually a book. Twenty-eight pages of typesetting genius, with wines from all over the world in space and time. I know very little about wine, and furthermore, I wasn't paying attention when Bernie had said, "Pay attention to the wines I'm about to describe to you, Sam, because you may need this information later." So I asked -- no, begged -- George to recommend a wine. A nice "fruity" wine, I wanted -- that way I could gulp down 3 or 4 glasses without my gag reflex setting in. And make it from Santa Barbara, so it's fresh! We definitely don't want any wine that's been sitting around for a while. After choosing Chardonnay over a pretentious-sounding Pinot Noir, George bought us a thirty-five dollar bottle of Nichol's.

Actually, we didn't *know* it was $35 until we got the bill at the end of the meal. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw it was only 35 bucks, so that should give you an idea of the type of place we were in. For the amount we paid for dinner, we could have bought a LOT of cat food.

This one weird couple, with her parents, were celebrating something (birthday?) right in front of our couch. They were MAJOR yuppie types. We kept watching them to see if they were gonna tip George, but they seemed kind of cheap, so when they didn't tip him, we still weren't sure if we should tip him or not. Such dilemmas we have when mixing with different economic classes. And this during an election year, too.

The waiter was pleasant enough, though there was something about him that just got on my nerves. I think it was the fact that he kept waiting on us, as if he had nothing better to do. I would have thought 4-stars means LESS service, so my lady and I could have a secluded, private dinner. WRONG.

We're playing the wine game with the waiter, doing the cork-sniffing, first-sip-taking, head-nodding, two-glass-pouring thang. And I'm being really cool, all factors considering. I think Michelle was impressed by my flair and finesse, although of course she'll never admit to that.

At this point I'm so tense, that my narrative keeps switching tenses, but indulge me, with each taste of wine, my nerves are becoming assuaged.

The waiter informs us while we're wineslurping that if we want souffles for dessert, we'll have to order them now, before ordering appetizers. This is something that makes no sense to me: how will I know if I'll have room for dessert after all the delicacies Chef BorkBork is preparing for me in the back? But then the wine started doing the talking. Of course we'll order two souffles, my good man, so please go tell the chef to prepare them with all due haste. We opt for the grand marnier and peanut-butter-and-chocolate souffles, passing on the mexican coffee one. After all, grand marnier, peanut butter, and chocolate all go well with white wine, as anyone who's anyone knows.

The menu is small and ridiculous: 2 pages of elegant, succulent appetizers, salads, and entrees which look like works of art when they're served. We ordered a Van Gogh, a Donatello, and a Monet.

The appetizer came first: smoked rabbit and fettucine in a funky barbeque sauce. At least, that's what I think it was; it had a very fancy name that Michelle wouldn't let me write down to look up later. Rabbit is a strange food to eat, because only very rich and very poor people even THINK about consuming any kind of bunny that isn't made of chocolate. But shucks, after a few glasses of wine, I'm ready to try just about anything. When it comes to drinking, I'm a lightweight. No, I'm a featherweight. No, I'm a LIGHT featherweight. Or something. From a purely psychological standpoint, I can get drunk just sniffing the alcohol.

Dinner conversation was all over the place, but mostly I remember we spent the time making fun of people. It helped calm me down some (by this point I was making a conscious effort not to sit on my hands), and besides, it's one of my favorite pasttimes. There were lots of "soy un perdidor" types in the restaurant that evening, so the conversation flowed like the wine.

Next up: salad. Forgive my sentence fragments, run on sentences, mediocre grammar, liberal use of hyphens, and creative capitalization-punctuation-spelling during this narrative, but I'm trying to capture a MOOD here, not write the great American novel. And if you don't like it, YOU wake up, smell the cat food, and edit this meandering excuse for an exposition. There.

Still on: salad. Greens and marinated roma tomatoes with balsamic vinegar on the side. On the side is a very big thing with Michelle. She says she just likes it the way she likes it, but I think it's just another indication that she's not as low maintenance as she thinks. But she said the memory of her salad still lingers with her taste buds. Must have been some great salad. I don't remember, because at this point, I was definitely in wine country. You know, I think I could definitely go for becoming a vegetarian. The salad was delicious.

Oh, I should add that we shared an appetizer, and shared the salad. It was just like that scene in "Lady and the Tramp", except that there was no big, stupid accordion-playing guy trying to set the mood. That, and we were on a couch. And I was somewhat buzzed.

We ordered separate entrees, because frankly I never acquired a taste for Mahi Mahi, and I was genuinely curious about the lobster dish. I wasn't disappointed in either case: Michelle enjoyed her Mahi Mahi prepared I'm-not-sure-how, and I enjoyed my Lobster prepared I'm-not-sure-how-either-but-it-involved-corn-and-tiny-squashes. More wine, more conversation, more sitting on my hands, more checking my pocket, more service by the waiter than I needed, more wondering whether I should give George 20 bucks to get the waiter off our case, more pontification on how I'm gonna propose. And it's now 10pm. Yikes!

We were stuffed by the time we finished our entrees, but just like with every other course, as soon as we were done, our places were cleared, and the next round came out. We didn't have very much time to rest, considering we were sitting on a couch. The waiter knifed the souffles and poured in the sauce, and suddenly we were souffling as I finished the last of the wine.

Souffles are interesting, in that they actually make you feel less full than you were when you first started eating them. It's bizarre, but we left the restaurant not feeling full at all. It was kind of nice.

Over dessert, we decided to be generous to the overzealous waiter, and sneak out without George seeing us -- if he wanted to get his tip from the waiter, that was his option, but we weren't going to take any part in it.

We snuck out, undetected by George, and briefly visited the pricey Biltmore lobby store. A wedding party was going on somewhere near there. Just before leaving, we asked the Four Seasons concierge if there were any banana farms in the area. For no particular reason. But apparently, there was! The Seaside Banana farm. So we made a note of it, and left the hotel, wallets a lot lighter, bellies a lot fuller, heads buzzing but by no means wasted or even drunk. The crashing waves called us to the beach; the Biltmore was convenient to the beach, and suddenly I was busy planmaking as the clock struck 11. I had an hour.

I was buzzed, and I had one hand in my pocket guarding the ringbox, but I was somehow very nervous again. We looked out on the water. It was very dark, as I mentioned before, and even though I realize that repetition is tedious, right here it is absolutely necessary to establish the mood. Mood is a very big thing with me. Sometimes it's all I have.

So there we are, watching the waves crash, but not really watching them crash, because after all, it's very dark. We manage to find a set of stairs that lead down to the beach, and the tide is very high, so there isn't very much beach left to the beach. A little sand, a lot of crashing water, closing in, and there we are, just the two of us, on the beach, and I know that the time is right. Now, if I could just think of something romantic to say in front of the waves and the sand and the dark night sky and Michelle.

My thoughts turn to that breaking-up scheme I'd been working so hard to sustain. Yes, yes, yes, I could still, in the middle of a romantic moment, give her a final little ambiguity so she wouldn't know it was happening to her until it was happening to her! Because I'm a big, stupid guy, I even (briefly) entertained the thought of taking the ring out of the ringbox and handing her an empty box just to see what she'd do. Luckily, that thought was shot down before it ever escaped my head. Unluckily, the breaking-up/ambiguity thought made a run for it, and escaped my head at the right pause in the otherwise romantic conversation. I got all serious.

"Michelle, I'm not happy with our relationship the way it currently is."

She was silent.

I fell to my knees. "Can I trust you? Can I tell you something, even if it's really bad?"

She knew I was serious. "Of course."

"Even if it's really, really, really, REALLY bad?"

She gulped. She says she knew what was up, but I could tell she was getting nervous. "Of course."

I bowed my head, and took the ringbox out of my pocket, still on my knees, and put it in her hand. The instant the ringbox transferred from my hand to hers, my nerves were calmed completely. And hers started acting up like I'd never seen before.

A woman can expect to be proposed to for a very long time, but even when she *knows* it's coming, it's a very emotional moment for her, and she just plain loses control. Emotions start gushing out like they've broken through a dam. Michelle saw the box, and me on my knees, and started bawling. Crying like she'd never cried before. She fumbled with the box for what seemed like forever, but probably was only a few moments.

And there, in the darkness, she could see a shining light. She knew what it was, gestalt.

"Michelle, will you marry me?"

She was crying long, hard, and vigorously at this point. She nodded her head gingerly, and tried in vain to squeak out a yes. Didn't matter. I took it as a yes. She put the ring on her ringfinger, brought me off my knees, and we teddybearhugged for what seemed like forever, but probably was only a few moments. Then we stood there silent, before the waves and sand and sky, holding hands. Enjoy the moment for as long as it lasts, until the moment becomes a memory.

We strolled up to the car to get the flashlight to inspect the ring, since the lights in the car don't work. That poor car is one of the few things that's been with Michelle longer than I have. Flashlight shining, Michelle's face turned into a huge Cheshire Cat grin. It's amazing what a diamond can do for two hearts. She was very happy, and I was very exhausted. We hopped in the car.

The first three songs we heard driving back, under the manyfold conversation, were Elton John's "Believe", Adam Sandler's "Steve Polychronopolous", and Pearl Jam's "Better Man." I don't know why I remember that detail, I just do.

We stopped by the little convenience store on the way back to the Bayberry, I guess with the intent to keep the buzz alive and party on. We bought some orange juice and coca cola for celebrating with Mr. Vodka and Mr. Schnapps, two friends we had brought with us from Pasadena. Also, we bought some chocolate covered oreos, because Michelle loves those, and I love Michelle.

A few moments later, we're back in the Blueberry in the Bayberry, the window is open because we're flushed royally, and upon glancing at my watch, I realize it's midnight.

ACT 3: SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 1996.

Kathleen had done something very special for us: she had baked us a heart-shaped vanilla cake and left it on our bed, with a note that expressed her hope that everything had gone well. It had.

We had planned return to the room to drink ourselves silly, but instead ended up doing something "romantic." I won, 5 to 4, and we fell asleep with the window open.

Sometime around 7:30 in the morning, Michelle woke up, missing Senor Beavis and Silent Bob, her boyz. So she got up and took a bath. I pretended to hit the snooze alarm on the nonexistent clock, and slept until she made me get up at 9. Bleh.

We went downstairs, and Michelle showed off the ring to some of the Bayberry staff. One woman was flabbergasted by our whole weekend's adventures. She asked me, "Are there any more like you at home?"

I think one of me is already more than the world can stand.

For breakfast, Bernie and Begonia were chowing with some other snooty couple {"Morning, Sam!"), and the finches were asleep, so we sat with Peter and Libby, a pair of MAJOR yuppie types from Sierra Madre. They talked about themselves a lot; Peter is a financial accountant for Home Depot, and Libby works for Nestle foods, who it turns out are one of the biggest food conglomerates in the world. We listened to Libby tell us about all the different subsidiaries, and then she mentioned how some nanny takes care of her kids so they can be a two-career family.

It occurs to me that I might be being somewhat harsh toward Bernie, Begonia, Peter, and Libby, but it's probably because I'm jealous.

The important thing about Libby is that she called Michelle my "wife" because she noticed the ring. And when she said the W-word, I didn't completely lose it. I'm actually *interested* in getting married to Michelle. Isn't ACCEPTANCE the last phase, psychologically speaking? Well, I've hit the acceptance phase. And I like it.

Breakfast consisted of vegetable quiche, and a pear in brown sugar syrup. I had to forage for some english muffins for the table, but I was successful. I already mentioned that the coffee we were snorffling was day-old, so I was grumpy sitting there, listening to Libby. Luckily, every time I've look at the ring on Michelle's hand, it would make me a little happier again.

After breakfast, we did one more thing at the Bayberry: we set up the croquet in the backyard, and played a couple of rounds. Michelle soundly beat me, but of course, I let her win. That's my story, and I'm sticking by it.

We checked out of the Bayberry, transferring the pain of payment to the next Visa bill (whimper). Before leaving Santa Barbara, we stopped at two places on State Street: Rocky Mountain Fudge Company for some chocolate (mmmm.... life is like a box of chocolates), and Udder Madness for some shot glasses (for friends) and tee shirts (a kitty for Michelle, a Dilbert for me :). We got on the 101 about noon.

We made a few stops on the way back to Pasadena: a brief stint at a hotel on the Pacific Ocean, just to look out on the water in daylight once again; another brief stint at the Seaside Banana farm, where we purchased several exotic fruits for consumption a week or two later; yet another brief stint at Best Buy to get the new Sting CD "Mercury Rising", the new Goldfinger CD, and a Mr. Pibb. And everywhere I went, I told everyone I could that we had just got engaged. Michelle was content as a cat.

We got back to Pasadena around 3pm, and Duck and Alison had dolled up the place with balloons, pictures of our homeboyz Beavis and Bob, a tin of Mrs. Fields cookies (this was an exceptionally high calorie weekend), one of those big cards with the cute kids on the front, and a dozen red roses. The cats, of course, were happy to see Michelle, and ambivalent to see me, and Michelle got ready to go to work after calling several people with the news, so life had returned to normalcy.

I called my parents, my brother, and my sister, and hung with Duck, Alison, and Michael that evening. I have lots of details about those adventures, too, but alas, that's another story completely. Green Days are here again.


In quintessence, it's just this. I asked. She said yes. And that's all I got to say about that. You want any more details, make up such embellishments yourself. Lord knows I did.

Since I have to end the story here, though, I'm going to embellish my own happy ending. Adam and Michelle got married, and they lived happily ever after.

Comments from Megan:

You know, if a woman wrote this, people would probably make some sarcastic remark like "defining characteristic: I'm engaged!" But because you're male, it's sweet and wonderful. Of course, that it's well written may also help. Still, it's interesting to me, since I've been guilty of making sarcastic remarks about women and their engagement/wedding/marriage web pages....

Any 7-figure publisher offers for a multi-book and/or screenplay deal can be emailed to adam at xent dot com - this page was last modified April 3, 1996 by Adam Rifkin.