Gah, 2011 was rough for my fiancée and me. Much worse than 2002 when we started dating and regularly dined at restaurants like Rosa Mexicano, Sushisay and Mr. Chow. Or 2004 when we spent hundreds of dollars every time we went to Bungalow 8. Or 2006 when we took a private plane to Palm Beach. Or even 2009 because we still lived in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with a magnificent view, washer/dryer, dishwasher and garbage disposal. Back then we thought things like taxis, Christmas presents, the dentist and expensive wine were necessities.
Another thing we could no longer afford was couples therapy. So on a Sunday night in December we decided to have a one-on-one session at a burger joint. It was packed with rowdy guys buzzed from happy hour and fired up for football. “American Pie,” playing at mid-volume, got louder when a waitress seated us underneath a speaker. “Heartache Tonight” came on. Then “Free Fallin’.” After her cheeseburger, waffle fries and second glass of white wine arrived, Hilly assessed 2011.
“You know what? It stunk,” she began. “Right off the bat the whole idea of the number 11 was weird to me. 2010 just seemed so even. 2011 could have gone to the right or the left and it went to the left by mistake.” She wasn’t talking politics. “It could have gone in one of two directions and it went in a bad one right away,” she clarified. “The winter in New York was really, really, really, really long and awful and the summer was super short. The whole year was unfortunate and forgettable.”
But we laughed a lot, right? It was only to keep our spirits up, she replied, adding that among the things we had found chucklesome were our geriatric cat’s impaired vision and the plumbing situation in our new dump. “It was the Year of the Toilet,” she declared. “In the movie of our life, in the montage with the fun music playing, 2011 would be the briefest scene. We would be laughing about some hijinks ensuing around the broken toilet, pointing at it, and then the movie would skip to 2012.”
We agreed that 2011 had been our worse year together. We weren’t together on Valentine’s Day—on purpose. I was a bad boyfriend for not making any plans, so she went to the Core Club with a girlfriend. There were countless other lowlights. Fights. Threats to move out. Failed attempts to curb excessive drinking (“moderation management,” Naltrexone). Near the end of one visit to the nightclub Kenmare, I lost my footing, slid across a table and landed on the floor—headfirst.
We’d been late with the rent and constantly broke all year. We couldn’t even get into debt—Chase turned us down for a credit card. We tried to stick with Debtors Anonymous but kept overspending. Fortunately, Hilly had job security. As various “projects” of mine faded away and actual gigs fell through, I considered getting back on unemployment or becoming a night watchman or busboy. So why had we laughed so much?
“Because that’s what poor people do,” she said.
Some aspects of our relationship had greatly improved, according to my fiancée. I was no longer staying out till 3am without texting my whereabouts. I was slightly more patient and thoughtful. I didn’t yell when she let me sleep too late or didn’t scratch my head right.
At a Thanksgiving dinner many years ago, I told everyone she had four cocktails a night, bad credit and a henna tattoo on the small of her back (not true). I had stopped embarrassing her at social events, right? “Because we didn’t go to any,” she said.
Another white wine perked her up. She thought of one reason 2011 was so amusing. “Charlie Sheen, that was good entertainment!” she said. “It was too bad when that ended. Maybe it was the Year of Being Bipolar.” Pause. “Conan O’Brien is one of the funniest things in the universe, and I think it’s appalling his show isn’t huge.
It’s just not right.”
But the high point of her year, the peak of hilarity, was a movie.
“I want the Muppets to take over,” she said. “I want the Muppets to be the biggest thing ever since Coca-Cola. I want the Muppet movie to be so successful that it’s all anyone ever talks about and Angelina Jolie is begging to be in the sequel. Yes, I cried. It was magnificent. I really, really believe in that movie.”
Pause. “And we were on Cash Cab!”
Indeed, the Discovery Channel’s trivia show filmed us for an episode, a fun, laughter-filled experience that did little to improve our financial plight. Hilly still couldn’t afford a decent haircut. Last year was the worst year for her hair and general upkeep since 1999.
“I’m poorly groomed, I always have ragged, dirty fingernails, and I’ve been in need of a haircut since May,” she continued. “I look like a weird Muppet hippie—like Janice’s older fatter sister. It’s so embarrassing—I don’t look in the mirror anymore.” I asked what she would require for happiness in 2012 and noted that her birthday was coming up. Immediately she ran off at the mouth. She wanted an iPhone, a MacBook, a technological makeover/healer. Teeth whitening. Electrolysis. A $500 haircut every two months. A weeklong tropical vacation.
“Gimme Shelter” on the stereo made her think of our apartment, “a gloomy shanty that is ruining our spirit, our hopes, our dreams. It’s killing us like it killed the old lady who lived there before us.” So what would make her happy in that department? Answer: a townhouse on Sutton Place with an indoor pool, tennis court (“and a robot to play with”), a car and a driver. A private plane. A handmade couture wardrobe from Rochas. A personal groomer, a year in Rome, two Scotty dogs with a full-time live-in French “nanny,” a poofy Persian cat, Barbara Hutton’s tiara and “every single thing that ever belonged to Elizabeth Taylor.”
Anything else? Yes. A wedding. Not the stereotypical big wedding, she made that clear. “No, the ceremony will take place in the tiniest chapel in Manhattan. But afterward we will take a hovercraft to the Four Seasons pool room. The affair will only last two hours, waiters will serve Champagne and cotton candy, each serving of which will have two small lavender pastilles in the shape of us. We will stand on a gold platform in the center of the pool as our receiving line passes. Guards will be present to make sure nobody lingers or tries to get too affectionate. Guests will say things to me like, ‘I’m not sure what is more golden and vibrant, the drapes or you!’”
Who will be there?
“Two hundred and fifty of our nearest and dearest friends, as well as the members of Van Halen. Oh, and Oribe to make sure my hair is constantly flawless. Even if we haven’t finished our dinner, Scoopie, you and I will be free to leave whenever we want and nobody will be able to say a single thing! In fact, we won’t even have to get up: our seats will be equipped with jet packs that will lift up on command and automatically transport us to our blissful haven in Never-Never Land!”
We were both laughing now and hadn’t noticed that the football game was over and the place had cleared out. We’d been there for more than two hours. Before leaving, she admitted there had been good parts to 2011. She cited our longevity as a couple: 10 years. It gave her a sense of security and the comforting knowledge that we can always count on each other.
“A lot of people just don’t have that,” she said. “It’s easy to take it for granted after a while and forget about it. You have to be on the opposite side of the fence to remember what it’s like to be alone. I have my Scoopie! You might not be ideal in every way, and the same goes for me, but we have each other, and that’s the most important thing.”
We left feeling optimistic about the new year. There was only one direction it could go. Right?
George Gurley’s forthcoming memoir, George & Hilly: The Anatomy of a Relationship ($15, Gallery Books), debuts in January.