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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

PHIL REMEMBERS LISA ANN

 Q. Let's begin with how you met Lisa Ann.
A. All right. It was sometime in early 1986. I had been working at American Express for a few years and had become some type of trainer for the authorizations department. I dressed pretty wild in those days and I stood out from most of the other trainers. A friend of mine, Karen Noeding, was one of the trainers, a very good one. And she brought her class of new hires into the department. They were all very ordinary except for this one young woman. She walked passed me without being put off by my garishness and my eyes sort of involuntarily followed her across the room. I wanted very much to get some attention from her because we didn't get a lot of genuine knock-outs in that department. She and Karen were sitting on opposite sides of a table in the cafeteria, where I had followed them, and I pushed myself right up next to her and did my best to convince her that I considered myself to be a big deal. Kind of "Stick with me baby and I'll make you a star." The only thing missing was a shot glass and a cheap cigar. Anyway, she wasn't fooled for a moment, but I could see that I intrigued her almost as much as she was intriguing me.  

Q. What as it about her?
A. Because I am occasionally superficial, I was taken by her appearance. No question. But I also observed a real sweetness about her, something you don't find in many people. A brave honesty, no pretensions whatsoever. "I'm only nineteen and I've run away from Iowa and I'm going to do a great job here." Plus she was very intelligent. 

Q. Did she take to you right away?
A. Again, I intrigued her but I did not persuade her. Evenings she was singing with some horrible band. I think they were called the Village Idiots or something. Lisa Ann was quite good but the band themselves weren't what you would call tuneful. But I would show up and cheer them on and I noticed that more and more she was developing a cautious interest in me. But there was one big problem.

Q. She was living with someone else?
A. She was living with a very dangerous man named Brian. I'm not going to say his other name. He was a little on the short side, but he was very tough. Some degree of black belt in karate and it turned out he was physically abusive and of course it followed that he would be a raving jealous type. One afternoon Lisa Ann asked me if I would help her move out of their apartment. She said Brian would probably be there and I would probably get hurt by him.

Q. Did you?
A. Yes. Quite badly. But a guy doesn't get to play at being a hero that often in life, so a few punches here and there were worth it. The damnedest part of the thing though was once we were sitting in the car, nice and safe and ready to drive off, she turns to me and says that she left her cassette tapes back in the apartment and had to go back for them. I told her that was crazy. I would get her new tapes. No, she wanted her tapes and ran back in after them. She was gone about twenty minutes and because it had been twenty minutes since my last ass-whooping, I went back to look for her. Brian had attacked her and shoved her into a clothes hamper. He didn't lay a had on me that time. I got her out of there and we went to my apartment.

Q. How had she hooked up with this Brian fellow?
A. I don't remember. I guess he pretended to be sane the same way some people pretend to be crazy. With a couple exceptions, Lisa Ann made some pretty unfortunate choices with men.

Q. She moved in with you then?
A. Only a little. That first night she and I slept in the same bed but there was no way I was going to move on her because of what she'd been  through. Plus she was wearing red long johns, which in my experience is a way a woman has of telling you she's not in the mood. I found out recently that my behavior--or lack of it--that night had led her to tell her mother I was gay. 

Q. Your reward for gallantry? 
A. I suppose so. Anyway, she was making decent money at Amex so pretty soon she took her own apartment and I thought, shoot, I guess this isn't going to work out. Then this very good man from Iowa named Greg Klein came to town and they became pregnant--technically, she did--and they got married shortly after. I tried very hard to not like Greg, but he was always very gracious to me. He knew about my history with Lisa Ann and rather than being put off by that, he would invite me to go places with them. It was damned good of him. I wouldn't have been that considerate myself. 

Q. You liked him?
A. I thought she had married the right person for herself, you know. I thought, well, if she isn't going to be with me, at least he's a good provider and a decent person. And after a while she and I sort of drifted apart. I stopped accepting the invitations because it hurt me to see them happy together. Then one afternoon, Greg was working, and she invited me to pizza at some restaurant. She brought her daughter Lauren with her. Lauren would have been two or three at the time. She was very charming for a child, you know. And I fell in love with Lisa Ann all over again, in large part because I could see visions of a younger Lisa Ann in her daughter. And their love for each other was just the most incredible thing I'd ever seen. A few days later the whole family moved out of state. I forget if it was to Michigan or Minnesota, but it was because of her husband's job and I figured, here we go again. Thanks for the disappointment.

Q. Did you stay in touch?
A. Not that I recall. A couple years went by and she did call me and I got the impression that her marriage was not perfect. They were moving back to Phoenix and wouldn't that be wonderful? I convinced myself that it just might be but that if anything happened, it was going to be her initiating it. I stayed in the gentleman role.

Q. She also worked with you somewhere else, right?
A. I had unceremoniously been discharged from Amex and was working as the credit manager for Globe Furniture Rentals, a miserable job. Just horrible. I had one employee and she was an unpleasant person, to say the least. Then Lisa Ann told me she was looking for a job. So I decided I wanted her to be my employee instead of this other person and convinced the unpleasant person to quit. Today we would call that creating an uncomfortable work environment.

Q. Lisa Ann took the job?
A. And the nature of the job changed instantly. Suddenly there was real joy in my life. She could get along with the employees on the sales floor and so I didn't have to have anything to do with them. Lisa Ann could seriously get along with anybody. She had this contagious vibrancy that made other people want to be around her. Plus she was capable of great silliness. We played bumper chairs right in our office. Made crank phone calls to former customers. In fact, one night after work, she and I concocted this amazing series of calls to someone we didn't much like who was still at Amex. It was a real sour woman who was a supervisor. I called her desk and asked to speak with Bubbles. Of course there was no such person. This woman says, "Is there a Bubbles here?" It was like Bart Simpson calling Moe's bar. Well, there was no Bubbles so I hung up and called back in an hour and asked to speak with Bubbles again. Another hour goes by and  I called again. This lady was getting seriously upset. So, after three of these calls, Lisa Ann calls back with a thick Hungarian accent and says, "Hello, this is Bubbles. Have there been any calls for me?"
   This supervisor is freaking out. "Yes there have. Quite a few. Do you work here?"
   And Lisa Ann says, "Work? Me? I don't have to work."
   Then we hung up and laughed for two hours. 

Q. I gather her marriage was having problems at that time?
A. Yeah. I never learned the specifics, except that one night she threw a poker at him and the police objected to that. Look, I know what Lisa Ann's throwing things were. She would do it very half-heartedly and never hit you with whatever it might be. It was just something she did. Anyway, I guess that was the beginning of the end. Then she started spending time with Sal, who was her husband's boss. Greg said to her, when he found out, "Why do you want to be with Sal? You have a Phil!" I appreciated that.

Q. Did you meet Sal?
A. No, not for many years. I was unceremoniously discharged from the furniture store--a habit of mine--and didn't see Lisa Ann for a year or so. Then one afternoon she brought Lauren and her son Gerrit over to go swimming. It was a spontaneous thing and once again I was taken by just how beautiful her kids were. They were full of smiles and laughter and it's a marvelous feeling being liked by someone else's children. I loved them a lot. I always will feel that way. 
   Sal was a very jealous type and he was well off financially, which gave Lisa Ann a lot of freedom in one sense, a kind she had not known as an adult. She didn't have to worry about whether she could afford this and that and again she had these two brilliant children, so even though I sensed that I could probably seduce her, it just didn't feel right. I'm no saint, believe me. But I loved her so much that I was not going to complicate her life. Plus there was always that chance that I was wrong and I didn't care to have my heart kicked around any more than absolutely necessary. 

Q. Was it around this time that your parents passed away?
A. A few years later. And I went nuts for quite a while. I would call her at her new job, where she was a very important person, and I would ramble and babble about stupid things and after a while I was getting on her nerves. I didn't realize--because I never shut up long enough--that she was having serious problems with Sal. I won't go into those specifics here. But they were having problems. 
   I traveled around a bit and landed back here in Phoenix. Got an apartment. Spent a lot of time alone. Hated it. Got a job teaching English at Ottawa University. Liked it. Found Lisa Ann on Facebook. 

Q. Seriously? Social media?
A. Yep. Of all things. She thought I had died! Apparently she was relieved. But she was living with a guy named Dale. 

Q. How was he treating her?
A. That's hard for me to say. Again, there are certain parts of this that don't need to be on record. But I got the sense that something was missing in her life, so I invited her to move in with me. My place was far too small for the two of us and her dog, Cody and two parrots, so Lauren found a place for us and we moved in in July 2010. Best thing I've ever done. The first couple nights we slept on the floor because the furniture hadn't arrived. We felt like teenagers. It was very life-affirming.

Q. Everything was perfect?
A. No. We had known each other for a quarter century, but we didn't really know everything. There were some quarrels, of course. But I was still happy. I used to drive her crazy because for years every morning when I woke up I would literally dance my way down the stairs in the morning singing some crazy song I'd just made up because she was there and seeing her sitting there just lifted me to a level of happiness I had never known. I think it must be one of life's gifts when you are with someone who accepts you for being your real and honest self, even if it doesn't necessarily make sense.

Q. Was she happy too?
A. Years of bad relationships had scarred her. No question about it. So some of that girl who had played bumper chairs years before had gone away. But it wasn't gone completely. We became like an old married couple, even though she was still legally married to Sal. He steadfastly refused to even consider getting divorced. To answer your question, though, I think she was mostly happy. The other greatest day of my life was the day she said to me, totally out of the blue, that she intended to spend the rest of her life with me. And she did.

Q. Do you want to talk about her drinking?
A. Not too much, because there was so much more to her than that. I will say that we almost lost her three other times because she was determined to quit drinking and she did it abruptly and got very bad DTs from the withdrawal. The hospitals proved to be inadequate, to put it nicely. This was a period that was very hard on her family. Her mother Betty and stepfather Jerry and her sister Paula obviously loved her very much and of course they wanted to see her, to spend time with her. But Lisa was embarrassed by her drinking and deterioration and didn't visit as often as she might have. In fact, she never let them come to either house we lived in. 

Q. You were supplying the beer?
A. I was an enabler. I was also in a weird situation because I could see that if she stopped drinking she would die, yet if she continued drinking it would be like aiding and abetting a suicide. So she  checked in--she wasn't very happy about it--into a rehab center for three days and never drank again. That has to have been incredibly difficult for her. But that was a big deal and she accomplished it. I am going to say here that too often I have been given undue credit for saving her life. I may have played some role in that. But she saved her own life. Her kids were supportive and so were her mom and stepdad. They were all terrific. But I will say that her real dad proved to be a huge disappointment. He never believed she would stay sober. And he made his feelings about that clear. This is a guy who is educated and apparently very successful. I only met him one time and he was nice to me, but he said something that hit me later and if I'd realized what he'd meant at the time I would have hit him, but it was so outrageous that I didn't get it right away. He said, "So you're the patron saint of lost causes." 

Q. That's cold.
A. So he's not on my Christmas card list. But the rest of her family are beautiful and just amazing all the time. In fact, Lisa Ann made life-long relationships with so many great people. She started a Facebook group called United Fairy Works and she used to have these extended night time chat conversations with women from all over the country and the rest of the world. More than a month after the tragedy, these people still ache from the loss. 
   And  I'm just going to end this here, if you don't mind, by saying that a part of the rest of us died that horrible morning. But we really do--all of us--keep that flame burning in our hearts. There's this song from Jackson Browne that speaks to it:
"Keep a fire burning in your eyes
Pay attention to the open skies
You never know what will be coming  down...
I don't know what happens when people die
Can't seem to grasp it as hard as I try
Like a song that I hear
Playing right in my ear
But I can't sing it
And I can't help listening."