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San Diego divorce court players

Love in a burning building

Outside the court, Mr. Montego apologizes, “I can barely talk,” he says. “I’m shaking."
“He’s getting screwed,” his cousin says. - Image by Dave Allen
Outside the court, Mr. Montego apologizes, “I can barely talk,” he says. “I’m shaking." “He’s getting screwed,” his cousin says.

"Kevin is very romantic,” says Shelley, a 24-year-old beauty in childlike braids at the county courthouse as she fills out her application for a $49 marriage license. The look in her eyes as she glances at her fiance, a blond, athletic, boy-next-door, ex-Navy man, corroborates the adage that all brides are beautiful. Without that love light, Shelley would be merely pleasant-looking, wholesome, but plain. Passion has infused her with starry-eyed wonder; beauty in a way that a poleaxed fawn is beautiful.

"The statistics on noncustodial fathers who do not support their children is dramatic."

“I don’t know about that. I never was before — romantic, I mean.” Kevin sounds like he should be shuffling his feet and saying gosh and shucks, but he isn’t. “We’ve known each other two years, but we’ve only been dating seven or eight months.”

“Five, honey.”

"He was very exciting to be around. We’d go on trips. Las Vegas to see shows, we’d gamble, go out on people’s yachts."

“Oh, okay, five. Anyway, I guess I found out I was romantic. I never thought I was. We started out as friends, but I guess about five months ago we realized we loved each other.”

Judith DeGennaro: "The expression ‘blood from a stone’ is certainly applicable in this case.”

“Well, it was four months ago,” Shelley corrects him again.

“Yeah. Whatever. We’re getting married this Saturday. About 160 people. We know the odds are about 50-50 that we’ll make it, but somebody has to be part of that success rate. You’re writing about marriage?”

Bleema Moss: "A good relationship is one that can resolve differences, solve problems."

Divorce, actually.

“Oh, great, so you’re gonna, like, curse us?” Kevin laughs.

“You can’t go into it even thinking of divorce If you do, you’re crazy.”

“Till death us do part," Shelley beams at Kevin.

Kevin smiles back, but with possibly a trace of indigestion . at the corners of his lips. “Whoa, yeah...right."

Ever since Isolde’s maid, Brangien, mistakenly slipped her boss and Tristan the aphrodisiac mickey meant for Tristan’s*' uncle, the king of Cornwall, lovers in the Western world have suffered the agonies and ecstasies of romantic love that lasts pretty much as long as the mythical love potion in the legend: three years. Really. Ask therapists, family law attorneys, and those at Family Court whose dreams have been broken on the wheel of True Romance.

It is almost noon in the courtroom on Sixth Avenue, downtown. Petitioner Barbara Montego (not her real name) sits to the far left of a table facing presiding judge Wesley R. Mason. To the far right is respondent David Montego (again, not a real name). Separating the couple, who have been married for four years, are two lawyers. Barbara’s lawyer is a gray-haired, presidential-looking man named William Blatchley. David’s lawyer is the equally gray-maned Judith DiGennaro. The divorcing couple are in their mid- to late 20s.

“Your Honor, the expression ‘blood from a stone’ is certainly applicable in this case.” DiGennaro stands facing the steel-haired, bespectacled judge who is looking through the financial statements. “Mr. Montego has been actively seeking employment for some time without success. The figures submitted by the petitioner are unrealistic and reflect assets that no longer exist and financial information that is outdated by two years.”

Though their backs are to the observers in the courtroom, it is possible to see that Barbara Montego is a blond, broad-shouldered woman, on the heavy side. She wears a blue sweater, though San Diego is experiencing a freak two-day heat wave that approaches 90-degree temperatures. She stares ahead, toward the bench.

David Montego has shoulder-length hair of brown and auburn. He is in good physical shape, wears a mustache, and his sideburns are razored neatly at the top of the ear. His shirt is a cotton plaid of brown and green. He tries not to weep, but his eyes are glistening and red.

“Your Honor,” Counselor Blatchley, the petitioner’s attorney announces. “Mr. Montego lives alone in a four-bedroom house owned by his parents. He pays no rent. He drives a turbo Porsche, another freebie from his parents. I suggest these facts be taken into consideration....”

The judge orders that on a date some 30 days away, the petitioner’s attorney submit a financial statement determining the dollar value of such “freebies” from the respondent’s parents. He also instructs the respondent’s counsel to submit a list of no fewer than ten job contacts made every week for the next four weeks. It is agreed.

David Montego leaves the courtroom without looking at his ex-wife and smokes a cigarette with his cousin on the Sixth Avenue sidewalk.

DiGennaro and Blatchley linger in the courtroom and chat like old friends. They are. They have been in the trenches of Family Court for several years. Went to law school together at Cal Western. They are on a first-name basis with the judge as well.

On the street, Mr. Montego apologizes, “I can barely talk,” he says. “I’m shaking."

“He’s getting screwed,” his cousin says. “Ask his lawyer.”

The lawyer in question, DiGennaro, is. momentarily busy speaking with an acquaintance or client. But there is no shortage of prospective interview subjects in the waiting room area adjacent to the four courtrooms.

Dierdre, again a fictitious name, is 31 years old. She has long black hair tied back in a loose bun. She looks exotic — Semitic, Spanish, or North African, it turns out she is Italian. Her eyes carry pouches beneath them, and her mascara has run to the sides where she has wiped her eyes with her fingers, giving her an operatically Oriental appearance.

“Yes, I’m getting divorced," she says emphatically. “From that!”

She indicates a well-dressed man in his mid-30s. Brown, razor-cut hair, long in the back, thinning at the top, double-breasted navy suit, flowered silk tie, two turquoise rings and a matching ear cuff on his right ear. He stands across the room from his soon-to-be-ex-wife, talking with a bespectacled, bookish man approximately his own age. Presumably, his attorney.

Does Dierdre mind discussing the relationship? She shakes her head no. “Frank has tons of charm and tons of money, depending on what week you’re talking about. That’s what we’re here about today. He says he doesn’t have any now, but he always has money someplace.

“The sex was great, and the fact that my parents hated him made him even more perfect.” Her smile flickers, fades.

How long had they been married? “Two and a half years. We dated for about six months.”

Was there a single cause for the divorce?

“Yeah, his fly. He couldn’t keep it zipped.” She laughs abruptly, almost hysterically, at her friend, an older blond woman who seems to be there for moral support. “Frankie is the kind of guy who carves imaginary notches on a mental bedpost. He can’t not screw a woman. He thinks he would be less of a man if he didn’t conquer a single woman who smiled at him. He was humping our Mexican cleaning lady, who is about 45 years old.”

But you loved him?

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I thought I did. He was very exciting to be around. We’d go on trips. Las Vegas to see shows, we’d gamble, go out on people’s yachts. He has a lot of friends. Now I look at him and he looks like that guy Joey Buttafuoco to me. He seems pathetic I know I sound angry, and you can tell I’ve been crying, but it’s not because of him. I’m not going to miss him. I don’t love him. I’m just mad at myself. I feel like a fool. It just seems like this is my fault. I let this happen to myself. I was in school when I met him, and now I’m 31 and I’ve messed up my life."

Dierdre and her friend retire to the ladies’ room.

As I approach Frankie and the man carrying the briefcase he is talking to, Frankie looks sideways at me, suspiciously. “Who are you? What are you talkin’ to huh for?”

When it is explained, the lawyer says to his client, “I don’t see that it can do any harm, but it won’t do you any good either.” He shrugs, shakes his client’s hand, and walks past the metal detectors to the street.

“What did she say to you?” Frankie, whose name on the posted court calendar is something like Nicolizzi, speaks with a New York accent.

I mention her allegations of infidelity.

“Yeah, that’s her song. She’s paranoid. She sees me running around with women. I can’t live like that. I can’t live with constant jealousy. Can you live like that? The woman followed me. She’s part bloodhound. I call her Detective Lieutenant Nicolizzi."

How did the couple meet?

“Oh, who cares? We met at the OTL tournament, I think. Maybe we met once before that. She was all over me. She took her shirt off the first or second time we met. We got along great. She was crazy about me. She would say wonderful things to me, whisper these things. Things so great, they’re, like, embarrassing. Now the stuff that comes out of that mouth you wouldn’t believe. The foul stuff from that same mouth.”

Nicolizzi decided to leave before he encountered his wife outside the courtroom. When she emerged from the ladies’ room, she asked if I had talked with him and what he said.

“Well, he said you’re paranoid.”

“Of course he did. That doesn’t surprise me. What is he gonna say, ‘Yeah she’s right, I just can’t keep it in my pants?’ He’s a liar. I hate to say that, but he is.”

Conversation overheard on sidewalk in front of courthouse:

He said: No, Annie, you were the one afraid of everything. You said you wanted to move in together, but as soon as we found a place we both liked and realized we could afford it, you started our first fight.

She said: That’s not what happened. I had theater tickets for that night. They were hard to get. You didn’t want to go. You never want to do anything.

He said: We were supposed to move in that night. All of a sudden it’s theater night?

She said: You’re inflexible. Did you ever do one spontaneous, crazy thing?

He said: Yeah, I married you. You’re a lunatic, Annie. And you’re dishonest.

She said: What was I ever dishonest about?

He said: When you said you loved me, you were lying. When you said you wanted to live together, you didn’t mean it, you just said it. When you said you wanted to stick it out, work on the marriage with a counselor, you never had any intention of doing that....

She said: You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube, Marty. It’s too late for that.

He said: And whose fault is that?

She said [weeping]: Mine. All right? I’m to blame for everything. Fine. Fine. It’s all my goddamned fault!

A ’93 Lexus pulls to the curb, and the driver leans across the passenger seat to open the door. He shoots a menacing, cold look at the man on the sidewalk (who looks like a dying flounder gasping for oxygen), Annie gets in the car, and they drive off.

Judith DiGennaro is quick to point out that she is not a psychologist or an expert on matters of the heart, but she does allow that she gets a unique perspective on the battle of the sexes by virtue of her work in family law. “I think what happens when people get married,” the pixie-voiced lawyer says, “they have a vision of the other person that may or may not be who the person is most of the time. People tend to pick other people who have certain strengths they are attracted to and by and large want it to work so badly that they disregard the problems that are looming in the future, saying, ‘Well, we’ll take care of that.’

“Women more often say, ‘I can change him to become this way.’ And husbands tend to say, ‘She’ll never change.’ When he doesn’t change — or she does change, there’s disillusionment.” About the Montegos’ case, she says, “I don’t have many divorce cases with people in their 20s. Most of the cases I have are couples in their 30s in long-term marriages and that despite the image perpetuated, especially by people in Hollywood who change marriages like they change cars, really try to stay in the marriage. People take it seriously, in my experience. They try to stay with the other person as long as they can.”

Does DiGennaro see a lot of midlife-crisis divorces?

“Oh yeah, a lot of them.”

Does the stereotype hold up? The 40-year-old guy who gets the red Corvette and the 19-year-old girlfriend one day?

“You know, you can’t tell by who files as to whose idea the divorce really is. Because there’s a dynamic where one spouse who ostensibly does not want the divorce puts the other spouse in such a position that they have no choice but to divorce. And I think that restlessness of an old marriage with the children about to leave home and all the responsibilities that once held them together are no longer as pressing is pretty common.

“I think it’s also very common for the husband to find a younger woman. Not necessarily 19, but younger. And it is harder for women in their 40s to have those kinds of opportunities. So that scenario with the man leaving his wife for a younger woman is more common because an older man fares better in ‘the marketplace,’ if you will.”

Does DiGennaro blame the concept of romance itself as outdated? Could this warm and gooey Hollywood view we have of true love be responsible for our rampant divorce rate — so much brutal misery and weirdness being paraded on talk shows and in courtrooms...emergency rooms...psycho wards?

The attorney looks at me with concern, as if I might foam at the mouth or swallow my tongue. She seems to shift the subject, but possibly she isn’t really. “I will say this, there are some sociobiologists who say the reason why there seems to be a particular number of years that people will stay together and then get divorced is because of the childbearing cycle. The reason many people stay married is to support the children. We see this all the time. There are many theories.

“I’m 47,” DiGennaro continues. “In my parents’ generation, people talked of marriage in terms of the woman being a good homemaker and mother and the man being a good provider. If there happened to be love attached to it, that was great. But...

“I mean, in my dad’s generation the men would go around talking about ‘the old ball and chain,’ and the wives would have their own version of group therapy, which were called coffee klatches, and they survived. They didn’t have expectations of that other person was going to be everything in the world to them.

“I think the reason that divorces are so common now, other than the fact that people can make enough money to sort of afford them, is because somewhere along the line young people came up with the idea that when you married someone else, that person was going to provide all the stimulation and all the friendship you need. It’s just not true.

“I look back at my parents’ generation; my dad had his friends, my mother had her friends, they had couple friends. They didn’t expect to get everything from each other, and neither did their married friends.”

Why does DiGennaro suppose that younger generations have developed these unrealistic expectations — movies? Literature? Popular music?

“Again, it’s just my opinion," she cautions. In the background children cry, attorneys confer with weeping clients, and the metal detector goes off with annoying frequency because of car keys, Zippos, beepers, pocket knives, possibly other weapons. The very presence of metal detectors at the portals of Family Court says something about the dark side of love. “But talking about professional, working couples, there was a time when roles were very satisfying or if they weren’t, nobody questioned it. Mom stayed home, took care of the kids. Maybe she wasn’t a Beaver Cleaver mom, but she was there. She did the PTA. Moms knew what Mom was supposed to do. We knew what Dad was supposed to do. He was supposed to make a living, go out and support the family. It was a great disgrace for a man not to support his family. Today that is not as true.

“Now the statistics on noncustodial fathers who do not support their children is dramatic. In fact, in the teenage generation — which I am regrettably familiar with — many young men seem to think it’s a proof of their manhood to get a young woman pregnant. But they have no thought of what it means to be a man, which is truly to take care of the children.

“I see a lot of divorces where the men simply don’t feel like they need to do anything with the children, like, ‘If she wants ’em, she can have ’em.’ Likewise, there are situations where men are very involved with their children and the mothers have some real reservations about sharing the children because that’s been their job, that’s their role.

“When you come to the 1990s, where so many women are working and carrying two jobs — and the statistics are quite clear that women still do a whole lot more housework than men — the role differentiation is great. So when a woman is unhappy, I mean really unhappy—o ra man, whatever — there’s a greater likelihood that they’ll just get a divorce.”

Back in courtroom F-3, Judge Mason peruses paperwork at the bench. The backs of two 20ish, blond boy/girl-next-door types can be seen as they sit next to their lawyers. They seem scrubbed, respectful and sit up straight in their chairs. Mason is musing out loud, “...the child born in 1987...parents divorced 1992. I see the petitioner has a Mexican national boyfriend, and the father objects to the child being relocated some 1500 miles into Mexico’s interior. This seems like a legitimate concern to me, Mr. Miller.”

The opposing attorney rises and says, “Your Honor, if we could just have ten minutes of the court’s time....”

“This is a matter that hardly seems resolvable in ten minutes,” Mason says, and chuckles, but does not seem all that amused. “I’ll have to move you to the end of the calendar.” He looks to his right at an oversized calendar of both April and May. Family Court will be a busy place this spring when the young’s fancy turns to — or away from love.

The next case is a lone petitioner, sans lawyer, but armed with a crushing load of legal paperwork. He has the look of a mechanic or plumber who has wandered into a Kafka story or a docudrama nightmare. The saying that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client comes to mind as the petitioner, call him Darryl, rifles through papers looking for a writ of habeas corpus. The judge is patient.

Three minutes go by, four...silence. Darryl has scattered papers across the desk; they shift onto the floor.

Meanwhile, the respondent and her lawyer wait quietly. Possibly she is enjoying her ex’s discomfort. Dana, let’s say, looks mousy and tired, much put-upon, and shrinks into her chair as if to demonstrate her frail vulnerability.

The case is a question of custody. Darryl and Dana never married but lived together for 11 years and had two children together. There is much question as to the suitability of the homes of each parent. While Darryl searches through warrants, orders, and declarations, Mason discusses the advisability of a custody counselor.

She says, “...there was much verbal and physical abuse. And mental abuse. Your Honor.” He says, “...the children have missed too much school."

She says, “...they had the flu.” Her lawyer points out that Darryl constantly undermines her authority. There are allegations of drug abuse on both sides. She has been in a battered-women’s facility. His proposed living arrangement for the children involves unsatisfactory sanitary facilities.

She says, “He also abuses alcohol.”

He says, “The kids are always afraid their mother is going to go to jail because of drugs!”

Dana’s attorney points out that the petitioner once took the children for an Easter vacation and didn’t return them until July, when he called their mother for the first time in those months and said, “Come and get them.” The responding attorney recommends drug testing for Darryl.

“Your Honor,” Darryl begins.

“Yes?”

“I’m a good person...a functioning part of society....” Here he trails off into an embarrassing silence reminiscent of Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. “If you have any other questions....” Darryl shuffles through his weighty files of disorganized papers.

Mason, looking at copies of papers before him, half mutters, “The children seem to corroborate the unfortunate living conditions of the mother and feel safer with their father. Ms.___seems to be at loose ends and on general relief...something here about her boyfriend having stabbed himself in front of the children.”

The man on the bench removes his glasses and massages the bridge of his nose. “I have to choose between the two parents. When that is necessary, I must look to the children. In this case it was the father who brought this case forward, and so I will approve the recommendation and rule in his favor. Since I have no financial information here, there will be no child support ruling at this time....”

At the coffee cart across Sixth Avenue, the girl at the cappuccino steamer talks about her divorce from a local attorney. The tale is an epic of financial ruin, influential and conspiring bar association members, local politicians, and even public acts of sexual deviation. Her story would demand a book-length work or a feature film collaboration between John Waters and the Coen Brothers. It is also unverifiable, and besides, she’s not, she says, ready to have it told. She’s waiting for Hard Copy.

Darryl, however, over a cup of coffee, doesn’t mind talking about his romantic history with Dana.

“I met her in Hawaii,” Darryl says, eyeing the girl behind the pushcart full of coffees and muffins. He would rather be chatting her up than talking to me. “In 1982 in October. She was on a sailboat, and I ended up getting a job on the sailboat doing some day work. I cruised on the boat with her and this other guy. We sailed from Honolulu to Santa Barbara. This was in November of’82, when there was this big hurricane off Hawaii. We were about 1000 miles off Hawaii, between there and the mainland. We got hit by the hurricane, and the boat got all busted up. It was a real trying time, and we just kind of fell in love.”

Like soldiers and nurses in wartime, right? Or like Bogart and Bergman with the German guns approaching Paris in Casablanca? Crisis sensuality.

“I guess,” Darryl shrugs. “This was more like Crisis Love Boat. She saved my life once on that cruise. I fell overboard. The boom busted off the mast, and we were kind of faltering out there. I was pulling down the sail — no life preserver, no life line, nothing — in this hurricane. I lost my grip and went over and she grabbed me.

“We got towed in by the Coast Guard. Got back to land and she got pregnant and I got landlocked.”

What about the romance? The honeymoon period?

“Well, we never got married!” Darryl laughs. “So there wasn’t one. I guess that hurricane was it."

That was the end of Darryl’s sailing career, and for the next 11 years he lived with Dana and their two children. Does he feel hostile towards the mother of his children these days?

“No, not at all. I don’t have any bad feelings towards her except for the way she’s been trying to raise the kids. She’s had them for a year and a half since we’ve been separated, and it’s no kind of lifestyle for them.”

Why did Darryl and Dana split up? Was there any single reason?

“One reason? She was bored with her life and wanted to have fun. I was running a business, and it was just work, work, work. She just got bored, I guess. So she went to have a party up north, and she partied. The children suffered for it.”

What does he mean by “partied”? But Darryl waves the question away to indicate it doesn’t matter anymore. He seems to be growing tired of the subject. I sense he’d rather talk about sailing some more and that hurricane.

“There wasn’t one particular day that I woke up and realized, ’Hey, this isn’t happening anymore.’ It was just gradual. She wouldn’t work. She wouldn’t clean. And then she wouldn’t cook, and it got kind of like...hey!” Darryl laughs abruptly and shakes his head.

“She wanted to move up north with her brother. I tried to buy her a car, but she said it wasn’t comfortable. I lost the down payment. The next stop was a Ryder truck rental. I loaded her up and sent her on her way.”

Darryl finishes his coffee and tosses the paper cup into the trash with finality and waves as he walks south on Sixth.

Jody is 32, pretty in a confused way that may be the effect of bottle-lens glasses. She has been married twice, and she is waiting for her husband, who is 45 minutes late for his court appearance. “That’s Jim, always late,” she says as if it were an endearing, goofy habit, like whistling off-key.

Jody and Jim’s story echoes that of Dierdre and Frankie, only with the roles oddly reversed.

“How did we meet? We met at the swap meet. We were both buying futons, and he was very flirtatious and suggested we go out on a date, and if everything worked out we might end up saving money. Buying one futon instead of two.

“He was really funny. I fell in love, like, in about a month. He was dating other women, which was okay. He was dating women through the classifieds, so I was really surprised when he asked me to marry him one day. I didn’t think he was ready for that. I’m five years older than him and I have a boy, but Jim and Terry got along really well. He convinced me he was ready for this...but he still dated other women after he asked me to marry him. I know. I know what this says about me, okay? He said he had already made the dates and everything.

“I guess I just wanted this so bad, I kind of turned a blind eye, but I should have realized. It was the same old thing; I fell for a man who couldn’t commit. We fought a lot and made up; and one time, the, you know, making up was so great, we just went ahead. Stupid. Stupid.

“We were married last summer and he picked on everything I did. My laugh, my snoring, my ass, the movies and books I liked. He was just looking for something.

“I moved out on him last December one night while he was at some friends’ watching football. My sister, my mother, and my friend from work helped me. We took everything except this old chair of his from [college] that smelled like beer. I took things we had bought together like a television and CD player, and guess what? The futon. That’s supposed to be why we’re here today, to divide the property, but he won’t show. He’s a boy, not a man. He wasn’t ready for commitment, and he wasn’t man enough to say so. He’s not man enough to face me now.

“I’ll say this though. It ran its course from beginning to end in under a year. That means I’ll be over it in three months. We didn’t have any children, thank God. I was married before and my son is 13. It’s the children who suffer the most in divorce.”

A man several feet away seemed to be eavesdropping and glowering at jody. She did not seem to know him, however. I asked him if he would like to add a comment. He was eager to talk. Did he, in fact, know Jody?

“No, we don’t know each other. Can we talk over here?” Moving a few paces downhill on Sixth, he said, “I heard what you were asking her, and it just pissed me off.” We’ll call this guy Ralph — late 30s, thin, Hispanic maybe, and angry, his face contorted as with some gastric distress. “Did you hear her? ‘Men are afraid to commit. Men are afraid to commit.’ And then, ‘It’s always the children who suffer most!’ Cliches. She probably built her whole divorce case on stuff she heard on Donahue, Oprah, and shit she read in the Reader’s Digest. Can you imagine what the other poor bastard’s point of view on this might be?”

I ask Ralph what his interest is in this case, and he answers almost explosively, “None! I could care less. I’m here with a friend who is getting taken to the fuckin’ cleaners, like I was, over a pretty face. How old am I? I’m 40. It may sound like I hate women, but that’s not true. I don’t hate anyone in a concrete way, based on sex or race, but I’ll tell you what I hate and that’s popular music lyrics in, say, the last 100 years. We’ve been programmed. This was why Frank Zappa was a genius. He wouldn’t write a love song except to make fun of the convention.”

Is Ralph saying love songs have a debilitating effect on society? “Yes, I am. It’s artistically, historically, and probably scientifically dishonest. It’s the cause for so much garbage. ‘Oh baby, oh baby...for you I croon in June, I’ll fuckin’ die if we don’t do it...baby, come back or my life is over....’ ” I have to cut Ralph off.

“I know what you mean, I was just asking a Family Court lawyer if she blamed Hollywood or popular music for so much of the cultural, societal...”

“Why?” Ralph looks at me with mock-gleeful incredulousness. “Would you ask a lawyer about stuff like that?”

I ask him, in turn, what he does. “I’m a musician,” he says, as though it were obvious. “I’m a songwriter.”

What subjects does he find to write songs about if not love? “Well,” he thinks, “death, war, dogs, cheese...it’s not like there’s a shortage of things to write about.”

Bleema Moss is a licensed marriage and family counselor often recommended by Family Court Services. Her voice by telephone sounds to be that of an exceptionally articulate teenaged girl, but she is, she says, 47 years old. For 20 years she has worked with divorcing families as a mediator, expert witness, and evaluator for Superior Court.

Is the concept of romantic love itself to blame for the divorce rate? Have the poets sold Western culture down the river? Is True Romance an oxymoron?

Moss laughs, “Absolutely. My feeling is that what happens to people when they’re attracted to each other — what they call ‘fall in love,’ that three or four, maybe six months, if they’re lucky, of adulation, infatuation, and planning for the future, great sex, every moment is wonderful — has very little to do with keeping a longterm relationship, as far as I'm concerned. It’s not an indication of much except that you’re romantic with each other. As a marriage counselor, you try to bring people back to that, sometimes just to remind them why they were attracted to each other in the first place. You forget as the years go by.

“But I agree [romantic love] does us a disservice, because we think it should be all the time.”

Is what Moss sees going wrong now much different from what she saw going wrong in the counseling rooms and family courts ten years ago?

“My sense is that we’re dealing with the same sorts of problems, they’re just more magnified now. It’s the societal pressures we’re under. What were the same problems we would see in the ’70s are just exacerbated now. We didn’t find a whole lot of secrets as to how to live together in the ’70s. We’re just finding them now.

“For instance, if you look at recent research about men and women in, say, the past five years or so, with [Harvard professor] Carol Gilligan’s work, we’re finally admitting that boys and girls are different and men and women are different.”

This is big news?

“Yes,” Moss laughs. “(Gilligan did some real seminal — or ovarian, you could say — research and came to conclusions that genders respond differently. In the ’70s we were trying to say that we’re really all equal and the same. Men were saying, 'No one listens to me and I’m always criticized; I never do anything right and I feel controlled.’ And women were saying, 'You never talk to me. Why can’t you just be my partner? What happened to the guy I first met?’

“What we were saying—therapists who were being trained in the ’70s — was that, 'Hey, guys, here’s the boilerplate idea; what has to happen to you is that you both have to become more like women.’ That’s how I characterize what was going on. We didn’t really understand how men work. We’re just beginning to learn how to be human and have relational skills with each other. We need to respect the fact that men and women have differences and always will have.

“I think that most ardent feminists, and I consider myself one of those, now give ourselves credit for being different and that we have some bridges to cross.”

Is there a pendulum swing in the ’90s to an acceptance — even fashion — of being single, remaining single, feeling good about being solo, emotionally self-reliant, non-codependent, that sort of thing?

“The people I see are people who are miserable about being single,” Moss answers. “They really do want a relationship, and they’re not meeting the right people. Or they’re married and want to stay in the marriage and are having trouble. The point is they still want a relationship. The number of people choosing not to be in a relationship may be higher than it was ten years ago, you’d have to ask a sociologist that.”

In thinking of my parents’ relationship, my friends’ relationships and marriage, my own, I wonder, is there such a thing as a functional relationship? Who or what do you point.to when you talk about functional relationships?

“That’s a good question. Our perception of a good family or relationship is still in the ’50s, where we think everything is supposed to run smoothly. It doesn’t. I really think that a good relationship is one that can resolve differences, solve problems. That has a strength to also weather outside forces that try to beat them down."

Like “you and me against the world,” a very romantic concept, one that I rarely see working. It’s been suggested that the institution of marriage is becoming outdated. That it once served a vital purpose in social evolution and is becoming more irrelevant as we go into the 21st Century. How would you respond to that?

“I know there are people who say that and talk about serial marriages,” Moss says. “You know, that everyone in their life will have two or three. Obviously if you look at it that way, that | marriages] don’t have to last forever, you won’t be so upset when you break up. But — and I know I sound so old-fashioned when I say this — but I really think the meaning of most people’s lives is in relationships. I’m just not willing to say that marriage is outdated at this point."

Over breakfast at an eatery where they offer two eggs with your choice of side orders for $2.99, I’m talking with a friend whom I’ve seen through a ruinous divorce and two subsequently passionate and exhausting love affairs. I ask him for one of his patented cynical one-liners about “love gone wrong" — lines like, “Is the screwing you’re getting worth the screwing you’re getting?” or “Next time just find a woman you hate and buy her a house.” But he surprises me. He quotes the joke Woody Allen uses at the end of Annie Hall.

“You know, where the guy walks into the shrink’s office and says, ‘Doc, my brother thinks he’s a chicken.’ The doc says, ‘Have you told him he’s not a chicken?’ and the guy goes, ‘No; I need the eggs.' "

“Yeah, that’s a good one. So what are you gonna order?" I look at the menu. My friend doesn’t bother.

“What do you think?”

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Outside the court, Mr. Montego apologizes, “I can barely talk,” he says. “I’m shaking."
“He’s getting screwed,” his cousin says. - Image by Dave Allen
Outside the court, Mr. Montego apologizes, “I can barely talk,” he says. “I’m shaking." “He’s getting screwed,” his cousin says.

"Kevin is very romantic,” says Shelley, a 24-year-old beauty in childlike braids at the county courthouse as she fills out her application for a $49 marriage license. The look in her eyes as she glances at her fiance, a blond, athletic, boy-next-door, ex-Navy man, corroborates the adage that all brides are beautiful. Without that love light, Shelley would be merely pleasant-looking, wholesome, but plain. Passion has infused her with starry-eyed wonder; beauty in a way that a poleaxed fawn is beautiful.

"The statistics on noncustodial fathers who do not support their children is dramatic."

“I don’t know about that. I never was before — romantic, I mean.” Kevin sounds like he should be shuffling his feet and saying gosh and shucks, but he isn’t. “We’ve known each other two years, but we’ve only been dating seven or eight months.”

“Five, honey.”

"He was very exciting to be around. We’d go on trips. Las Vegas to see shows, we’d gamble, go out on people’s yachts."

“Oh, okay, five. Anyway, I guess I found out I was romantic. I never thought I was. We started out as friends, but I guess about five months ago we realized we loved each other.”

Judith DeGennaro: "The expression ‘blood from a stone’ is certainly applicable in this case.”

“Well, it was four months ago,” Shelley corrects him again.

“Yeah. Whatever. We’re getting married this Saturday. About 160 people. We know the odds are about 50-50 that we’ll make it, but somebody has to be part of that success rate. You’re writing about marriage?”

Bleema Moss: "A good relationship is one that can resolve differences, solve problems."

Divorce, actually.

“Oh, great, so you’re gonna, like, curse us?” Kevin laughs.

“You can’t go into it even thinking of divorce If you do, you’re crazy.”

“Till death us do part," Shelley beams at Kevin.

Kevin smiles back, but with possibly a trace of indigestion . at the corners of his lips. “Whoa, yeah...right."

Ever since Isolde’s maid, Brangien, mistakenly slipped her boss and Tristan the aphrodisiac mickey meant for Tristan’s*' uncle, the king of Cornwall, lovers in the Western world have suffered the agonies and ecstasies of romantic love that lasts pretty much as long as the mythical love potion in the legend: three years. Really. Ask therapists, family law attorneys, and those at Family Court whose dreams have been broken on the wheel of True Romance.

It is almost noon in the courtroom on Sixth Avenue, downtown. Petitioner Barbara Montego (not her real name) sits to the far left of a table facing presiding judge Wesley R. Mason. To the far right is respondent David Montego (again, not a real name). Separating the couple, who have been married for four years, are two lawyers. Barbara’s lawyer is a gray-haired, presidential-looking man named William Blatchley. David’s lawyer is the equally gray-maned Judith DiGennaro. The divorcing couple are in their mid- to late 20s.

“Your Honor, the expression ‘blood from a stone’ is certainly applicable in this case.” DiGennaro stands facing the steel-haired, bespectacled judge who is looking through the financial statements. “Mr. Montego has been actively seeking employment for some time without success. The figures submitted by the petitioner are unrealistic and reflect assets that no longer exist and financial information that is outdated by two years.”

Though their backs are to the observers in the courtroom, it is possible to see that Barbara Montego is a blond, broad-shouldered woman, on the heavy side. She wears a blue sweater, though San Diego is experiencing a freak two-day heat wave that approaches 90-degree temperatures. She stares ahead, toward the bench.

David Montego has shoulder-length hair of brown and auburn. He is in good physical shape, wears a mustache, and his sideburns are razored neatly at the top of the ear. His shirt is a cotton plaid of brown and green. He tries not to weep, but his eyes are glistening and red.

“Your Honor,” Counselor Blatchley, the petitioner’s attorney announces. “Mr. Montego lives alone in a four-bedroom house owned by his parents. He pays no rent. He drives a turbo Porsche, another freebie from his parents. I suggest these facts be taken into consideration....”

The judge orders that on a date some 30 days away, the petitioner’s attorney submit a financial statement determining the dollar value of such “freebies” from the respondent’s parents. He also instructs the respondent’s counsel to submit a list of no fewer than ten job contacts made every week for the next four weeks. It is agreed.

David Montego leaves the courtroom without looking at his ex-wife and smokes a cigarette with his cousin on the Sixth Avenue sidewalk.

DiGennaro and Blatchley linger in the courtroom and chat like old friends. They are. They have been in the trenches of Family Court for several years. Went to law school together at Cal Western. They are on a first-name basis with the judge as well.

On the street, Mr. Montego apologizes, “I can barely talk,” he says. “I’m shaking."

“He’s getting screwed,” his cousin says. “Ask his lawyer.”

The lawyer in question, DiGennaro, is. momentarily busy speaking with an acquaintance or client. But there is no shortage of prospective interview subjects in the waiting room area adjacent to the four courtrooms.

Dierdre, again a fictitious name, is 31 years old. She has long black hair tied back in a loose bun. She looks exotic — Semitic, Spanish, or North African, it turns out she is Italian. Her eyes carry pouches beneath them, and her mascara has run to the sides where she has wiped her eyes with her fingers, giving her an operatically Oriental appearance.

“Yes, I’m getting divorced," she says emphatically. “From that!”

She indicates a well-dressed man in his mid-30s. Brown, razor-cut hair, long in the back, thinning at the top, double-breasted navy suit, flowered silk tie, two turquoise rings and a matching ear cuff on his right ear. He stands across the room from his soon-to-be-ex-wife, talking with a bespectacled, bookish man approximately his own age. Presumably, his attorney.

Does Dierdre mind discussing the relationship? She shakes her head no. “Frank has tons of charm and tons of money, depending on what week you’re talking about. That’s what we’re here about today. He says he doesn’t have any now, but he always has money someplace.

“The sex was great, and the fact that my parents hated him made him even more perfect.” Her smile flickers, fades.

How long had they been married? “Two and a half years. We dated for about six months.”

Was there a single cause for the divorce?

“Yeah, his fly. He couldn’t keep it zipped.” She laughs abruptly, almost hysterically, at her friend, an older blond woman who seems to be there for moral support. “Frankie is the kind of guy who carves imaginary notches on a mental bedpost. He can’t not screw a woman. He thinks he would be less of a man if he didn’t conquer a single woman who smiled at him. He was humping our Mexican cleaning lady, who is about 45 years old.”

But you loved him?

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I thought I did. He was very exciting to be around. We’d go on trips. Las Vegas to see shows, we’d gamble, go out on people’s yachts. He has a lot of friends. Now I look at him and he looks like that guy Joey Buttafuoco to me. He seems pathetic I know I sound angry, and you can tell I’ve been crying, but it’s not because of him. I’m not going to miss him. I don’t love him. I’m just mad at myself. I feel like a fool. It just seems like this is my fault. I let this happen to myself. I was in school when I met him, and now I’m 31 and I’ve messed up my life."

Dierdre and her friend retire to the ladies’ room.

As I approach Frankie and the man carrying the briefcase he is talking to, Frankie looks sideways at me, suspiciously. “Who are you? What are you talkin’ to huh for?”

When it is explained, the lawyer says to his client, “I don’t see that it can do any harm, but it won’t do you any good either.” He shrugs, shakes his client’s hand, and walks past the metal detectors to the street.

“What did she say to you?” Frankie, whose name on the posted court calendar is something like Nicolizzi, speaks with a New York accent.

I mention her allegations of infidelity.

“Yeah, that’s her song. She’s paranoid. She sees me running around with women. I can’t live like that. I can’t live with constant jealousy. Can you live like that? The woman followed me. She’s part bloodhound. I call her Detective Lieutenant Nicolizzi."

How did the couple meet?

“Oh, who cares? We met at the OTL tournament, I think. Maybe we met once before that. She was all over me. She took her shirt off the first or second time we met. We got along great. She was crazy about me. She would say wonderful things to me, whisper these things. Things so great, they’re, like, embarrassing. Now the stuff that comes out of that mouth you wouldn’t believe. The foul stuff from that same mouth.”

Nicolizzi decided to leave before he encountered his wife outside the courtroom. When she emerged from the ladies’ room, she asked if I had talked with him and what he said.

“Well, he said you’re paranoid.”

“Of course he did. That doesn’t surprise me. What is he gonna say, ‘Yeah she’s right, I just can’t keep it in my pants?’ He’s a liar. I hate to say that, but he is.”

Conversation overheard on sidewalk in front of courthouse:

He said: No, Annie, you were the one afraid of everything. You said you wanted to move in together, but as soon as we found a place we both liked and realized we could afford it, you started our first fight.

She said: That’s not what happened. I had theater tickets for that night. They were hard to get. You didn’t want to go. You never want to do anything.

He said: We were supposed to move in that night. All of a sudden it’s theater night?

She said: You’re inflexible. Did you ever do one spontaneous, crazy thing?

He said: Yeah, I married you. You’re a lunatic, Annie. And you’re dishonest.

She said: What was I ever dishonest about?

He said: When you said you loved me, you were lying. When you said you wanted to live together, you didn’t mean it, you just said it. When you said you wanted to stick it out, work on the marriage with a counselor, you never had any intention of doing that....

She said: You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube, Marty. It’s too late for that.

He said: And whose fault is that?

She said [weeping]: Mine. All right? I’m to blame for everything. Fine. Fine. It’s all my goddamned fault!

A ’93 Lexus pulls to the curb, and the driver leans across the passenger seat to open the door. He shoots a menacing, cold look at the man on the sidewalk (who looks like a dying flounder gasping for oxygen), Annie gets in the car, and they drive off.

Judith DiGennaro is quick to point out that she is not a psychologist or an expert on matters of the heart, but she does allow that she gets a unique perspective on the battle of the sexes by virtue of her work in family law. “I think what happens when people get married,” the pixie-voiced lawyer says, “they have a vision of the other person that may or may not be who the person is most of the time. People tend to pick other people who have certain strengths they are attracted to and by and large want it to work so badly that they disregard the problems that are looming in the future, saying, ‘Well, we’ll take care of that.’

“Women more often say, ‘I can change him to become this way.’ And husbands tend to say, ‘She’ll never change.’ When he doesn’t change — or she does change, there’s disillusionment.” About the Montegos’ case, she says, “I don’t have many divorce cases with people in their 20s. Most of the cases I have are couples in their 30s in long-term marriages and that despite the image perpetuated, especially by people in Hollywood who change marriages like they change cars, really try to stay in the marriage. People take it seriously, in my experience. They try to stay with the other person as long as they can.”

Does DiGennaro see a lot of midlife-crisis divorces?

“Oh yeah, a lot of them.”

Does the stereotype hold up? The 40-year-old guy who gets the red Corvette and the 19-year-old girlfriend one day?

“You know, you can’t tell by who files as to whose idea the divorce really is. Because there’s a dynamic where one spouse who ostensibly does not want the divorce puts the other spouse in such a position that they have no choice but to divorce. And I think that restlessness of an old marriage with the children about to leave home and all the responsibilities that once held them together are no longer as pressing is pretty common.

“I think it’s also very common for the husband to find a younger woman. Not necessarily 19, but younger. And it is harder for women in their 40s to have those kinds of opportunities. So that scenario with the man leaving his wife for a younger woman is more common because an older man fares better in ‘the marketplace,’ if you will.”

Does DiGennaro blame the concept of romance itself as outdated? Could this warm and gooey Hollywood view we have of true love be responsible for our rampant divorce rate — so much brutal misery and weirdness being paraded on talk shows and in courtrooms...emergency rooms...psycho wards?

The attorney looks at me with concern, as if I might foam at the mouth or swallow my tongue. She seems to shift the subject, but possibly she isn’t really. “I will say this, there are some sociobiologists who say the reason why there seems to be a particular number of years that people will stay together and then get divorced is because of the childbearing cycle. The reason many people stay married is to support the children. We see this all the time. There are many theories.

“I’m 47,” DiGennaro continues. “In my parents’ generation, people talked of marriage in terms of the woman being a good homemaker and mother and the man being a good provider. If there happened to be love attached to it, that was great. But...

“I mean, in my dad’s generation the men would go around talking about ‘the old ball and chain,’ and the wives would have their own version of group therapy, which were called coffee klatches, and they survived. They didn’t have expectations of that other person was going to be everything in the world to them.

“I think the reason that divorces are so common now, other than the fact that people can make enough money to sort of afford them, is because somewhere along the line young people came up with the idea that when you married someone else, that person was going to provide all the stimulation and all the friendship you need. It’s just not true.

“I look back at my parents’ generation; my dad had his friends, my mother had her friends, they had couple friends. They didn’t expect to get everything from each other, and neither did their married friends.”

Why does DiGennaro suppose that younger generations have developed these unrealistic expectations — movies? Literature? Popular music?

“Again, it’s just my opinion," she cautions. In the background children cry, attorneys confer with weeping clients, and the metal detector goes off with annoying frequency because of car keys, Zippos, beepers, pocket knives, possibly other weapons. The very presence of metal detectors at the portals of Family Court says something about the dark side of love. “But talking about professional, working couples, there was a time when roles were very satisfying or if they weren’t, nobody questioned it. Mom stayed home, took care of the kids. Maybe she wasn’t a Beaver Cleaver mom, but she was there. She did the PTA. Moms knew what Mom was supposed to do. We knew what Dad was supposed to do. He was supposed to make a living, go out and support the family. It was a great disgrace for a man not to support his family. Today that is not as true.

“Now the statistics on noncustodial fathers who do not support their children is dramatic. In fact, in the teenage generation — which I am regrettably familiar with — many young men seem to think it’s a proof of their manhood to get a young woman pregnant. But they have no thought of what it means to be a man, which is truly to take care of the children.

“I see a lot of divorces where the men simply don’t feel like they need to do anything with the children, like, ‘If she wants ’em, she can have ’em.’ Likewise, there are situations where men are very involved with their children and the mothers have some real reservations about sharing the children because that’s been their job, that’s their role.

“When you come to the 1990s, where so many women are working and carrying two jobs — and the statistics are quite clear that women still do a whole lot more housework than men — the role differentiation is great. So when a woman is unhappy, I mean really unhappy—o ra man, whatever — there’s a greater likelihood that they’ll just get a divorce.”

Back in courtroom F-3, Judge Mason peruses paperwork at the bench. The backs of two 20ish, blond boy/girl-next-door types can be seen as they sit next to their lawyers. They seem scrubbed, respectful and sit up straight in their chairs. Mason is musing out loud, “...the child born in 1987...parents divorced 1992. I see the petitioner has a Mexican national boyfriend, and the father objects to the child being relocated some 1500 miles into Mexico’s interior. This seems like a legitimate concern to me, Mr. Miller.”

The opposing attorney rises and says, “Your Honor, if we could just have ten minutes of the court’s time....”

“This is a matter that hardly seems resolvable in ten minutes,” Mason says, and chuckles, but does not seem all that amused. “I’ll have to move you to the end of the calendar.” He looks to his right at an oversized calendar of both April and May. Family Court will be a busy place this spring when the young’s fancy turns to — or away from love.

The next case is a lone petitioner, sans lawyer, but armed with a crushing load of legal paperwork. He has the look of a mechanic or plumber who has wandered into a Kafka story or a docudrama nightmare. The saying that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client comes to mind as the petitioner, call him Darryl, rifles through papers looking for a writ of habeas corpus. The judge is patient.

Three minutes go by, four...silence. Darryl has scattered papers across the desk; they shift onto the floor.

Meanwhile, the respondent and her lawyer wait quietly. Possibly she is enjoying her ex’s discomfort. Dana, let’s say, looks mousy and tired, much put-upon, and shrinks into her chair as if to demonstrate her frail vulnerability.

The case is a question of custody. Darryl and Dana never married but lived together for 11 years and had two children together. There is much question as to the suitability of the homes of each parent. While Darryl searches through warrants, orders, and declarations, Mason discusses the advisability of a custody counselor.

She says, “...there was much verbal and physical abuse. And mental abuse. Your Honor.” He says, “...the children have missed too much school."

She says, “...they had the flu.” Her lawyer points out that Darryl constantly undermines her authority. There are allegations of drug abuse on both sides. She has been in a battered-women’s facility. His proposed living arrangement for the children involves unsatisfactory sanitary facilities.

She says, “He also abuses alcohol.”

He says, “The kids are always afraid their mother is going to go to jail because of drugs!”

Dana’s attorney points out that the petitioner once took the children for an Easter vacation and didn’t return them until July, when he called their mother for the first time in those months and said, “Come and get them.” The responding attorney recommends drug testing for Darryl.

“Your Honor,” Darryl begins.

“Yes?”

“I’m a good person...a functioning part of society....” Here he trails off into an embarrassing silence reminiscent of Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. “If you have any other questions....” Darryl shuffles through his weighty files of disorganized papers.

Mason, looking at copies of papers before him, half mutters, “The children seem to corroborate the unfortunate living conditions of the mother and feel safer with their father. Ms.___seems to be at loose ends and on general relief...something here about her boyfriend having stabbed himself in front of the children.”

The man on the bench removes his glasses and massages the bridge of his nose. “I have to choose between the two parents. When that is necessary, I must look to the children. In this case it was the father who brought this case forward, and so I will approve the recommendation and rule in his favor. Since I have no financial information here, there will be no child support ruling at this time....”

At the coffee cart across Sixth Avenue, the girl at the cappuccino steamer talks about her divorce from a local attorney. The tale is an epic of financial ruin, influential and conspiring bar association members, local politicians, and even public acts of sexual deviation. Her story would demand a book-length work or a feature film collaboration between John Waters and the Coen Brothers. It is also unverifiable, and besides, she’s not, she says, ready to have it told. She’s waiting for Hard Copy.

Darryl, however, over a cup of coffee, doesn’t mind talking about his romantic history with Dana.

“I met her in Hawaii,” Darryl says, eyeing the girl behind the pushcart full of coffees and muffins. He would rather be chatting her up than talking to me. “In 1982 in October. She was on a sailboat, and I ended up getting a job on the sailboat doing some day work. I cruised on the boat with her and this other guy. We sailed from Honolulu to Santa Barbara. This was in November of’82, when there was this big hurricane off Hawaii. We were about 1000 miles off Hawaii, between there and the mainland. We got hit by the hurricane, and the boat got all busted up. It was a real trying time, and we just kind of fell in love.”

Like soldiers and nurses in wartime, right? Or like Bogart and Bergman with the German guns approaching Paris in Casablanca? Crisis sensuality.

“I guess,” Darryl shrugs. “This was more like Crisis Love Boat. She saved my life once on that cruise. I fell overboard. The boom busted off the mast, and we were kind of faltering out there. I was pulling down the sail — no life preserver, no life line, nothing — in this hurricane. I lost my grip and went over and she grabbed me.

“We got towed in by the Coast Guard. Got back to land and she got pregnant and I got landlocked.”

What about the romance? The honeymoon period?

“Well, we never got married!” Darryl laughs. “So there wasn’t one. I guess that hurricane was it."

That was the end of Darryl’s sailing career, and for the next 11 years he lived with Dana and their two children. Does he feel hostile towards the mother of his children these days?

“No, not at all. I don’t have any bad feelings towards her except for the way she’s been trying to raise the kids. She’s had them for a year and a half since we’ve been separated, and it’s no kind of lifestyle for them.”

Why did Darryl and Dana split up? Was there any single reason?

“One reason? She was bored with her life and wanted to have fun. I was running a business, and it was just work, work, work. She just got bored, I guess. So she went to have a party up north, and she partied. The children suffered for it.”

What does he mean by “partied”? But Darryl waves the question away to indicate it doesn’t matter anymore. He seems to be growing tired of the subject. I sense he’d rather talk about sailing some more and that hurricane.

“There wasn’t one particular day that I woke up and realized, ’Hey, this isn’t happening anymore.’ It was just gradual. She wouldn’t work. She wouldn’t clean. And then she wouldn’t cook, and it got kind of like...hey!” Darryl laughs abruptly and shakes his head.

“She wanted to move up north with her brother. I tried to buy her a car, but she said it wasn’t comfortable. I lost the down payment. The next stop was a Ryder truck rental. I loaded her up and sent her on her way.”

Darryl finishes his coffee and tosses the paper cup into the trash with finality and waves as he walks south on Sixth.

Jody is 32, pretty in a confused way that may be the effect of bottle-lens glasses. She has been married twice, and she is waiting for her husband, who is 45 minutes late for his court appearance. “That’s Jim, always late,” she says as if it were an endearing, goofy habit, like whistling off-key.

Jody and Jim’s story echoes that of Dierdre and Frankie, only with the roles oddly reversed.

“How did we meet? We met at the swap meet. We were both buying futons, and he was very flirtatious and suggested we go out on a date, and if everything worked out we might end up saving money. Buying one futon instead of two.

“He was really funny. I fell in love, like, in about a month. He was dating other women, which was okay. He was dating women through the classifieds, so I was really surprised when he asked me to marry him one day. I didn’t think he was ready for that. I’m five years older than him and I have a boy, but Jim and Terry got along really well. He convinced me he was ready for this...but he still dated other women after he asked me to marry him. I know. I know what this says about me, okay? He said he had already made the dates and everything.

“I guess I just wanted this so bad, I kind of turned a blind eye, but I should have realized. It was the same old thing; I fell for a man who couldn’t commit. We fought a lot and made up; and one time, the, you know, making up was so great, we just went ahead. Stupid. Stupid.

“We were married last summer and he picked on everything I did. My laugh, my snoring, my ass, the movies and books I liked. He was just looking for something.

“I moved out on him last December one night while he was at some friends’ watching football. My sister, my mother, and my friend from work helped me. We took everything except this old chair of his from [college] that smelled like beer. I took things we had bought together like a television and CD player, and guess what? The futon. That’s supposed to be why we’re here today, to divide the property, but he won’t show. He’s a boy, not a man. He wasn’t ready for commitment, and he wasn’t man enough to say so. He’s not man enough to face me now.

“I’ll say this though. It ran its course from beginning to end in under a year. That means I’ll be over it in three months. We didn’t have any children, thank God. I was married before and my son is 13. It’s the children who suffer the most in divorce.”

A man several feet away seemed to be eavesdropping and glowering at jody. She did not seem to know him, however. I asked him if he would like to add a comment. He was eager to talk. Did he, in fact, know Jody?

“No, we don’t know each other. Can we talk over here?” Moving a few paces downhill on Sixth, he said, “I heard what you were asking her, and it just pissed me off.” We’ll call this guy Ralph — late 30s, thin, Hispanic maybe, and angry, his face contorted as with some gastric distress. “Did you hear her? ‘Men are afraid to commit. Men are afraid to commit.’ And then, ‘It’s always the children who suffer most!’ Cliches. She probably built her whole divorce case on stuff she heard on Donahue, Oprah, and shit she read in the Reader’s Digest. Can you imagine what the other poor bastard’s point of view on this might be?”

I ask Ralph what his interest is in this case, and he answers almost explosively, “None! I could care less. I’m here with a friend who is getting taken to the fuckin’ cleaners, like I was, over a pretty face. How old am I? I’m 40. It may sound like I hate women, but that’s not true. I don’t hate anyone in a concrete way, based on sex or race, but I’ll tell you what I hate and that’s popular music lyrics in, say, the last 100 years. We’ve been programmed. This was why Frank Zappa was a genius. He wouldn’t write a love song except to make fun of the convention.”

Is Ralph saying love songs have a debilitating effect on society? “Yes, I am. It’s artistically, historically, and probably scientifically dishonest. It’s the cause for so much garbage. ‘Oh baby, oh baby...for you I croon in June, I’ll fuckin’ die if we don’t do it...baby, come back or my life is over....’ ” I have to cut Ralph off.

“I know what you mean, I was just asking a Family Court lawyer if she blamed Hollywood or popular music for so much of the cultural, societal...”

“Why?” Ralph looks at me with mock-gleeful incredulousness. “Would you ask a lawyer about stuff like that?”

I ask him, in turn, what he does. “I’m a musician,” he says, as though it were obvious. “I’m a songwriter.”

What subjects does he find to write songs about if not love? “Well,” he thinks, “death, war, dogs, cheese...it’s not like there’s a shortage of things to write about.”

Bleema Moss is a licensed marriage and family counselor often recommended by Family Court Services. Her voice by telephone sounds to be that of an exceptionally articulate teenaged girl, but she is, she says, 47 years old. For 20 years she has worked with divorcing families as a mediator, expert witness, and evaluator for Superior Court.

Is the concept of romantic love itself to blame for the divorce rate? Have the poets sold Western culture down the river? Is True Romance an oxymoron?

Moss laughs, “Absolutely. My feeling is that what happens to people when they’re attracted to each other — what they call ‘fall in love,’ that three or four, maybe six months, if they’re lucky, of adulation, infatuation, and planning for the future, great sex, every moment is wonderful — has very little to do with keeping a longterm relationship, as far as I'm concerned. It’s not an indication of much except that you’re romantic with each other. As a marriage counselor, you try to bring people back to that, sometimes just to remind them why they were attracted to each other in the first place. You forget as the years go by.

“But I agree [romantic love] does us a disservice, because we think it should be all the time.”

Is what Moss sees going wrong now much different from what she saw going wrong in the counseling rooms and family courts ten years ago?

“My sense is that we’re dealing with the same sorts of problems, they’re just more magnified now. It’s the societal pressures we’re under. What were the same problems we would see in the ’70s are just exacerbated now. We didn’t find a whole lot of secrets as to how to live together in the ’70s. We’re just finding them now.

“For instance, if you look at recent research about men and women in, say, the past five years or so, with [Harvard professor] Carol Gilligan’s work, we’re finally admitting that boys and girls are different and men and women are different.”

This is big news?

“Yes,” Moss laughs. “(Gilligan did some real seminal — or ovarian, you could say — research and came to conclusions that genders respond differently. In the ’70s we were trying to say that we’re really all equal and the same. Men were saying, 'No one listens to me and I’m always criticized; I never do anything right and I feel controlled.’ And women were saying, 'You never talk to me. Why can’t you just be my partner? What happened to the guy I first met?’

“What we were saying—therapists who were being trained in the ’70s — was that, 'Hey, guys, here’s the boilerplate idea; what has to happen to you is that you both have to become more like women.’ That’s how I characterize what was going on. We didn’t really understand how men work. We’re just beginning to learn how to be human and have relational skills with each other. We need to respect the fact that men and women have differences and always will have.

“I think that most ardent feminists, and I consider myself one of those, now give ourselves credit for being different and that we have some bridges to cross.”

Is there a pendulum swing in the ’90s to an acceptance — even fashion — of being single, remaining single, feeling good about being solo, emotionally self-reliant, non-codependent, that sort of thing?

“The people I see are people who are miserable about being single,” Moss answers. “They really do want a relationship, and they’re not meeting the right people. Or they’re married and want to stay in the marriage and are having trouble. The point is they still want a relationship. The number of people choosing not to be in a relationship may be higher than it was ten years ago, you’d have to ask a sociologist that.”

In thinking of my parents’ relationship, my friends’ relationships and marriage, my own, I wonder, is there such a thing as a functional relationship? Who or what do you point.to when you talk about functional relationships?

“That’s a good question. Our perception of a good family or relationship is still in the ’50s, where we think everything is supposed to run smoothly. It doesn’t. I really think that a good relationship is one that can resolve differences, solve problems. That has a strength to also weather outside forces that try to beat them down."

Like “you and me against the world,” a very romantic concept, one that I rarely see working. It’s been suggested that the institution of marriage is becoming outdated. That it once served a vital purpose in social evolution and is becoming more irrelevant as we go into the 21st Century. How would you respond to that?

“I know there are people who say that and talk about serial marriages,” Moss says. “You know, that everyone in their life will have two or three. Obviously if you look at it that way, that | marriages] don’t have to last forever, you won’t be so upset when you break up. But — and I know I sound so old-fashioned when I say this — but I really think the meaning of most people’s lives is in relationships. I’m just not willing to say that marriage is outdated at this point."

Over breakfast at an eatery where they offer two eggs with your choice of side orders for $2.99, I’m talking with a friend whom I’ve seen through a ruinous divorce and two subsequently passionate and exhausting love affairs. I ask him for one of his patented cynical one-liners about “love gone wrong" — lines like, “Is the screwing you’re getting worth the screwing you’re getting?” or “Next time just find a woman you hate and buy her a house.” But he surprises me. He quotes the joke Woody Allen uses at the end of Annie Hall.

“You know, where the guy walks into the shrink’s office and says, ‘Doc, my brother thinks he’s a chicken.’ The doc says, ‘Have you told him he’s not a chicken?’ and the guy goes, ‘No; I need the eggs.' "

“Yeah, that’s a good one. So what are you gonna order?" I look at the menu. My friend doesn’t bother.

“What do you think?”

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