Marital Note:
The Awful Truth
4 June 2018

Kathleen’s family, friends, and clients will be happy to hear that she survived her safe return, yesterday, from attending a wedding in Chicago, and my friends &c will be glad to know that I won’t be paying a lawyer to defend my case of justifiable homicide. If you want to know what love is:

Yesterday morning, at about eleven my time, Kathleen told me that her flight back home took off at 2:30, and that she’d text me when she got to the airport, as per usual. At two o’clock her time, having heard nothing, I texted her to ask if she was at the airport. The text message was not delivered. A subsequent voice call went straight to voice mail.

Whereupon began a ninety-minute anguish. Having called her hotel — the wrong hotel, but we’ll come back to that — I knew that she had checked out. This left me with an unpleasant multiple choice test (never my favorite format, but I got pretty good at it studying for the Bar exam):

  • Kathleen left her phone and charger at the hotel, or otherwise lost it. Because everything was okay — her flight was on time (and it was) — she declined to ask a stranger to borrow a phone and so forth. I could understand this. But, although it was the most likely option, it was only an option. Statistics don’t predict particular outcomes. 

  • The taxi taking Kathleen to O’Hare had been in a collision damaging enough, at least, to disable the phone. Probably worse. Not so likely, but shall we say eloquent. 

In fact, it was neither of these. Not for a moment would I have believed that what did happen happened. Like Thomas, I had to stick my finger in it to believe it. Only I was the one bleeding. 

I my anguish, I tried to resign myself to the following scenario: Kathleen’s plane would land at 5:30. If she wasn’t home an hour later, I’d worry seriously. What this meant, I couldn’t say. Maybe I’d ask Fossil Darling to come over to sit a kind of anxiety shiva. I did call my daughter, not to whine but to distract myself by listening to what she could tell me about the road trip that she is planning. Before we got to that, though, I did want to tell her why I wasn’t feeling well, and I was in the middle of explaining Kathleen’s disappearance when the phone beeped. Kathleen was calling to tell me that she had just landed. At LaGuardia — where did I think she was? 

Here is what happened: 

On Thursday evening, the night before leaving for the wedding, Kathleen printed out her itinerary at the office, but she left the document in the printer. I forget when she realized this, but it was in any case Too Late. She remembered that she was staying at the Hilton in Evanston — the hotel booked for the wedding guests, from which a bus would convey them to the ceremony — and that her flight home took off at 2:30 on Sunday. 

The hotel part is not crucial to this story, but it sets a mood. In fact, Kathleen was not booked at the Hilton in Evanston, but at some other hotel, not far away, that perhaps was a Hilton property until last month. She told the taxi driver at O’Hare that she was going to the Hilton in Evanston, and that is where he took her (1818 Maple Avenue). They didn’t have reservation in her name. (Of course.) But they were able to give her a room, even though the hotel was fully booked. On Saturday afternoon, when no bus turned up (nor any crowd of wedding guests), Kathleen, suspecting that she was at the wrong hotel, booked a taxi. 

The wedding was lovely, Kathleen was so happy she went, &c &c &c. 

At the end of the reception, some nice people with whom she’d been chatting, whom she’d heard about but never met during her nearly fifty-year friendship with her Smith roommate’s family — Kathleen was the bride’s godmother — offered to give her a lift to the hotel on their way home. Only after they dropped her off and drove away did Kathleen realize that it wasn’t her hotel. It was the right hotel. At the desk, they told her that her hotel was only two blocks away, “take a left and then another left.” It would take twenty minutes to summon a taxi, so Kathleen reluctantly hoofed it, despite the fact that it was now raining. She had to ask four different passers-by for course correction on this two-block odyssey, which incidentally was longer than two blocks.

She made it home in time to tell me that she’d had some excitement. In time, that is, before I worried that I hadn’t heard from her. I told her to take off her wet things, get comfortable, and to wait for my call in half an hour. Everything was fine — but I was not really very happy to hear that Kathleen had been lost on the streets of Evanston after dark, not knowing where she was going (as she always does in New York), asking for help finding her way. 

This contributed a sort of third option to the next day’s multiple choice test, what I’ll call the Donizetti option: 

  • Kathleen was wandering the streets of Evanston, the town in which she was, as it happens, born, like Mad Carlotta in Vertigo

The question was, who was likely to call first, the highway police or the laughing academy? 

So much for the hotel. Kathleen did check out, hail a taxi (or whatever) and get herself to O’Hare by 12:30 PM, “in plenty of time,” she thought. But she was told that her flight had just taken off: she’d been booked for a flight two hours earlier than her recollection. She was now rebooked for the 1:30 flight — on standby. Luckily, someone didn’t show, someone else got bumped into First Class, and Kathleen was able to board the flight, and to call me when it landed at LaGuardia two hours later. An hour before the earliest I imagined hearing from her. She had set her phone, dutifully, to airplane mode. That’s why I couldn’t connect with her. She had been in the air! 

Why didn’t I know anything about this change in plans? Kathleen certainly wondered. “I sent you all these texts.” Perhaps because I had watched The Awful Truth — finally out in Criterion Collection release — on Friday night, and then the supplementary shorts on Saturday night (when I did all that ironing) — I could hear the Irene Dunne in Kathleen’s voice. “I thought it was odd that you didn’t reply to any of them.” 

When she got home, after a very long hug, she brought out her phone. “See?” I saw a lot of texts all right, but they were in green balloons, not blue ones, meaning that they’d been sent to someone outside the AT&T/Apple system (I never know which it is), and to someone whose number, instead of my name, stood at the top of the screen. A little scrolling revealed that she had sent all her well-intentioned texts to the taxi outfit that provided her ride from the wrong hotel to Faith, Hope, and Charity in Winnetka. That was, after all, her most recent text contact. 

“You thought it was a little odd that I didn’t reply,” I said, reminding her that I always reply to her texts, even if only to say, “Thanks for the text!” (I have that on autofill: thxt.) “I could have been a little dead.” 

When she said — and she did so in really her most Irene-Dunne-like voice, clearly intending an effective self-defense — “Here I thought I was sending you all these helpful texts!” I replied, “It’s just as if you sent a bunch of confidential memos to the wrong client!” 

Even Kathleen agrees that she has never been wrong about a flight. I’ll leave it there. 

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