I’ve Got a Secret

I thought I had struck social gossip gold when my friend Paula let slip a delicious bit of intelligence straight into my eager ears. Paula and I were participating in a
real-time, interactive social dialogue — meaning, we were on the phone — trying to schedule a lunch date. This was no easy task, as we are modern women who live modern, chronically busy lives that become grist for oodles of “how-to-simplify-your-life” type of books and articles that we, being so busy, have no time to read. Paula consulted her PDA and ticked off the days she was not available.

“Monday I can’t take a lunch break, Tuesday I’ve got a doctor’s appointment, Wednesday I’ve got a business lunch, and Thursday’s out since I promised to shop with Barbara for a wedding dress.”

“Barbara?” I asked. “Barbara’s engaged?”

“Omigod,” Paula said. “I cannot believe I said that. And I was sworn to secrecy!”

“You know you can trust me,” I said, immensely satisfied at suddenly finding myself “in the know.” Inexplicably, Barbara had remained one of our social set’s most eligible singles for a long time. News that she was about to don the lace veil was the most exciting information I had heard since I learned that our very nasty neighbor’s pipes had burst. It was hard to decide which news was more delightful.

“You can’t tell anybody,” Paula said. “But the engagement is going to be announced in synagogue this Saturday. Boy, are people going to be surprised!”
“I’ll make sure to be there, and don’t worry. CIA agents couldn’t drag it out of me, unless of course they threatened to yell at me or drag me to some European detention center,” I said.

Although Paula and I failed to locate a single day anytime in the following six months when we were both available for a midday sandwich, the conversation was still a rousing success by my standards. I walked a little taller — a novel feeling, as my kids are now so big that in my entire household I am only taller than the dog — just knowing a juicy news tip that almost nobody else in the world knew.

An hour later, the phone rang.

“Make sure to come to synagogue on Saturday,” Mimi said. “There’s going to be a big announcement.”

Her I’ve-got-a-secret tone irritated me. I thought I was the only one, other than Paula, the bride and the groom, to know about the hitching. I had kept my end of the bargain and kept my trap shut. But I had suddenly tumbled from the social gossip elite, and I didn’t like it.

“Yes, I’ve heard,” I said, in a studied, nonchalant tone.

“How?” Mimi demanded. “Nobody is supposed to know.”

“Well, you know, and I know also. Why are you calling people if it’s supposed to be such a secret?”

“I don’t want to deprive people of the chance to be there when the news breaks,” she said. “This is BIG.”

“Have you also alerted CNN and the Los Angeles Times?” I asked.

“No need. The Men’s Club president already works for one of the wire services,” Mimi said.

The same day, I got an e-mail from Barbara herself.

“I know that Paula spilled the beans,” the bride noted. “But please don’t tell anyone else. I really want this to be a surprise.”

“Don’t worry,” I replied. “I wouldn’t tell anyone even if I was promised the jumbo jackpot of the California lottery, unless it has gone over $23 million. After all, everyone has her price.”

I kept mum. But the next day in the market, I bumped into one of the synagogue staff.

“You didn’t hear this from me,” he said sotto voce near the tomatoes, “but there’s going to be a big announcement in services on Saturday. Only thing is, I can’t tell you exactly what it is. Wish I could,” he said, clearly relishing the presumption that he knew something that I didn’t.

“Somebody already beat you to the punch,” I said. “I learned about this three days ago,” I said.

“Three days ago? That’s impossible. This news is supposed to be hot.” He sounded hurt.

I shrugged. “What can I tell you? As Ben Franklin said, ‘Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.'”

Over the next few days, I received no fewer than four phone calls, three e-mails and two unsubtle hints accompanied by winks about the big scoop that was supposed to have remained a bigger secret than the Manhattan Project but had leaked like a New Orleans levee.

Barbara e-mailed me again: “I’m not accusing you of anything, but news of my engagement has somehow already traveled round and round. I only accidentally told 12 people, and they each promised not to breathe a word of it. Only two days left till the announcement, so please don’t tell anybody else.”

At that moment, the king-sized down duvet that I planned to get for Barbara as a wedding gift shrunk to a three-speed blender. I may be a writer, but I’m no leaker.

On Saturday I arrived at services early. The place was standing-room-only, with people spilling out into the halls. This never happened, not even on Yom Kippur. It was as if God Himself had been announced as the guest speaker.

When the prayers were over, we waited for the expected broadcast. The women were all on the edges of their seats. Two even slid off.

The air in the room was electric, as the rabbi dropped hint after hint about the identity of the bride and the groom. Finally, to great fanfare, he announced Barbara’s engagement to a man whom most of us did not know. Not that it mattered. Two more singles had been rescued from the cauldron of singles events, blind dates, wretched dates, wretched blind dates and Internet dating services. We sang and danced as if we had just discovered and trademarked the recipe for world peace, or least the recipe for a good nonfat cheesecake.

It was probably the worst-kept secret in the history of Western Civilization, yet for all that, the broadcast lost none of its thrilling quality when it became officially public. Ben Franklin would have had a great laugh.

I Do! — But Not to You

Ting, ting. A dinner spoon rapped on a glass at our table of single wedding guests.

"Let’s go around the table," another guest said, "and let everyone say a bit about himself."

One by one, my seatmates at Table No. 3 delivered an awkward Who-Am-I.

Another wedding, where I’m an FOB — Friend of the Bride — and not the groom.

In "My Best Friend’s Wedding," Cameron Diaz told Julia Roberts: "He’s got you on a pedestal and me in his arms."

During my early to mid-30s, a dozen years ago, I played Julia to a bevy of Camerons. I dated or befriended a parade of wounded birds who had lost their trust in men and looked to me to restore it.

My effect was magnetic: I either attracted them toward some new sap or repelled them into the arms of an old flame.

In turn, each platonic paramour gushed over our easy intimacy. "I never knew I could feel this open and comfortable with a man who isn’t gay!" Just what a stud would want to hear. Did I need a shot of testosterone? A swig of ginseng tea? One siren proposed I join her sometime for a nap. In her eyes and theirs, I was "sweet," or worse, "safe."

But I didn’t want to be safe. Safe guys finish last. I had learned that by dating Beth.

Prelude to a Bris

I was waiting for a bris to begin when I first set eyes on Beth Orr — forbidden fruit, a non-Jew. A voice whispered, "She may be the one; live dangerously."

It was her first bris and I offered to explain what was going on. After the ceremony I asked to see her again.

"But Paul, you can’t marry a shiksa," she said. "You said so yourself." What was I thinking?

Damage control. "Beth, If there’s a chance you’d adopt my way of life, call me." Her call never came.

One Saturday, I was shmoozing in my synagogue after the service when I ran into Beth. She was attending beginners’ service and planning to convert. There is a God.

"That’s great," I said nonchalantly. "Why don’t we talk about it over dinner?"

"I’m afraid I can’t," she said. "It could jeopardize my conversion."

Of course. "How long a wait are we talking about?"

"About seven months," she said.

I replied with the most romantic utterance I’ve ever spoken: "If Jacob could wait seven years for Rachel, I can wait seven months for you."

My honeyed words worked their devilish charm. Before long, Beth and I had shared two dinners and a movie. We could recite the names of each other’s various exes, in sequence.

At the end of Date No. 3, Beth took my hand. "Remember Misha? The tempestuous architect I was with for three years? We’re engaged. I guess you deserve the credit."

My Best Friends’ Weddings

In quick succession, Beth begot Gina (met Mr. Right after our second date), who begot Leah (accepted her best friend’s proposal after our third date), who begot Eleanor (became betrothed to her long-distance beau a week after we shared a private midnight swim), who begot Grace (who, six weeks into our "When Harry Met Sally" friendship, said "Yes" to her boyfriend of two years).

I made a career of attending my best friends’ weddings: serving as their wedding photographer, writing and performing songs for the happy couple, helping the bride load leftover braised chicken into my car to deliver — still warm — to a homeless shelter. All in a nuptials’ work.

Now, against all odds, it was Mimi’s (aka Miriam) turn. Mimi, with whom I’d shared marathon long-distance colloquies that touched our deepest chords. Mimi, who upon meeting me "knew" I was her intended. Mimi, who six months later met him.

Which is why I now sat among my fellow leftovers at Table No. 3 on Chicago’s North Side, staring down at a napkin to read, for the eighth time: "Wedding of Miriam B. and Levy S."

Ting, ting. The spoon woman was politely reminding me it was my turn to embarrass myself.

"I’m Paul Stregevsky. I’m a technical writer, I live in Atlanta and for two years I’ve been a friend of the bride."

A redhead quickly took her cigarette out of her mouth a stared. "Oh my God — you’re Paul! I’ve heard so much about you."