I met my one and only ex wife, Brenda, at a small college on the banks of the Mississippi River in the northeast corner of Missouri. We were married about a year later. We were great friends, and sure, we loved each other, but the main motivation for getting married was so we could live together and stop having sex in the back of a car on the edge of deserted corn fields.It was the only way we could remain on speaking terms with our parents, and back in 1967 living “without benefit of clergy” wasn’t as prevalent as it is these days.
Back then I had a small beach ride tour business on the Outer Beach in Orleans on Cape Cod. The summer after our wedding was a financial disaster. Our season ran from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the month of July we only had ONE day that was completely without rain or fog. People don’t take beach excursions on days like that. Despite the fact that I was an instructional assistant in the English and Drama departments at college and still had some GI Bill educational benefits coming we were too deeply in debt from the summer debacle that we had to move to Chicago where we had friends and get work to pay off our bills. We found work at a publishing house.. Brenda as a production manager for one magazine and I was assistant editor of another.
At the end of our second year with the publisher Brenda got a raise that amounted to eight cents an hour and I did slightly better with twelve cents. We packed our stuff into our Pinto station wagon and headed to Florida. I got a job as a copy writer at an advertising agency and Brenda did temp work for Kelley Girl. We didn’t know a soul in Fort Lauderdale.
One day I noticed a small item in the newspaper announcing a casting call for the local little theater group. Both Brenda and I had been heavily involved in the theater at college. As I said, I had been an instructional assistant in the Drama Department teaching stage craft (I did this simply by staying a couple of chapters ahead of the students) and Brenda did a lot of back stage work with costuming, props and lighting. I suggested we volunteer to do back stage work with the local group as a way of meeting people with similar interests as our own.
The director and star of the play (The Odd Couple) had an idea for forming a traveling theatrical troupe and invited the two of us to become part of the company. We built a portable stage, light and sound systems and put on one night stands at condominiums, country clubs and large restaurants from West Palm Beach to Key West and out to Belle Glade on the banks of Lake Okeechobee. Brenda was the Stage Manager and I handled publicity. The Gold Coast Players, as we were called, did quite well artistically even if we weren’t a financial success. We even made it to the front page of Variety.
In the summer of our second year we were invited to put on a “dinner-theater night” at a local resort hotel. They were looking for a way of drumming up business for their restaurant which languished at that time of the year. The night was a smash success. The show was Goodbye, Charlie and the star was Veronica Lake. It was the last thing she did before she died. It was so successful the resort signed us up to be a year-round venture. Over the next couple of years what had no become “Gemini Productions” (because Brenda and one of our two partners shared that zodiac sign) expanded and we had adjunct theaters in North Miami Beach and Boca Raton.
I was now the assistant Public Relations Director at a large hospital in Fort Lauderdale and was writing at least one freelance magazine article a month. On the theatrical front there were always four plays going on at any one time and we were raking in considerable critical acclaim. We garnered “Best Play,” “Best Actor,” “Best Actress,” Best Supporting Actor” awards against competition from the Big Three: the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami and the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, all of which used big-name actors whose names were known world-wide. Several of our actors went on to play regular roles on television soaps, others appeared in small parts in such films as Porky’s, Porky’s II, Ace Ventura and Cocoon among others.
With four plays going at once (they would rotate through each of the theaters and another would be in rehearsal) I rarely saw Brenda anymore. Her normal work-day was 16 to 18 hours a day and her spare time was taken up with heavy drinking and cocaine. Sometimes we might only see each other a couple of hours a week. She did take off for several days so we could attend the wedding of one of my brothers up in Orlando. While there I told her she had to make a decision. It was either me or the theater. But as soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew I couldn’t make that demand because there were certain things I wouldn’t do for her. For instance, I would never move back to Missouri or Chicago and endure another winter. And if there were things I wouldn’t do for her then I had no right to demand she make life-altering decisions at my insistence. We muddled along for another six months and then Brenda said she wanted a divorce. We split our meager possessions down the middle and she moved out of our apartment and into the house with the theater company’s director and his partner.
We went to the company’s lawyer and asked him how much it would cost us for him to do a “no-fault” divorce for us. He said, since we had given him quite a bit of business in the past couple of years, he would do it, “as a favor,” for $300. We’re talking 36 years ago and $300 was quite a lot more than it is today, especially since I was no longer working at the hospital but had started to follow my bliss and was working for minimum wage as a deck hand on a dinner cruise boat.
“You mean to tell me,” I said, “you want to charge us $300 to have your secretary type our names in the blanks of some forms and make a trip to the courthouse? Forget it, I’ll do it myself.”
“Oh,” he sneared, “if you buy one of those kits they have out, you’ll be sorry.”
“I don’t need a kit,” I said. “I’ve been around you for a couple of years now and one thing I’ve learned is you aren’t as smart as you think you are.”
I went to the law library at the County Courthouse and asked to see the forms used for a “no fault” divorce. I copied them on the Xerox machine for a nickle a page; a total of less than a half dollar as I remember. Next I went to a stationary store and bought a small package of legal-sized paper, went home and typed everything out inserting my name and Brenda’s in the $300 slots.
When I’d typed everything out I went to the Clerk of Court’s Office and spread everything, except the final order, in front of the clerk and said, “What do you need to get this thing started?”
The girl said, “This, and this,” picking a couple of the forms out of the bunch.
“What happens now?”
“We’ll send a copy to your wife. If she wants to fight it then she has to file a reply. If she wants the divorce, too, she doesn’t do anything. We’ll send you a notice when you have to file the next papers.”
I called Brenda and told to expect the letter and to just ignore it.
Over the next few weeks I returned to the Clerk’s Office at their direction until I was down to the Final Decree and was given a date to meet with a judge. I was told I had to bring someone with me who could testify to the fact that I’d been living in Broward County for at least six months prior to filing for the divorce.
When the court date arrived the only person who could arrange some time off to go with me was a very buxom, six foot tall red head who was the receptionist at the dinner cruise company. We were shown into the judge’s chambers. He sat at his desk, looked at me, stared at Twyla’s enormous breasts, looked back at me and stared once again at Twyla’s chest as if he hadn’t seen it the first time.
“No, your honor,” I said, snapping him out of his fantasies. “She’s not the reason for the divorce. She’s a co-worker here to testify to my residence status.”
The judge asked me a couple of simple questions and then Twyla was sworn in and said she’d known me for almost a year and that I was a resident of the County.
“So,” the judge asked, “why the divorce?”
I gave him a run-down of the past couple of years, leaving out the part about the booze and drugs, and told him that Brenda and I were just going in two different directions with our lives and wanted to end the marriage before we ended up hating each other.
“Okay,” the judge said and signed the papers. “Take these down to the Clerk of Court and have it recorded.”
It was done. At the Clerk’s office I was given two prices for having the papers recorded, one of which was to have them notarized. I opted for the notarization and was charged $32.50. After I took Twyla back to the office I went up to the theater where Brenda was running the rehearsal for the newest show.
“Well, it’s done,” I told her, “and for a fraction of what that bottom-lawyer wanted to charge us.”
“How much was it?”
“Thirty two fifty,” I said.
“Wait a minute,” Brenda replied and walked off to the sound and lighting booth. She returned a couple of minutes later and handed me $16.25. “I bet it lasts just as long as if we’d spent three hundred,” she said.
It has for the last thirty six years so far.