Life Style

The sparks from her wit set off the Los Angeles pyrotechnics.

 

I met my wife at a Fourth of July party held on the third of July.

It was a big party hosted by a couple who worked in advertising. So a lot of L.A. ad agency people were there.

At one point, I retreated to the quiet of the den. I had just gotten settled when in walked a very attractive woman. She said to me, “I know who you are. You’re the copy chief at Doyle Dane Bernbach.”

“And who are you?” I asked.

“Linda Bort.”

I threw her a deserved compliment. “Are you a model?”

“No,” she said. “But thanks for asking.”

I asked if she had come to the party with someone. She said she had but told me not to worry because he was having a lobotomy in the morning. I laughed, completely captivated by her sense of humor.

We ended up talking on the terrace until the early hours of the morning. We learned a great deal about each other. I had always wanted to be a writer. Linda, however, never knew what she wanted to do. She told me that she once took an aptitude test that suggested she become either a mechanic or a missionary. Still uncertain what to do in life, she enrolled at Syracuse University and became the first Jewish woman accepted by a sorority.

After two years she left Syracuse, saying the city had only two seasons: sweat and slush. Thinking her future might be in the fashion world, she moved to New York and lived at the Barbizon, the hotel for women, while attending Tobe-Coburn’s school of fashion merchandising. Running on a platform of bagels every Sunday, she became president of her class. She also became a fashion buyer but soon realized a buyer spent a lot of time on her feet, so she switched to a sit-down job. She became a fashion writer.

Good move. And a good move to sunny Los Angeles, where an ad agency offered her a job as a copywriter. When the Baskin-Robbins client asked the agency to suggest names for new ice cream flavors, Linda suggested Statutory Grape. She also told me about attending a two-hour meeting to decide if a hair-coloring product produced “believable” or “unbelievable” hair.

We immediately started dating. I told her I had been married and divorced and didn’t think I’d ever want to marry again. To which she said, “Who asked you?” Two years later, in 1974, we were married under a giant oak tree at a friend’s home in the Hollywood Hills. When Linda was asked what time the wedding would take place, she said, “When my hair’s done.”

The marriage lasted 35 years, and we had a son, John. Like most marriages, ours had its ups and downs. The downs mostly occurred when Linda was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She had always been an active person. She particularly loved to golf. She was a natural — beautiful swing, long drives. She golfed every Wednesday with her golfing ladies and said she never wanted Wednesday to end. After her MS diagnosis, her golfing days and her precious independence came to an end.

So did our way of life. Linda was 48 when diagnosed, which we were told was just about the last age MS might occur. As the months passed, she went through the various stages of coping with the disease. First a cane. Then a walker.

Then a wheelchair. Then a motorized chair. Caregivers came and went. I learned to operate the wheelchair-accessible van we bought. She learned how to guide her chair down the ramp that unfolded at the rear of the van.

Linda loved to play blackjack, so I rolled her into our van and drove to Laughlin, Nev. At the blackjack table, she mentioned to the dealer that we hoped to win enough money to go to Lourdes, France.

All through the 10 years of her illness, she never lost her sense of humor.

When she pretty much lost the use of her right hand, I would often massage it. She never failed to remind me that her middle finger still worked and could be raised in an upright position.

During the last year of her life, on an ambulance ride to the hospital, she yelled to the driver, “Can we stop for a pizza?”

She excelled as a writer, but I believe she was meant to do what she always did. With her wit and wisdom, she made the lives of the people she touched a little bit better, including me, our son and my daughter from my first marriage. (My daughter wrote a book exalting stepmothers.)

When Linda died, every call, card and email I received mentioned how much they loved her sense of humor and how much they loved her.

Linda made me feel special because I knew how special she was. And she thought, no matter how much I protested, that I was the best writer on earth. I’ll always remember that first, funny conversation we had about her friend’s lobotomy and I’ll always remember our last conversation.

Linda was in a nursing facility, and on the occasion of our anniversary, I asked her if she knew what anniversary it was. “Our 34th?” she asked weakly. “No,” I said. “That would make our son illegitimate. It’s our 35th.”

“Happy anniversary,” she whispered. “Happy anniversary,” I replied. Those were our last words to each other.

On our first anniversary, I wrote Linda a little poem about the night we met. She loved the poem and often quoted it during our years together.

The poem is this:

The Fourth of July is now unheard of.

The real pyrotechnics are on the third of.

Indeed they were.

The author is a freelance writer. He lives in Palm Desert where he teaches creative writing and writes a column for Sun City’s monthly magazine.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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