My cousin Norman gives new meaning to the word single. He is not your typical bachelor. A bachelor takes his singlehood seriously.
A bachelor is into decor. His pad consists of a state-of-the-art entertainment area, track lighting, faux marble walls, chrome and leather furniture and a king-size water bed. In the corner is a Nordic Track. A bachelor has an elaborate stereo system with speakers in every room. His refrigerator contains a bottle of champagne, a quart of orange juice, two limes and a jar of caviar that has been sitting there since the 1990s.
Cousin Norman is the antithesis of all that. All that he needs to make him happy is his old sofa, his Guy Lombardo records, a TV set and a six pack of beer. His walls are stained a weird shade of puce. This was not a decorating decision, but the result of not having had a cleaning lady for the past five years. A bachelor like Norman would never qualify as "eligible." "Eligible" connotes possibilities. Norman is ineligible. He's a man who needs looking after, much like a lovable pet.
When it comes to fashion statements, he's no fashionista. Norman's shirts are stained, his hair is askew and he perpetually perspires. Bachelors never perspire. They're big on showers and always emerge looking fresh. The closer they are to their bathrooms, the more secure they feel. Bachelors smell of after-shave cologne. Norman smells of pepperoni. Bachelors dress to kill. Norman's clothes make others want to kill him. He prefers plaids and stripes. The only problem is, he wears them together.
Cousin Norman is the worst kind of single guy: he never married. There was no woman to teach him the ropes except his mother, my Aunt Barbara, who refers to Norman as: "my son, the prince."
There is nothing princely about Norman, although he does have one attribute: he performs the best root canal in town.
"My son-the-prince's root canals are legendary," Aunt Barbara tells everyone.
"Yes," I say. "Norman is a very good dentist."
"Not dentist, darling," she corrects. "EN-DO-DON-TIST."
I once asked Norman why he never married.
"I'm looking for a woman with perfect teeth," he said. "I once thought I found her, but I discovered that she never flossed. A woman's mouth reflects her personality."
The one thing that Norman has going for him is his collection of vintage films from the '30s and '40s. He's a Bette Davis aficionado, and likes questioning me every chance he gets.
"Fasten your seat belts, we're in for a bumpy night." Can you name the film?" Norman asked.
"All About Eve," I said. Norman was furious. He tries stumping me, and when I get it right, he ignores me.
Norman once admitted that the girl of his dreams was Doris Day. "She was blonde, beautiful and had good teeth," he said.
"I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin," I quoted Oscar Levant's famous line.
"Wasn't she always a virgin?" Norman asked.
One night, Aunt Barbara phoned with important news. "You'll never believe what I have to tell you," she said.
I hung on her every word.
"My Norman-the-prince is in love. He's engaged to be married."
"Really?" I said, "to whom?"
"Cousin Sheila, your sister's daughter?"
"Is there another Cousin Sheila?"
"Is that legal?" I asked.
"What's the big deal? " she said. "So now, they're kissing cousins. Isn't it nice to keep it in the family?"
Last week Cousin Norman invited me over for dinner and a movie.
"Congratulations, Norman," I said. "I heard about you and Sheila."
"Yes, it's about time I settled down."
"She comes from a good family. And, although she's not too bright and not too pretty, Sheila has never had a cavity in her entire life. I admire that in a woman. I figure if I couldn't have Bette Davis or Doris Day, Sheila was the next best thing."
I sat back, bit into my salad, and screamed. I had chipped my front tooth on an olive pit.
"Norman," I shouted. " I'm holding half a tooth in my hand. Do something quick."
He sized up the situation. "A little endodontic work is in order here. Let's go over to my office. Since you're family, I'll give you my bargain rate: $2,500, and you'll be as good as new."
Relatives like Norman give our family a very bad name.
Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.judithmarks-white.com.