VANESSA.  BEAUTY QUEEN.


     The first time I met my husband was at a taping for The Dating Game. The bachelor was Fred ‘The Freezer’ Jones, a third-round NFL draft pick for the Raiders. I was bachelorette number two representing San Diego along with Ms. Los Angeles, a super sweet Latina who later became Ms. World and Ms. San Bernardino, a White girl who overdosed on Oxycontin a few years later.

     The Freezer was known for dating pageant girls. He was the typical eligible player, a love ‘em and leave ‘em type, only The Freezer would ice your wrist when he left you. Tiffany tennis bracelets were his parting gift. His father owned a string of barbershops in South Central so he didn’t grow up poor but he did grow up without his mother. I never found out what happened. He didn’t talk about her and I wouldn’t dare asked his father, Farley.

     Farley Jones did a number on his son’s attitude about women. According to Farley ‘The Numbskull’ Jones, all women were gold diggers who couldn’t be trusted. So not only did his mother abandon him when he was young under mysterious circumstances but his father had a rotation of women in and out of Fred’s life ever since. And the recurring reason why the relationships didn’t work out was, ‘She’s a gold digger and can’t be trusted’. That’s what I knew about him going into the dating game and I knew enough to know I didn’t want to know anymore. I didn’t care if he picked me or not so I just had fun with his questions.

     “Bachelorette number two, I love playing games on and off the field. What new games can you teach me to play?” He asked.

     “I’d teach you to play house because being in a relationship is just a game to you.”

     “Do we know each other?”
     “Your reputation precedes you.”
     I looked out at the audience to see my sorority sisters look at me like
what are you doing?’. I gestured that I got this.
     “Oh, okay. Feisty number two. Let me ask you something else. If we were alone on a deserted island and there was one thing you could have, what would that one thing be?”

     “I’m alone with you, right?”
     “Yeah. Me.”
     “Well, then the one thing I’d want is a rescue plane.”I saw Jocelyn hit her forehead and shake her head.

     “Bachelorette number one, the same question and you can’t say rescue plane.”

     Ms. Los Angeles replied, “If you were with me, I’d have everything I could want.”

     He chose her. When he came around the partition, I winked at him to let him know it was all in good fun. He looked confused. I don’t think he’s ever been rejected before.

     The second time I met my husband was in prison. We were both stuck in the waiting area next to the security station. I was waiting to visit my father. He was there to see his twin brother, Frank. Fred and Frank are identical twins but as different as night and day. Fred for all his childish ways is a saint while his brother Frank is doing life for drug trafficking and double homicide. Frank actually gave Fred the nickname, Freezer. When they were kids, Fred climbed into the freezer to hide from Frank in a game of hide and seek. Fortunately, Frank found him before he suffocated and Fred became The Freezer Jones.

     When you visit a maximum security prison, you spend more time waiting than you actually do visiting so you have to be prepared to be patient. You wait in line to fill out the visitor’s security log. You wait in the reception area to be called to go through security where you wait until they bring in the inmate. There's a good two hours wasted just waiting to get into the visitors’ area. I never got used to the plastic chairs or the smell of body odor mixed with Lysol. But there was one indulgence I allowed myself, Nutter Butters from the vending machine. I only eat them here and for some reason, I never had any luck with the vending machines. Especially this machine. The candy always got stuck and took my money. Every time! So I stood there staring at my one treat for the day, stuck between the glass and the spiral thingy and out of quarters when this guy walked up and said, “You have to know how to handle it”. He put in three quarters and bought something right above my wedged cookies knocking the Nutter Butters down to the drop.

     “You did it!” I was surprised.

     “If your snack is stuck, don’t buy the same thing. Get something just above it, it’ll knock your snack down.” He stood up, holdin up my cookies. “You!” He said. “You’re the girl from the show. I shouldn’t give you this, you busted my balls."

     "I was getting back at you for busting my lip." 

     "Whoa. You got me confused."

     "It was you. My dad used to get his haircut at your dad’s barbershop. The one on Crenshaw. You and your brother were playing catch and you knocked me out the way and I hit my mouth on the radiator. See this scar, right at the top of my lip? That’s you.”

     He leaned closer to me, staring at my face. “The only thing I see is your mustache.”

     “Anyway! Your brother helped me up. Your father gave me a popsicle to stop it from swelling and my dad was pissed at you so your dad comped him a free haircut for the rest of the year.”

     “And what did I do?”
     “You stood there, holding the football staring at me.” He stood there staring at me, trying to remember.

     “May I have my Nutter Butters?”
     “Take ‘em both. I don’t eat sweets.”
     “Appreciate it.” I walked away and sat across the room next to a young mom dressed in a tight black dress and her baby in a white communion gown.

     Fred sat next to me and for the next two hours, we talked. Maybe it was the surroundings or that we’ve met before but he was easy company. We talked about a lot of things, not just football and pageants. I thought he was going to be a meathead but he was funny and personable. Smarter than I gave him credit for and surprisingly open and honest. 

     “My father says all women are gold diggers.” He said.

     The baby next to me had hiccups I didn’t quite hear what he said. “Goal diggers? Like we have hopes and dreams?”

     “No, Gold, gold diggers. Like women are conniving. They present themselves one way, get you hooked then take you for what you got.”

     “Can’t you tell the difference?”

     “Yeah, I can.”

     “Then don’t worry about it. You're from Inglewood. Nobody’s going to get anything from you that you don’t want them to have. So when’s your brother getting out?”

     “He’s not.”
     Silence.
     “What about your father?”
     “Yeah, no. He killed a cop. It wasn’t his fault. He was protecting my mom."

     "Has your mom passed?"

     "Kinda of. Sort of. No, not really." I didn't say anything else because I can't talk about my mom without getting sad. I was startled when Fred squeezed my hand and held it. I looked down at his hand clasped around mine.

     “Is this okay?” He asked.
     I nod. And after a moment, I remembered something and smiled at him.

     “What?”  

     “I was thinking about the dating game. The question you asked, if we were  on a deserted island what’s the one thing I’d want?”

     “Rescue plane is a good answer.”
     “The other thing I’d want is someone to hold my hand.” 

I think we caused a little scene because in a sea of unhappiness and uncertainty we were basically on the best first date ever.