humour, personal, Uncategorized

Lola Jacuzzi and life’s whirlpool of regret

Uncle Jack

A few years back, I had the good fortune to get to know my wife’s great-uncle, Jack. We would see him whenever we went to visit her family in California. Jack was well into his 80s and he lived in a little studio apartment that stood over the garage of the family’s beach house. Whenever we visited, we’d stay in the main house, downstairs. We would see Jack almost every day, as he was always about doing repairs and maintenance on the property. This work was his way of paying back my wife’s aunt Donna – his niece – for letting him stay there for free. He was a capable man who was able to fix anything and Donna was grateful to have him around.

There was still something of the all-American boy about Jack, even in his old age. He wasn’t tall, but he had managed to maintain the ramrod-straight posture of his youth, had a respectably full head of grey hair and piercing, but gentle eyes. He looked younger than his years, projecting an old school, quiet confidence. He was what they used to call ‘a man’s man’ – soft-spoken but incapable of greeting you with anything but the firmest of handshakes.

He had been quite a hit with the ladies back in his day. Family lore has it that, at some point in the late 1950s or early 1960s, Uncle Jack got to know a young lady named Lola Jacuzzi, who came from an Italian-American family of inventors and entrepreneurs. I don’t know how serious things were between them, but at some point, they broke up.

Her name was Lola

Jack went on to marry someone else. He would get divorced and married again. And then again. And then yet again. In total, he took four trips down the aisle.

Lola went on to get married as well and soon after, her family hit the big time, with their invention of a hot whirlpool bath in 1968 – the Jacuzzi. The device, an innovation over the existing hot bubbly bath technologies of the day, turned her family into a household name and brought them great wealth.

For decades after, aunt Donna spoke of Ms Jacuzzi as the one who got away.

“Can you imagine if they had gotten married?” She can often be heard to say, even today. “They should have never broken up! What a life Jack would have had if he had stayed with that Lola Jacuzzi!”

Within my wife’s family, Lola’s name became a kind of short-hand catchphrase for any kind of grand but missed opportunity. If someone got close to the winning lottery numbers, that would be a Lola Jacuzzi moment. Or if they sold a car that later became a collectable, that would be “Lola Jacuzzi all over again.”

Lola Jacuzzi – the name itself was like something out of a fairy tale or a comic book – adding to the power of this myth. It’s an appelation that just drips with glamour, wealth, fame and a certain vavavavoom factor. I don’t actually know what Ms Jacuzzi looked like, but I picture her as someone in a silver sequined cocktail dress, sporting a mink stole and a necklace worth more than most people’s houses.

That’s probably not true, but I’ll never know for sure because, despite my curiosity, I never actually asked Jack any questions about Lola Jacuzzi. I felt like it would have been intrusive to ask. But Jack never struck me as the regretful type.

He had a confident and relaxed persona that made me think of a retired leading man who had once been a star in 1940s movie serials. You could imagine him in his youth, saving damsels in distress, defusing bombs with seconds to spare or smashing Nazis with his fists of steel.

The life he actually lived wasn’t too far from that.

He grew up in California during the Great Depression and went on to be a star quarterback in high school. During World War II, he was a pilot who flew bomber runs out of Ancona Italy. His plane took a few hits but he made it through unscathed. I’ve seen some of the old photos and unsurprisingly, he cut quite a dashing figure, standing proudly in front of his B-25.

After the war he came back, served in the Air Force reserves and worked as an engineer, staying with the same company for nearly 50 years. He didn’t fully retire until he was well into his late 70s, as his company kept calling him back into service to consult on projects and to mentor new engineers. He was respected as the kind of man who ‘gets things done.’

A few years ago, Jack was diagnosed with cancer, but he refused all treatment. He wouldn’t even go to the doctor. His only concession to illness was that he left the little apartment at the beach house and moved in with one of his children. He was 94 years old when he passed. He left behind eight children, a stable of grandchildren and even a few great-grandchildren. Everyone liked Jack.

Lola life lessons

Jack lived a hell of a life and I really believe that he was not the kind of person who would have expended any energy at all thinking about ‘what might have been’ regarding any aspect of his life in general, or Lola Jacuzzi in particular.

Not everyone has the strength of character that Jack had. I don’t.

I think about Lola Jacuzzi all the time.

Well, not her exactly, but rather what she represents. At some point, all that talk about Lola took root in my psyche. Now, whenever I look back at my life and my own story, a long list of ‘could-haves’, ‘should-haves’ and ‘what ifs’ present themselves to me. They stand before me, lined up on a stage together, presenting an orderly tableau.

They are all Lola Jacuzzis in their own way, each of them standing there as a reminder of my regrets – decked out in sparkly jewels and shimmering cocktail dresses that make them impossible not to notice.

  • When I was young, I was fascinated by the San Francisco that I saw in movies. I dreamed of living there someday, maybe on a houseboat in the harbour, like Chevy Chase’s character in Foul Play. When it was time to go off to college, I was awarded a scholarship to the University of San Francisco. It felt like a dream come true, but when I flew out to visit, something felt a bit off about the university and the city. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the city and the school just weren’t working for me. At the last minute, I changed my mind and chose to go to New York University instead. It was a safer choice. Closer to home. I still wonder what it would have been like had I ignored my misgivings and chosen life on the west coast. 

That was my Wanda Whirlpool.

  • NYU is a very good school and I was happy there. But New York City is ludicrously expensive and a tough place get by in. A year or so before I graduated, I discovered a large studio apartment for sale in the heart of the West Village. They wanted $80,000 for the place. I spoke to my dad and tried to convince him to buy it as an investment (I would pay rent to help cover the mortgage). My dad considered it, but changed his mind based after his accountant told him it wouldn’t be tax deductible. That apartment would have been worth millions today. It was right on Bleecker Street. It was a studio, but it was big. High ceilings. Southern exposure. Huge windows. It looked like the apartment that the Friends lived in. The next fifteen or so years would see me throwing my money away, renting various crappy little apartments, wondering how much better my life would have been, had I been able to convince my father to have ignored his idiot accountant and invested in a sure thing.

That’s how I met Zelda Zamboni.

  • A couple of years after graduating, I was paying rent like some schlub, working as a producer on television documentaries, when an eccentric but well-established publisher offered me a job as the editor in chief of a new magazine with a focus on history and nostalgia. It would have been a huge promotion from where I was working, but the offices were located outside of New York City and the job was more than a little bit outside of my comfort zone. I’d either have to do a long commute to Connecticut or move out of the city. After considering it for a while, I turned the job down and stayed in TV. It would be many years before someone else offered me that kind of opportunity. I can’t help but wonder what it would have meant to my career if I had said yes.

Thus was born Fifi Ferrari. 

Regrets, I’ve had a few. Just a few.

Each of these ladies represents a missed opportunity. A path not taken.
A question mark that hangs over me. Something to wonder about and ruminate over.

I’m no uncle Jack.

I don’t have any of his old-school confidence. Maybe if I had lived through half of the adventures he did in his life, then I would have turned out differently. But I am who I am – a person who generally spends as much of his time looking back as I do looking forward.

Except when it comes to one thing. One very important thing…. 

It’s worth noting here that none of my Lola Jacuzzis were actually flesh and blood. They were opportunities, moments in time or choices I made. But they aren’t people who I had a romantic entanglement with. None of them represents love lost, missed or abandoned.

That’s the one aspect of my life where I have no regrets.

And the credit for that – ironically – goes to Wanda Whirlpool, Zelda Zamboni and Fifi Ferari. Because without then, I would never have met or fallen in love with the woman who would eventually become my wife.

You see, we met while I was attending NYU. If I had been living in San Francisco rather than New York, I would have never have encountered that girl with spiky-short blonde hair at a friend’s gathering.
Way to go Wanda!

If I had succeeded in getting my dad to buy that fabulous West Village apartment, I wouldn’t have run into that same girl again in the East Village, where I was renting some shabby little place.
Good one Zelda!

And if I had moved out of New York to Connecticut to take that magazine job, just as that girl and I started dating, maybe our relationship would never have had the chance to really take hold.
Thank you Fifi!

That was nearly 30 years ago and we’re still together.

I don’t really ascribe to the theory that everything happens for a reason. There are too many bad things in the world for me to believe that. But I do think that it’s worth thinking at least as much about the things that have gone right for you, as the things that could have gone better.

I think Jack knew that, in his own way, which is why he never really looked back.

My wife has taught me that lesson too. Gradually. She doesn’t have a catchy and exotic name like Lola Jacuzzi. She’s not famous. And she certainly doesn’t have a family fortune. But I love her and I’ve never looked back on our life together with even a hint of regret in all those years. I count myself as incredibly lucky.

So maybe instead of worrying about the things I missed out on, it’s time for me to accept that – in my own life story – I am Lola Jacuzzi.

Blessed. In all the ways that really matter.

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