tagLoving Wives500 Annies Epilogue

500 Annies Epilogue

byqhml1©

I couldn't leave it alone. Sorry.

...................................................

"Good evening, listeners. This is Barbara Barnes, host of the newly syndicated Book Report, on PRI, coming from WORD, 86.7 on your dial.

This is our very first broadcast, and I can't think of anyone I would want to be my first guest more than Joe Williams, author of '500 Annies, and 'Average Joes', both best sellers. His series of interviews with me eighteen months ago actually was the catalyst for launching my new program. As you may be aware, the program got us two PRI awards and a Peabody. The rest, as they say, is history."

"Speaking of history, we're repeating it somewhat. The interview is coming to you live from Alumni Hall, and we're in the middle of our fall pledge drive. Once again, all proceeds from his appearance will go to the station. Also again, he has donated 500 copies of his latest book, 'Average Joes', to the pledge drive. And as before, they are all autographed."

The place was packed again. Joe could never understand why people thought he was so interesting. He and Barbara were on stage, two stools and a spotlight, just as before.

"Good evening, Joe. It's so good to see you again. How have you been since we last met?"

"I'm fine Babs[he had learned she preferred to be called that], How are you? I understand congratulations are in order. How does it feel to be a newlywed?"

"Wonderful! Listeners, I don't know if you're aware of it, but I recently wed Mike Perkins, my engineer. It's been three glorious months so far."

There was a smattering of applause.

"Joe, I need to confess something. After our last interview, I took your words to heart. I gave Mike a copy of your book, a big kiss, and told him to read it. He did, then we did. Get married I mean. I owe you a debt of thanks."

He grinned.

"Nonsense! I'm sure he would have figured it out eventually. But still, glad I could help."

"Speaking of newlyweds, how's your wife Maria?"

"She and the kids are doing fine, thanks for asking."

Smoothly transitioning into the meat of the interview, she asked him how his new book was doing.

"Oh, it's doing great. It's not as powerful as '500 Annies', but it's still a good read, and it is a bestseller."

"Yes it is, I enjoyed it immensely. Did you know both books are required reading at some colleges?"

"No, I didn't Babs. I know both books got some very nice reviews."

Babs had done her home work.

"Indeed they have. Cosmo, Vanity Fair, Modern Woman, and a host of other female oriented magazines gave them high marks. Cosmo said and I quote: 'These books should be read by anyone who has ever been in or is in a relationship, and that pretty much describes the adult population of the world.', end quote.

"Mens Health, GQ, and most other male oriented magazines echo these sentiments. Oprah raved about them on her network. You were in the running for Times Magazines' Man Of The Year last year. Has this affected you when you go out in public?"

"It did a little at first, but where my family lives now people barely notice. They're a lot more likely to notice my wife and daughters, all very beautiful women. Some people know who I am, but to most I'm just that retired guy who lives in the old Jeffers place. I love it. Sometimes there's an advantage to being average.

"Was writing "Average Joes" easier than your first book?"

"Actually, it was a lot harder, for a variety of reasons. I never intended to write again, I thought I said all I had to say with the first book. 'Average Joes' was my wifes' idea."

.................................................

Maria went home with my ring on her finger. I was a little apprehensive about the kids' reaction, but they were, to quote Mickey, 'cool with it'.

Cassie and Tina called and asked if it was too soon to start calling me Daddy. I almost choked on my tears and told them it would make me very proud, but check with their mother first. Her response was I might as well get used to it.

The promotional tour was finally over. To paraphrase an English poet, 'I shook the dust of Europe off my shoes', and returned home.

Home was kind of an interesting term. I leased a four bedroom condo in Chicago because Maria didn't want to move the kids out of school before the end of the school year, and refused to actually live with me until the wedding.

My publishers were after me to write another book while the first was still so popular, but I really wasn't interested. I was snuggling with Maria one night, she and the kids spent almost every weekend at our condo, when she asked me if I had considered it.

"Not really. I don't think of myself as that kind of writer. "500 Annies' was actually a fluke, a combination of circumstances that can never be repeated. I don't have the imagination to write fiction, and can't think of anything else that interests me."

"Why don't you write about relationships? You seem to be good at it."

"Already done that, honey, and frankly the thought of having more women tell me their life stories doesn't appeal to me anymore."

"Who said it had to be women? Ever wonder what guys think?"

"Not really, I imagine they all think like me."

She sat up in bed and pulled my face into hers."

"That's where you're so wrong, my love. I've never met a man who thinks like you do. I doubt if you can find one who does. You're one in a million, maybe a billion, and that's probably why I love you so much."

She started kissing me and all thoughts of conversation fled my mind.

But the next evening, when they had all gone back to get ready for school the next day, and I was rattling around in that big condo by myself, I thought about what she said.

What if she was right? After all, my first book taught me I didn't have a clue what women thought, what if I was wrong about the guys.

I met with the publishers, just to kick the idea around. They got so excited it was unreal. The next day they had a contract ready and a very nice advance check. They wanted me to have it done in six months, but I had it amended to a year. I wanted to do it right.

It would still be a lot faster than the first one, but I was experienced now, so it should be easier, right?

Wrong.

The first four interviews had me thinking I had made a serious mistake. Women are for the most part far more articulate than men, and are much more comfortable talking about abstract concepts like relationships.

Men, apparently, are much more closed, less likely to 'share', especially with another guy. I got a lot of 'shit, bro, you know what I mean' when I actually had no clue.

I was complaining to Maria again, and again her insights were dead on.

"They don't open up to you because you are a guy. I bet if a woman did the interviews, you'd get a lot different results."

"Have I told you lately how much I love you? You're a genius."

I was twirling her around the kitchen while the kids laughed.

.................................................

The next Monday I checked with the publishers and they thought my plan had merit.

Maria was an assistant editor, and did a lot of fact checking and research. She would be perfect.

I went back home for a few days a month to check on my house and see my old friends, but when I walked into Harrys' this time I was on a mission.

I had asked Annie and Chad to meet me there, and asked Harry to have one of his part timers there to watch the bar. We met at Janes' table.

After we exchanged greetings and caught up with each other, I explained what I wanted.

At first they didn't know what to say, but after some more discussion they agreed to do what I asked on a trial basis.

I needed women to do the interviews. They would be my researchers, writers did this all the time. I would listen to them and collate the data, just as before, but with three interviewers it should go much faster.

Of course, they would be paid, and paid well. Anne wanted to protest, but I told her if she didn't take the money, someone else would. She didn't know I knew things were tight for them. Chads' company downsized, and he had to take a reduction in pay just to keep his job. They had two kids in college and could use the money.

"I don't feel comfortable sending you out alone, so I want Chad to accompany you, staying in the background. Of course, he will be compensated for his time. Do them on the weekends, it'll be a lot easier to connect. And you'll have to travel. I've found you don't get as much honesty if they know you."

"Here's a recorder, and a credit card in the name of my corporation. I had incorporated at the urging of my accountant and lawyer. Put everything on it, everything. Meals, lodgings, drinks of coffees you may have to buy. It will go on my expense sheet, and I can deduct it off my taxes. Don't go cheap on me either, the more you spend the bigger the deduction."

I turned to Jane. I was a little worried about her because of her disability, but she would be using her mind and not her body.

"Jane, are you interested? Same deal as Annie, but work it around Harry."

I had already talked to Harry and he thought it was a good idea, and not just for the money, they were doing all right. Funny thing about a bar, when the economy is good, people drink to celebrate, when it's bad, they drink to forget. Either way, the bar makes money.

He wanted to do something to get them both out for awhile, he thought they were stagnating sitting in the bar all day.

We talked for a little, ironing out details. Before I left they wanted to know why I picked them instead of professionals.

"I don't want professionals, I want people with an open mind. Professionals will analyze what they think you want and try to get it for you, you guys won't."

"Bedsides," I said grinning, "You're partly responsible for all this. Think of it as cleaning up a mess you helped make."

.................................................

I was a little nervous explaining my idea[actually her idea] to her. I did it over lunch at one of her favorite restaurants, a little place I found by accident that specialized in Cuban dishes. She said it reminded her of when she was a child and her Mom would cook the dishes her Dad liked so much. I mentioned how much we liked it in an interview and business picked up tremendously. The owners loved us. Our picture was displayed prominently on their wall, with the owners. I had a hard time paying for meals, and finally told Antonio if he didn't let me pay I wouldn't come back. That scared him enough to back off.

She loved the idea. She would still be employed by the publisher, but I would be paying her salary. The kids loved it too, because when we traveled on the weekends we almost always took them with us.

Things worked out pretty well as far as travel. My agent and lawyer got me a really good price for the movie rights, seems three studios were in a bidding war for them. The winning studio was going to film it in Toronto, it was much cheaper, sadly, than in the U.S., and they hired me as a technical advisor. Mostly it was to assist the screenwriter understand what I was going through and thinking at different times during the writing of the book.

To be honest, I was extremely uncomfortable with my life being made into a movie. Still couldn't understand why anyone thought a guy like me would be interesting.

Anyway, it meant I would be spending at least two months during the summer in Canada, and Maria and the kids were going with me.

..................................................

Babs interrupted the narrative when he mentioned the movie.

"What did you think of the movie?"

"I thought it was very well done, they didn't deviate much at all from the book, mostly because the screenwriter, a brilliant young man, thought the story was good enough on its' own."

"Did you like the casting?"

"I thought it was brilliant. They deserved the Golden Globe they got. I figured they would Hollywood it up with extremely attractive actors but they didn't. Later I found out there was a lot of infighting to get parts."

"It came down to John C. Riley or William H. Macy to portray me. Either one would have done an excellent job, but what was more important to me was they had that 'everyman' look, not classic Hollywood leading man type. I'm sure either one would have been great, but Mr. Macy was spectacular."

"Amy Adams was a surprise as Annie, it wasn't a very big part, and she is a very attractive woman. They dressed her down a bit, but after all, the original Annie was, and I guess still is, an attractive woman."

Babs started to ask if he had any contact with Annie since she last talked, but thought better of it.

"What did you think of Selma Hyack playing the part of Maria?"

"I loved it, both are very attractive ladies. They actually became friends. You have no idea how surprised I was one day to walk into the house we had leased to find them in the kitchen cooking together, not to mention how blown away the kids were."

He stopped for just a minute.

"I guess what surprised me most of all was the fierce competitions for the cameos of some of my interviews."

"I heard Sally Fields threatened to actually kill people to get the part of Annie 337. Beyonce Knowles surprised me with how good she was as the abused Annie, but the newcomer they got to play Annie 499 surprised everyone with her performance. It led to several very good roles for her later."

Babs interjected once again.

"let me run some numbers by you. It was the top grossing film of the year. It won Golden Globes for casting, screenwriting, best supporting actress for Ms. Hyack, best leading man for Mr. Macy, and a tie for best cameo between Sally Fields and the newcomer Jannie Pruitt."

"At the Oscars, it was nominated for movie of the year, best actor, best supporting actress, screen writing, and casting.

Ms. Hyack won, Mr. Macy was just barely edged out, and the screen writer and the casting directors all won. I understand you and your wife were there."

"Yes, just another episode of unreal happenings in my life. It was funny, Maria was dressed to the nines, and she was stunning. I had on a tux, and didn't look too bad myself, but on the red carpet and at the after party they ignored me and wondered exactly who she was. She was embarrassed, but I thought it was funny."

"I watched the show. She was stunning. How did it feel being one of the presenters?"

"Again it was unreal. I only did it as a favor to the director, and I was really happy when Bill got it for best screenplay based on my book."

"Any plans to make 'Average Joes' into a movie?"

"I don't know. The same studio that did '500 Annies' optioned the movie rights, but I have no idea if they're going to do anything with it."

"Let's hope they do. If it's half as good as the first, it will be well worth watching."

Turning back to the original topic of the actual writing of the book, she asked him what, in his opinion, was the major difference between the writing of the books.

"As I said, this one was a lot harder. Men don't vocalize as well as women. So as I listened to the interviews I tried to hear what wasn't being said. It's kind of funny, while women expect men to read their moods and emotions some times, men seem to think women should actually know they love them. Where the ladies are seeking constant affirmation of their love, men take it for granted they shouldn't have to say anything, because a woman just knows."

He laughed.

"I tell you Babs, if humans didn't have such a high sex drive, we would have disappeared off the face of the planet thousands of years ago."

There was a ripple of laughter from the audience.

"I'd have to agree with you on that one, Joe. I've only been married three months, and already it's like pulling teeth to get him to say he loves me."

She turned and faced the side of the stage, where Mike had his equipment set up, and stuck her tongue out. The stage crew hit him with a light, and he looked like a deer caught in the headlamps of an oncoming car.

"Glad I don't have that problem, I'm happy to say 'I love you' often."

"Whether he'll admit it or not, Babs, we men like to hear it. And I think you just proved your point."

Babs was looking at Joe, and didn't see Mike get up and approach her. He grabbed her head, planted a deep kiss on her, and smiled. Then he took her microphone.

"I love you, Barbara Barnes Perkins, and will until the day I die. There, now it's recorded for posterity."

Babs lost her professional demeanor and blushed, before smiling. Joe was the only one close enough to see the moisture in her eyes.

The crowd roared.

Joe was chuckling as Mike repositioned the microphone.

"Thanks Mike, glad we cleared that up. And Babs, promise me you'll leave that in when you rebroadcast this."

"Are you kidding? I'm gonna have it put on my phone as his personal ringtone."

More laughter.

"Would you like to take a few questions from the audience, Joe?"

"Sure. I always get surprised and sometimes it's fun."

Soon they had a stage hand going through the audience with a wireless mike.

The first question, from a woman roughly his age, was about his marriage.

"I've seen you new wife, she's quite the beauty. Do you ever compare her to Annie?"

He reflected for just a second before answering.

"Wow, so much for easy questions. The answer is no, I don't. It would be an exercise in futility. Annie was quiet the last few years, and was never demonstrative. Maria is vocal, and likes to touch. We're almost never together when we're not holding hands, rubbing shoulders, or brushing up against each other. If she doesn't like something she lets you know pretty quick, and if she does she lets you know even quicker. Usually, I know exactly where I stand with her, whatever's on her mind usually comes out her mouth. I like that, it makes my life easier."

"Annie and I were together in our youth, when Maria and I got married she was just shy of forty eight, and I was fifty four. "

"To actually compare them I would have had to have parallel experiences with them, and I didn't. I'm glad actually, the memories I have of Annie, good and bad, can't compare to the memories Maria and I are making."

"Well, damn, I guess I did just compare them."

The woman smiled.

"I remember reading something you said about her being half Cuban and half Irish, both groups known for being temperamental at times, does she have a temper?"

"Yes she does, but luckily I've only experienced it once, and that was enough. We've talked about that episode, and I feel sure it will never be repeated."

.................................................

After the Christmas break, Maria returned to work. The women almost immediately noticed the ring, and they loved it. The fact that she was in Italy when she got engaged added an extra dimension of romance to the story. Plus, she had announcement put in her hometown paper, and the Sun-Times put it into their celebrity column.

My lawyer didn't find out I was engaged until March, when I stopped by to sign some papers. I told her in a few months I'd probably be changing my will, my family was about to get a whole lot bigger and I wanted to make sure everyone was covered.

Instead of congratulating me, she went ballistic.

"You did what? Why didn't you call me first?"

I couldn't understand her.

"Why should I have called you? Did I need your permission to fall in love?"

"No, damn it, but you went into it naked. Now she's going to expect all sorts of things. Never mind, I'll word the prenup to take care of that."

"Why would I need a prenup? I intend to spend the rest of my life with this woman. If it does goes bad, we'll split up, she'll get fifty percent, and we'll go our separate ways. I can't imagine that happening."

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