When my buddy Drew Olson called (actually, he texted and e-mailed -- who calls people anymore?) about sharing my recent engagement story with OnMilwaukee.com readers on Valentine's Day, well, I wasn't exactly on-board from the get-go.
As the Packers beat writer for the Wisconsin State Journal, football's my forte. Amore? Not my area. And while I did share the story on Drew's radio show, "The D-List" on 540 ESPN, and the future Mrs. Wilde, Paula, shared her version with WKLH's "Dave & Carole," we did so more for entertainment purposes than for self-promotion.
On top of that, ever since my engagement in San Francisco on Jan. 31, there have been two images I haven't been able to get out of my head. And neither is going to get you into a romantic mood for Valentine's Day.
Do you remember the HBO show "Dream On" from the early 1990s? If memory serves, the story went that the main character, Martin Tupper, watched so much TV as a kid that when things happened in his life, he instantly related them to various sitcom situations he'd seen in his youth.
Now, my formative years weren't quite so dominated by TV, but since popping the question, two "Seinfeld" scenes keep popping into my head. (Isn't it amazing how a show about nothing is applicable to everything?)
One, that annoying woman at the Long Island house party hosted by Michael Chiklis (you know, the guy from "The Commish" and "The Shield") constantly using the word "fiancé" -- or, as she draws it out, "fee-ahn-SAAAY" -- much to Elaine's chagrin:
Woman No. 1: "I wonder what happened to my fiancé. I know he's here somewhere. Ellen, have you seen my fiancé?"
Woman No. 2: "He's upstairs."
Woman No. 1: "Are you going upstairs? Tell my fiancé I'm looking for him. I have lost my fiancé, the poor baby."
Elaine: (In a heavy Australian accent, referencing the 1980 Azaria Chamberlain disappearance) "Maybe the dingo ate your baby."
Kramer: "I mean, what are you thinking about Jerry, marriage? Family? They're prisons! Man-made prisons! You're doin' time! You get up in the morning, she's there. You go to sleep at night, she's there. It's like you've got to ask permission to use the bathroom. Is it all right if I use the bathroom now? And you can forget about watching TV while you're eating. Because it's dinnertime. And you know what you do at dinner? You talk about your day. `How was your day today? Did you have a good day today or a bad day today? Well, what kind of day was it?' `Well, I don't know, how about you, how was your day?'"
Jerry: "I'm glad we had this talk."
Kramer: "Oh, you have NO idea."
So, now you know where my head is at as I share our little engagement story.
The idea of getting engaged in San Francisco actually came to me last football season, when the Packers played the 49ers in December and Paula came on the trip. Now, I wasn't ready for that kind of commitment then -- I'm more than slightly commitment-phobic, as my friends (and a handful of women I've dated in the past) well know. But, I love the city, and I thought the metaphor of Lombard Street, known as "the crookedest street in the world," was a good one, given the twists and turns and ups and downs life brings us.
I was sure enough of my plan by August that when looking for prints to decorate one of the guest bedrooms of our house, I settled on black-and-white photos of San Francisco taken by Jesse Kalisher, a terrific photographer based in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Check out his Web site, www.kalisher.com, and I think you'll agree.)
I suggested to Paula during Packers training camp that we should go back to the Bay Area after the season, since our visit in December had been brief because of the game. I thought the idea of going Super Bowl weekend would also be apropos, given that I'm not the easiest guy in the world to date while working 60-70 hour weeks from the start of training camp in July until the end of the season in January. We booked the tickets in September, not realizing the Packers' 2-0 start was a harbinger of things to come.
So, football intervened (as it often does), and with the Packers' surprising 13-3 regular season and run to the NFC championship game, we were this close to going to Arizona for Super Bowl XLII rather than San Francisco. Only the Giants' victory at Lambeau Field -- something I couldn't imagine happening before the game, I must admit -- kept the plan intact.
While Paula was fretting that the Packers would ruin her trip -- even though she would've gone to Phoenix for the end-of-the-week Super Bowl festivities, and the S.F. trip would've simply been pushed back to April or May -- I was ring shopping. Now, I don't claim to be Mr. Romance, and while I know the four C's (cut, clarity, color, carat), I'm no gemologist, either. Nonetheless, I was determined to surprise her -- what fun is it when she knows the ring's coming? -- so I set out on my own to find the right rock. And fortunately, John Hayes at Goodman's Jewelers in Madison made the process foolproof.
Well, at least the ring buying was foolproof. The actual plan wasn't. While I knew that Lombard Street was the destination that morning, and I knew I wanted to start at the bottom and walk up (thereby setting the stage for me to feign being out of breath and dropping to a knee), what I didn't know was where the famous curvy street was in relation to our Fisherman's Wharf hotel. That led to an epic climb of about 1,000 stairs toward Coit Tower, some wandering around the streets of San Francisco (Karl Malden and Michael Douglas were nowhere to be found) and a lovely gay couple offering to drive us there before we finally found it on our own.
The only problem? We weren't at the bottom of the crooked portion of Lombard Street, we were at the bottom of ALL OF Lombard Street. That meant trekking up three to four blocks at a 25 percent grade before reaching the crooked part. On the bright side, it ensured the out-of-breath angle.
From there, I opened the ring box and asked THE question. Her response was as I always pictured it.
"Shut up!" she said. And not just once. Five or six times.
Finally, I calmly said, "This would be a good time to say `Yes.'" Which she did.
So, there you have it. Doesn't that just make your Valentine's Day?
Wait, you mean it doesn't?
Well, maybe this will: After we took the requisite pictures, we had to continue our touristy San Francisco experience. At 12:45, we had a boat to catch.
Because marriage is like prison. Right, Kramer?
So, I'll be doin' time. Happy Valentine's Day.
Jason Wilde, a Milwaukee native who graduated from Greendale Martin Luther High School and the University of Wisconsin, is a two-time Associated Press Sports Editors award winner and a Wisconsin Newspaper Association award winner.
His daily coverage can be found on the State Journal's Web site and through his Packers blog on madison.com.