So I finally decided to pop the question last summer. I admit, 9/11 was in the back of my head when I started thinking about how short life is, and how I had found the perfect companion, so what was I waiting for?
I started actively looking into rings when I got back visiting Robins Bros. (yes, the radio ads work!) and at least one other place, and found a good ring and decent price through the New York jeweler that best man Tony Gama-Lobo used to buy his ring for Becky.
After weeks of discussing what I wanted with the jeweler (Michael Eigen), he finally FedExed it the Friday before Thanksgiving-- a pretty close call, given that I was planning to do it the night before Thanksgiving. I had him send it to Tony and Becky, who live down the hall from me in West Hollywood (and who were my roomies until they got hitched in August 1998.
So that Monday morning (Nov. 19), I was waiting and waiting anxiously for the FedEx guy to show up. Finally at 10 am, I gave up and started driving out the downstairs garage to get to work. But right as I pulled onto our street, I saw the FedEx truck.
I quickly parked the car and ran back into the building, right as Becky was signing for the package. We rushed into her apartment, I ripped open the box, opened the little box, then opened the ring box... and the ring fell on the floor! Ack!
But I picked it up, remembered it was a diamond and wouldn't be hurt, and looked at it. It was beautiful. Becky and I looked at it in the light. We ran outside and looked at it in the sun. We ran back in, grabbed her wedding ring and compared it.
I then left it with her for safe keeping, and so that Maria wouldn't accidently find it at my place.
The next day, Tuesday, I called Maria's sister Kat and told her I needed her to help me set up a time to meet with her mom. "Um, I think you know why," I told her. I didn't need to say anymore.
I showed up at Maria's mom's house in Chatsworth-- deep in the San Fernando Valley-- that night. I know the place well; after all, I'm there virtually every Sunday for Maria's family's weekly lunches. In the past two years I've gotten to know her family really well, and like all of them a lot.
Kat and her kids Kendrick (who was age 5, now he's 6) and Nickey (who was 2, now 3)live with her mom, so they were all there when I arrived. And just in case Maria's mom didn't have any idea who it was at the door, Kendrick saw me first and suddenly started yelling, "Tito Mike! Tito Mike!" The kids had just seen "Monsters Inc.," and one of the characters in the movie is named Mike, so they were excited to tell me.
Maria's mom came out of her room, and I asked her if we could talk. She was calm and cool, but she must have had some idea at this point! So I sat her down in the TV room, gave her a small bouquet of flowers, and gave her a little impromptu speech. I talked about how much Maria meant to me, about how much I felt like I was a part of the family, etc. I then showed her the ring. Maria's mom didn't say much, only "Oh, that's great," over and over again.
Even Kat was nervous for me as I asked for her mom's blessing. But it was the easiest thing in the world. I could tell that she was happy. For starters, she took me in the kitchen and started feeding me right there. I left her house about an hour later. Maria, meanwhile, thought I had simply been at work late.
Then Wednesday came. Showtime.
I had asked Maria a week earlier if she wanted to go to the outdoor ice skating rink in downtown L.A. It's sort of a tradition for us; even though Maria doesn't really know how to ice skate, it's such a nice holiday thing to do, especially outside at night with all the skyskrapers beaming around the skating rink (think Chicago's "Skate on State," but a little smaller and less commercial) that we do it every year.
Now, like I had mentioned before, I had called the rink a few days before about popping the question there. They said it wasn't a problem-- just bring a CD of your song, and we'll clear the rink at the end of the night. You'll stay behind and do your thing as the song starts. Oh, and do you mind if we call a news crew? "Uh, sure," I replied.
I was calm all day at work. Weird, huh? I was about to make the biggest move of my life, and I went out the day as if it were just another Wednesday. We met up at her place that night, and I told her to dress up, that we'd go out to a nice dinner after. As we left, I grabbed the CD and stuck it in my jacket. I put the ring in my pocket. I made sure her hand wouldn't hit either spot. And we were on our way.
The rink was fun, although Maria can only skate so much. Throughout the hour (we got there at 8, the rink closes at 9) she ocassionally would take a break. I nervously made sure she was on the rink with me at the end of the night. At one point early in the evening I gave a worker my CD as Maria was looking the other way.
Oh, and at one point I spotted the camera people. So did Maria. But it wasn't out of sorts; last year when we were there, a camera crew had also been there, to do a story about the rink.
Then it hit 9 p.m.--time for the rink to close for the evening. As they told everyone to clear the ice, I asked Maria if we could get our photo taken on the ice. So I gave my camera to one of the workers, and we went to the middle of the ice. And I waited for the music.
The guy kept taking our picture and radioing to his bosses, "What's going on? Where's the music?"
He told us to go ahead and skate a few laps. I knew something was wrong, but Maria was just confused.
I made up something on the spot: "Oh, he probably just feels bad that all of those little kids were giving us trouble on the ice all night, and wanted you to skate a few rounds when no one was around." Whew, she bought it.
Finally, though, I couldn't wait for the music any longer. The cameras were on us. I took her back to the middle of the rink and dropped to one knee, while pulling out the ring.
No speech, just a simple question. "Will you marry me?"
She said yes.
The crowd taking off their skates and packing up to go home suddenly realized what had just happened, and clapped. We skated off the ice, and with the cameras on us, someone in the crowd (around 25 people, not huge) asked Maria what she said.
"I said yes," Maria said.
"She said yes," the guy screamed. The crowd cheered.
Wow, we were suddenly living in the middle of a sappy movie!
Bummed that the songs didn't play ("Wild Horses" by the Sundays, and "Lover Lay Down" by Maria's favorite, the Dave Matthews Band), I asked the manager to try again. This time the CD player worked. And it was even cooler, because by that time, we were the only ones still there. It was like our own private moment.
Maria then had a momentary panic-- Ohmigod, what if my mom sees this on TV? Don't worry, I said. I went to your mom's house last night for her blessing. That choked Maria up even more.
We then whisked off to a Japanese restaurant, "A Thousand Cranes," in Little Tokyo, where we ate an elaborate nine-course meal (which also turned out to be the most expensive meal I've ever paid for in my life!)
Driving home at around 11:30, my cell phone rang. It was my friend Christy. "Ohmigod, congratulations! I just saw you guys on Channel 4!" A beep; call waiting. It was Kat. "We saw you on TV! Congratulations!"
The next day , we spent Thanksgiving with Maria's family and extended relatives, where the tape of our engagement was played at least a dozen times. Maria and I beamed, and Maria's mom was excited to tell everyone how I had showed up the night before, with flowers!