“ALL OF THE THINGS”-1

I’m what most people who aren’t extremely wealthy call “rich.” I definitely do well for myself, but no one outside Phoenix considers me a mover and a shaker. Most of the truly wealthy who live in places like New York, Tokyo or London are unlikely to know my name. For the record, that name is Leonidas Puckett.

I wasn’t born into money but I was born on second base. To get to the lifestyle my nuclear family presently enjoys, I didn’t need to hit a home run, I just needed a double. I’m not bragging or trying to be humble. I’m not ashamed of my advantages; I’m also not saying they meant I didn’t bring my own talents to the table.

My father had a business making swimming pools. He’s David Puckett, the founder of Puckett Pools. He had always wanted me to go into the family business. I didn’t want to sell swimming pools. I wanted to make beautiful art. If Dad didn’t want me to follow my own path, he should have named me David Puckett II, then just called me Junior.

Dad had his own reason for naming me Leonidas. He never told me the reason until much later in life. I always thought of the name as exotic. I grew up as “Leon,” but I always embraced my birth name, Leonidas. It spoke to me of possibilities beyond living in Phoenix, Arizona. I didn’t realize then that “phoenix” was also a word from the same language.

My mother died from leukemia when I was six years old, so I was mostly raised by Dad. My memories of her were good, but they could have faded over time. Dad kept them alive. He always made sure she was a constant presence. As I grew up, he’d say things like, “Your mother would be so proud of you.” There were always framed pictures of her in the house. When he’d say something like that, I’d look at one of those pictures and see her smiling at me. Dad’s words, those pictures, and my own need as a child to remember my mother meant she was an influence on my life long after she passed. The perfect spouse and mother.

Dad never remarried. As a child I did see a few “special friends” go in and out of his life, but he never tied the knot. My mother was always the person he compared every other woman to. As a child I never understood why these people who came into my life suddenly went out of it. As I grew older, I realized my father still loved my mother, and moving on was not easy for him. That understanding took time to appreciate.

The majority of the time I was growing up, Dad took me to work and talked about his business. He would say things to me like, “Someday this will be all yours.” Even then I knew it was manipulation. It’s the line every father says to their child when they want the child to take over the family business. Not that I knew it was a cliché then, I just felt pressured.

Here’s why. As a kid, I liked making art. I had a knack for drawing. I liked colors. One day when I accompanied Dad to a place where he’d been hired to install a pool, I suggested he make the pool’s colors match the colors outside. It was an outdoor pool in a backyard that was covered with red rocks. I also suggested that a pirate flag would look awesome because it could look like a scene in Peter Pan.

Dad’s dismissive response was, “I knew I should never have let Grandma Ginny give you those crayons.”

As it turned out, I was able to make both Dad happy and myself as well. I wound up making designer pools for my father’s company. It satisfied my desire to have a creative outlet, as well as his desire for me to be in the family business. The way it happened was, I became a double major in college, Arts and Engineering. Fortunately because of the money Dad had, plus the relatively low cost of in-state tuition and a bit of a scholarship, it allowed me to spend six years in college learning two separate skills. I went into engineering mostly to appease my father, while he allowed me to concentrate on my penchant for art.

I applied myself diligently while in college. While studying in two separate fields, I had my “Eureka” moment. Designing things was an art. I could also put my own personal touch on the functional thing created. At some point, I realized I could work for my father and pursue my own passion for art. That is, if Dad agreed.

I was expecting a fight when I said to Dad, “I’ll join the family business, but I only will if you let me do my own thing.”

Dad just said, “What do you have in mind?”

I’m not saying it was that easy, but we discussed it like adults. My father treated me like an actual person, rather than just his son. I told him I’d work in the family business and I’d make art. I’d learn what he had done over the years, but let him know I wanted to design pools that were unique. I told him I thought it could expand his clientele. To my shock, Dad had no issues with it. He just wanted me in the business no matter in what capacity.

It was while I was working I met my future wife, Donna Fox. Donna had (and still has) a body that should be on television. I’m not exaggerating, because she was on television. She used to work for KUCK, a local television station. If you live in Phoenix, I’m sure you have seen the cuckoo bird promotions. That bird sound was a staple of breaking news. “Cuckooooo!”

I’d recently just finished a pool for an Olympic swimmer. Sonia Auerbach was a local heroine. She’d gotten a bronze medal in the breast stroke. While she didn’t win the gold or the silver, what she did to endear herself forever to the city she lived in, was get a tattoo of a Phoenix on her right shoulder.

That meant nothing to a national audience. It meant everything here. That tattoo was on full display every time she swam or did an interview. Since most of her interviews were after a race while she was in her swimsuit, Phoenix pride was there for all to see. That tattoo, her medal and the event she won it in led to a series of television ads. This kept her name and face in the public eye. She hadn’t yet done a commercial for Puckett Pools, but that was about to change. I included it as part of the deal for designing her personal pool. I did manage to learn something about marketing from Dad while we were working together.

Sonia wanted the pool I designed for her to be practical for her to swim in, and she also wanted Phoenix to be a part of it. I went literal on her desire. At the bottom of the pool was “the Phoenix.” I made sure it looked exactly like her tattoo. I went further and had it illuminated when she or her husband pressed a certain button. That bird could light up whenever either wanted. It also had a few variations, like a slow build up to a roaring flame, or just appearing in all of its glory. It was ideal for a party, or just when Sonia and her husband Gunther wanted it to happen. Electricity and water are a tricky mix, but I made it work.

Needless to say as a local celebrity, local media was happy to include a story about her if there was the slightest reason to. Sonia Auerbach was very good about finding reasons. She had a lot of interviews and stories printed about her locally, even if the occasion had nothing to do with swimming. I wound up meeting Donna because Sonia invited the media there for the “unveiling” of her new pool. I was asked to attend by Sonia, and I agreed even though I was a bit media shy. I didn’t feel like I had a good camera face.

Sonia made it an easy sell by saying, “It’s good exposure for Puckett Pools, even though the attention will be on me. You should come for that. I’ll be sure to give you and your company a plug, even if the news crew isn’t interested in speaking with you. However if they are, don’t worry about having to do interviews. At most, you may get a few questions and your face may be on the air for three seconds. It’s a nice face, you have no worries whatsoever.”

She made it sound like she’d give me and our company a plug, and I’d be in the background on camera as the designer she referred to. I’m sure she meant it, since this was a story to keep her in the limelight. As it turned out, I got a request for a full interview. I knew that the only reason I got the request as just the designer of her pool, was to find a new way to satisfy the audience that wanted to hear more stories about our local heroine. It looked like KUCK wanted to stretch the story over two days. I was not prepared for a full interview, only to provide a few comments.

It was Donna who ultimately convinced me. Like anyone else in the area, I’d seen her on television. She was even more beautiful and magnetic in person. Sonia was reasonably attractive and certainly had an athletic body. Donna was gorgeous in the way that inspire men to create statues to capture that face and form. It was hard to pay attention to her words while she was talking to me, “So Leon, this will be a separate interview run on a different night. We’re killing two birds with one stone here, but I think this could be good promotion for you as a local artist.”

So as camera shy as I was, I bit the bullet and consented. It was good advertising, as I’d been repeatedly told, my non-telegenic looks not withstanding. I knew what was expected of me in the interview. I mentioned Sonia a multiple times while I discussed the design I’d created. I knew the story was really about her, while ostensibly the story was about a local pool designer. My hangups aside, I was glad for exposure to tell viewers about the work I’d created. I assumed most people wouldn’t care, but some would.

I’d expected after the interview was over the KUCK crew would leave. They were preparing to do so, except for Donna. Donna hung around Sonia and her husband as the crew headed back to the station. While the rest of the television crew gathered their gear, I let Sonia and her husband Gunther know I was leaving as well.

I shook his hand. I’d met Gunther a few times, and always felt he was a great guy. That relationship seemed to be a solid one on both sides, two good people in a happy marriage. “Thanks for allowing the plug. I know this was a bit intrusive.”

Gunther smiled and slapped me on the shoulder. “It was Sonia’s idea and we were happy to do it. That pool is amazing. We’ve fucked in it so many times-“

I interrupted, “Well I really should be going. You two have been more than hospitable.”

Donna said, “This is the kind of story I love covering. You’re a wonderful husband to support her, and also the work of an amazing artist like Leon Puckett.” Gunther beamed. Then he started talking again.

“She’s amazing and so is Leon. When Sonia swims in that pool he designed, she gets so wet, and I don’t mean from the water, I-“

I interrupted once more. “Really gotta go Gunther. Thanks again.”

Donna said, “Yes, thanks Gunther. I have to go as well.”

I quickly found myself to the front door and Donna was right behind me. The rest of the crew had departed and the KUCK van was nowhere in sight.

Donna asked, “Do you have to go, or can we talk a bit?”

I really had nowhere to go so I said, “I don’t have to be anywhere soon. Sonia is a private person around her house, we should probably talk somewhere else.”

“Of course. How about we talk somewhere else then?” She said that deadpan, but there was a twinkle in her eyes.

I said without thinking, “How about following me back to my place?” I could have wilted the moment I said that. What I’d been thinking, was that any public place would attract attention to her. She was a local celebrity after all. That’s really what I was thinking. After the words came out, I realized it must have sounded like a lecherous pick-up line.

I tried to recover immediately, “It’s just that there’s privacy there….” That sounded even worse. I think I actually blushed. My cheeks felt red, and it wasn’t from the intense Arizona sun.

Donna saved me. That twinkle was still there when she said, “That’s considerate. I’ll follow you, but give me your cell number in case we get separated. I’ll give you mine.”

We exchanged digits and then I got into my car. She followed me and we arrived at my “abode.” It wasn’t fancy, it was an apartment. It didn’t even have a pool. She pulled into my driveway and I was embarrassed to bring her inside. All I could think about was the fact the trashcan wasn’t empty, and that the place I lived in mostly was. It had furniture, but no personal touches. I had the worst bachelor pad in the world.

The reality struck me that I was alone with with one of the most prominent desirable women in the city… at my place. It was a situation I was unprepared for, since I had never, ever, considered the possibility something like this might one day happen. Well not seriously, I did have fantasies about this type of thing that usually involved a bottle of lotion, but I’d never actually formulated any kind of game plan in case the situation actually occurred. I didn’t even have any alcohol in the place to offer her a drink that night.

After I gave her the brief tour, I was at a loss as to what to do next. I was out of my element here. I felt like she’d been disappointed at the meager way “the artist” she’d interviewed lived. You certainly didn’t see anything that screamed creative in the place I was living in at the time. Donna gave me no indication that that was the case, but my nerves were moments away from producing visible shaking.

To cover, I said, “Well, that’s my place. I do have an early appointment tomorrow, so I should turn in. If you’d like to talk more at some time, could I ask you for a date?” While I waited for the answer, for what seemed like an eternity, so many thoughts were swirling in my brain. They ranged from thoughts like, “You idiot! You should just kiss her. You’re going to be rejected anyway, at least get a kiss out of it,” to, “Early morning appointment? Since when? Good job Leon, way to start a relationship with a lie.”

In probably less than a second, Donna said, “Sure. I’d like that.”

She headed toward the door, and as she retreated I said, “Can I have your phone number?”

She turned back to me, “Sure. I thought I gave it to you earlier.”

Shit. She had. “Um, I know you did, but it isn’t here now,” I said as I pulled out my phone and once again typed her number into it. As she headed out the door I thought, “Great. Now we’re starting out with two lies.”

After she left, I called my father just to be sure there was no secret trust I was going to be a beneficiary to. Women like Donna don’t just date an average man. Women may claim they like a man who is smart, older, has a sense of humor, is sexually inexperienced, is sensitive, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. My reality up to that point, had been far different. I certainly hadn’t had much experience dating.

Sure, I’d lost my virginity to a woman in high school at the late high-school age of 18 (symmetrically, so was she), but it was with someone that was drunk and made it clear the next day that she didn’t want a boyfriend. She had one two weeks later. What I learned from that was she didn’t want me as a boyfriend. I wondered if the sex was that bad, or if the alcohol was the main consideration. It was clear in the light of day I was found lacking. I’d had sex a few more times, but nothing ever developed into a serious relationship.

After waiting for 24 hours for the cameras to show up that let me know I’d been the victim of a practical joke, I finally called her and asked her out. Things took off from there. We kept dating. It was a slow courtship. For a month, we had dates once a week. Most of it was because of her schedule. I was happy that we even had once a week. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I realized that on the third date we were supposed to have had sex, according to the unwritten dating rules of the time. It took me until the fourth one to even try to get to first base. So on that date, I kissed her.

We were playing miniature golf. It was one of those rare moments in Phoenix where clouds just suddenly appeared and it began to rain. We were on the 10th hole and I was worried the date was over. Then she said, “I don’t think we’re going to make it to the 18th hole. What should we do now?”

That’s when I reached for her and kissed her. Kissed her hard, with no idea how’d she respond. She clutched me and kissed me back even more forcefully. The sky had opened up and we were getting drenched as we kissed in the rain. I’m not sure how long that kiss lasted. It lasted long enough we were both soaked before we ended it, and the only reason we did was to come up for oxygen.

A flash of lightning and an almost immediate crack of thunder encouraged us to leave.

I said,”Let’s go.”

“Not before you answer a question. Why’d it take you so long to kiss me?”

The rain was pouring hard now, so I had to raise my voice a bit, “You could have kissed me!” I really hoped that would not have been interpreted as yelling.

Her voice raised as well. “A woman likes to be kissed! You could have done it on our first date!”

Now there was more thunder. I practically had to scream, “If we can get the fuck out of here, I’ll kiss you all over!”

She grabbed my hand and led us back to where our cars were parked. We never lost our hand contact as we raced through the rain. She said something I couldn’t understand as we got to our cars. So I shouted, “What?!”

“Follow me!”

I followed her to her place. We were both soaked. As soon as we were inside I kissed her again. Then I got to second base, third base, and home plate all in one night. I realize it looks like I’m stretching the metaphor a bit far, but that was how I felt, and it was certainly accurate for me. You can blame the song “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” as a possible influence.

The next day, I woke up in bed with her and her head was on my chest with an arm covering me. To this day, I’ll say it was my favorite way to wake up in the morning. Donna has done it several times since then, and I always felt like the person that won the lottery. That first morning though, I extracted myself and went to her kitchen. I wanted her to wake up to a prepared breakfast.

Her refrigerator and cupboards were the most organized I’d ever seen. I like omelets, and she had all the ingredients necessary. I’m not the greatest cook in the world, but I do make a mean omelet. The proper distribution of cheese is everything, and I was pleased to see her pantry included Hatch’s green chiles. Judging by Donna’s pleased reaction to breakfast when she awoke to the sounds and smells coming from the kitchen and joined me, I had scored some points. Later in our relationship, Donna told me that was the morning she knew that she wasn’t going to let me get away.

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