Just about everybody who’s ever had a long-term relationship break up can attest running into an ex can be awkward. In Woody Allen’s 1972 movie “Play It Again Sam,” in a boutique gift shop in New York, Woody buys a romantic music box for Diane Keaton, on whom he has a deep crush. A slight problem, however, is that Keaton is married to Woody’s best friend. Ouch.

Just then Woody runs into his ex-wife played by Susan Anspach. (Who, ironically, would be a neighbor of mine at the Shores!) Woody tries to conceal the music box but it inadvertently starts to play. He covertly shakes the box temporarily stopping the music, only to have it resume. All the while, Allen feigns interest in catching up on how his ex is doing since they broke up.

I mention this scene because just before my recent birthday I “ran into” my ex-wife. (Or, rather she ran into me.) I think it’s “newsworthy,” if only given the time period since we last saw each other… 25 years! I doubt it’s Guinness World Record material but if in general running into an ex can be awkward, add a quarter century and awkward meter could register off the chart.

And yet, instead of 25 years seeing her felt more like 25 minutes. Go figure. But at this point you’re probably wondering how did this encounter occur. (Or, you’re about to shift your attention to the crossword puzzle.)

It was a Friday like any other except I received a phone call from security in my building that “Maria is in the lobby and would like to see you.” Confused I replied I didn’t know anyone named Maria when security added “She’s with Katherine.” That would be my ex. Yikes.

Stuck for an excuse like “I’m currently being held at gunpoint by a robber,” I told security to tell them I’d be downstairs in fifteen minutes. With that I raced around my apartment like Mr. Clean on meth. I hurriedly put dirty dishes in the dishwasher, dirty clothes in the hamper, empty pizza boxes in the trash, lowered the toilet seats and ran the vacuum so frenetically it must have looked like a “Road Runner” cartoon.

Finally, I washed my face, changed my perspiration-soaked shirt and went downstairs feigning without a care in the world. Marlon Brando used to say the greatest actors in the world are regular humans keeping an affair from their spouse, or in my case, pretending I keep a neat apartment.

As for why my ex and her best friend were there, one of Maria and her husband Paul’s sons is doing his medical residency at UCLA Santa Monica Hospital. Katherine was helping Maria apartment hunt very close to the Shores where I live. They thought since they were checking out “old haunts,” they’d look me up. (While I’m definitely old, I’m not sure how I feel about being an “old haunt.”

This was a Friday so Katherine and Maria were actually reading my column when I greeted them in the lobby. As we all hugged, they looked terrific. However, it quickly became became obvious they wanted to come up for a short visit. I suddenly felt the noose tightening.

As we entered my apartment, where Katherine and I had lived during our 7 year marriage, I was apprehensive. I’m not a typical bachelor slob but I’m also not in Katherine’s league where floors are so spotless one could eat off them. (I’ve actually eaten a piece of pizza that fell on my floor but I scooped it up under the well-accepted 5-second rule.)

I felt relieved, however, when Katherine asked, “Are you still using the Romero’s?” They were a family of apartment cleaners at the Shores in those days and whose high quality work Katherine reveres to this day with almost religious zeal. I took the comment to indicate that, amazingly, my 15-minute speed clean had apparently done the trick. Not quite.

To my disappointment, in e-mails we shared in the following days, Katherine confessed the “Romero’s reference” was polite code to encourage me to consider getting cleaning help. Yikes.

In another well-intended email, she apologized that my writing over the years never “Appealed to my funnybone.” That was sweet except for the fact that in the past quarter-century, I had forgotten she didn’t think my writing was very amusing. (Notice how I lowered the bar to “amusing.”)

Katherine’s happily remarried and living in Santa Rosa where she had dreamed of living. As forus, the genuine affection, especially after 25 years, was very touching. The truth is, as Katherine noted in front of Maria, she always appreciated how I could make her laugh when she’d be down. (Aww.)

Despite ultimately getting divorced we were terrific friends and playmates. Over the years we shared many laughs and had some great times, including vacations to Big Sur, Hawaii, New York and Europe.

Okay, now you can now turn to the crossword puzzle. As for me, I’m checking to see if I still have the Romero’s phone number.


Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and jackdailypress@aol.com