Heart Beat: Part 'Animal House,' part 'Survivor'

Published June 30, 2006

BEACH PARK - Someday, if Christy Privitera is blessed with three rambunctious sons, she'll be ready. Living with her fiance, his brother and a fraternity buddy for a year and a half prepared her for just about anything.

"I felt like I had three children," said Privitera, who married James Guemple on April 1 after sharing their house with John Guemple, 35, and Jason Cohen, 29.

The couple had been dating for two years in June 2004 when James, an account executive at Great West Healthcare, bought a three-bedroom house in Beach Park and Privitera moved in.

They had barely unpacked when his big brother asked to move in for a few months, "to make sure his new job in Tampa worked out before moving his wife and son here," said James, 29.

A "few months" turned into a year.

Cohen joined the crew soon after. He was playing on the NGA Hooters Pro Golf Tour and needed a place to stay off-season.

Great, thought James, recalling the fun times when they lived in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at Florida State a decade ago.

Privitera, a wedding planner at A La Carte Event Pavilion, kept any thoughts to herself.

Nightly, she returned home to find three guys sprawled on the sofa. Dirty dishes filled the sink, shoes and muddy cleats cluttered the hall. Maxim magazines and pizza boxes piled up.

"We were a bit more domesticated than Animal House," Cohen said.

Privacy? "Nonexistent," said John, who used the house as his sales office. His fax machine woke them at 5 every morning; his cell phone started ringing at 6.

Cohen, the single guy, kept the opposite hours, often rolling in at 3 a.m. And not always alone.

"Sometimes we'd hear an extra voice in his room," said James. "Sometimes we'd meet her the next morning."

Privitera proved pretty resilient, accepting her role as cook and maid. While the men watched TV or went to the gym, she headed to the kitchen.

Teasing went with the territory, and the guys could be merciless.

"You have to be thick-skinned to hang around with us," Cohen said. "Christy definitely developed calluses."

Still it's unanimous: "She was a good sport," James said.

The guest bathroom nearly did her in.

"Just gross, the most disgusting thing I've ever encountered," she said. "The saving grace was we had our own."

"I'm sure there were times she wished we would all leave," Cohen said.

Like a hip reality show, the foursome hung tight, coming to appreciate one another's assets and accepting the shortcomings. Two brothers got to know each other as adults, and all of them supported Cohen's dream to become a pro golfer.

"The joke was that we should send out a family Christmas card of the four of us," Privitera said.

Privitera, 27, moved to Tampa to be near her parents, Joe and Karen, after graduating from Radford University in Virginia. While working at Roy's restaurant, a co-worker, whose boyfriend knew James, introduced them. They dragged James to a 25th birthday party.

"I went under complete duress," said James, who grew up in Orlando and graduated from FSU in 2000. "I actually went to play golf in Brooksville so I wouldn't be back in time."

Good thing the golf game got rained out, because he met his future wife that night. Guemple noticed the curly-haired blond at the far end of the table. When the check came, he offered to pick up the tab for her and all the other single women.

"That was very well received," he said. He rode with Privitera when the party moved on to Channelside. When she returned home at 3 a.m., she told her mother she had met the man she would marry.

Soon, she was learning about 'Noles football, basking at the beach, discovering oysters and joining James on his business trips to Keystone, Colo., and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, among others.

In March 2005, on the way home from a New York Yankees/Atlanta Braves spring training game, Guemple stopped and bought an Easter basket. In a plastic egg, he slipped an engagement ring.

"The Easter bunny came to see you," he said when he got home.

"I almost fainted," Privitera said. "He's not the emotional, sentimental type at all."

"I took a lot of heat for that," he said.

Within the hour, his buddies called to see if it was safe to come home yet. They were already planning a bachelor party in Las Vegas.

The couple reserved St. Raphael Catholic Church on Snell Isle in St. Petersburg for April 1. Save the Date cards called them Fools in Love. Dinner followed at the Don CeSar Beach Resort with 200 guests.

Of course, James spent his last night as a bachelor with Jason and John, but in a penthouse suite.

At the reception, John, the best man, toasted his new sister-in-law, telling her their living arrangements prepared her for life with his brother.

"If you can tolerate us for a year, you're in," he said.

James planned the honeymoon to the Bahamas himself, keeping it a secret until the night of the wedding. Maybe he was afraid the guys would show up.

They're welcome any time," he said. "They still have their keys."

"The door is always open," adds Mrs. Guemple. And she means it.

Have an interesting wedding story to share? Let Amy Scherzer know at ascherzer@sptimes.com or 226-3332.