There’s this thing called the Hero’s Journey, which is not the same as driving to El Paso with three kids in the back seat. It’s a type of story that is found in many different cultures at different times in history. In recent years Joseph Campbell explained it extensively. It’s sad that he’s dead now, but at least he can’t tell me I’m wrong about everything I will now say.
Most movies and many books leave out the best part of the Journey!
Every Hero’s Journey has certain parts that always come in the same order. For example, one of the parts is Refusing the Call. It shows up in Star Wars: A New Hope, which is the Real Star Wars Movie.
Obi Wan: “You must become a pilot, Luke.”
Luke: “No, I’ve got to fix evaporators and stare at the desert while my theme music plays.” (Refuse the Call)
[Then the Empire barbeques Uncle Owen and Aunt Maru]
Luke: “I guess I’m going after all. Sell the speeder!”
People often use the Real Star Wars Movie as an example of the Hero’s Journey because it shows the steps so clearly. For example, three of the last steps in the Journey are:
The Ordeal (destroying the Death Star)
The Road Home (flying back to the luckiest moon in the universe)
Return with the Elixir / Prize / Weapon / Magic Horse / Hope for the Future / Whatever (Luke getting a hero’s medal from his sister, which really gives the rebels new hope—until the next movie, which starts on a planet so cold they wish they’d die)
Yet the best part is left out—the Resurrection. It comes after the hero has bitch-slapped the bad guy and hit the road for home, but before he returns with the prize (not a toy unicorn). It’s the last challenge, often unexpected, that threatens to destroy the hero and everything he loves. The Real Star Wars Movie doesn’t have it, but the Lord of the Rings books do. (Peter Jackson left it out of the movie.)
When Frodo comes home to the Shire, it is being destroyed. He (and some of his very tall buddies) fight and save it. Frodo commands the defense as if he were a mighty lord, or maybe a squatty king. He is transformed from the hobbit who started the journey.
The Resurrection is where the hero is finally transformed into his new self by everything that’s happened on his journey. He becomes worthy to bring home the prize. The prize Frodo brings home is peace. You just don’t have time to put that sort of thing in a movie. It’s probably the first thing you’d have to cut.
My wife despises things that beep. Whenever a blackout ends, her first recovery checklist item is reprogramming every beeping thing in our house so that it becomes a non-beeping thing. So, when our security system randomly began beeping at me Wednesday night I knew right away that it would bug her when she got home. That was literally my first thought. I had walked halfway through the house before wondering whether somebody had broken in to steal our collection of four dozen unmatched coffee mugs.
Well, the system wasn’t sounding an actual alarm. It was just beeping the way it does when a door opens, telling you to watch the cat sprint outside and fall over in the dirt. I felt confident about diagnosing keypad error messages, and this one was easy since it just said to call the alarm company. I examined all the control keys, but none looked like it would connect me straight to the alarm company, as if the keypad were also the bat-phone.
Out of the universe of things that can be known, I have not learned many. But I have learned not to manipulate an electronic security system by randomly pushing buttons and hoping that something good happens. I’ve never seen it done successfully, even in spy movies where people fly airplanes sideways all the way through empty buildings and live. I called the alarm company.
The nice alarm lady told me to push Cancel twice to make the beeping stop. Then she had me push a different button, which gave me a “Low Batt” message. Beautiful. I just needed to change the backup battery. I knew we had the manual, because my wife keeps a kitchen drawer full of manuals for every household system, appliance, tool, and piece of electronics we own. It sounds terrifying, but because of her organizational skills, I had the manual in my hands within seconds.
The battery was the size and weight of a big, shiny, black brick, like something you’d throw through a window at a black-tie riot. I slid it out, ordered a replacement, and was watching TV all relaxed and smug when my wife got home.
At midnight the security system started beeping again and woke us up. I figured maybe I should have hit Cancel twice again after I took out the battery, so I did that.
At four a.m. it beeped again until I hit Cancel twice. Perhaps I needed to reinstall the dead battery, so it could keep the seat warm for its replacement. I did that. The beeping had pulled my wife out of some horrific nightmare, the nicest part of which was being trapped in a car that was washed away by a river of blood. I am not exaggerating. She lay awake while I slept until eight. That’s when the system beeped again. I hit Cancel twice.
We studied the manual the next day because there’s got to be a setting for this, and I hate to call companies for help before I read the damn manual (unless their keypad message says to). We found a possible solution (that didn’t work), and then another (that didn’t work). We were handicapped by the fact that we had to wait for four hours to find out whether a solution worked. And as crazy as it sounds, we had other things to do during the day, so that limited our trials.
At bed-time we decided to just turn off the beeping functionality. Brute force.
At three a.m. it beeped. I pressed the Cancel button an improbable number of times. “Press” may not be the right word. Ten minutes later the system began beeping again.
I called a different nice alarm lady and explained our situation. She said that the system should only beep every twelve hours, not four. I invited her to wait on hold for four hours to experience the joy of the next beeping with me. She declined and said the only ways to stop the beeping were to install a fresh battery (which wouldn’t arrive until Saturday), or power down the system by unplugging it inside the house.
“Yes, power us down! We don’t care about death as long as we can sleep. Where do we unplug it?”
“It could be somewhere in your garage, or basement, or laundry room, or attic. Or in any closet in your house.”
For the next half-hour my wife and I re-enacted the scene from “Practical Magic” in which Sandra Bullock rips up the entire floor of her Victorian house looking for a deadly, chirping beetle. Our scene was less picturesque in that we were throwing around clothes, and boxes, and vacuum cleaners, looking for a fist-sized, gray transformer plugged into a random outlet.
At last my wife spotted three feet of near-invisible wire running down her closet wall, going from nothing to nothing. Her cedar chest squatted on the other side of the wall. It was a brutal, coffin-sized thing holding her entire past, which weighed more than her current husband. We threw everything out, moved it, and tore the dread transformer from the outlet behind it.
The creature was dead. I wanted to snip it off at the wall and dangle it from the mantle by its wires. We went back to bed just before dawn. My wife patted my shoulder and muttered, “My hero.”
Now it’s Tuesday, and our home is once again as secure as the belly of a constipated whale. I’m sitting around with no tangible threats for us to slay, after which I can take all the credit. It’s one of the curses of modern man. Tonight, I will secretly break the clothes dryer so I can look good fixing it tomorrow.
I am objectively a lousy father. Compared to my father, I am a psychotic crack addict trying to raise orchids in a toilet.
It started with a rose-colored memory of my family’s driving vacations when I was a boy. Swinging through the western states and the national parks. Driving from Texas to the arctic circle and back. That sort of thing. My wife and I had long discussed a trip like that, and we finally decided to do it: Dallas to Montreal and back.
Many lists were made, and my wife declared them good. We packed the necessities, like phones, computers, and some other stuff, maybe underwear. We got the house-sitter, and the person to come in multiple unspecified times a day to check on the cats, and new shells for the shotgun. We packed the night before departure. My wife would no more wait to pack last minute than she would kick a puppy over the backyard fence.
This morning, the day of departure, we loaded the car and did a cat headcount. We came up one head short.
That didn’t worry us much. This cat is a big baby, and he probably hid someplace because we were acting weirder than usual. We checked his usual hiding places. We searched unusual hiding places. We looked behind things and under things, in every cabinet twice and every closet three times. We shook cans of treats and containers of food while calling his name like the kid in Shane. He did not appear.
My wife felt sure he was hiding in some super-secret kitty spot. I thought maybe he had run out when we were loading the car. He could be wandering the neighborhood, dazed with hunger, staggering onto Crazy-Street, the six-lane race track behind our house, to be crushed like a cat-shaped jar of jelly. My fears were valid—we once had a cat that sneaked out the front door and never came back.
We searched the neighborhood. No cat. At last my wife reasoned that the cat was too much of a coward to ever go outside, so we should get on the road. I agreed, but I felt bad about it—like a rotten kitty-dad. We notified the people staying in our house to watch out for the cat and tell us if they saw him.
I pulled the car out of the driveway, certain that our cat was, at that very moment, dodging cars someplace down the block. I drove the other way though, because Montreal is in that direction. After five minutes I couldn’t stand it. I turned the car around and drove home. Our cat was laying where he always lays, on our bed, with a, “Holy shit, what are you doing back?” expression.
As we drove our first leg to Little Rock, I felt relieved and thrilled that our cat was safe at home, thinking bad thoughts about it. But all the way there a voice in my head said, “YOU WERE WILLING TO LEAVE YOUR CAT BEHIND TO GET SQUISHED BY A CAR, WEREN’T YOU? ASSHOLE.”
Little Rock is beautiful. Here’s a picture.
By the way, east of Dallas I found out there are no Buc-ees on the way to Little Rock, and I strongly recommended we go back home.
My wife never came right out and said she was distressed by our house and the fact that I live in it. I only became aware of her distress after years of examining various signs and back-trails. It was like tracking a bear that occasionally walks into your kitchen muttering and flashing grumpy looks.
I couldn’t decide which of my manifold foolish actions she was upset about, so I asked her. She answered. I didn’t understand. Perhaps I didn’t speak bear.
You should know that my wife lives and suffers and prevails according to her list. She has the words “Most Organized Person On The Planet” embroidered on her underwear. One day I noticed that she relaxed a bit every time she crossed something off her list, as if she’d just murdered a family enemy. Maybe that was the key.
I volunteered to help her clear her list, which made her grin. She began to send me on missions. “Strangle the dirty dishes.” “Stab the litter box in the eye.” “Shoot the grocery store in the back of the head and dump it in the lake.” I did these things, and she thanked me. Yet she remained disgruntled. I even began rubbing out some targets on my own, but that didn’t solve the problem.
I gave up. I decided I’d have to spend the rest of my life buying lots of flowers and watching Notting Hill with her an improbable number of times.
Some time ago I began working from home, and then later I began not working, still from home. Every day I was confronted by the items from my wife’s list, or as I now thought of them, “The Enemies of My People.” Whenever I became frustrated or bored I began attacking our enemies. After a while I made it my mission to eradicate them.
That was when my wife smiled. By accident I’d made myself just as accountable for slaying our enemies as she was.
My wife still performs her share of assassinations. We could never deny her the pleasure of the kill. But now she has an ally instead of a flunky. I had never understood why it wasn’t enough for me to just help out. As long as we shared the work and it got done, who cared? Well, somebody has to take responsibility for seeing that things get properly killed around here, and my wife doesn’t want to be stuck with the job by herself.
I know this is confusing, because it confused the heck out of me. Let me translate it into a form more understandable than bear language:
Say you and I go in 50/50 on an Chevy 429 V8 engine so we can rebuild it. We plan to put it on blocks and start it up once a day to hear how badass it sounds. As we work, every time I’m done with a tool I just leave it laying on the garage floor. Soon you’re tripping over wrenches and pullers. You justifiably chew my ass out, but after that I only pick up a tool when you specifically tell me to. You yell at me some more, and I finally begin picking up a tool on my own once in a while. But mainly you still have to tell me.
What am I?
I’m a lazy pain in the ass, that’s what I am. And I will be until I take some responsibility for the damn tools getting picked up. It’s not about how many tools I pick up. My job isn’t to pick up tools. My job is to make sure tools aren’t laying around on the floor, and that’s your job too. Then nobody has to get their ass chewed.
So, I stumbled onto that whole realization entirely by accident. It makes me happy, because I now have a happier wife, and because I expect to be watching Kelly’s Heroes on many future occasions instead of watching Notting Hill.
My mom passed away exactly 2.54 years ago today. To mark this anniversary I’m sharing a brief anecdote from her life, one involving violence, drunkenness, profanity, and murder. Incidentally, this explains a lot about my behavior.
Mom always detested one of her brothers, mainly because of all his lying, mooching, drinking, and screwing around. The rest of the family apologized for him and said it was because he’d been in the war. Mom said no, he’d always been a mean, no good bastard.
As a young man, this lying brother suckered someone into loaning him money to build a beer joint. A beer joint was a little bar where people drank beer, danced and engaged in unfortunate shenanigans. There weren’t many places in town to socialize, and the alternative was church. Most everybody hung out at beer joints.
One night Mom and some friends were hanging out at her brother’s beer joint. My not-yet-married father was absent, but he heard plenty of first-hand accounts later. My lying uncle got as plastered as Versailles, and he started knocking his wife around. Mom picked up some object (no one remembers what) and cold-cocked her brother with it. He was not entirely flattened, so turned and slapped his assailant. Then he saw who he’d slapped.
In my father’s words, “That’s when he knew he’d made a fatal mistake.”
Although petite, my mom proceeded to excoriate not just her brother but every other person in the building. She employed screaming, obscenities, moral outrage and physical intimidation to ruin everyone’s good time, followed the whole way by her brother who was crying and begging to be forgiven.
Dad arrived at the beer joint a little while after the calamitous blow had landed. There were no cars in the parking lot. The lights were off, and the door was locked. Mom had chased everyone out and closed the place down. It didn’t open the next day. In fact, her brother left town for a while, and his beer joint never opened again.
Mom had murdered it.
During her lifetime Mom told me this story two or three times, corroborated by my dad. Not everyone can say they’ve single-handedly slaughtered a place of business, and she told this story with lots of amusement. As well as pride.
Sometimes I need to say nice things to my wife. I won’t elaborate on the circumstances, other than to say that some involve electrical explosions, and some involve stains that will remain on the kitchen counter until the end of time. That’s not really the point.
The point is that I’ve learned a lot about saying nice things to my wife. Some of my attempts have failed, creating the need to say more nice things in a cascade effect much like a collapsing suspension bridge. But I know how to embrace failure. It’s one of my best qualities, so I have learned and can draw upon my failures in order to share with others.
I don’t get fancy. I limit myself to the classic compliment, which is comparing my wife favorably to something. Shakespeare did it a lot, so I’d say that makes it pretty good. To help you understand what I’ve learned, I have scraped up various things I’ve compared my wife to, categorized them, and indicated which choices are better than others.
Pretty Good Choice: Waterfall – It’s pretty, musical and whimsical, unless it’s one of the imponderable man-killing types like Niagra.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Glacier – At first it seems classy and mysterious, but it’s really just a giant, frigid mass that sits there.
Horrific Choice: Mud Flats – Nasty, featureless and barren. Almost any invasive medical procedure compares favorably.
Pretty Good Choice: Any Season – Especially Spring, because who doesn’t like to be told she’s better than budding flowers and baby squirrels?
Deceptively Bad Choice: Thanksgiving – I start off grateful for all the good things about her, but soon it’s all relatives who owe me money, plus sitting around watching football and farting.
Horrific Choice: Eternity – What am I going to say? She’s better than eternity because she won’t last forever?
Pretty Good Choice: Symphony – Complex, emotional and sensuous. Stay away from the Germans.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Mona Lisa – It’s a famous, beautiful woman, right? However, sixty seconds into this I’m struggling to say why my wife’s smile is better. Then I realize that to our modern tastes, Mona is kind of a troglodyte.
Horrific Choice: Die Hard (the original film) – This was a good idea, I promise. This movie is exciting, funny, touching, and you can’t stop looking at it. Yet I now know unequivocally that I shouldn’t compare my wife to something in which people get blown to pieces.
Pretty Good Choice: Her on the Day You Met Her – She is better today than she was the day I met her in every possible respect, without exception or hesitation of any kind.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Helen of Troy – This is a trap. If I’m comparing my wife to a mythical woman who’s the very definition of the most beautiful woman in history, she knows I’m just spewing easy bullshit. She begins wondering what I’ve broken, or what I bought without mentioning it to her.
Horrific Choice: My Mother – Even if I say my wife’s better than my mother in all ways, the only thing my wife can think about is how weird I am for even bringing my mother into the conversation.
Pretty Good Choice: Tigress – A beautiful, powerful and mysterious feline, which is good because I think my wife likes cats more than she likes me.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Unicorn – All mystical, graceful and elusive until I find myself trapped into talking about horns, virgins, and how many women I slept with before I met her.
Horrific Choice: Hobbit – I swear, it seemed so clever and playful in my head. Out loud I found myself comparing her to a chubby, pipe-smoking, hairy alcoholic who tells lies at the bar every night.
I hope that by sharing this I’ve helped someone avoid an embarrassingly inept attempt to be nice. I have no doubt I’ll continue to push the boundaries of my knowledge, because sometimes I’m a dumbass. In fact, I will now attempt to fix the coffee maker I busted last night, while at the same time considering new stuff to compare my wife to. I wonder how she’d like being told she’s better than Catwoman?
I am more ancient than most of my friends. In fact, I could be grandpa to a few of them. For others I’m old enough to be their dad. To the rest I could be the big brother who left home before they hit puberty. That’s all okay, because none of them asks me for candy or presents, and that’s what I really care about.
We’ve become friends because we like some of the same things, such as acting and computers and not worrying about the stock market. We’ve had some of the same fun. We’ve made the same stupid decisions. Then we looked around at each other through the suffering we had brought upon ourselves and said, “What the hell. Let’s bond.”
My young friends embrace new things more readily than my own age group, or at least they don’t have a seizure and swallow their tongue when a new operating system is released. That dang Windows 8 is an exception, of course. My young friends get out and do things. They’re a little less judgmental than people my age. They’re sure a lot less grumpy.
My wife, who’s also younger than me, finds it hilarious that I value having friends who go out and do fun things. That’s just because I don’t go out and do things with them. In fact, she met some of them before I did, and for a year they thought she was lying about being married. They never saw me, so they figured I was no more real than a dragon or a leprechaun.
However, my wife’s amusement is unjust. Even if I stay home, I can enjoy hearing about adventures later on, after the hangovers of youth have subsided. Whenever I do emerge from my lair, some of my young friends are often busy doing fun things, giving me the opportunity to tromp along and do fun things too. Just having that opportunity is worth a lot. Otherwise my only options would be cable news, Red Lobster, and fantasy football.
A gang of my friends is going out to drink and tell lies tonight. Although I’ll be sitting here fumbling around with plot points and internally inconsistent characters, if I wanted to I could be out having fun with them, and I’d be welcome. Like I said, that’s worth a lot.
Speaking as one of the slothful, unemployed wretches draining our nation of its vitality and self-respect, I enjoyed the movie Frozen. My wife and I saw the early showing, because the early tickets cost less, and what else do I have to do in the daytime, really? I’ve applied for enough jobs to form a new NBA comprised of tubby, nearsighted white guys. But thus far no one has needed my particular set of skills, which do not include stabbing terrorists in the eye with a screwdriver.
Lately I’ve been networking like Truman Capote at one of Andy Warhol’s parties, without the LSD, and it’s brought promising results in the way of people calling me about jobs. My wife listens with great patience when I describe the virtues of networking. I know she really cares because she loves me and she hates choking down store-brand peanut butter.
My sweetie has embraced the idea of networking and has begun networking on my behalf, something I appreciate quite a lot. The other day she mentioned my employment deprivation to a friend, and he asked what kind of jobs I’d had.
Rather than use my actual titles in the rest of this post, I shall henceforth use alternate titles evocative of my level of responsibility. In answer to our friend’s question, my wife said I was some kind of Sea Otter Wrangler.
As my wife and I walked across the theater parking lot, digging dollar bills and quarters out of our pockets, I felt perplexed. I told her that I had once been a Sea Otter Wrangler, but that was years ago. After that I became the Manager of Sea Otter Logistics, and I was subsequently promoted to Director of Whale and Dolphin Operations. Most recently I was Chief of Aquatic Creatures That Suckle Their Young. I paused to let that sink in.
My wife responded, “I know it seems like I don’t care about your titles and what your jobs are, but that’s just because I don’t.”
Now some fellows might have been surprised by that, and some might have gotten their feelings hurt. I laughed and clapped my hands so hard that I almost scattered quarters across the sidewalk.
She added, “It doesn’t affect my life.”
I told her that’s what I should have expected, and that’s one of the things I like about her. Her opinion of me has nothing at all to do with my job. In today’s world, that is a gift beyond price. It’s made this job search easier by an order of magnitude.
A lot of things aren’t too important to my wife. When we got engaged, she didn’t want a diamond ring. You can see that I won the fiancé lottery. She doesn’t care whether I remember her birthday, or if I watch TV shows about vampires with her. I bet she’s not even antsy about being unable to buy a shirt at Target.
She cares how we treat each other as people. How we talk to each other, do things for each other, touch each other. That’s what counts. It took me a while to grasp that, and maybe it doesn’t make sense to other people. It makes sense to us, so there it is.
All right, I’m lying just a little. She does care about whether I scoop the cat litter before she gets home. That’s true love, right there.
My wife and I subscribe to the “Oncoming Train” theory of relationship management. It’s based on the idea that every so often a gargantuan freight train of a problem will come along and try to obliterate your marriage. I mean a problem like losing your job, or a death in the family, or bouncing around the house for a year rearranging all the furniture by weight because you think the foundation’s moving.
We’re too puny to stop an oncoming train. We’re too sedentary to outrun it, and we’re too clumsy to dodge it. Our only hope is to keep our heads down and trust that the track won’t come apart.
Within our theoretical framework, my wife and I are each a separate rail on the track. I like to think I’m the right-hand rail, because that’s the side I sleep on and that’s where I sit in the car when my wife’s driving and I’m praying to Jesus. I’m not even religious, so that says something. Our theory states that rails must stay some distance from each other in order to be structurally sound. Really, if two rails are leaning all over each other, then you have mushy rails. What kind of weenie rails are those? A train will squash the snot out of them.
As an example of this, my wife invited me to see an exhibit of steampunk-inspired art. Since that sounded like as much fun as doing something nasty with a dirigible, I declined. But never in the grimiest depths of our psyches did we think that meant she shouldn’t go without me. She’ll go see the brass gears and crap while I stay home and sharpen knives. We’re both happy in our own little worlds.
(This also lets us believe different things without going to war with each other. Recently we’ve argued about issues like teaching intelligent design, and why we don’t just assassinate people we don’t like. We’re both still ambulatory and sleeping in the same bed.)
You may see the flaw here. Independent of one another, rails can sort of drift apart, and they won’t stand up to a Monster Train Assault when one is heading east and the other is heading to Vegas. So our theory contains railroad ties that keep the rails linked.
As an example, here’s how we behave when the other is sick. When my wife feels bad I bring her tea and snacks and the TV remote. I put her in the recliner, cover her with a blanket, and throw two or three cats on top. She seems to like this. When I feel bad, the first thing she does is ask whether I’ve taken aspirin/benadryl/pepto bismol. This is great, because I can say no and she can feel helpful, then I can go off and wait undisturbed for nature to either heal me or kill me. We each provide the nurturing that the other needs. It’s something we share.
Over the years my wife has created, refined, and frequently explained the “Oncoming Train” theory. I came up with the name, which by the standards of our society means I am the theory’s inventor. She says we’re two parallel, independent rails, but all along the way we’re tied by certain things we share. Whenever Hell’s Own Locomotive arrives, we plan to hang on and ride it out.
My wife has been invited to tea with a bunch of her friends tomorrow. I understand that this event involves drinking tea, eating snacks, and wearing big hats. If you leave out the tea, it sounds a lot like the rodeo to me.
Anyway, my wife has been planning to bake cookies for the tea party, but life interfered today and gobbled up all her potential cookie-baking time. Being a nice husband with some time on his hands and an interest in having sex again at some point, I undertook the baking of her chosen cookies.
My wife wanted Basil-Lime Shortbread Cookies, which are the girliest of all cookies in existence. Just reading the recipe made me want to put mousse in my hair. To defend my masculinity, I cranked up Netflix in the kitchen and blared an action-heavy TV series while I grated lime zest and whipped stuff until it was light and fluffy.
It must have worked. Three dozen ultra-feminine cookies are cooling on wire racks in my kitchen, and I can still tell the difference between a Remington 870 shotgun and a Winchester M97 shotgun.
Some cookies are made with love. These cookies are made with explosions, fire fights, car chases, torture, and bioterrorism.