My wife and I have been scrimping for a while. We’ve always measured abundance in terms of shopping. In a stable financial situation, my wife can, on a whim, buy a shirt at Target. When things are going well, she can buy two shirts at Target. Right now the unrestricted purchase of Target shirts is prohibited.
Our penny-pinching leads to odd conversations, like the one we had recently when I decided to make a sandwich. I don’t make many sandwiches now because sliced turkey is $8.00 a pound. When I want a sandwich, I have to cook a cheap chicken and slice it into sandwich-sized slabs. I find it a lot easier to just eat a banana, which is cheaper than gravel.
Anticipating my sandwich, I opened an elderly loaf of cut-rate bread, looked at it, and called out to my wife, “Sweetie, I think we’ve had this bread for six or seven weeks.”
My wife was moving threadbare shirts from the washer to the dryer, and she answered from the utility room, “Why? Is it scary?”
“No, not at all. It looks fine. That’s kind of scary by itself.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think it may not be real food. I mean, we only paid eighty cents for the loaf. Maybe it’s like one of those Big Macs that they left on a seat in the bus station, and when they came back a year later it looked exactly the same.”
“You’re just making that up.”
“How do you know?” I walked into the utility room carrying two terrifying slices of bread.
“Somebody would have eaten it.”
I wanted to say that nobody would eat an abandoned Big Mac off a seat in the bus station, but I realized she was right. Maybe I think we’re scrimping, but plenty of people’s yardstick for impoverishment includes “eating stray food from places where strangers’ asses have been.” Buying shirts isn’t even carved on their stick.
So I said, “You’re right.”
My wife smiled, victorious.
“Can I make you an object that looks like a chicken sandwich?”
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.
Whoever said, “If you have lemons, make lemonade,” never met my wife. When you make lemonade, you can drink it, sell it, give it to friends who don’t really want it but take it just to be nice, or leave it in the fridge to become a chemical weapon. In any of those scenarios, by next week your lemons will rest in the mists of history.
My wife believes everything has an appropriate shelf-life. She watches expiration dates. If canned soup hits the “best if used by” mark, she tosses it. Aspirin that expires in November is in the trash by Thanksgiving. Consequently, she goes for things that will last a long time. When we buy regular milk it becomes clabber by the next morning. Organic milk stays good for weeks. Guess which one she buys.
My in-laws possess a lemon tree, and this year it bore enough fruit to fulfill any fertility commandment from the Old Testament. We ended up with lots of lemons. My wife didn’t squander them on something as ephemeral as lemonade. She went for shelf-life. We squeezed lemons, poured the juice into an ice cube tray, and made frozen juice cubes. We had one tray. It took about a week. But now we have zip-lock bags packed with lemon goodness that will fulfill our lemon juicing needs for years. Probably until I retire.
Knowing this makes me feel good. My wife has chosen me to fulfill her marriage requirements, despite the fact that we’re different in almost every way partners can be different and neither of them be a chimp. (If it comes to that, I will be nominated for chimp on the basis of my poor impulse control.) This is not a random happenstance. My wife thinks about these things.
Therefore, it’s my job to think of things she wouldn’t think of by herself. That’s a long shelf-life contribution, and it’s how I pull my relationship weight. For example, she’s been sick for a couple of weeks. She’s been coughing like a French Quarter junkie, and she had to work Saturday. Then one of her crowns popped off before she went to work.
In this situation, at the end of the day her thought process would go something like this: Illness + fatigue + pain + emergency weekend dental work = soup, aspirin and early bedtime
My thought process goes more like this: Illness + fatigue + pain + emergency weekend dental work = homemade brownies, scotch whiskey and dumb TV
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.
A few weeks ago my wife informed me that a new word has been added to our language, the same language spoken by Winston Churchill and Walter Cronkite. Our society has created the verb “netflix.” One may be said to netflix when one chooses a television program on Netflix and watches it one episode after another without pause.
For example, last night my wife and I netflixed the program 4400. It was enthralling. Seriously, we didn’t want to go to bed.
However, a few days earlier we found ourselves engaging in a related behavior for which no word exists, as far as I know. We decided to find something on Netflix to watch, and then we spent the next hour scanning through the available titles and talking smack about most of them. We never did watch a program. It was like being the two geezers in the balcony on the Muppet Show.
Is there a verb for this behavior? I can’t find one. I thought we might call it “net-trashing,” as in, “We net-trashed a lot of romantic comedies and monster movies last night.” That doesn’t seem quite right though.
I’m drinking to celebrate the fact that, as of today, I’ve been to more weddings than funerals this year. I’ve grieved that several of my loved ones passed beyond the reach of man, although at least I hadn’t loaned any of them books. On the other hand, more than twice as many friends promised to love and honor each other forever, and they celebrated by accepting ugly wall clocks and pretentious 1-cup coffee makers.
It’s a happy situation. I’m therefore drinking vodka, which is nasty, rather than tequila, which is loathsome.
As I listened to the vows in today’s ceremony, I thought about my own wedding vows. If I wrote my marriage vows today, they’d be vastly different from the ones I wrote for my actual wedding. In addition to love, honor, and cherish, I might include vows like:
I promise to do whatever it takes to keep you warm, even if it means adopting more cats to pile on the bed.
I promise to pay attention to things you like so I can buy them for you later.
I promise to pay attention when you tell me I’m acting crazy.
I promise never to cook Garlic Orange Chicken Stir Fry again.
I promise not to make fun of your addiction to making lists.
Then I realized most of that was pretty dumb and not at all what I want to say. Then I thought about what I want to say instead of that. Then I drank vodka, which kind of helped. Then I decided that I really wanted to talk about how marriage changes things. I mean, one moment you’re in love, and the next moment you’re in love and married. What the heck does that mean?
Here’s the short version. Love is a gift you give your lover. Marriage is a war you fight against yourself.
Here’s the long version. I think the “love is a gift” part is pretty understandable. It includes basic things like giving flowers and back rubs, physical intimacy, and treating your lover no less courteously than you would treat a librarian or a beloved English actor.
On another “love is a gift” level, whenever I’m out later than expected, I call my wife. She does the same for me. As I call her, my buddies may harass me by saying she “really has me on a short leash.” I explain that I’m glad she at least cares where I’m at instead of using my absence to frolic with a grunge-punk band and shoot dope under her toenails. Besides which, being so paranoid about really short leashes makes them sound like they have tiny penises.
The “marriage is a war” part is less obvious. Whenever my wife and I behave like loving, caring individuals, no war is necessary. But sometimes we act like regular people, which is to say irrational and thoughtless. When I feel my wife is acting that way, I have decisions to make and possibly a war to fight.
Here’s an example. I indicate to my wife, I think successfully, that I’m interested in a little hanky-panky later in the evening. I receive promising indications, but not a positive confirmation. We go to dinner with a friend, and my wife orders a barbeque plate of heroic proportions. I anticipate her request for a doggie bag, but it never comes. She enjoys the entire meal. Now any attempt at hanky-panky that evening would result in nothing but her shrieking like a rabbit caught in a gate.
My war against myself begins inside my head.
“Was I clear? I know I was clear. Does this mean something? Maybe she’s not too interested in me anymore. Or maybe I wasn’t clear. Did she have to order the big plate? It’s not like we were going to a French restaurant or something. We can go to this place anytime. Am I less desirable than a barbeque sandwich? I don’t know what to say to that. That can’t be right. But hell, she didn’t have to eat the whole dinner—she could have taken part of it home for tomorrow. Am I less sexy than half a barbeque sandwich? I can’t ask that! What if she says yes?”
At this point I am losing the war. I have taken something she did that annoyed me, and I’ve transformed it into a marriage-threatening cataclysm that I can’t talk to her about because I’m terrified of what we might say. Even better, as long as I don’t say anything, this will now creep around unseen in our marriage like a French Resistance fighter causing more creative and disruptive sabotage forever after.
How do I win the war? I risk everything. I open my mouth and say the stupid things I was worrying about. Even if it hurts my wife, hurts me, and hurts the guy who made the sandwich. I listen to her possibly-horrifying responses, because if our marriage survives this then at least we won’t have it under the surface tearing our marriage apart.
That’s what I mean by marriage being a war you fight against yourself. I’m not sure what that would look like in a wedding vow. Maybe something like:
I promise to fight for us. We’re worth risking everything for.
Now I’m going to cook dinner. We’re having soup. And vodka.
Before I left home, a friend warned me that I must not fail to be on deck to observe Glacier Bay when the ship enters it. She told me I’d have to get up early to experience this event, but it would make the entire trip worth the effort.
So, this morning I bounced out of bed at 5:00 a.m., just an hour after sunrise. I dressed myself in every piece of clothing I possessed. My wife lay under the covers and didn’t say anything. She merely watched me the way she watches one of the cats just before it rolls over in its sleep and falls off the dining room table.
I knew that the ship was approaching Glacier Bay, and I didn’t want to miss anything. By 5:30 a.m. I was standing on the tallest observation deck with my camera, binoculars, and high expectations. I scanned the horizon for magnificent vistas, but we had not yet reached any areas of magnificence. Occasionally another passenger joined me, shivered for a few moments while glancing at the lovely but customary Alaskan landscape, and then they trotted back down the stairs. The wind and cold were ghastly. Had I not been clothed in the equivalent of two sheep, I’m sure I would have died instantly.
Two hours into my shatteringly cold vigil, my wife came looking for me. She found me braced against the railing, examining the coastline for any sign of glaciers, or a bay, or even some chunks of floating ice in the water. My wife said, “You should consider the fact that your definition of ‘early’ and other people’s definition of ‘early’ might not be the same.” Then she led me downstairs to the breakfast buffet.
By 9:00 a.m. I was back in my firing position on the observation deck. Glacier Bay chose that time to show itself. My friend hadn’t lied. It was astounding. I snapped off 938 photos, three of which I consider decent. The rest captured the bay’s glory no better than I could have with a Crayola between my toes.
Here’s a shot of the mountains over the bay:
Here’s a photo of a glacier because, heck, it’s Glacier Bay:
A bald eagle surprised us by springing aloft from a floating chunk of ice and flying past the ship:
Glacier Bay was every splendid thing I’d imagined. I’ll never forget how wonderful it was.
Alaskan Cruise, Day 8 – Glaciers in College Fjord
More ice, more water, seen it all before. Blah, blah.