Category Archives: Relationships

I Will Take My Beating in Cowed Embarrassment

Writing brings out the mental illness in me. My wife can testify to this.

I’m in control of my behavior almost all the time. As Mark Twain said, “For business reasons, I must preserve the outward signs of sanity.” If I wake up to find my brain mired like a mammoth in tar, I can trick my brain into sucking itself free and stomping onwards across the plains. I rarely buy extravagant, useless things, because I have a rule. If I want to buy something that costs more than a couple of hundred dollars, I can’t buy it until I think about it for at least six months. I almost always follow that rule. Almost.

Judiciously applied chemicals are my friends. Free range chemicals and alcohol are not welcome in the home of my brain, apart from the occasional tequila shot or pomegranate martini. Come on, I’m not a nun or anything. But my best friend is me acting the way I want to feel, no matter how my brain tells me I feel, or at least doing my best to create the outward signs of sanity.

It works pretty well at this point in my life.

My wife refrains from trying to convince, trick, or bribe me into not behaving like a crazy person. It’s my job to take care of all this. She’s happy to help if I ask, and she demonstrates philosophical acceptance when I suddenly fill up the office closet with 30 gallons of bottled water, or when without warning I decide we need some more cats. Not only is she tolerant, she’s smart. If she tried to manage all this for me, I’d probably explode like a hand grenade.

Writing screws all this up. Well, not all writing causes problems. I can write a thousand words, declare success, and smile as I move on to something else. It’s the big projects that make me crazy. I’ve written three novels in the past three years, and the insanity they create goes like this.

I get an idea for something I want to write. It’s the best idea for a book that anyone’s had in the past 100 years, or maybe ever. I’m so excited that I talk to my wife about it almost every minute we’re together. I lay awake thinking about it and even consider waking my wife up in the middle of the night to talk about the greatness that is my idea. This goes on for about three days.

I begin the planning and research required to bridge the chasm between having an idea and writing words. I realize that my idea is rubbish. It’s less creative than a bucket of vanilla pudding. If brought to reality, it would be less popular than asphalt-flavored baby food. I feel shame. The only reason I keep working is that I talked it up so much to my wife I’d be embarrassed to never write a word of the thing. This goes on for about a month.

I start writing the first draft, expecting that after one chapter I can honorably surrender to the fact that my idea was horrible. After the first thousand words I find that I’m amusing myself, and I start to feel better about the project. I read the first chapter to my wife. She doesn’t say anything bad about it, which confirms my growing suspicion that it’s a work of magnificence. I begin laughing and hooting like a fool as I write, and I find I’d rather write than eat or sleep. This goes on until I finish the first draft, or about two to three months.

I put the manuscript aside to cool, planning to begin editing in about six weeks. Within 24 hours I realize that I was engulfed by irrational euphoria this whole time, and in fact my manuscript isn’t fit to wipe the ass of a sweaty heroin addict living in a ditch in Bangkok. I try to put this debacle behind me and concentrate on ideas for my next project, but I can only generate enough motivation to watch Saving Private Ryan and eat pie. This goes on for about two months.

Some grisly sense of obligation forces me to open the manuscript and pretend I’ll edit it before I trash it and funnel my creative urge into learning the ukulele. After reading three pages I can’t believe I’ve forgotten how brilliant it is. I perform several rounds of edits like one of those yipping dogs that never stop to sleep. I’m afraid that if I take a day off then the magical spell will be broken and I’ll once again see that the manuscript is just a snap-toothed yokel with mismatched shoes. This goes on for about six weeks.

The manuscript is finally as good as it’s going to get without an editor. I begin writing query letters, synopses, overviews, biographies, and the other artifacts that agents and publishers want to see. I become profoundly convinced that any agent would be more impressed if I just sent her an envelope full of fish guts. I grit my teeth and push on. I’ve come too far now. I’ll just send out the queries and then take my beating in cowed embarrassment.

Then it’s time to start a new project. And even though it means starting the cycle of crazy all over again, I don’t mind all that much. Not everybody get to experience three days of knowing that their book idea is absolutely the most perfect and radiant idea of the last century. It feels great. It’s entirely worth the subsequent months of the despair when you understand just how appalling your idea in fact was.

Really. I’m not joking.

Outward signs of sanity, dude.

Little yipping dogs - my spirit animal when editing.
Little yipping dogs – my spirit animal when editing.

Photo courtesy of via

Does “Intentional Grounding” Mean You Get to Pick Where You Bury the Body?

“I don’t know much about football, but I know it has something to do with touchdowns and steroids,” my wife said yesterday as she scraped up a fork-full of cheese enchilada.

I put down my tortilla-wrapped fajita meat and said, “The championship game is on this Sunday. You should watch it with me.”

Actually, I didn’t say “championship game.” I didn’t call it by its official name either, because no one can call it that without an NFL lawyer climbing up his rectum. I didn’t say the “Big Game,” since that makes it sound like an old movie where Ronald Reagan and Mickey Rooney play football to save some tiny, segregated college. I called it the “Stupid Bowl.” I know that sounds demeaning, but since its fans will spend more money on Doritos than was spent on cancer research last year, I’m standing by that name.

My wife shrugged and said, “I don’t know. It looks confusing. How do you play?”

I wiped my hands and considered how to answer that question in one sentence. “You get the ball, and your team carries it or throws it down the field with a lot of rest breaks, until you carry, throw, or kick it across the goal unless the other team stops you first.”

“Sounds pretty easy if you get a lot of rest breaks.”

I saw that I needed to explain a little more. “No, it’s really a tough game. There’s a lot of strategy. For example, there are two different ways to score points. You can run or pass the ball across the goal line. That’s a touchdown worth seven points. Or, you can kick the ball through the goal. That’s a field goal worth three points.”

“Is there anybody guarding the goal?”

“No, it’s too high.”

“Well if nobody’s guarding it, just kick the ball through it all day. Hasn’t anybody figured that out?”

“It’s not that simple. You may have to kick it from far away sometimes, and that can be hard.”

“When you kick it from farther away, do you get more points?”

I shook my head. “No, it’s always three points.”


“There’s a lot more strategy besides that. You have to know when to throw the ball and when to run with it.”

“You only have two choices?”

“Yeah, but a lot of different players on your side can run with the ball or catch it.”

“How many?” she said before sipping her sweet tea.

“Um… six. And eleven players are trying to stop you.”

“Okay. Have all your guys except one grab all the guys on the other side and hang on.”

I shook my head. “No, that’s against the rules.”

“That’s dumb. Well, how do you get going?”

“You have a lot of rehearsed attack plans called ‘plays.’ They start with the quarterback receiving the ball.” I began rolling another fajita.

“Why’s he called the quarterback? Is he the one who flips the quarter at the start of the game?”

“No, the area behind most of your players is called the ‘backfield,’ and historically the quarterback stood a fourth of the way back in the backfield.”

“How big is this backfield?”

“It’s not a set size.”

“That sounds pretty sloppy. How far back does the quarterback stand, then?”

“Usually he stands right behind the center, or the player in the center of the line of players. The center has the ball and snaps it back between his legs to start the play. The quarterback holds his hands between the center’s legs so he’s ready to get the ball.”

My wife stared for a moment. “The quarterback stands there with his hands on that other guy’s junk?”

“There’s nothing weird about it.”

“Whatever you say. So the quarterback has the ball. Does he run with it or throw it? Those are the choices, right?”

“Right. Mostly he doesn’t run with it. He either throws it, or he hands it off to someone else to run with it,” I said, assessing how much cheese was still on my plate.

“Wait! You said there were two choices, run or throw. What’s this handing off business?”

“It’s just another way of running. The quarterback hands the ball to somebody else and lets him run.”

“Now you’re just making shit up.”

“No, it’s true, I swear. Now, the quarterback has to be careful not to get tackled, or knocked to the ground in the backfield, because he only has four chances to go ten yards. And if he gets tackled behind his own goal line then the other team scores two points.”

“You said there were only two ways to score! What’s this two points all about?” she said, setting down her glass a little harder than strictly necessary.

“Oh, I forgot, that’s called a safety. And a touchdown is really only worth six points. After you score a touchdown you get a chance to score one extra point by kicking the ball through the goal.”

“That’s not worth three points? You’re kicking it through the goal.”

I smiled and wondered how the hell I’d gotten into this. “Not when it’s an extra point.”

“Are there any other ways to score? Like, do you get four points if something falls out of the blimp and hits a player on the other side?”

“They don’t usually have a blimp.”

“Too bad. I like blimps.” She looked at the last bite of enchilada and pushed it away. “What happens next?”

“Whoever has the ball runs down the field towards the other team’s goal until he gets hit and knocked to the ground.”

“Okay, what happens then?”

“Nothing,” I said, eyeing her enchilada and deciding against it. “The play’s over. Everybody gets up and goes back to the huddle for the next play.”

“You just let him get up? You can’t kick him in the knee or something? He’s just going to run with the ball again if you don’t.”

“No!” The waiter looked over at us, and I lowered my voice. “It’s against the rules.”

“What rules?”

“The unsportsmanlike conduct rule.”

“How do they define unsportsmanlike?”

“It’s—” I stopped. I realized I’d never read a definition of it. “It’s whatever the referee says it is.”

My wife nodded. “Bribe the referee.”

“You can’t do that!”

“Blackmail him then.”

“You can’t do that either!”

My wife leaned back in the booth and crossed her arms. “You said football’s a tough game. I think my definition of a tough game and your definition of a tough game are different.”

I played with the straw in my Diet Coke for a moment and thought about all the years she’s lived with me without once stabbing me in the eye with an immersion blender, even though I’m sure I deserved it every day. She’s played a tough game.

“I may not watch the Stupid Bowl after all,” I said. “The games are usually lousy anyway. What do you want to do instead?”

“Let’s watch Downton Abbey.”

“Um, how about The Godfather?”

Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” she said, taking the last tortilla chip.


Predator—it’s a plan,” she said, smiling at the waiter as he set down the check.

Yeah, that’s probably closer to her definition of a tough game.

Hey, hands off the junk, dude.
Hey, hands off the junk, dude.

Photo by Damon J. Moritz

Photo from the 2005 Navy – Stanford college game and is in the Public Domain


The Happiest and Most Terrifying Place On Earth

We have returned to the scene of my wife’s childhood psychological violation.  Many people can empathize, but not many can understand it on a visceral level. I know I can’t. All I can do is hold her hand while she’s drawn through an inexorable maelstrom of insane colors and noise.

We’re riding the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney World.

She handled it magnificently, considering the trauma she experienced as a little girl. Back then, her parents and brother boarded the big, dumpy boat with her, along with a dozen strangers, and they eddied into the plaster tunnel at bayou speeds. The little cosmopolitan robots were cute, and the song was perky. It was tingly fun for a little girl. It looked a lot like this:

Then the ride broke down, somewhere in Scandinavia. The polite Disney cast members assured everyone that they were safe, things were under control, and the ride would resume soon. Ten minutes later everyone was fidgeting and bickering. Someone asked if the music could be turned off, since each section of the ride plays just a small part of the song over and over. In ten minutes the words “…that is time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all…” had been sung by chirpy kids without stopping about 120 times. No, they couldn’t turn the song off.

Thirty minutes after the breakdown, the arguing and muttered threats began. An emergency exit stood no more than ten feet from the boat, which was now stinking of frustration and fear. Couldn’t the cast members let the guests leave by that door? It’s only ten god damn feet away, for cripe’s sake! No, they couldn’t let the guests out. It wasn’t safe. The guests implied that it wasn’t safe to keep them in the boat listening to this relentless gush of sugary crap, if you know what I mean. A security guard made himself evident a few minutes later.

An hour after the malfunction, the weaker specimens had broken. Whimpers crawled up from the floor of the boat as children clutched their parent’s trendy bell bottoms or hairy legs. The kids who clung to their faculties learned a lot of bad words listening to the adults. They also heard about a lot of creative techniques for killing shitty little high school dropouts drunk on their own pathetic power.

When the eight infuriating, sanity-shredding bars of “It’s a Small World” had played about 1,000 times, the boat jerked, clanked, and slogged forward. The guests exited the ride like G.I.s wading out of a stream in the Mekong Delta. Thanks a hell of a lot, Mickey.

Today my wife drove a spike through the chest of the “It’s a Small World” ride. She sat tall, gazed at the horrible, wiggling ambassadors of world peace, and even laughed at the llama with the giant teeth. I consider it a mighty accomplishment on this, our first day at the Happiest Place on Earth.

And yet, in the seat behind us a little girl moaned, much like a distressed elk, “Out… out… out… ” Her mother soothed her and comforted her and promised that it would all be over soon. Nothing eased this child’s pain. It was like, you know, the Circle of Life or something.

Why My Wife Would Always Be Able to Kill Me in a Knife Fight

Last weekend I yelled at a foreign man for wasting my life. I might have been overreacting, but it didn’t seem that way at the time. Abe Lincoln said that nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. I suspect I didn’t even make it past the adversity test.

My wife bought a new laptop computer on Sunday to replace her seven year-old Dell laptop that weighs 13 pounds and gets as hot as fresh microwave popcorn. She can’t work without her laptop because she’s a court reporter, a job that I couldn’t do if I had a thousand years to prepare. So, she needed a new machine, and I agreed to help.

My sweetie and I are not as different as night and day. We’re as different as night and a total eclipse that can blind you, even if you’re an orphan, because it just doesn’t give a shit. I’m not saying which one of us is which, but she wasn’t the one yelling at the nice foreign man.

In spite of those differences, when hunting for a major purchase we cooperate like lions on the veldt. We made checklists. We researched. We visited electronics stores so she could handle different models while I glanced from the corner of my eye at cameras and giant TVs. We Googled customer reviews for the models she liked, and she selected her target.

Then we didn’t do anything. We waited a week to be sure the smell of blood hadn’t driven us crazy and made us choose the wrong prey. We were both fine with that. That’s how well we work together when on the hunt. It’s what happens after the kill that leads to yelling and snippy comments and walking out of the room with loud steps.

A week later we went to buy her laptop. Once in the store we got distracted. My wife wanted to transfer everything from her old laptop to her new one, including the software, in one simple step. If possible, she wanted to wave her hand like the fairy godmother turning mice into horses, and it would just happen. If it was more complicated and required her to wave both hands, well that would be okay too. We found software that promised amazingly easy transfers, and it had good reviews, so we grabbed it.

When the laptop salesman walked up, my wife pointed at the model she wanted and directed him to bring her one. He had none. He checked with his company’s other stores, and they had none. He could order one, but he had no idea when it would arrive. Apparently the demo model was just there to amuse people, like a little mechanical horse in front of a grocery store.

I didn’t feel too concerned. Other stores might carry it. My wife was nice to the salesman, but as we bought the magic software and walked to the car she muttered and fumed and said some alarming things. This is one of the differences between us.

The next store didn’t have her laptop either, which sucked. But it had the newer model, which also had great reviews, and it cost less. We bought it and carried it home, giggling all the way.

Here’s how the day disintegrated from there.

My wife unpacked her beautiful, lighter, cooler laptop. She read the magic software’s manual, which might have been written by someone who studied English in another country where people who speak English are punished. She called the manual and its writers and their relatives some bad names. Nearby, I assured her that manuals are overrated anyway.

She put the magic software’s disc in her laptop, and it did nothing but make the sound a grasshopper makes when trapped in a cardboard box. But it worked fine with other discs, so maybe the disc was bad. She growled and accused the magic software and her laptop of doing this on purpose. I nodded in sympathy as I got my car keys.

We returned the magic software, but the store refused to take it back because it worked fine in every other computer they tried. The problem must be my wife’s laptop. Both grumbling, we went back to the store where we’d bought the machine. They spent an hour showing us that the laptop played a bunch of other discs just fine. The laptop and the magic software disc were clearly the god damned Romeo and Juliet of information technology, just fated to never be together. The technician suggested we download the magic software from its website and install it that way. My wife nodded and hefted her laptop bag like John Henry hefting his hammer. In the parking lot I spit on the ground and swore never to shop at either store again.

Back home my wife downloaded the magic software, as relentless as if she had twenty acres to plow. I stomped around the room and bitched about having technology more complicated than a sharp stick. At 8:00 p.m. we started the transfer, which would take several hours. My wife sat on the couch to watch True Blood. I sat next to her with my own laptop and ignored True Blood.

An hour later my wife checked her laptop and saw that some transfer catastrophe had occurred. She sighed and examined the manual as if it were a cookbook that might say she’d just forgotten the eggs. I disconnected and reconnected the cable, and each time I jammed a cable back into a port I imagined I was jamming a knife through the lead programmer’s mouse hand.

We kicked off the transfer again, and 40 minutes later it crashed again. My wife set her jaw and narrowed her eyes. She looked like the NASA engineers must have looked when one of the early test rockets had blown up. I thought about having a drink, but instead I ripped out a rope of profanity, cursing Alan Turing and Nikola Tesla, and Bill Gates too while I was at it.

The magic software people offered 24 hour support, so my wife called and put them on speaker. When the rep answered, my wife concisely explained the problem, while I added occasional frustrated and near-hysterical details. It didn’t help that she had to ask him to repeat almost everything he said because he had only slightly better diction than my cat.

The rep was polite, and an hour later he’d accomplished four things: (1) he successfully replicated the scans I’d done before we installed the magic software; (2) he verified all of our power settings; (3) he screwed up our network settings; and (4) he started another transfer. Then he said both the old and the new machines had to be in “perfect condition” for the transfer to work, so that might be our problem. I did not yell at him at that point. My wife rolled her eyes but said nothing.

Then he said that if the problem was too hard for him to solve, we’d need to pay for higher level support. That’s when I yelled at him for wasting my life, or at least the last hour of it. I’m not proud of myself. But at least I didn’t reach 12,000 miles through the phone and tear something off his body that he or his wife might want later. My wife looked at me the way she looks at the cats when they puke on the bed, and then she thanked the nice man before ending the call.

The transfer did not go well, choking after 13 minutes. I almost offered to just load everything myself, but I saw that my wife was determined to make this work. Every other person who had ever touched a computer would have to die before she’d give up. While I sat on the couch watching Duel at Ganryu Island, she tried the transfer twice more, and each failed. At midnight she called a temporary cease fire, since the next morning she had be in court to write everything said by some inept lawyers.

As of this writing the transfer’s still incomplete. My wife is considering whether to pay the magic software people to help us, but I’m arguing it would be faster to hire a chimp to load everything.

When this all started and the problems were small, my wife fretted like a girl with a lost toy. But now, when hope is almost lost, she discusses her next steps like a chess master thinking 20 moves ahead. When this all started I addressed our small problems as calmly as an elephant addressing a ripe watermelon. Now when I think about this mess I behave like a tiger with his nuts caught in a gate. This is one of the ways in which my wife and I are different. It’s not even the most significant. You should see us in the car together.

My sweetie’s new laptop computer, containing nothing but this picture of her that I copied onto it. She looks innocent and harmless holding that cat. Keep telling yourself that.

The Apricot-Honeysuckle War

My cat dragged my boxer shorts under the bed this morning. I failed to retrieve them because she defended them like a Kodiak bear protecting her cubs, and because my shorts had already been smothered by the herd of dust rhinos that roams under our bed, migrating as the air conditioner blows them around. We graduated from dust bunnies in 2005, and by now we’re unsure what we stored under the bed all those years ago. When we move I expect it will be like a grisly birthday surprise.

My shorts were vulnerable because they fell off the bathroom vanity. Today I leave on a business trip, and I generally pack enough shorts, socks, shirts, and other clothing so that I can wander around Baltimore or wherever in a non-filthy state. I otherwise might find myself unwelcome to return, and I’d never see Baltimore again. Do not laugh. That would be more distressing than it sounds, because there’s a great bar downtown that serves pomegranate martinis and cheese fries. But I require a spot to lay out all these travelling clothes, so I can make sure I haven’t packed too many handkerchiefs and not enough undershorts, which we all agree would be bad.

I lacked the counter space I required. I lost my skull and crossbones boxer shorts, which I wanted to wear on my trip so I could be extra mean to people. I now have to be mean to people while laboring under a handicap. I am vexed. Our bathroom provides two sinks and a sizable vanity, so why is all that space, apart from an area the size of a skillet, occupied? I don’t know, but I suspect that it has something to do with the blinding array of mysterious bottles and tubes my wife has arranged on all of the flat surfaces in the bathroom.

Seriously, on the vanity alone these bottles require a space the size of a Toyota Corolla’s fender. They’ve even crept up the walls. I can’t complain that they’re untidy. She’s arranged them vertically by size and horizontally by alphabet, a feat worthy of any ancient Greek mathematician. I just don’t know what the damn things are and why we have to have them. I asked her once, but she just gave me a Renaissance smile, lifted a red bottle, and rubbed a dab behind her ear. I forgot about the problem for a few hours, but then it returned like a car warranty telemarketer.

I possess half a dozen containers to cover my personal grooming needs: soap, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and an unopened bottle of English Leather my mom gave me for Christmas in 1998. Combined they take up an area the size of a softball. Any second grader can understand what those things are. One day when my wife was off having her eyelashes dyed, I poked through her collection of bottles, tubes, and boxes. I tried to understand them, but their labels said things like “Juniper Mango Hydrated Skin Revitalizer and Elemental Body Essence.” It was like deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls. Was this some kind of soap? Shampoo? The name included the word “body,” but that didn’t help—everything is part of your body. Maybe it was a toenail cleaner. It also said “revitalizer” and “essence,” so perhaps the stuff raises people from the dead, in which case I’m happy to devote vanity space to it. I put the bottle down and wandered back to the den, hoping that some Bruce Willis movie was on TV.

I could purge the bathroom of these space-consuming, odd-smelling vessels of mystery while my wife is away, but I fear that might end badly. She’s built this collection from the time we met, and she might feel sad if it just disappeared. Plus, I doubt I could blame the deed on anyone else. Apart from that fact that I lack the ability to fool her about anything, no one else but the cats lives in our house. They can and do knock over bottles, particularly in the early morning when we’re asleep, but she’d never accept the premise that the cats stole her bottles or perhaps ate them.

When I get home I’ve decided to buy some plywood and build my own vanity in my closet. I feel a bit like Neville Chamberlain giving up the Sudetenland by surrendering this way, but my wife has strategically outmaneuvered me, and I might as well admit it. I may choose to move this struggle to another front, just to save my pride. I mean, when did our kitchen cabinets fill up with so many shelves full of fancy mugs and teacups?

My lovely wife retrieved the skull and crossbones boxer shorts and left them for me here on the vanity. How nice. This means war. Again.



In This Case, Sex Might Have Been Better Than Ice Cream

While we were lying in bed last night, I asked my wife what she thought I should write about, and she said, “Why ice cream comes out the bottom of the cone and how that’s a metaphor for life.” I said sure and wondered what the heck brought that on. I know she thinks things like that but rarely says them, preferring to say things like, “I don’t care what kind of car I drive as long as it has four doors and a trunk,” and “Why don’t we just kill everybody we don’t like?”

If ice cream cones had Kryptonite, it would be heat. The sun, an open flame, and your crotch all produce heat. If you think it’s absurd for your crotch to destroy an ice cream cone, you’ve never had to signal while merging onto the highway and needed someplace to put your ice cream cone while doing it.

To demonstrate the danger of heat, one afternoon when it was a hundred degrees in Texas, which is like a thousand degrees anywhere else, my wife and I were walking across a parking lot. I swear we hadn’t lost our minds. In fact, we’d found an ice cream shop. I won’t name the shop, except to say it was like the Marble Slab, in that it had the words “Marble Slab” over the door. It was the kind of shop where they sell you an ice cream cone for two dollars more than it should cost because they crush a quarter’s worth of M&Ms into it. You don’t have to get M&Ms. You can also get Butterfingers, or chocolate chips, or marshmallows, which don’t crush all that well to be honest.

We bought chocolate ice cream cones with stuff smashed into them, because we like chocolate and stuff, and the nice high school girl behind the counter handed us cones with ice cream the consistency of instant pudding. The store was having air conditioning problems. The kind of air conditioning problems that destroy ice cream. Our ice cream! Frantic to protect our ice cream, we charged outside, which was slightly cooler than the face of the sun, and we tried to eat our ice cream within 17 seconds. That’s the time it takes $5.00 worth of ice cream to melt all over your shoes. Seriously, it was like trying to lick the sides of a volcano oozing Swiss chocolate and spewing Reese’s chunks instead of half-molten boulders.

A glob of chocolate ice cream as big as a cockroach hurled itself down the front of my wife’s shirt, and she flailed around like an octopus having a seizure. Well, that part didn’t really happen. The seizure part. Actually she went back inside and threw a bowl of those little balsa wood sampling spoons at the high school girl, and she told her that she was pretty god damned lucky because her husband disapproved of just killing anybody she didn’t like. Well, that didn’t really happen either. I’m not even positive that any cockroach-sized ice cream flew into her shirt, but I am sure we were sweating like some kind of jungle animals. Which may not sweat, now that I think about it, but you get the idea.

So, how is this a metaphor for life? It was all my wife’s fault. It was her fault because she drove the car that day. She bought the ice cream, too. And she didn’t threaten to kill a blonde 11th grader with a pair of ice cream scoops and a napkin dispenser, which might have redeemed the day somewhat. Therefore, I declare the entire wretched event to be her fault, and I am innocent of all wrongdoing. Because I’m writing the story of what happened that day, and I get to assign the blame.

That is how a drippy ice cream cone is a metaphor for life.

And life is not like a drippy ice cream cone. That would be a damn simile, not a metaphor.

I realize I didn’t say anything about why ice cream drips out of the cone. There’s a hole in the bottom of the cone. I shouldn’t even have to say that, except maybe my wife was really asking why there’s a hole in the bottom of the cone. The answer is “cheap cones.” Ice cream shops have to make back that quarter they spend on M&Ms, so they sell us structurally unsound cones. We just keep buying them like pigeons trained to peck the red light. But I can say for a fact that if you make a joke about there being gravel in the Rocky Road, the people at the Baskin Robbins down the street from me will poke a hole in your cone as soon as you walk in the door, so try not to do that.

If you think my explanation is lousy, just consider that instead I could have written about stuff coming out of your bottom, so hush and be thankful.

“As goes the ice cream cone, so goes the promise of our youth.” Or something like that. Hell, that doesn’t make any sense, does it? Forget it–I’m going to the movies.

Photo by Ziko van Dijk.

It’s Like Sleeping in a Clown’s Trousers

My wife and I disagree on the fundamental nature of our bed. I think of it as a comfortable place to sleep, or have sex, or maybe read a book when more than two cats have evicted me from the couch. She thinks of it as a glorious retreat for nourishing the spirit in a harsh and callous world. If we each described our bed as a kitchen appliance, she would say it’s a variable-speed immersion blender trimmed in ermine, while I’d say it’s a spatula. I don’t mean a colorful, heat-resistant plastic spatula. I mean a steel spatula with a black handle that your granny might use to cook potato pancakes that taste like paste.

Our house has a big linen closet. If I lived alone, that closet would contain one set of white sheets and 72 cubic feet of unused computer components dating back to 1996. The other set of white sheets would be on the bed, along with a mattress pad and a green woolen blanket that some Marine slept under during the Korean War.

Instead, I live with my wife, which is a good thing for me. But it means that my linen closet contains 27 fitted sheets and 36 flat sheets in colors ranging from periwinkle to russet. They come in solid, striped, and flower patterns, plus flannel sheets with jumping sheep on them. Not one of those sheets is white. We also have over 40 pillow cases, some of which aren’t the same color as any of the sheets, so we can have contrast. The linen closet population is rounded out by three mattress pads, nine blankets, four spare pillows, and a duvet that makes a wonderful nest for cats.

This staggering mass of linen is arranged so that you can locate any item within five seconds. That’s because the linen closet was organized by my wife.

When we change the sheets, after the mattress-flipping ritual, my wife generally spends a minute or two picking out the two different colored sheets (top and bottom) that will form the foundation of our bed environment for the next week or two. A bright, cheery color combination will make her happy to be in bed, so I’m glad she takes her time. Sometimes she asks me to pick out sheets, which can be a problem. By reflex I look in the linen closet for white sheets. When I don’t find them, I peer into the closet as if considering which video card to buy for my computer, while I wonder whether brown and purple go together. I’ve never admitted it to her, but I often just pick the colors of a professional football team. The Cleveland Browns’ team colors—brown and orange—might not be the most popular combination at my house, but they work.

My wife likes to sleep, and maybe that’s what this boils down to. She wants to adorn the bed so she’ll be happy spending time there. Eight hours of sleep makes her optimistic and productive. Seven hours of sleep makes her stoic and determined. Six hours of sleep makes her grumpy, and five hours of sleep makes her act like me. I hate sleep. I resent having to give up so much of my life to sleep, and if I could get away with 30 seconds of sleep a night I would. Sleeping is like being sent to the corner of your mom’s kitchen and then waiting to be released back to your life. When you’re sitting in the kitchen corner, between the refrigerator and a dusty sack of potatoes, you don’t care if the place is dressed up like Disneyland.

In the end, I understand why our bed is decorated like a sultan’s bathrobe. I don’t grasp it on an emotional level, but I understand that it makes my wife happy. That’s worth a lot, especially when I’m searching for a place to stash two dozen worthless motherboards and audio cards, and the pantry is looking pretty good.

Orange, yellow, blue, white with brown pinstripes, five cats, and a teddy bear. A bed that will make my wife extra happy.



The Least Romantic Man In America

One of my oldest friends told me, “You giving advice on romance is like me giving advice on how to be a lady.” I took her meaning right away, for while I love her a lot, she is to ladies what Chewbacca is to bunnies. I felt surprised though. My wife loves me, and I don’t remember blackmailing her or making her lick a hallucinogenic frog for her to marry me. I must have been a little romantic. I recall buying flowers a couple of times, and I replaced the kitchen faucet with a shiny one she liked. I think that’s pretty good for an eight year courtship.

But my friend got me wondering about romance and my understanding of it. I’m confident it has something to do with love, and greeting cards, and jewelry I can’t afford. And there seems to be a gargantuan commercial industry built around romance—maybe bigger than Halloween, which I find a bit chilling. It makes me feel that if I’m insufficiently romantic then I may be hurting the economy and destroying jobs.

I was my most romantic when I was still dating. Maybe I should call it courting. Courting sounds romantic, while dating sounds like a couple of tough t-bones and a Julia Roberts movie. Regardless, I tried to be romantic when I wanted a woman to like me a lot, or at least like me enough to consider having sex with me someday. Romance is about convincing a person that you cherish them and want them more than you want air. Which of course is a ridiculous lie, but underneath it sits a corresponding truth—you want them more than you want anyone else currently in the room with you.

Romance traditionally includes a lot of trappings and strategies, and maybe my friend meant that I’m not good with those. I don’t plan romantic dinners well, with fat guys playing violins by the table. I’m hopeless with jewelry. I didn’t even buy my wife a diamond for our engagement, although to be honest she didn’t want one—which just proves that I won the marriage derby. My love poetry is rather pedestrian, although it wouldn’t make a jackal barf. I do remember anniversaries and birthdays, so that’s in my favor, although my gifts lack panache. I don’t recommend giving your sweetheart a new garbage disposal for your 15th wedding anniversary.

I’m not a complete disaster. I show up with flowers now and then. I really shine when we pass a store window and my wife stops to look at something. I point to a random spot in the display and grunt, “Wow!” That encourages her to tell me what she really likes, which I could never have guessed even with a chainsaw poised over my privates. My best moment comes when my wife refuses to let me buy whatever she’s fallen in love with, and then I buy it anyway when she’s not looking. There are no mysteries there, and I can follow the logic. I just hope she remembers that when my mid-life crisis hits high gear and I tell her not to buy me that Ferrari.

However, I can tell the romance story from the man’s side. Somewhere on a holy wall in the Orient is written, “Guys don’t care about romance. They just care about sex.” I guarantee that this is a half-truth. Of course guys care about sex. But they do care about romance, just not about the romantic trappings like dinners and poetry. For guys, romance consists of certain things not happening. For example, when a woman dates a man just so he’ll pay her house payment, that sucks out the romance for him. When she only accompanies him to the prom in order to hit on his best friend, that’s a romance killer. When a woman marries a man only to break him of his bad habits and fix his obsession with fantasy football, the man can find no romance there. And so what if guys care about sex? Sex can be romantic if you take your shoes off. So for guys, romance may blow to a different point on the compass, but it still blows.

Although my friend says that I’m romance-defective, I have noticed one odd thing about love and romance. I can’t know what my wife wants unless she tells me. I have poor mind-reading skills, as I’ve demonstrated hundreds of times. On the other hand, I’m tasked with paying attention to what she wants and likes and so forth, so I can make a pretty good guess about what she wants in some future situation. This is the same skill that lets me stick my hand into a fire one time and then know that sticking my hand into other fires would not be good—except that it’s harder to do because I don’t have a burned up hand to motivate me. I have to think about it to do it. I have to be thoughtful, which means I have to be full of thought. I admit that throughout my romance career I may have been full of shit more often than I’ve been full of thought, but at least I recognize that I should be doing something here.

In the end, I agree that I’m not ready for any fancy romance maneuvers. So, I’ll stick to the basics. If I want to be romantic, I have to do some things to show you that I want her. Just saying it or thinking it really loud won’t cut it. These have to be things that she’ll like, and I have to do them in a way that she’ll enjoy. That means I must have some idea of what she likes, so I’d better pay attention and occasionally think about something besides my fantasy football draft. I hope all this will convince her to want me so much she’ll forget every dumb thing I’ve ever done. That’s up to her in the end I guess, unless I break out the hallucinogenic frogs.

I still don’t understand why my wife thought this was more romantic than paintball.

My Wife Stalks, Kills, Drags Home and Eats a Kitchen

My wife doesn’t need booze or drugs. She has a kitchen. She herself slew it and brought it home, and it gives her a bigger thrill than any intoxicant, or jewelry, or fuzzy little mammal ever born. It’s not so much the cooking she loves as it is being in the kitchen and looking at it. She likes talking about it too. She created the room over several years. She plastered the pale yellow walls. She painted the cabinets cobalt blue one winter, holding heaters next to the oil-based paint so it wouldn’t bubble and run. Michelangelo could not have been prouder of the Sistine Chapel.

One thing marred her happiness, like a serpent in her garden of good things to eat. The floor was covered by scarred, pus-colored linoleum tiles that would shame any prison camp barracks. My wife considered the matter with immense gravity, and she conceived a plan in which she would dress that floor in magnificent red tile. I approved of course. It sounded pretty, and even had I wished, I lacked the force of will to deny her. She charged out to find red tiles of the particular shade she wanted, but no one—no one—sold them then. Red tiles were out of fashion, and they were expensive to make. If no one wanted to buy them, then no one was going to make them.

I found that disappointing, because I knew she really wanted them. I suggested nice brown tiles, or maybe terra cotta. My wife was unconvinced. Perhaps I wanted to just smear the kitchen floor with excrement and let it dry instead? I recognized this was sarcasm, and I recognized she hadn’t given up. I’d seen her like this before. She was going to have red tiles, or every other person on earth was going to die.

Sometime later, as we watched television, we saw a Pier One commercial. She shot up from the couch like Old Faithful and said, “There! Those are my red tiles!” The commercial depicted the inside of a Pier One store, and indeed it sported red floor tiles of just the shade she wanted. I breathed a warning that this was a set for the commercial and not an actual store, but that didn’t matter one damn bit. These tiles existed, and if they existed then she could find them. And when we walked into a Pier One store a bit later, she proved me wrong by pointing at the floor, which was covered with her tiles. I acknowledged my lack of faith.

My wife asked the register clerk where she could buy the floor tiles in the store. The clerk asked if we were serious, and my wife affirmed that we were. The clerk said that she didn’t think we could buy them, and she turned away to rearrange some boxes. I’m sure she hoped we’d go away and ask somebody else if we could buy the store’s heating unit or something. My wife asked again, louder, and the clerk took two steps away from us and paged the manager.

The manager handled this better, pulling on a fake smile and confirming that we couldn’t buy this tile. My wife asked how the manager knew this. Had anyone else ever asked to buy the tile before? The manager said he was positive that no one had ever asked that, and his fake smile kind of melted like that oil-based paint on our cabinets. She asked where the tile came from. The manager, who must have gotten high marks in conduct as a boy, said he didn’t know. She asked him who he would ask if he needed to find out, and just like the register clerk he punted. He called his district manager. And he put my wife on the phone.

I could only hear my wife’s side of the phone conversation, but it sounded like this:

“Where can I buy the red floor tiles you use in the stores?”

Indistinct buzzing of a voice on the other end of the line.

“Yes, I’m serious.”

Buzz buzz buzz.

“Well somebody has to know where they come from. Can’t you call someone?”


“Oh, I’m sure you can. Who buys these tiles?”


“I’m certain that’s true, but I bet you can figure it out if you think about it.”

Buzz… buzz buzz buzz… buzz.

“Great, could you please give me their number?”

Buzz buzz buzz buzz!

“Okay, could call them for me? I’ll call you back this afternoon to see if you reached them.”

Buzz… buzz buzz… bz-bz-bz, bz-bz-bz, bz-bz-bz-bz.

“Thank you! Goodbye.”

My wife turned to me, and I took a step back. She looked like a lioness that had just dragged down a wildebeest. She said, “Let’s go home. I have the number of the people at Pier One who build the stores.”

Over the next three days my wife talked to the following people:

-A secretary in the Pier One Capital Projects division who bonded with my wife over herb growing techniques.

-A manager in the Property Development and Renovation office who gave my wife anything she wanted because he had to go pee.

-An Executive Vice President in the Store Construction branch who thought the whole thing was so damned funny that he gave her the buyer’s number and wished her luck.

-A buyer in Purchasing who was perplexed by how my wife got her phone number, so she coughed up the name of the tile company before she really thought about it.

I would have given up at least three times before this point and taken the “smear shit on the floor” option. My wife still looked neatly pressed and determined. Then the Pier One buyer mentioned that the tile company was situated about fifteen minutes from our house. My wife was within striking distance of her prey.

A nice sales rep at the tile company told her that this tile was made exclusively for Pier One. No, he couldn’t sell it to anyone else. No, they didn’t make exceptions. No, there was nothing he could do. No, there wasn’t anyone he could call, or anyone else she could talk to. No, he didn’t like to grow herbs.

I felt bad for my wife. She’d come so far, just to be crushed now. Then she asked the sales rep, “Isn’t there anything at all like this that you can sell me?” And the sales rep offered to sell her “seconds.” These were tiles that didn’t pass inspection because their color might be slightly off or something. And they were cheaper than any other tile we’d looked at. They may have been cheaper than shit. She almost broke her jaw saying yes.

My wife borrowed a truck and picked up the tile. We started opening boxes and realized why we got them so cheap. Twenty-four boxes were about the right color and size, but twelve boxes were two shades darker and an eighth of an inch larger. There was no way we could lay this tile and make it look decent. I wilted. She just puffed up to even more impressive dimensions and sat in the kitchen with a cup of Earl Gray tea and her thoughts.

The next day my wife called a friend who’s an interior designer, and she explained our problem. Our friend laughed as if this was no harder a problem than a plaid shirt with a striped tie. She directed us to a tile man she said could lay this tile and make it look like it was meant to have different colors and sizes, rather than like it was designed by a baboon smoking dope. And within a few days the tile man had done this thing, and my wife luxuriated in the kitchen she’d wanted, striven for, and smashed through every conceivable obstacle to secure.

My wife has convinced me forever that if she really wants something, she will attain it with the inevitability of space junk falling into Earth’s gravity well. In fact, if the eccentric scientists of the world possessed her determination, the Loch Ness Monster would be jumping through fiery hoops at Sea World right now. And this is a good thing. Maybe I can convince her to really, really want an in-home theater, a Ferrari, and a recreational flamethrower.

Sometimes my wife lounges here and contemplates her kill. Nice job on the tile, too.

The Perfect Storm in Jamaica

In the first three days of our romantic Jamaican holiday, my poor decision making skills nearly killed my wife and me. I blundered into buying a deep tissue massage, and we would certainly have died if I’d had enough money for the two hour session, or if our masseuses had been a bit more muscular.

Yet we survived. In celebration, we summoned the will to drag our body parts to the beach the next morning, which was the first really sunny day of our trip. Back home I’d purchased some great spray-on sun block, so we needn’t smear our entire body surfaces with goop as if we were birthday cakes. The stuff came out of the spray can shockingly cold, but we coated each other with diligence, except for our faces of course. We slathered regular, semi-gelatinous sun block on our faces.

We took it easy on the beach. We relaxed for half an hour, swam in the ocean for half an hour, relaxed another fifteen minutes, and went inside to take stock. We saw the beginnings of a nice tan. On our faces. Everywhere else our skin had achieved the color of the surface of Mars. When we returned to our room, the temperature inside went up ten degrees.

It became clear that if we wanted to get home alive I must not make any more decisions of any kind.

The next day was Valentine’s Day, which called for romantic hi-jinks, since this was a romantic vacation. My wife was empowered to select romantic hi-jinks for us. She chose zip lining. As far as I knew, zip lining was how guys with guns dropped out of black helicopters to shoot other guys who didn’t happen to be looking up. My wife informed me that was a narrow view of the term. You can also dangle from a wire stretched between two trees and let gravity hurl you across the gap, with no opportunities to shoot anyone on the other side. That too is called zip lining. Since this was Valentine’s Day, and this sounded so damned romantic, and I wasn’t allowed to make any decisions anyway, I said, “Sure.”

Our romantic zip lining rendezvous would happen in a lovely canopy jungle, which sounded pretty good. But we were at the beach, where canopy jungles were conspicuously missing. The jungle we needed lay rather closer to the middle of Jamaica. We spent two hours on a cute bus driven by a charming fellow named Chris, and I learned three things on the ride. First, it does not pay to be timid when driving in Jamaica. Second, I would refuse to be a pedestrian in Jamaica. I’d sit in a room and starve before I stepped onto the street. Third, I’ve spent about six hours on Jamaican roads, and I have had the honor of passing through the only stop light on the island, twice, and never slowing down either time.

At Zip Lining Base Camp the guides organized us, distributed equipment, and gave a detailed lecture on technique and safety procedures. We all signed a waiver, which none of us really read. I did catch some phrases like, “able to walk for 30 minutes,” “not responsible for spine injuries,” “coronary event,” and, “nausea and vomiting.” Well, I figured the lawyers probably just made them put that stuff in there. As I walked by a table one of the guides asked whether I wanted to take such a nice camera with me. I said sure, I wanted to take pictures. He warned me it would be wet, but I said I’d be okay. He persisted, saying it might rain, but I just waved and kept going.

Three guides led us ten hapless dopes to the first zip line, and a few things became apparent right away. The guides were funny, funny guys. The guide who’d warned me about my camera had a better camera than mine hanging from his neck. Since I’d brought my massive Canon along anyway, the guides named me “Paparazzi.” And when we hit the first zip line the guides just hooked us up and told us to grab on and go. It was like that lecture on technique and safety had been some sort of dream.

The zip lining itself was a hoot, especially the longer, faster lines. The guides kept us from dying, and more importantly entertained us while they did it. But I’ll tell you a secret about zip lines. The end you start on has to be higher than the end you finish on. That means to get to the next line you have to walk uphill. Actually you have to walk up rough rock steps. Steep ones. And lots of them. After a while, some of us had our heads down, gasping like an ox in Death Valley. The disclaimers about coronary events and vomiting flashed through my mind.

Despite that, we zipped down seven lines in all and had a great time. I took some pictures that didn’t suck. As our bus hurtled back toward our resort, dodging larger vehicles and intimidating anything smaller than itself, I reflected that my wife had made a good decision.

Back at the resort and drunk on successful decision making, my wife chose an oriental restaurant for our big Valentine’s Day dinner. While the food was delicious, they served us an entire trough of sushi. My wife’s bowl contained enough noodles so that placed end to end they would reach the height of the Statue of Liberty. We’d been zip lining all day. We were hungry. We ate a lot.

In our room after dinner we lay on the bed and looked at each other. Valentine’s Day would seem like the right time for some romantic hanky panky, especially on vacation. Yet we lay on our backs like chubby otters, unable to do anything but roll a bit from side to side. My wife said, “It’s like a perfect storm. The deep tissue massage, then the sunburn, then zip-lining, and now we’re stuffed full of noodles. I don’t know if we can touch each other without screaming.”

We’re so in love. We’d better be.