365. Epoxy My Brain Shut

Quite unintentionally it’s been good to be me lately in my marriage. Naturally I think history simply caught up to me; the wave I’ve been ahead of has finally crashed behind me and my prophesies are seen as epochal truths. Of course, this is delusional thinking.  Put simply, my wife recently told me one Saturday morn, “I really like how you have been behaving lately. I wish you could always be like this.”

Such comments are simultaneously both a compliment and a complaint. They contain two parts. Part one is the limited compliment, specific praise for something recent. Part two is the ubiquitous complaint, the history lesson that says you usually, no make that almost always, suck. Days like these are comparable to balmy summer days in Antarctica, serving only to confuse the penguins, seals and walruses who live upside down on the underbelly of the planet. Those poor critters are so confused that they dare not venture north, where it’s warmer.

Well, like a penguin in Miami I did not know what to do with such a statement. I asked for some clarification, hoping I would not ruin this un-Cialis moment. Indisputable examples were given. I pondered further. Finally, since my brain chemistry was under discussion or debate, I leaned back against the stove and made a suggestion. “Honey, here’s what I’m gonna do. Since you like my present mood so much and we’re both pretty sure it will soon fall into a computer screen or television abyss, I am going to epoxy my brain chemistry in place right here in this sweet spot of marital bliss. I can put an epoxy-filled syringe in each ear and squeeze until my brain hardens in place. Then I will be your joy boy forevermore.”

Seasoning her egg sandwich, “Oh, I wish.”

“I’m sure. We’ve been married 36 years now, right?  known one another 41 years, or twice as long as we did not know one another. Which is hard to say. I would not want to translate that sentence into another language, say Moroccan. More coffee?”

“Yes. I don’t care about translations. I just want to understand the original so stop the obscure references. It’s nice to be close to you. I feel complete and secure.”

“Oh, I do too. So often we have stress for one reason or another that just derails us.”

“Usually, by which I mean always, it’s you. I am very stable.”

“Yes, but so is concrete.”

“Are you comparing me to a building product?”

“No! I’m, I’m just saying that you are so much more than stable, you know, sexy and smart and … like, uh, stable is just where you start, baby. Just the foundation of the Honey Pot Nation.”

“No! You’re going to ruin it again! You are so impatient!”

“I’ve never been in-patient.”

“And the puns. They are intolerable.”

“I know. I can’t help it. Aren’t you going to eat the yolk?”

“No, egg yolks are gross. Are you going to eat it?”

“Gulp. Mmmmm. That’s your problem, baby girl. You just don’t get my yolks.”

“Uhhhhhh. Must you?”

“Hey, I did not go bait and switch on you. I was like this when we met in 1974. In fact, I was wearing this same Grateful Dead tee shirt without the holes. Listen:  If I epoxy my brain shut now, are you prepared for bad yolks forevermore?”

“No. Let’s think this through. There has to be something else that preserves a mood.”

“Formaldehyde. Radon. Volcanic ash. Death…”

“NO! Stop. Whose death, yours or mine?”

“Does it matter?  It was yust a yolk, my yittle chickadee.”

“What is in your head that makes you so weird? Is it a fungal infection that got into your synapses?

“Possibly. I contracted athlete’s brain in junior high from the gym showers. Mushrooms grew in the dark stall farthest from the frosted windows. That’s where Jody Riccio…”

“Stop!!! You see? This is why I want to hire a hit man. You start with a loving statement from me and then you go down bunny trails that lead to squirrel tracks that lead to mole holes that lead to ant farms that lead to termite tunnels on other planets!!!”

“Honey, honey. Sweet honey bee. You are surely exaggerating my exaggerations exponentially, even intergalactically. I will not lean here and be compared to insect life on any planet. I have standards.”

“Really?”

“Sometimes you must admit I’ve had a standard, at least once. I have stood beneath a bell curve at least once.”

“Standard deviation.”

“Well, you have to have a standard to have a deviation, right? I am an outlier. You gotta sin to be saved. Sister, come forward and accept God’s Holy Spirit on your tortured soul!!!”

“You got the liar part right. Can we focus here?”

“Did you know that Focus means Botox in Japanese. And now I see why. If you get shot up with enough Botox, your face will stay focused for eternity, sort of like the Joker after his weird mouth mishap.”

“I could not endure your happy face forever. It gets scary after a couple of seconds. Stop it! I hate your Jack Nicholson impression. He is so ugly.”

“So the answer is not Botox. How about laser surgery?”

“For what?”

“I read an article in AARP that lasers can melt your wrinkles together and make you look twenty years younger.”

“I knew you twenty years ago. I don’t want that again.”

“I could get my lips done so they are in a forever super model pout. How about this?”

“Don’t make that face. Now you look like Jack Nicholson imitating Angelina Jolie. It’s too freakin’ freaky.”

“Well, in other news, are you going to yoga tonight?”

“Are you?”

“I’m a go.”

“What?”

“No, I changed my mind.”

“What?”

“Nah, I’m a stay.”

“I’m putting on these lime green ear muffs now. I can’t hear you.”

“What’dya say?”

“I said, ‘I can’t hear you.”

“Do you still want me to stay like this?

“What?” Reaching for the epoxy syringe.

“I said, ‘Do you still want me to stay this way?'”

“How about we epoxy your mouth shut?”

“mmmmhmmm aaahummm eeyyoooo”

“Yes, this is lovely. Now Immastay. No, Immago. Immatalk. Youashutup. Yeah, nice.”

“mmmmnnnnoooo  aaaahhhhmmmmm puuuhhhhmmmm arrrrgggg.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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333. Plumbing Adventures

It’s an odd topic, I’ll grant you that, since I am not a plumber nor much of a handyman. Some men are born plumbers; some achieve plumbing training; and others have plumbing thrust upon them. [Malvolio said something close to that in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.] I am in the last category. (I know how to call a plumber. “Hey, Plumber Boy, come here. Closer.  I sprung a leak and I need you to fix me up”, or in a raspy Janis Joplin voice… “I need you to come on, come on, come on,  Take it! Take another little look at my sink, my sink now baby. You know you’ve got it, if it don’t drip no more.”) Okay, that tangent is getting awkward for everyone. Time for some plumbing dope. It stops even hard to control neural and verbal leakage.

This morning as my wife and daughter scurried about responding to Work’s siren call, two things stood out: the first one I have already forgotten, and the second one was that the sink in our master bedroom was leaking, a lot.

The Wife: “I don’t need this. The Gestapo at work are now logging precisely when we swipe into the building and we’ll be written up if we’re a minute late. I’ll just eat breakfast in the car again. Forget the fact that I have to work at home every night to keep up with the kids’ IEP’s.” (I can attest to the veracity of this last statement. My bride’s face has the equivalent of a tanning booth cathode ray burn from her laptop’s screen. I’ve been shopping for computer sunscreen ointments, but these have apparently not been invented yet. I am concerned, however, at night after she shuts the laptop down, that her face continues to glow like a fog-covered moon in autumn.) “I’ve had too much of tirement.” She says, ” I need to get to that re- prefix and soon… Will you look at the vanity downstairs and turn the water off? Oh, and the hair dryer stopped working this morning, of course.  Ahhhh!!!”

(I could attest to the truth of that statement as well since only the right side of her hair was dry. It was a different look that might work if she were a 20 year old punk rocker with blue hair.)

“And don’t forget to let Johnnie out before you go.”

(That’s what I forgot! Head slap.)”Oh, and we’re out of coffee, so can you pick some up in Greencastle or at your coffee shop? I like Sumatran.”

“Yeeeahhh.”

“Yeah what?  Yeah, you heard me? Yeah, you agree with me? Yeah, you’ll check the sink?  Yeah, you like my hair, which I know is not true, so don’t even try that. Yeah, you’ll let the dog out? Or yeah, you’ll get the coffee?”

“Yeah, all of that. Yup. I’m going to write it down this very instant.”

“Okay, I’ll see you tonight. Don’t forget to pick Jess up after choir and send that insurance check off, okay?.”

“I, uh, dang pen won’t write… Let’s see. Number one is, uh, let the dog out. [Yeah, fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on you again.] Okay, bye.”

Silence.

Fear rising.

Nothing but blank checks bouncing across my brain’s screen saver.

Alone and scared. Clothed and Afraid.

“Oh no. I sense my memory banks are all bankrupt!  Wait, I remember something about coffee. (I have to pee when I get nervous and when I’ve had too much coffee.) Oh, yeah, let the dog out to pee. Got that. Oh, and let him back in. I guess that’s understood. If you go to the bathroom it’s a given that you will come back, unless you have a seizure or die there. Actually, I did have a seizure in the bathroom, this very bathroom almost exactly 12 years ago. Wow. This is like an anniversary peepiphany for me!! I may need to re-assess my opening claim and claim a different sort of plumbing competence.

“I will boldly plumb vaguely connected concepts, tiny and tenuous threads of relevance. I will get the dope out. I’ll solder the disjointed joints. Run the gradients. Snake the trapped. Flush the commodious. And hook you up with high pressure hyperbole.

Plumb, verb with object:  to examine closely in order to discover or understand:

to plumb someone’s thoughts. 
“Yeah, baby, baby, baby!!! Who’s the Plumber Boy now? Excuse me for just a second. I need to get up and shake my plumber butt around. Whooohooo.!!! Shake, shake. Oh yeah. Cue up “Macho Man” by the Village People. Where is my toolbelt? “I want to be your Macho Man.
“Okay, focus. Breathe deeply and slowly. Remember your yoga intention for the day. I wrote that down on a yellow sticky note upstairs, I think. OOoooh, the list. What was next?
“The sink. I sink I can, I sink I can, I sink…huh, looks like this big gray cap nut is loose.”  Turn, turn, turn. “Hmmmm, let me dry it out and see if the drip is done.”  Wipe, wipe, wipe.
Silence as the dehumidifier does its magic. An hour later our hero, me, slides a baking dish beneath the pipe.  Two hours later not a drop in the dish. Victory is mine. I let out a powerful exhale and strut around my bedroom like Mick Jagger singing “Midnight Plumber”…
Did you hear about the midnight plumber?
Everybody got to go
Did you hear about the midnight plumber?
The one that shut the kitchen door
He don’t give a hoot of warning
Wrapped up in a black cat cloak
He don’t go in the light of the morning
He split the time the cock’rel crows
Talkin’ about the midnight plumber
The one you never seen before
Talkin’ about the midnight plumber
Did you see him jump the garden wall?
Sighin’ down the wind so sad
Listen and you’ll hear him moan
Talkin’ about the midnight plumber
Everybody got to go
Did you hear about the midnight plumber
Well, honey, it’s no rock ‘n’ roll show
Well, I’m talkin’ about the midnight plumber
Yeah, the one you never seen before.
Ahhh, delirious Amen.
 
 
 
 

 

324. Stains, Repairs and Marriage.

So the decks off the back of my house needed to be repaired and stained yet again. They are twenty years old, maybe 22.  It doesn’t matter. They have been exposed to the blistering southern sun and cold western winds that sometimes whip against my house all these years. Rain is never far off for long in South Central PA, so the old pressure treated wood rarely gets to dry out. Then the filthy maple tree drops leaves and helicopters and bird poop steadily from April to October. All this exposure encourages warping, splintering and cracking. You don’t think on the last day of construction that you are obligating yourself to ongoing maintenance, not when everything is new and clean, straight and plumb, square and true. The piney smell of fresh sawdust sprinkles the air above the decks on the day you walk across their near perfection. Like a brand new marriage on your wedding day, you can’t see the splintering flaws hidden in your future. They are unimaginable. What could possibly go wrong?

My friend Jeff built these decks and the staircase that connects them way back when. He did a great job at cost, leaving me to finish the pickets and the braces, as well as finishing the installation of lag bolts here and there. I know I got the pickets installed, forgot the braces and might have installed the lag bolts incorrectly. It didn’t seem to matter because the decks looked so good. I put the tools away and just enjoyed what was there. From the start of it all, you see, I slacked.

Just for the sake of comparison, I got married 36 years ago. Yup. Been many a storm and drought in those years. Lots of bird poop and dead leaves have fallen on us, but so has new growth and some amazing blessings.  Three wonderful daughters any parent would be proud of. A great son in law. An adorable granddaughter. Like our old double decks, our marriage looked good from a distance. If you walked around my marriage often enough, however, you’d notice the sway and unevenness here and there. The corners were pulling out of square. The steps wiggled a bit. A couple of short cuts were visible. Things didn’t line up exactly and gaps appeared. Oh well, that’s okay. Good enough. It would not collapse outright, but it might be unsafe without routine inspection and maintenance… because I slacked at times. Nails instead of screws, screws instead of bolts. A good deck needs nothing but use, right?

So this past weekend I power-washed both decks and the staircase in the middle of a rainstorm. I blasted old stains, mildew, dirt and gunk for three plus hours. This rain soaked duty is something I would never have willingly done if it weren’t for the acute urgency I felt to make changes now. I’d been a poor and lazy steward of these decks. The steps had not been stained last time around I noticed. Likely because I’d said to myself, “I’ll get back to that” and never did. Many thoughts passed through my mind on that rainy day. Remorse and hope arm wrestled one another like I wrestled the power washer wand. “Why did it have to come to this point? Clearly it did not. Neglect, whether of a person or a thing, leads to decay.”

Nails had worked themselves up and out of their holds mysteriously. It was a simple matter to pound them back in or replace them with galvanized deck screws. I felt a measure of self contempt and self satisfaction as I repaired the results of my neglect. I looked at my physical efforts as half a metaphor for my marriage relationship: can I do the same things with my good, solid wife? Can I draw the corners of our relationship back into square and make our rails plumb? And what did I contribute to their warping? My harsh judgments had been blisteringly unforgiving, simmering under the painted surfaces, cooking the sap of her timbers. My icy words and frosty silences froze her heartwood, cracking and swelling each carefully laid board. I did not cherish or respect her enough to do the needed maintenance cheerfully. Only when life was power washing me did I do the right stuff.

I bit my lip harder as I self confessed my arrogant stupidity. Twenty years ago I used to paint others’ houses with great care and precision, taking great pains to make them look good. Many a fellow painter said to me, “Just make it look good from the street.” That rubbed me the wrong way.  Yet, in retrospect, I see that I did to my house what I did to my marriage and family: I often gave my best overs to others and my left overs to my loved ones. Who does this? Who is more present, respectful, patient, etc.  for strangers than for their own family?

The answer is a moron, i.e., me.

I remembered the old joke about the painter who thinned the paint he used for painting the church’s steeple. He thought no one would notice and he’d pocket the difference. As he was finishing the scam, the voice of God shook his scaffolding.

“Clarence, you have cheated the church and me. You did not cheapen the paint but you did cheapen yourself. You have seriously sinned here, Bro.”

Clarence, “Lord, Lord, I am sorry. What should I do?”

The Lord, “Repaint, repaint and thin no more.”

As I reclined with a sore back that night, I thought about those braces. I had bought some 2×4’s along with extra stain. Before the sun went down, I went back out and  cut and screwed three of them on the diagonal into the staircase supports. Amazingly the wobble was gone. The shaky shake stairs were suddenly rock solid. I was thrilled with the difference. I could not wait for my wife to walk down them like a new bride– safely, steadily and securely on a fresh new promise.

“Repent, repent and sin no more.” I can do the first and struggle hard against the second… but only through the power of my gracious God can I succeed. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

314. the silent man

He doesn’t say much, so it’s hard to tell if he’s thinking or what he’s feeling. His is not so much a poker face as it is a deflated basketball face. It seems that he used to have more substance on the inside that pushed his chin out and cocked his mouth into a confident smile. More bounce. Back then his warm eyes promised more to come. Now he spends an inordinate amount of time staring into his phone, barely tethered to family and friends, like an absent minded astronaut doing a space walk in the zero oxygen environment of black space.

“I’m going to eat in the bedroom tonight.”

“I’m going to bed now.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow night.” And he disappears into that black void beyond gravity’s pull. It’s a weightless but joyless place he goes, and it chips my heart every time he does.”

She is left with behaviors as the evidence of what lies within her almost champion’s heart and head.

“He’s kind and caring… my anchor, but I need him to be the captain of the ship. It’s easy to take an anchor for granted, you know. It’s out of sight and just barely attached. You don’t realize it’s even there when it does its job. In a crisis you pray that it will hold firm… but it’s hard to love an anchor.”

“He’s in chronic pain, tired, and deflated. Yeah, there’s that deflated idea again, where you have to slam the ball down to get it to come back up half as high. Underinflated, hmmmm, like depressed. But let’s not fix anything, no.  I don’t want to be a nag, but I won’t be a doormat either. I’ve done both before and neither worked out. I love who he is; I just don’t get to see much of his who. All the whats bog us down.”

“I’m all over the place with emotions and words and actions. I’m the pilot, the cook, the look out, the medic, the mechanic, fire police, security, accountant, and I swab the ship’s deck. I need him to step into the captaincy, you know, assert some authority.

“Sometimes it’s like playing with my old Mr. Potato Head. I start with a blank slate and give him arms to hold me, cuz I need hugs and touch. I’m a feely kind of girl, you know. Hugs are my drugs.

“Then I’d snap in those smoky eyes I long to fall into. It used to be automatic that I’d see his soul jumping like a pair of dolphins in those deep waters. I can’t find that accessory today, only sad or tired or glazed over eyes in today’s toy box. Mr. Potato Head, I need your soft hands to hold me. I need your strong arms to draw me into that cove where dolphins leap in tandem.

“You’re gonna need more tissues. Honk!!! Sniff. Sigh. I have a buy one get one free coupon for tissues.”

“No thanks. I get a perverse pleasure out of paying full price for things.”

“I’ll give it to your wife. I’m sure she loves a bargain.”

“Oh Yeah.”

“I have three fathers. You know my birth dad left when I was two. He went back to his native country and the familiar world where he was someone of notice. For over forty years I had nothing but radio silence, not even a pop or static on the line, as his blood flowed through my veins. However, my adopted dad showed up big in my life, and I couldn’t have asked for more. I think about that often. When I felt the empty space pull on my soul, I leaned into my Father God. He never left. He’s always held me together when I felt my seams breaking. He sent my adopted father to stand in the huge scarring gap my birth dad left behind.

“Funny thing is I’ve had three husbands also. My adolescent husband abandoned me along with the truth, dignity and the American Way. He chose the past also, where he was someone special. He burned the truth as a sacrifice on the altar of his self-indulgence. He grew like a pimple on my butt. So incredibly annoying and demanding.  Just like with my dad dilemma, I fell into God’s loving arms, exhausted and shattered. Again, My God Jesus walked as a husband with me, filling in the abyss until Chuck and I started the sequels to our first marriages.

“Chuck is the good sheriff who shows up and brings order in the bad cowboy town. I was so hopeful that he’d keep growing, sharing in my life, and not just settle for safe streets. That old song plays in my head about standing by me. I need that so much.

“Stand by Me” by Ben E. King
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
Oh darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
And that’s where I am today, with that old song playing in my exhausted heart. I know God held me in His hands till my True Dad showed up and made it all work. In faith I have to believe He is doing the same with my True Love.

252. “Call the doctor or I’ll kill you!”

I tend to exaggerate, but my wife did say something like this to me this morning. You see  a month ago she’d written on a piece of gray cardstock that my doctor’s office had called me for a follow up appointment … because she does not want to be a widow at 58, especially since I have finally learned to dance with her and show some promise for retirement. I had faithfully used that reminder card as my bookmark for the past month. She bugged me a few times and I said that I would call the office to schedule, but here I am thirty days later, senseless and defenseless. She’s worried that I may have some hidden cancer that is eating me up, metastasizing as I am fantasizing about being younger and buffer than I am. I told you that I tend to exaggerate. Now keep in mind, my blogstas, this is the same woman who once told me to unloosen my belt and unthaw the frozen roast beef. To which I replied, “You want me to tighten the belt and refreeze the meat?” The current threat is ironic, I think.  It boils down to this paraphrase, ‘Prolong your life or I’ll end it now!’ In some strange way I think I still have to unthaw that meat and I am it, and I am scared.

So this  got me thinking about other ironic communications in my life. Years ago in Sunday School class our then single gun-toting cowboy Josh was famous for saying off the wall things that would occasionally make sense. His favorite color was/is camo. His favorite shoe?  Tony Lamas boots. Favorite truck?  Dodge Ram. I don’t recall the exact conversation, but Josh offered that the devil comes on like sheep in wolves’ clothing. He meant the opposite; however, he had such a history of twisted clauses and phrases that it was anyone’s guess which way he wanted it to roll. The imagery is weird either way, but I’d never heard of herbivores skinning out a carnivore for a new suit.

That is the beauty of irony; it’s completely opposite of your expectations. Shame on you for thinking that way! Incomplete communication is the heart of many trick questions. Here’s one that occurred to me. “Which one of the following months has 30 days in it– June, July or August?”  Well, they all have thirty days, but if you push and pull a bit, you can imply that the answer ought to be June alone. And that vague gap is what lawyers drive wedges into to end contracts or nullify agreements or just to be mean.
At the coffee shop this morning the Nation was meeting in earnest. Two games of chess were played satisfactorily. (I dominated.) However, Joel, the consigliere exchequer of the Nation, was making noises behind us, two tables thither. It’s cold this morning, which got me to bust out the Eddie Bauer down jacket, affectionately known as Mr. Fluffy. Joel has a bizarre attraction to my fluffy jacket like the old Charmin toilet paper commercials proclaimed, “It’s squeezably soft.”  He has heard me say that it’s $2.00 a squeeze if I’m in the jacket, and $1.00 a squeeze if I’m not.  Anyway, we bantered back and forth about his predilection and how it meets a primal mammalian need to suckle. I offered to clip a binky on my jacket for next week so that he could have the full experience. He declined saying it was too weird. To which I responded, “Why is it okay for lawyers to pinch and squeeze their customers, but when their customers want a piece of the action, it’s a no squeeze zone?”
Ah, the suckling irony of it all!
Earlier this week, Tuesday night to be exact, I worked until 8:30 p.m. and then checked my cell phone– three texts and three voicemails. I could quickly guess that Danny’s Garage meant my car was ready, so I began walking the two blocks to pick it up, hoping that the keys were under the mat as usual. Two texts were from my wife reminding me to pick up our daughter at 8:30. One voice mail was, I was sure, her attempt to confirm why I had not responded to either text message. I’d been fully engaged with clients since 2:00 pm without any break, that’s why. I hustled to pick up the car, then the daughter, and answered another voice mail with a live phone call. It was exhausting. Guess what? My wife was upset with me that I had not texted her back a simple “ok” to confirm that I’d received her three reminders. At 9 p.m. when I was finally eating supper, I did not have room in my brain to store her complaint. So I just stared at her like the substitute village idiot.
Fast forward to Friday afternoon. As I was leaving my office to pick up the dry cleaning and go by the bank, I noticed a reminder text from my bride to pick up our daughter after her work day. Though I already knew this and had it on my calendar, I panicked and fumbled with my phone. I quickly typed “k” to acknowledge her text and avoid future pain. But my phone would not let me send that. No, technology was using me not vice versa. I tried again as I was driving, which I think is a crime unless you have just picked up 30 pounds of dry cleaning.  I missed the k key and typed “LLL”. I was screwed. The phone tried to edit me and refused to send that also. Finally I typed blindly “PLO” and sent it by mistake.  Uh, what’s the deal here? I pondered how she would interpret this error… “Are you comparing me to a terrorist organization?”
Sure enough, an hour later she called to inquire about the PLO. I told her that’s how you spell “ok” when you are driving a five speed SUV and you are scared of your wife’s retribution. Okay, I guess sometimes the truth is the best policy. She chuckled and gave me three points for the effort. “You know you could have just waited till  you got home to safely text me.”
“I know, I know, but I needed to unloosen my belt and unthaw the meat before you kill me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

141. Dancing at the winery

While listening to the Al Parson’s Band at the local winery on a hilltop overlooking Gettysburg, Pat said something about blogging this. Okay, I can do that. It’s a nice place to chill out after a hard week. The crowd is not too boisterous and only rarely do folks get noticeably drunk or obnoxious. So the winery is pretty smooth, easy to take.

We usually meet our friends Pat and Clark and share a couple of hours of their company. My wife gets a glint in her eyes and says, “Let’s dance.”  And then stands over me awkwardly, a dance bully who won’t take no for an answer. This after a day of yard work, yanking weeds and grass, weed whacking, push mowing, and groundhog hunting. Slavery and dance bullying were supposed to have been outlawed by the 13th amendment.

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Well, I have to hobble to my feet and justify the hours of dance lessons we have endured over the past three years. I’d be completely content with the Grope and Shuffle while Al sings, “You were always on my mahnd”, more Willie than Elvis, but my wife wants more. Swing, swing, swing. I think it’s because the woman is the elegant one in these dances; she twirls and sizzles while the hapless post up guy who has to actually think through each carefully choreographed turn and catch is tired from yanking and lugging weeds and groundhog carcasses. It’s not fair that the dance gene is so randomly and rarely distributed. I don’t know one straight man who possesses it.

Okay, so here’s something you don’t see everyday. In preparation for this night out my wife was searching frantically for her black knit tights that she wears under a cute dress she would not wear without leggings. I’ve told her she looks good in this outfit, and I’m sure that she can figure out that if I’m getting her vibes, so are other guys in my demographic and perhaps younger dudes, but definitely older letches if they still have their blood pressure and eyesight. Anyway, she could not find the black leggings, which I called Spanx. Now I know they are not Spanx, and she knows I know this, but I told her I’d look for her Spanx. I did for about 2 seconds and then gave her unhelpful suggestions. “Did you look in the laundry room?”  “Maybe Jess put them in with her laundry.”  “Do you think the guy who is staking out our house at night stole them while we slept, you know, for a creeper trophy?” No good. She did not like my  counter productive hints. Finally in a fit of madness or perhaps a fashion-driven or possibly rabid seizure, she turned on a neatly stacked pile of clothes and began digging through them like a terrier after a gopher. T-shirts, blouses, pajamas, shorts, underwear went flying up behind her as she scoured through the pile until there was nothing but bare floor in front of her flushed panting face. “Aaaghhhh. I’m mad! I wore them in Tucson. They’ve got to be here.”

I began laughing out loud, realizing that such behavior had a 50/50 chance of ending in bodily harm for me. Fortunately, she began to laugh at her furious canine activity. I began to scream in my Black woman falsetto voice, “I’m sooooo mad. I’m a get me my black Spanx. This aint right! I’m maaaad. Oh I’m so maaaaad.” And so it went. We never found her black tights. We left the bedroom in total chaos with a solemn promise to downsize, recycle, reduce, and refuse to shop ever again.

On the way up to the winery, which is a mere 15 minute drive, my wife will sometimes engage me in a deadly debate that she presents as an innocent “conversation”. For example, not long ago we were three minutes into our drive and she asked me if I’d thought about end of life nursing home care! I foolishly said, “No” without thinking that this was not what I thought it was. It was an ambush.

“Well, I have. And if I’m in a horribly critical accident, I want to come home. I want you to make the therapists rehabilitate me so I can come home.”

“Okay, sure.” Again, stupid move. Not enough compassion and reassurance. I did not get on the cruise ship Empathy with her request. I stayed in my little dingy of disinterest.

“I’m serious. So many rehabilitation hospitals hit a certain plateau and then they give up on you. I want to pull out all the stops so I can live a full life. Promise me.”

The red light seemed stuck at 997 and Route 30. Time slowed down as my blood pressure began to rise. My survival instinct was activated. “Well, you can leave me in the nursing home. Pull my plug. I’m okay with that. I don’t need any heroic efforts to bring me back into full turnip capacity.”  Again, stupid move. Now I did not value her since I was devaluing my own potential  incapacitation.

“Well with that attitude I will leave you in the nursing home.”

I broke into laughter. I could not take another dramatic moment engaged in a passionate debate about something that was unlikely to happen ever, but the more we talked about it, the less likely it seemed we’d arrive alive at the winery. “Honey, it’s five thirty on Friday night. We’ve both worked a long week and we’re going to relax for two hours on the mountainside. Why are we debating end of life issues now?”

“You don’t care.”

“I do care about my sanity, and this conversation is pushing me off the cliff.”

“Fine! I’ll leave you in the nursing home, and I’ll go out dancing with some younger man.”

“Hey, that’s okay. Just don’t forget where you put your Spanx.”

11. Empathically

Today my wife needed to swap cars, which is no big deal. She wanted to go to Lowe’s for some hardware needs and my 2000 Honda CRV is more suitable for messy loads than is her 2010 Honda Civic. I didn’t think a thing of it until I was driving into town, leaning down to see out of her mirrors. I thought about adjusting them, but why? She would need them reset by the end of the day, 10 miles later in my commute. The same thought skated across my frozen pond mind regarding her seat. I could stretch out a bit, but why?  Her legs are not that much longer, and, as I zoned along Route 30, I fell into a brief reverie…they were part of the initial attraction I had for her. I like long legs, which means I like tall women by default. Truly, though, it was her gorgeous smile and chocolate mahogany eyes that sizzled my soul like fajita meat. And they still light me up 38 years later, though I don’t think she would believe me on this point. Maybe my soul is refried beans now, reheated in a microwave, or just a warm flour tortilla.

 yeah, maybe just Velveeta with taquitos.

I started thinking about her car being her space and wondering how she interpreted my vehicle. Ooooh. My car is not clean and neat. It has stuff that resides in it– a glove, a five month old magazine, an order for bloodwork that I never had done, and a layer of dust particles. My car is a noisy five speed that requires more work than her quiet automatic. But there it is– because my car is dirty and nearing its blue book value death, it ironically has more value today!  I like pulling a positive out of a negative! My cd player skips a bit, which is fine since I rarely use it. I listen to crappy local radio stations if I listen to anything. My steering wheel has an old leather cover that is sort of sticky with age and the sweat of twelve years in it. Yeah, and the front left disc brake makes a chirping noise lately, so I must get it into Danny’s Garage.  Oh, and when the weather is nasty, it’s my expendable car that gets used in snow and ice and heavy rain. All wheel drive, baby. One more keeper quality.

Now Sara’s car is definitely cleaner.  Not only does her cd player not skip, but it plays on beautifully. And this morning it played a Christian praise disc that made me think further about her heart for God. She often listens to inspirational music or radio stations. And she grows spiritually. Each song I listened to made me think and feel as I imagined she did… in a sort of strange melding that is empathy. I was in her car and slipping slightly into her skin, so to speak. In doing so, I realized that my skin is pretty thick and coarse, like pigskin. And hers is soft and supple like a calf’s. And I think that’s okay when each is in its proper context. Still, there was a little thought bubble growing above me in her Civic that led to minor guilt twinges. Would she be as charmed in my old vehicle and even consider what it’s like to have thick rough skin that feels like boiled beef tongue? Probably not. A rubbery hard heart is not such a spiritual thing. It’s just a hardened muscle that keeps you alive, whereas a soft heart can give life to others in compassion. A soft heart can bend and blend; a hard heart is just a rough ride.

I could use a lot more time in my wife’s car, not just because it gets better gas mileage. Looking through her eyes and feeling her feelings might just reset my psychological odometer and stretch out my skin, allowing me to be exquisitely sensitive at times.

“The transformation from neurosis to personality health is indeed a wonderful process” says John Sanford.  I’m thinking he’s right when he adds, “Love comes into the man’s life to vanquish his loneliness.”  Almost 40 years ago she came into my life and loneliness left for extended periods of time. Not sure it has been vanquished. As I drive her car today, I know he is not around in this car and hope he’s not in the old dusty one either.