"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sinking Relation-ship

My wife Carol said something really sweet and profound to me the other day. I wish I'd muted the TV long enough to catch it all.

Carol starts every day by saying, "I love you." I respond by asking her who she's on the phone with.

The other evening I said I'd light some candles and suggested we take a romantic bath together. Carol said she wasn't up for a bath but would wash her hands with me. Actually, I think she said she wanted to wash her hands of me.

We introduced some role reversal into our lovemaking: Carol said she was too tired, and I said I had a headache.

One point of contention was whether the household duties were being split evenly. I said let's make a list. After I wrote everything down I said I'd done my part, so...

We have a long-standing "joke" the reason we're still together is because neither of us could get a gun permit. But there are knives all over the kitchen -- so it must be love, right?

To keep things fresh, Carol recommended a "date night" once a month. I agreed but find it irritating when the guys honk from the driveway and expect her to run out to the car. Whatever happened to manners?

You'll hear people say things like, "I married my best friend." Well, I bet you and your best friend never had a joint checking account, did you?

I looked at myself in the mirror and saw thinning gray hair, wrinkles, sagging muscles and a paunch. Appearing from behind, Carol wrapped her arms around me and said, "You've really let yourself go."

Some people start the morning by checking the obituary page to see if their name is listed. Carol and I read the letters to "Dear Abby" and ask each other, "Did you write this?"

Regardless of what we're arguing about, one rule is that we never call each other names. We rely on slang for various body parts.

Carol will tell you she married me because I make her laugh. Several years went by before I realized it's at my expense.

As I write this, Carol and I have been married for 34 years. Many of them happy.

Every so often you'll hear about a couple married for fifty, sixty, seventy-five years and when asked for the secret to their long relationship will say, "We've never argued once." I can say that's true for Carol and me as well -- we've argued many, many times.

How have we managed to stay married for so long? Well, we believe that divorce is not an option. That is, it's not an affordable option.

All you need is love. But sometimes a spare bedroom comes in handy also.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tightening The Neuse

I was watching an old movie the other evening and heard a character describe herself as an "entrepreneuse". Never having heard the word before, along with the plummy accent the actress affected for the role, it took a moment for the term to register. Once my brain caught up with my ears, I realized how she had identified her vocation: a female entrepreneur. In today's world we strive to avoid gender-specific titles, not only to sidestep accusations of sexism but because anything a man can do, a woman can do while going backwards and wearing heels. Which, in my opinion, should prevent women from becoming Uber drivers but government regulations insist otherwise.

Performers such as Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman are today referred to as "comedians" rather than "comediennes". When I was growing up, variety programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were popular on TV. Each week's installment was likely to feature a woman introduced as a "comedienne": Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields, Joan Rivers. While Diller and Fields are long gone, Joan Rivers’ career lasted right up until her untimely death in 2014, by which time she was called just a "plastic surgery nightmare" -- every bit the equal of men like Kenny Rogers or Carrot Top.

I racked my brain to come up with all the other "-euse" words I could recall: 
  • Chanteuse:  A woman who really can't sing yet appears in a nightclub where smoking is still permitted. Historically, the term is most closely associated with French performer Édith Pilaf, an international sensation best known for her timeless hit, "La Vie en Arroz".
  • Chartreuse: A truly hideous color unless your wife is wearing something featuring it, in which case it's best acknowledged as "retro".
  • Pampleneuse: A female grapefruit
Perhaps I didn't so much rack my brain as give it a gentle squeeze.

The movie I was watching was The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, released in 1939 and starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The Castles were essentially the Astaire and Rogers of their day: a husband and wife team who introduced the tango, among other dances, to European and American audiences. The couple was popular before the advent of movies as we know them, so they gained fame performing in ballroom settings and theater stages. Their signature dance was known as the "Castle Walk", which was recreated in the movie and can best be described as a man and woman, both named "Castle", walking around the perimeter of the dance floor. Occasionally they would break into a sideways skip before bringing it down a notch and returning to walking. Inexplicably, this became an international sensation, with society-types quickly adopting the dance because it relieved them from anything requiring coordination or rhythm or the need to actually, you know -- dance. But back in 1910s the Castles were a big freaking deal, becoming superstars not only for their routines but also lending their names to dance studios, nightclubs (where maybe they met a chanteuse or teu), footwear and other fashionable clothing items. Irene was also the Jennifer Aniston of her times; she got a short trim that came to be known as the "Castle Bob" and women across the country flocked to hair salons to have their tresses so coiffed, coming home to show off the style to spouses who, just as today, didn’t notice anything different.

The film ended on a tragic note, which at first I thought was dramatized for cinematic input but learned was true -- Vernon Castle, who was English by birth, enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps during WWI (receiving the Croix de Guerre for his actions in combat) and died in a plane crash in 1918 while serving as a flight instructor. He essentially sacrificed himself because he always insisted on taking the front seat in a Jenny biplane's cockpit so his trainees would be safer sitting in the rear. To avoid a mid-air collision with another cadet's plane, he stalled while attempting a steep climb and crashed, killing him but leaving his rear-seat student with only minor injuries. While I'm sure this was tragic in real life, the cinematic version was made unintentionally hilarious due to the flying recreations using then-state of the art special effects; i.e., model planes "flying" via the use of hidden sticks and the dramatic "crash" looking as though the model was dropped into one of those dioramas you'd make for elementary school projects.

The movie came to a rapid conclusion after Vernon's/Astaire's demise, even though Irene lived on and had a pretty interesting second act -- briefly continuing her showbiz career, remarrying several times and eventually becoming an animal rights activist -- until her death at age 75 in 1969. The Hollywood version of their lives skipped over lots of other interesting tidbits: the Castles toured with an all-black orchestra; their long-time personal assistant (played in the movie by the inestimable, and very white, Walter Brennan) was also a black man; their manager (the "entrepreneuse" mentioned earlier) was reportedly a lesbian – although the movie hinted at this since the character met the Castles while she was travelling through Europe with a female companion. Of course, two women can travel though Europe and share a hotel room and that doesn't necessarily mean they are gay. Whereas if two dudes were to do that, the odds change dramatically. In fact, that story was made into a movie a few years ago -- J. Edgar.

The Castles' story strikes me as a film begging for a modern-day remake, a la Moulin Rouge! as directed by Baz Luhmann. Their lives contain so many elements of dramatic and societal significance: the nature of fame, the impact of war, issues involving race, class distinctions and sexual identity, animal rights -- all wrapped up in romance and with plenty of opportunities for big production numbers where populations of entire cities break out in vigorous walking. And when the scene is recreated -- where the entrepreneuse first meets the dancing couple -- she can stand tall and proudly proclaim her modern-day identity:" I... AM... A... MOMAGER!"

Oh, sorry -- that dialogue is from another script under development: The Story of the Kardashian Clan -- Episode 1: What A Bunch Of Entrepre-losers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

Carol and I were sitting on the couch the other evening, both of us reading quietly. I reached over to give her an affectionate rub on the shoulder and asked, "Do you love me?" Without looking up her immediate reply was, "What do you want?" I was stunned by her response to my sweet, gentle question and decided to ditch my follow-up query regarding her willingness to get up and bring me a bowl of ice cream.

Lately we find ourselves in the midst of a mild "failure to communicate," mostly about mundane issues but pushing us just enough off-track to lead to some occasional friction. A few weeks ago we were heading out for dinner; I was ready and cooling my heels while waiting for Carol to get dressed. "How about this?" she solicited. Since I'm familiar with her wardrobe I didn't need to look before replying, "Adorable. Let's go." She stared at me and muttered, "... asshole..." under her breath before heading back to her closet. I was offended by her accusation. Well, I feigned offense but that’s pretty much the same response, isn't it?

I was assembling a piece of furniture and was flummoxed (as I often am) by a set of unhelpful instructions. I made a series of false starts and mis-steps, and each time as I recognized the latest snafu I exclaimed, "Oh my GOD!" in frustration. Carol kept asking if she could help me. After her sixth or seventh offer of assistance, I again replied "No" and added, "Please don't ask, 'Can I help you?' every time you hear me say in exasperation, 'Oh my GOD!'" I returned to my task, then paused and added, "Conversely -- if you hear me ask, 'Can you help me?' please don't reply with an exasperated 'Oh my GOD!'" I don't think she embraced my clarification in the spirit with which it was intended.

We were in the car, headed for a destination Carol was familiar with but I wasn't. Since I was behind the wheel I asked her to provide navigation. As we drove along one stretch of road, Carol said something about a sign up ahead which may have implied an imminent change in direction, but since I was passionately singing along to "Carry On Wayward Son" on the radio I wasn't paying attention to her at that moment (a more considerate person would have provided guidance during one of the numerous instrumental interludes). She then began to shout and gesture frantically as I nearly sped past where we needed to bear left. I slammed on the brakes, spinning the wheel and fishtailing in a manner reminiscent of Steve McQueen in Bullitt. Once I'd corrected course and returned to my side of the road, I reminded her of my preference for timely directions offered in advance rather than this tumultuous last-second, arm-waving, shouting-laden approach. While I initially thought she was quietly contemplating my observation before offering an apology, I was distressed when her silence continued for the rest of our drive and in fact the remainder of the day. How ironic there was no peace when we were done with our trip.

Of course there are guidelines couples should follow to ensure effective communication. We are acquainted with them but sometimes find ourselves just not up to making the proactive effort required, falling back on bad habits and then suffering through the consequences as a result. When Carol fails to express herself appropriately, I gently admonish her and then thoughtfully point out what she should have said differently. Lately, however, Carol isn't embracing these as "teachable moments" and instead seems to feel I'm being chauvinistic and condescending toward her, while portraying myself as beyond reproach. Well, I really can't control how she chooses to respond (another guideline for effective communication between partners), so I've learned to give her the space she needs regardless of how much it wounds my soul. While it's proving to be a tiresome burden it's one I bear with minimal complaint since -- at their core -- these contretemps are transitory and insignificant and in no way interfere with our deep and abiding love for one another.

But oh my GOD if Carol doesn't bring me a bowl of ice cream one evening soon I am going to lay my weary head to rest.