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

Monday, September 19, 2016

Defensive driving saves lives but wrecks marriages

We were recently on the road for six hours in each direction between Maine and New York to see family. I was behind the wheel the entire time so Carol could check Facebook on her phone for friends posting new videos of kittens adorably provoking larger animals without being eaten alive.

While unpacking the car after we made it home, Carol turned to me and said, "You are a defensive driver." I offered my thanks for her compliment. "You misunderstand," she responded -- "I don't mean that you drive well; I mean that you can't accept any criticism regarding how you handle the car."
I was rather flummoxed by her observation and asked her to provide some examples. "You pass people on the right." I said that was only when some fool in the far left lane was going too damn slow. "You drive too fast." I reminded her she was just as anxious to get home as I was. "You fiddle with the radio and take your eyes off the road." I told her I could not tolerate any country music, had recently become a big fan of hippity-hop, and would listen only to tunes of that genre.

"This is what I mean! You have an excuse for every bit of your obnoxious behavior!" I responded she was welcome to take over the driving duties any time if she felt she could do better. She sighed while saying, "You continue to prove my point," and then walked into the house, leaving me to bring in our overnight bags, her hanging clothes, a half-eaten bag of potato chips, several empty pouches of M&Ms, and the seven pairs of shoes she'd packed for our two-night visit.

But after letting her bitching comments sink in for a bit, I decided to practice what she'd preached and make an effort to become a less frantic, more considerate driver. I had to run a number of errands yesterday and spent a fair amount of time on various roads. Every time someone was merging onto the Maine Turnpike, I moved into the left lane to provide them with a clear path rather than gunning it to get ahead of them. When a car was trying to turn onto the street from a parking lot, I slowed and signaled them to pull out in front of me instead of rolling past and further delaying their egress. When the light changed on a two-way street, I flashed my lights to permit the opposing driver to complete a left turn before I proceeded through the intersection. I have to admit -- I felt more relaxed behind the wheel and didn't even bother to change the station when Fetty Wap's raspy rap faded and Kenny Chesney's tremulous voice came through the speakers.

Last on my list was to pick up Carol at work since her car was in the shop. Because of all the courtesies I'd extended and the measured pace I'd traveled throughout the day, I ended up arriving a half-hour later than she expected. But I figured once I told her how I'd taken her words to heart and embraced a more responsible approach to being on the road, she'd understand and be pleased that I'd turned over a new leaf.

I was wrong about that. "What took you so long?" she asked as I hopped out and went to open the passenger door for her. I said driving at the posted speed limit, while safer, also took a bit more time. "Why didn't you let me know you were running late?" I pointed out that keeping my focus on the road meant I couldn't allow myself to be distracted by texting or talking on the phone. "I'm going to miss the start of my yoga class, so you'd better hurry up and get me there as quickly as possible." I stated that as long as I was driving I had no intention of putting her in harm's way by rushing to get anywhere. Carol looked at me and said, "Fair enough" before pushing me out of the way, jumping into the driver's seat and taking off toward her appointment.

The setting sun illuminated the evening sky with brilliant pinks and purples, and I drank in the peaceful vista while trying to flag down a ride from passing motorists who obviously could have benefited from the same insights recently shared with me about what constitutes courteous driving.  As the temperature dropped and I started to shiver from the cold, I hoped that Carol was following her own advice and wouldn't allow herself to become distracted by calling to see where I was; also she'd driven off with my phone still in the car. Once I realized no one was going to stop for me, I had an epiphany while jumping out of the way of the cars that swerved to feign they were going to run me over:  the safest way to drive was to not drive at all. I would gladly turn over all responsibility for being behind the wheel for future trips to my life partner.

And just wait until she hears what I have to say about the way SHE drives, from the comfort of the passenger seat.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Showered With Affection

When couples who have been together for many decades are asked for their secrets, a frequent response is, "We've never argued once." Carol and I, after 35 years of marriage, agree with that statement. We've argued many, many times.
In the earlier years of our union, the only way to describe those battles are as "blowouts" -- yelling and screaming, slamming doors behind us while storming off to separate rooms. We're certainly not proud of those behaviors and came to the realization long ago that it wasn't healthy for our relationship. If we intended to stay together (which we did, and have, happily), something would have to change. That would be me.
Over time I've learned to express myself in more constructive ways. One of the fundamental tenets of couples communication is avoiding "you" statements and focusing on "I" statements. Years ago I'd be inclined to say to Carol, "You are always nagging me about fixing the leaky pipe under the sink." That's not constructive. The positive approach to discussing the concern is to focus on my own feelings about the situation and offer a recommendation to resolve the issue. Now I would say, "I feel anxious and resentful when you keep reminding me about the leaky pipe under the sink, so I would like to suggest that you go to hell."

Years ago we traveled with a group from New York to Washington, DC for an overnight trip to see the gem and mineral exhibit at the Smithsonian. (Anticipating what I'm about to tell you, I experienced a classic Freudian slip while writing this last sentence and initially typed "gem and miserable exhibit.") After a busy day at the museums and dinner with everyone that evening, we turned in for the night and something sparked an argument. This one was replete with slang terms for various body parts and suggested uses for them other than what the Lord intended. After a ridiculously long period of shouting invective we finally wore each other down, made up and caught a quick nap before meeting everyone for breakfast prior to checking out of our hotel. We walked into the dining room, smiling and holding hands, and made the usual "Good morning!" chit-chat with the others in attendance. At some point I asked one couple if they'd found their room comfortable. The wife replied, "Oh, it was terrible! We didn't get any sleep at all." I naively questioned what the problem had been and she answered, "The people in the room next to us had a loud argument that went on nearly all night. And the LANGUAGE they used... it was appalling!" So far as we could assess, this woman had not pegged us as the couple responsible for the contretemps. Carol and I quickly grabbed juice and coffee and beat a hasty retreat back to our room, saying we still needed to pack and would find our own way to the train station for the trip home.
A few years later I won a trip to New Orleans as a reward for performance at work. Winners could bring their significant other. (At least one attendee took this literally and brought his girlfriend along -- leaving his wife home with their kids.) The company put on quite a spread -- limos from the airport, top-notch accommodations on Bourbon Street, organized activities during the day and visits to the best restaurants in town in the evenings. In addition, when we returned to our rooms after dinner we found different stunning gifts awaiting us each night -- portable CD players (back when that was still a novelty), embroidered suede jackets, coffee table books loaded with glossy photos depicting the city's history. Every moment of the visit was carefully planned and focused on maximum enjoyment. So, of course, Carol and I found something to get into a squabble about after returning to the hotel one night. I honestly don't recall what set us off, but I do remember that I eventually grabbed a blanket and a pillow and moved into the only other place where I could sleep alone -- the bathtub. Were this a scene in a rom-com, Carol would have come into the bathroom just as I dozed off and turned on the faucet, leaving me drenched and sputtering. Instead, at some point we recognized how foolish we were being, mumbled exhausted but heartfelt apologies, and found our way toward cuddling back in bed and enjoying the rest of the trip together. Well, we also unwittingly gave up $200 in free chips at a casino but, in the spirit of renewed harmony, jointly blamed one of the trip organizers for the misunderstanding and gave him the stink-eye for the rest of our stay.
Many years (and some intense counseling sessions) have passed since these incidents. We have been in a much better place for decades, with only an occasional and relatively benign skirmish between us. These days our only battles are over whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher or why I have to watch another goddam episode of Rizzoli and Isles instead of the ballgame. We've learned to treat each other with courtesy, respect and boundless affection, and we're a much happier couple because of it.

Plus, we only have a shower stall now and there's no WAY I can sleep standing up.