I bolted upright from a peaceful slumber face to face with a stark truth: I married a policy wonk!
My head was spinning with the words she had uttered at dinner: “If we’re not mission-driven, I don’t see how we’ll become a more user-friendly, outcome-oriented household.” Having no idea how to respond, I remarked that her food was getting cold. “Well,” she snapped, “if dinner can’t be reheated, then it’ll have to be reinvented.”
Slowly my head cleared. Terrified though I expected to be, I had not screamed or even broken into a cold sweat. Perhaps it was that my subconscious was way ahead of my conscious. But also--while I was sure my wife was one, I was not sure I was.
I phoned a knowledgeable friend. I whispered so as not to wake the wonk at my side and risk a middle-of-the-night policy discussion. I was not wont to wonk.
“A policy wonk,” my friend began as if reading Webster’s, “someone who loves to strategize and develop policy.” Not to be confused with bureaucrat. Bureaucrats are policy engineers, whose raison d’etre is to maintain the status quo while never actually dealing with anything. Wonks, on the other hand, are devoted to evaluating, implementing, testing, adjusting and, most of all, reinventing.”
Uh-oh, I thought.
Memories woozily swirled through my head. I realized I should have long ago seen this incubating. Her ability to read long articles about politicians that had nothing to do with campaign scandals. Her not merely watching hours of the Little Rock economic summit, but being renewed by it.
Gradually, life had become a metaphor. The primary analogy concerned a boat--no longer rowed, it was to be steered. This confused me. I knew nothing about shipping, didn’t like the water and have never even owned a rowing machine.
My wife’s speech grew florid with Zen images applied to everyday tasks. She talked of growing stuff, but intangibles and institutions, not houseplants.
Suddenly, our humble abode became a greenhouse of customer relations. When we’d have people over for dinner, it wasn’t a matter of how their tastes ran, it was making sure the hors d’oeuvres were customer-driven. The steak had to be grilled to the market orientation. The conversation was to be, of course, grown. And sometimes watered, weeded and seeded. I wondered how you harvest conversation, and if we could sell the surplus to the Russians.
International strife crept into my wife’s lexicon as well. Where the apartment used to be a mess, now it was Balkanized. Taking the last piece of chicken without asking was the nationalizing impulse. No longer were there bills to be paid, it was downsizing the debt, a task, I was told, the whole world had to face.
I sat there puzzling through these memories, perplexed by my reaction. Or lack thereof. Was I wonk-immune?
Then, an idea hit me. What I would do was convene a few friends to discuss the problem--expert friends, Renaissance-type people. Together, we’d form a quality cluster to strategize the best way to manage the situa . . . .
Oh, my God. No wonder I was having no reaction--I, too, was a wonk! My wife and I were nothing but a couple of coxswains in a pod.
Maybe it was the protracted silence, or perhaps I had moaned. In any case, my friend’s voice pierced the veil of my dark rumination: Hello? Hello? Are you all right, and if not, can I get the Elvis wine?
I assured him I was fine, thanked him and hung up. But I was not, in fact, feeling at all fine.
Suddenly I heard faint strains of a melody. It sounded familiar. It was . . . yes . . . Fleetwood Mac!
The music was an instant salve. I nestled in close to my wife. Softly singing, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” I drifted back to sleep, pleasantly mulling the Cornflakes Summit I would call at breakfast. It is going to be a great year for wonks.