If her name were Zelda, it’d be easy
LATELY, I’ve discovered that men write best when discussing women. Read your Fitzgerald, your Updike, your O’Neill. Men write best about the things they feel strongest about. Baseball and women -- things where you strike out more often than not.
“I’ve always suffered from a fatal weakness for women in uniform,” writes the great Edward Abbey. “For cheerleaders, majorettes, waitresses, meter maids, prison matrons, etc. On my first meeting with [park ranger] Bonnie Hendrickson, I said to her frankly, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to lift a ranger’s skirt.’
“ ‘You’ll need a hiking permit,’ she replied.”
So I’m trying to write about my wife more. She’s alluring, distant, a little out of my league. I really like that in a wife.
“What are you doing today?” she asks as the toddler squirms awake between us one morning.
“Lots,” I say.
I explain that at 5 that afternoon, I’d like to witness the start of another glorious baseball season. And that at 9 p.m., on come the “Sopranos,” a family even more dysfunctional than our own, though they live in a better house. Ever notice how there are all these lucrative jobs out there -- mob boss, studio head, porn king -- that they never told you about at your high school career day?
“What about,” my wife asks, “between now and 5 o’clock?”
“I’ll probably take a nice nap,” I say.
There is a backyard calling my name. For two years, I have been putting off the major overhaul I have planned out there. Sprinkler system. Flower beds. Mini-amphitheater. With a little luck, I think I can stretch it to three years.
In the meantime, I have been doing lots of small projects around the house, little things that I couldn’t do when coaching soccer and baseball all year long.
Most of the tasks are routine. But the trickier ones, like fixing the washing machine or rewiring a lamp, give me great satisfaction, even a tiny burst of pleasure when they are done. Doctors have a name for such responses: “chore-gasms.”
I had one recently when I repaired the clogged septic line. And when I fixed the drippy bathroom faucet. In both cases, I stood back and felt a tiny pulse of pride and relief. A perfect chore-gasm.
“I think I’ll do some chores,” I tell my wife.
“Great,” she says.
My wife hasn’t had a chore-gasm herself, though I think she once had a shoe-gasm, having bought five pairs on sale at Macy’s just after we were married. Then about 10 years ago, she had a couch-gasm, when she found the perfect sleeper-sofa for our living room. But 10 years is a long time to go between gasms. Ask any married person.
“Wanna help me mow the yard?” I ask.
“No,” she says.
I explain to her that all the rain has helped the frontyard dramatically. The weeds are really taking off, filling in the bare spots where grass should be. It’s like having hair plugs in your lawn. The neighbors sneak envious looks whenever they go to their cars.
“No,” she repeats.
I explain that I have been in the yard so much lately -- mowing, clipping, raking -- that I’m pretty sure I’ve developed a mild case of aphids. They don’t really show up, except in times of stress, which is pretty much all the time for me. On the outside, I seem the serene suburban father. But on the inside, I’m Tony Soprano. With aphids.
“No,” she says again.
I explain that when I am done trimming the yard, lush as Augusta, the toddler and I will take the clippings and make her a nice Easter bonnet -- grass, clover, dead bees, dandelions -- the kind of hat she’d be proud to wear in a major parade.
“No, thanks,” she says.
“Or to the sunrise service?” I say of the hat.
“Thanks anyway,” she says sweetly.
My wife begins to gripe about changing the clocks and losing an hour’s sleep. I kiss her eyelids and urge her back to sleep. When she’s not looking, I kiss her mouth, sweet as Christmas candy. I kiss it again, missing a little the first time.
She responds by getting up to make pancakes and start four loads of laundry (sock-gasms?).
Hmmmmm. Writing about women is going to be tougher than I thought. Maybe I’ll go back to kids and baseball, dogs and barbecues.
Some men write best about such things.
Chris Erskine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.