I should have known that asking my wife a simple question when it held the possibility of a complicated response was probably the wrong thing to do.
Women do not think in simple terms but ponder questions in a more abstract manner, sometimes over a period of several days, examining each segment of many possibilities the way an entomologist might consider a bug under a microscope.
Men are more liable to reply to a question with a grunt or at best a short declarative sentence. "Want a beer?" "Sure." Ask that of a woman, and she will respond with, "Why?" You'll have to come up with several reasons, not one of which she will find either suitable or viable.
For instance, Cinelli and I were fascinated by the televised coverage of the California primary, which threw Obama and Clinton into celestial combat more elemental than the clash between Brady and Manning. In one segment, the camera followed Hillary toward a stage with Bill trotting behind like a happy puppy. That caught my attention.
I'm sure that by his presence and in his way, he was attempting to be helpful, assuring everyone that if the little woman faltered, he'd be there to prop her up. What he managed to achieve was the annoying appearance of an old trouper trying to reprise the act that had once made him famous, turning the campaign into a duet instead of a solo.
After the segment, I turned to Cinelli and said, "If you were running for president would you want me tagging along?"
She didn't say anything at the time, but the next night, as we were in bed, she said in a tone not meant to tempt debate, "I'd never have you along on a campaign."
Hindsight dictates that I should have just agreed that she was absolutely right in her decision to leave me home, but instead, damn me, I said, "Why not?" I would have sucked the question back in through my teeth if I could, but it was too late.
She said, "You would never go to Cincinnati."
I lay there trying to recall if I had ever refused to travel to Cincinnati or if it had popped into her head because Hillary, with Bill at her side, might have said, "We're off to win in Cincinnati!" after her victory in California. Nothing came to me.
I said, "Why don't we just talk about it in the morning? You can fix us a nice breakfast and we can sit across from each other and chat, the way Lucy and Desi did before she threw him out."
Cinelli ignored the offer: "You're too damned stubborn to just say, 'If you want to campaign in Cincinnati, dear, let's just go together.' You would flat out refuse. I'll bet Bill doesn't refuse."
"He probably has groupies in Cincinnati."
"You'd stay home and eat canned okra until you passed out from okra poisoning and I'd have to fly home to get you to your stupid little hospital on the corner."
Although I like okra and often enjoy it right out of the can, I am also known to mix it with garbanzo beans and a nice pate, creating a sort of okra Parisienne. I don't eat it all the time, only when I run out of real food, which she prepares and freezes for me when she drives north to visit our daughter, the Cat Lady.
Silence followed her assault on the okra, during which I decided that the Cincinnati Question had probably been exhausted. Wrong again. She was sitting up in bed, a puzzle book in one hand, pen in the other. Half asleep, I was taken with a sudden Walter Mitty-esque vision of her flinging the book aside, enraged at my dismissal of Cincinnati, and coming at me with the pen upraised, about to strike.
I rolled away quickly and she said, "What on Earth are you doing?" I looked up. The puzzle book and the pen were still in her hands. She appeared more quizzical than angry. I saw my opening.
"You're right," I said, sighing and modulating my voice to a tone that would indicate a groveling fool seeking forgiveness. "I would fight going to Cincinnati for no reason at all. I've never hated Cincinnati. I can't even spell it. I'm just a stubborn fool."
"Oh, well," she replied soothingly, touched by my atonement, "I guess that's just you."
"Yes," I said, "just old dumb Elmer." Then, without thinking, I added, "What exactly do you mean by 'That's just you'?"
I'd done it again.
I had rammed a question right into the middle of her delayed thinking process. She didn't say anything, but looked at me, pen and puzzle book in hand, like there was something more to consider and she would study it for a few days and eventually come up with an answer.
Next Wednesday she will say, "I'll tell you exactly what I mean," and I will sit half listening and wishing I were in Cincinnati.