I am writing this on April 20. Like the rest of the world I am going nuts over this coronavirus quarantine. My daughter Ava moved out of our home 14 months ago, so now it’s just me and my wife. That alone is a recipe for disaster, and there’s not one wife or husband reading this who doesn’t know exactly what I mean.
I’ve been married 38 years and one thing we have perfected is how to get on each other’s nerves. I like to think that we are Olympic gold medal winners in this sport. We’ll challenge anybody. As long as it never gets even close to being physical, I would watch a couple argue and bicker before I would watch half of the sports that are on TV right now. ESPN has a new show on right now called Having a Catch and that’s exactly what it is—two knuckleheads throwing a football around. (OK, that’s a joke.)
Here’s another thing. People mistakenly think that it’s men and women exclusively who can’t live together, but the truth is it’s hard to live with anybody.
My close buddy, the legendary Spins Nitely, and I have been hanging and performing together for over 45 years. I swear to God we have never gotten even in the slightest of arguments. But about 40 years ago we ended up living together in this awful apartment in Gloucester City for two stinking months and it was a disaster. We once got in a kicking and screaming fight that wrestled its way through every room in the apartment. And it was over toast crumbs on the couch and who was responsible for that. I kid you not. Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple is such an enduring play, movie, and television show because it proves what this whole article is about—that it’s impossible to live together. (By the way, Joe Conklin and I performed The Odd Couple one summer in Camden and we ended up being short with each other the entire run of the show.)
Take my mother, for example. She was terrific fun and I miss her badly to this day. But I can only imagine her in heaven screaming at an angel, “Did you take my scissors?! Did you take my scissors?! How hard is it to put the scissors back where they belong?!”
Boy, she had a real thing about those scissors. She had this little cigar box with the lid ripped off that she kept in a kitchen drawer. Hell rained down on my brothers and my sisters if those scissors weren’t there when Mom went to use them. (My Dad was never a suspect. No one never saw my Dad with anything but a bottle of Ballentine in his hand.) What killed me was that there was nothing special about these scissors. They were ordinary and so old that the color had completely worn off, making them easy to blend in with a couch cushion or the top of the pantry shelve. Dag, the amount of time I wasted looking for these scissors when I could’ve been doing something much more valuable like organizing my baseball card collection.
And God forbid if you wanted to use them. You had to get written permission from the commissioner of baseball for crying out loud. “What do you want them for?” she would say with a threatening snarl. Often, I would need them to cut out articles about my sports heroes, but I soon learned that wasn’t a good enough answer, so I usually just replied, “For homework.” And one more thing. If you were going to borrow scissors from your mother, you better make sure you held them the correct way when you walked away from her—and that was with the sharp edge inward. That was another scissor infraction resulting in two or three whacks to the back of the head if you didn’t.
Sharing a bedroom with my older brother was no day at the beach either, because he was usually and rightfully ticked off at me for breaking something that he owned that I shouldn’t have been playing with. Binoculars, his Brownie camera, even his bike’s handlebars that I twisted beyond recognition and then denied it when he accused me of doing so. He also claimed that I made this odd clucking noise when I slept. I would deny this. “I do not!” And my brother would yell back, “How would you know? You’re asleep!”
I fared much better with my sisters. I am seven years younger than my older sister and seven years older than my younger sister. To this day I can’t recall having a heated argument with either one of them.
So, in the end, it all comes down to the two most important women of my life, my mother and my wife. Let’s start with Mom. First of all, she should have been receiving a monthly check from the National Book Association (if there is such a thing) because that woman spent every waking minute of her life yelling at me for not reading. If I was heading out the door to head to the mall she would say, “The bus might be late, bring a book.” If I was lying on the living room floor watching The Flintstones, she would literally throw a hardback book at the back of my head. I’d look at the book and it would be something like William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. “Really, Mom?!” I would exclaim. “You want me to stop watching Fred and Barney for this crap!”
We could argue over anything. And did. Music, politics, movies, homework, my room. Most people thought we enjoyed it. Maybe we did. I know I miss those battles dearly.
However, me and my mother were never quarantined alone in a house. Day after day, week after week, and now month after month. I am not saying it would have ended up in a bloodbath, but it wouldn’t have been pretty, that’s for sure.
No, leave the bloodbath part of the story for me and my wife. Although we are fully capable of arguing over the topics of the day and our families, our arguments are more like snippets of words and facial tics that can set us off. A simple “whatever” dropped in just the right moment.
“What have you been doing in the basement all afternoon?”
“Nothing? For six hours?”
“You know, whatever.”
“You did NOT just say ‘whatever’ to me.”
“You’re right, I didn’t.”
“You better not have.”
“Better not what?”
“Say ‘whatever’ to me ever again for the rest of your life.”
“Oh yeah? Since you’re being a Mr. Bossy Pants about it, how’s this?”
“WHATEVER WHATEVER WHATEVER WHATEVER WHATEVER WHATEVER WHATEVER!”
Any minute now, the police are going to arrive at my house to have my wife arrested. “On what charge,” may the judge ask.
“She rolled her eyes at me and then said she didn’t!”
“That will be 15 years in the slammer!”
Geez, if only real life worked that easy.
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Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 17, Issue 2 (May 2020).
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