Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pretend Husband Number One or: I Give You Ed Head

Of my four Pretend Husbands, Ed Head has known me the longest and, consequently, has suffered the most. The worst of his trials occurred early on, before a shrink finally put me on meds. Luckily, Ed Head had a mother who loved him, and as a result he is not mean to women. Not that he thinks of me as a woman. He thinks of me as more of a bison. At least that’s what he calls me (“Hello, You Big Bison”) when he isn’t calling me Vileness Itself or The World’s Most Remarkably Horrible Person.

The upside is that while he is calling me these hideous names, he’s also driving me to the doctor. The foot surgeon, brain surgeon, whatever’s required. Then, feeling sorry because I get the tumors while he, once a decade, gets the brief cold, he treats me to a big, festive dinner. I make fun of his Midwestern White Bread Terror of Flavor (always the chicken breast, never the thigh) while he mocks my Slavic Penchant For Dark (not just black bread, but jet black risotto, featuring squid in its own icky ink).  

If I had a brother, he’d be like Ed Head. Or, if I were a male, I would just be Ed Head. Which is to say that, despite our disdain for each other’s entrees, being with him feels, in the very best sense, like being alone, except I know that I’m not, because he is driving. Also, he reads and knows everything so whenever he talks I’m forced to expand my otherwise paltry vocabulary. Indeed, he’s the one who taught me lacuna (see previous post) and even now I recall how he used it:

“When I talk to you, Bison, it’s clear to me that you’re not stupid, but every once in a while I can’t help but notice this giant lacuna that looms in your brain."

Anyway, it was something like that, and hearing it (once I looked up lacuna) made me feel the best thing there is: Understood.  As often as I've tried to explain to my friends how Thoroughly I Understand Nothing, Ed Head is the only one who’s actually perceived this truth for himself. He not only sees my dreadful lacuna, he flagrantly marvels at its horrible depth. Which is why, when I fill out medical forms, I always put his name and number as the person to contact in case of emergency. In case of emergency? Who am I kidding? I've never not lived on the verge of emergence.  Ed Head knows this.  God bless Ed Head.

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Pretend Husbands

Another reason I can’t go on dates (besides being half deaf plus nobody asks me) is that I don’t know how to make conversation. My idea of small talk is: “So! What’s the most morally reprehensible thing you've ever done?” The only man who ever bothered to answer said he’d once tried to shove his wife from a car. A car that was moving. Fast. On a freeway. He responded so quickly I could tell he’d already given the matter some thought. This impressed me. After all, anyone can estimate how many smarmy acts they’ve committed in life, but only a few take the time to decide which act gets first prize.

Anyway, I must have forgotten my conversational handicap when I signed up with Match Death Dot Com and Kayak Dot Jew, but since the closest I ever got to a date was one ill-advised phone call, my memory lapse is but a moot point. A person who cannot date, of course, is also a person unlikely to marry. Not that I want to, except theoretically, in the same way one wants, theoretically, to travel the world, but in practical terms knows that one heat wave in Borneo will be more than enough to finish her off.

Indeed, having done it three times already, I don’t even want to live with a man, unless it’s in a sixty-room house, forty of which get to be my own bathroom. Even Mack, the born-again Christian Republican cowboy whom I adore more than truffle butter itself, is someone I don’t want to live with. I wouldn’t mind knowing once in a while if we’ll ever cross paths again in this lifetime, but that’s a whole other issue. (A bit of a cowboy issue, I think, per that Willie Nelson song admonishing mamas to not let their babies grow up to be them.)

As I doubt I’m the only crone in the world who’s never going to get her own husband, I’d like to offer up the system I use to try to make up for what is still (as one finds out if one leaves the house) a clearly stigmatizing lacuna.

I call my system My Pretend Husbands. At present I have four on my roster: Ed Head, Hank Fitz, Boo Radley, and Mack. While Ed and Hank both know I pretend they’re my husbands (never mind that Ed Head is happily married and Hank Fitz is unmarried plus gay), Boo and Mack still have no idea. How can I tell them? The H word alone would make Mack lose his mind, and Boo, last time I checked, had no mind to lose, because the other last time I checked, he was also--and ever will be--A Cat.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Neurasthenics Dot Com

While spending the past week stymied by mucous and guzzling Nyquil to not one avail, it occurred to me that I’d spent my childhood in much the same way, as well as vast parts of my stupid adulthood. My next revelation was how grossly I’d lied on my personal profile for Match Death Dot Com, not to mention my equally libelous work on Jew Date Dot Com, a.k.a. JDate. 

I'm not referring to the requisite lies--the frenzied halving of both weight and age--but the more insidious lie of omission. I’d forgotten to mention what I really was: a nineteenth-century shrill neurasthenic. A slacker who, instead of joining the volley ball game, drops into a lawn chair a mile away and drapes her knees with a Civil War blanket. Or, since I only seem to have sprung from the most tedious parts of a Henry James novel, with the latest issue of the New Yorker. My only defense is that Jackie O did much the same thing when the Kennedys tried to make her play football. Then again, Jackie ran miles around Central Park, and I wouldn’t run if God herself set my lawn chair on fire. I’d just mince away, taking a pause every now and again to search my purse for more aspirin. 

My sister, the very robust Mrs. Pep, is most emphatically not neurasthenic. Or, rather, she might complain like a real neurasthenic (“I’m tired and achey and I can’t breathe”) but she does it while either swimming the Hudson (the river she lives by in upstate New York) or taking confident strides all the way up to the peak of Mount Howard. I don’t know what the verbal complaints are about (when I offer her Advil, she shrinks like a slug who’s been sprinkled with salt) unless she does it just to imitate me, which I only now realize must be the case, because that is how I talk all the time. Which is just one more thing you can’t admit on Match Death Dot Com or Kayak Dot Jew—that even if you had been blessed with real pep, you’d only ever use it for whining. 

My mother, who feigned housewife normalcy most of her life, never complained of her own neurasthenia, but you could tell she was having it anyway. It wasn’t just that she wouldn’t play volleyball, she declined, every time, to even play Scrabble. As for lawn chairs and blankets, she kept a chaise lounge in our sunny back yard and lay on it daily with her Ladies Home Journal. It seemed to me she read one feature only, the one I read as soon as she’d finished, the eternal “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”.

Its format gave you three points of view—first the wife’s, then the polarized husband’s—and then the marriage counselor’s solution, which not only worked every time, but, like Jell-O's new chocolate pudding mix, worked right that instant.  Looking back, I think this is where my mom might have learned some marital lessons, in particular not to express her displeasures in actual, recordable words, but to keep instead to the mordant sigh and the shattering grimace. When I was ten she came to dinner one night and ate it all, without explanation, with both her eyes closed, and I don’t mean just closed, but fiercely slammed shut, as if she’d been caught in the world’s fiercest sand storm. She must have thought that not seeing what she usually saw (the face of my father, whose seat was opposite hers) would help ensure that she didn’t speak to him either, lest she utter words she’d be sorry for later when she was standing alone in some vile Divorce Court. Thus, perhaps, did she save her own marriage without even having to pay for a counselor.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t think tactics like that work any more. If I dated a stranger who made me feel crazy by, say, declaring his Starbucks coffee “amazing,” I really might feel the need to shut both my eyes. And if I gave in to this need, he’d surely reject me for being a mental, or at least for having some eye condition that would force him to drive me around all the time.  And I very well might give in to that need, because here’s the real horror: Even when I’m home alone, I sometimes drape cardigans over my head in case my eyes won’t close well enough to vanquish each and every visual stimulus. 

See what I mean? The lies on my profiles don’t even matter—if you spend any real time with a person, the truth always outs and it outs pretty quick. Neurasthenics Dot Com—that’s the group I should sign up with.

Except that I can't, 'cause even I would rather play football than date one.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Match Death Dot Com

Every time I have a moment of clarity—which, thank God, is not very often—I’m assailed by three miserable, soul-scorching facts: (2) I’m not Stacy London; (2) I’m me and I’m old; (3) I’ll never have a future with Mack.

The last time I had this clear moment was about six months ago and it made me do something murky indeed. Thinking I wanted a future with someone, even if that someone couldn’t be Mack, I made myself sign up with Match Death Dot Com. And although I realize there’s nothing new to be said about online dating, let me just say something anyway: 

Plucking the right mate out of the ether is like plucking the right dress off of the clothes rack—the best results will come to the normal. Clinton and the fabulous Stacy, who both have bodies of normal proportions, freely admit this on What Not to Wear. It’s the marginal, weird, and unusually shaped who have to try on five thousand skirts and then take that five thousandth skirt to a tailor. The odder you are, the more faith you need to keep on believing you’ll find your match. You’ll also need a few extra decades, by which time you will find your date, and he will be the grinning grim reaper. 

The thing about Match Death Dot Com is that most of the men who use it are normal, or just pretending to be because they want to meet normal women. By normal I guess I mean the majority, and the majority of my peer group today is evidently quite fond of the kayak. I suppose I could cram myself into a kayak, but the tumor that ate up half my brain’s balance might balk at being at sea and make me throw up all over my date. Can one really expect that a man who won’t tolerate baggage or drama (their profiles say this, I kid you not!) will want to put up with the bathos of barf? Personally, I think one cannot. 

As the weeks wore on, I gave up on finding a match with whom I might share even one interest, and focused on those who, not being picky, might offer, at least, the comfort of context. Imagine my joy when I found him on line, the west coast version of Tony Soprano, living only twelve miles away. Honestly, he had just retired from a successful career in waste management, and still went, along with the rest of his large Catholic family, to Mom’s house for dinner on Sundays. 

He spelled my name G-e-n-e, but so what? To have a place to go once a week, to eat home-made gnocchi with pederast priests, to belong to any living family at all, would more than make up for such a small lapse. That, and his being connected with so many hit men. After all, I was doing all this just to get over Mack, but what if I couldn’t get over Mack? Worse, what if I found out Mack couldn’t love me because he was loving somebody else? I’d have no choice but to get my new boyfriend to break both his legs. His girlfriend, though, would be drowned in a kayak. The judicious Miss London, I’m sure, would approve.