The Frosty Limits of Love

So what would you do for love? Walk across the country? Swim the English Channel? Sit on a metal bench at Lambeau Field with 80,000 football zealots in -30 wind chill? For four hours while the sun went down and the wind kicked up and then, afterward, walk the 10 blocks back to your car and sit huddled and mute under blankets for the two hour drive home listening to Sports Talk Radio and looking forward to a stop at a gas station with bright lights and heat blasted from a huge blower mounted on the wall?

Not a question you usually need to answer? Good for you. You see, I’m married to this person. He regards Lambeau Field as a holy place. He doesn’t joke about this.

Howie in Lambeau

I’ve gone to a zero degree game at Lambeau Field. To keep warm, I carried in what we call the German Army sleeping bag which we bought years ago at an army surplus store in Wyoming. Anyway, the sleeping bag looks sort of normal except that it has two sleeves and a hood. Basically, once in the sleeping bag, you’re not going anywhere without hopping although you can still hold a beer or your head if sobbing about your fate.

The delight of seeing the Packers get into the play-offs after a long season of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers watching from the sidelines nursing his broken collarbone was swiftly replaced by my growing dread that we would end up going to the game. Each day, the weather predictions about Sunday’s game became more dire and the lure of cheap Packer tickets more electric.

“If it’s something you really want to do, I’ll do it.” I stood in the kitchen, Topper’s stylish ghosts, George and Marion, sitting on the counter next to me.

“Seriously?” Marion said, her arms folded, swinging her leg back and forth. “You are going to sit outside in insanely freezing weather in a German Army sleeping bag? Why would you do that?”

“Her husband loves football, Marion. It’s obvious. She loves him so she’s offering to go.” George tapped a cigarette on his lighter. “It’s a nice thing. Any man would appreciate it.”

“It’s absurd. Utterly and totally absurd and outrageous. My dear, you have to have been brainwashed. What has become of you?” Her disdain dripped on the counter and formed an awful puddle. This really stung coming from a female ghost from the fifties.

I slapped them both away. There’s no place for harsh judgments in my kitchen.

But really, what was I thinking? Going to Lambeau Field on Sunday to watch the Packers and 49’ers in the 2nd Ice Bowl was like the first episode of a new reality show – Extreme Good Sports – where I guarantee the stars would all be women doing crazy stuff to make somebody else happy. And usually when they weren’t even asked or begged. Just thinking that’s what a good sport would do.

Then this afternoon, the local school system announced they were closing on Monday because of the severe cold that was starting Sunday (Game Day as we call it here), life threatening they called it, and then this text arrived:

“I can get 2 tickets at the 50 yd. line”

“How much?”

“Face value. $125”

“Is this something you really want to do?”

“No.”

No? Well, I would’ve done it.  Already had the German Army sleeping bag out of the attic, fumigated it, made sure no mice homesteaded, wouldn’t want them running amok at Lambeau and now, you say, it’s all for naught? We’ll just sit in the living room with pizza and beer and you’ll smoke a cigar? Which is fine with me, cigar smoke, love it, reminds me of Dad.

Besides, you know me. I’m a really good sport.

____________________
Republished for Howard on the last night of the 2019-2020 football season for fans of the Green Bay Packers. Next year!

Skater Guy

My husband told me this morning that he had a dream about us. In the dream, I was in Key West and he was in Key Largo. If you know the Florida Keys, you know that Key Largo is about ninety miles from Key West, driving on the Keys’ only serious road, U.S. 1.

The interesting part isn’t that we were separated although that is a mystery since we are so rarely apart unless we are working which we would never do in the Keys. The interesting part is this. In his dream, he decided to use a skateboard to travel the 90 miles so we could be together.

It’s not like me to describe the dreams of other people but this one was an example of such extraordinary valor that I just had to share it. It’s such a long way to go and sometimes with heavy traffic, all those people in a hurry to see the Southernmost Point of the United States, any one of those flashy vacation convertibles could run him down on his skateboard but he persevered or at least I think he did. He didn’t say how the dream ended.

Lunch at Brownie’s Cafe

“How’s your omelet?”

“Good,” he answered. “Unusual, because there’s cheese inside and on top, too.” But it wasn’t gooey, drenched in cheese, the omelet was dry with brown edges like the cook wanted to make sure everything was cooked hard. It was how I would make an omelet, leaving nothing to chance. There would never be anything runny about an omelet I made. I felt at home at Brownie’s, they did things right here.

My BLT was three inches thick, a layer of well-done bacon and then a fat slice of tomato and a wedge of iceberg lettuce between two slices of toasted white bread. I took a bite of the coleslaw and slid the little dish across the table. “Taste it, Miracle Whip.” He did but didn’t mind it. I puzzled over that, how it didn’t bother him when he’d only eaten real mayonnaise the entire 35 years I’ve known him.

We talked about this for a while and then dropped it. There are entire swaths of the country that use Miracle Whip and we will never know that until we travel to those places because who, after all, would advertise this particular fact to prospective visitors? It did make me consider my earlier affection for Brownie’s to have been too hasty.

At the next table, an older couple sat on opposite sides and ends of the table, as far away from each other as it was possible to be. It seemed their intention was to not have to look at each other, they might have been wiser to sit at the counter. He ordered chicken-fried steak and she ordered a taco salad and when their lunches came, they ate, looking down at their plates, him with his arm on the table and her with her arm clutching her purse in her lap. They said not a single word the entire time.

I wondered whether they disliked each other or had just run out of things to say. You can always inquire about the taco salad, I thought. “How’s your taco salad? Does it have Miracle Whip on it?”

At the next table, another older couple sat directly across from each other. He was a very old, small, Western dude with a button shirt tucked into old jeans held up by a leather belt with a big old buckle. She was twice his size in height and weight, wearing a t-shirt and big, flappy jeans, and her hair was pulled back from her face and held with a barrette like she might have worn it when she was 17.

They were also serious eaters. She was eating French fries in such a careful and appreciative way that I wanted to order some. She dipped each fry in catsup and brought it to her lips like it was escargot prepared by a famous French chef. It was beautiful to watch. He ate with his arm on the table like the other man, but his arm seemed relaxed somehow like he as there to enjoy his soup or chili as much as his wife relished her fries. They didn’t talk either but they didn’t seem unhappy or mad.

We talked. First about the omelet and then about the coleslaw, then about Yuma and how far we were from the cut-off for Ajo and Organ Pipe National Park where we were headed before going back to Phoenix through Gila Bend. We talked a little bit about work, a little about our grandkids, some about other road trips we might take, and a little about Brownie’s and how we’d managed to find such a place without even looking.

We hadn’t run out of things to talk about, at least not yet.

Valentine’s Day 2019

Love isn’t a mystery.

Loyalty, resiliency, and kindness are mysteries. And humor. Humor is definitely a mystery. And a gift.

I have been in love with many people who weren’t funny. They were thrilling at first but ultimately gave me a headache.

If two people are in love they will be happy for a while. If one or both of them is funny, they will soldier through the giant snow drift of life like it is fresh popcorn waiting to be eaten.

I know this to be true from laughing with my husband in emergency rooms and other places where people are silent or crying.

We would leave the hospital’s circle drive to have a milkshake, one thinking the other would be cheered by the chocolate, and it reminds us of times in the summer leaning against the car with the big neon sign giving our faces a slight blue hue and how we joked about coming there with all the other people who had no other place they’d rather be.


Tough Love

The spot on my back is gone.

It had been there for weeks like stubborn lint on a white sweater. I’d visit it a couple of times a day, feeling its rough edges with my fingers. In the morning, I’d reach under my pajama top to see if it was still there. Each time, I’d think, if it’s still there, I’m going to have to do something. But it was and I didn’t.

And then I asked my husband to look at it. He began planning my funeral.

This isn’t my first spot. But it was the first with a career as a metaphor, however brief. Because as soon as I told my husband about the spot and soon after his funeral planning had wrapped up, the spot was gone.

This is what he does for me. I might be struggling with a big project or a very public challenge and ask him, “Do you think everything will turn out okay?”

“Probably not.”

“Do you think the boat might sink?”

“It’s pretty likely.”

“Are we going to get lost?”

“We already are. And then we’ll get a flat tire and a semi will hit us while we’re looking in the trunk for the jack.”

I count on him for this. I count on him not reassuring me. I think he read somewhere that reassurance makes people weak like you’re giving legitimacy to their calamity, giving it a name, and asking it to move into the spare bedroom. All I know is that he has always been this way. And because he has, it’s made me a tougher cookie.

Even if things don’t turn out okay, even if the boat sinks, even if the semi hits us while we’re looking in the trunk for a jack, we’ll still be standing in the kitchen, drinking our coffee, ready to deal with what’s next.

I find that very reassuring.

 

 

 

 

Big Hearted

For Valentine’s Day, I bought my husband a used CD player that I found on the shelf at the St. Vincent de Paul Store in Madison. It had the instructions and extra plugs taped to it, giving the illusion that maybe it had never been used, so I bought it, thinking it would be my only opportunity to get him a present before getting back to Milwaukee.

Oddly, it’s the perfect gift. Now he can play the CD he bought from the beautiful pianist, Joyce Yang, during intermission at the symphony. I remember him taking the stairs two at a time to be first in line, though I thought it was to get me a drink. By the time I caught up with him, he was posing with her, having somehow convinced a stranger to take their picture. He obviously was taken. I don’t blame him. She was extraordinary.

We fluctuate wildly with Valentine’s Day. One year, we get each other expensive presents. The next year, we pat each other on the head. There’s no predicting and not much difference one way or the other. The die is cast.

He greets me at the door in his Packers hoodie. With the hood up. When he wears a hoodie this way, he looks amazingly like Marty Feldman as Igor in Young Frankenstein. There is big news he was watching still playing on the TV, but he sits in the kitchen waiting to hear every detail of my big day in Madison attending a legislative hearing. Who said what, then what happened. It occurs to me that not everyone has this when they come home from slaying their wee dragon, their partner genuinely interested in what they did that day. But I knew it would be like that, getting out of the car, and walking in the house. I knew he would want to hear all about it. It is what we do when we fly back to the nest.

Every day is a comfort. Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Wednesday. They are the same except for the food. There isn’t waiting for a big day. This is the big day we have.