Last weekend I yelled at a foreign man for wasting my life. I might have been overreacting, but it didn’t seem that way at the time. Abe Lincoln said that nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. I suspect I didn’t even make it past the adversity test.

My wife bought a new laptop computer on Sunday to replace her seven year-old Dell laptop that weighs 13 pounds and gets as hot as fresh microwave popcorn. She can’t work without her laptop because she’s a court reporter, a job that I couldn’t do if I had a thousand years to prepare. So, she needed a new machine, and I agreed to help.

My sweetie and I are not as different as night and day. We’re as different as night and a total eclipse that can blind you, even if you’re an orphan, because it just doesn’t give a shit. I’m not saying which one of us is which, but she wasn’t the one yelling at the nice foreign man.

In spite of those differences, when hunting for a major purchase we cooperate like lions on the veldt. We made checklists. We researched. We visited electronics stores so she could handle different models while I glanced from the corner of my eye at cameras and giant TVs. We Googled customer reviews for the models she liked, and she selected her target.

Then we didn’t do anything. We waited a week to be sure the smell of blood hadn’t driven us crazy and made us choose the wrong prey. We were both fine with that. That’s how well we work together when on the hunt. It’s what happens after the kill that leads to yelling and snippy comments and walking out of the room with loud steps.

A week later we went to buy her laptop. Once in the store we got distracted. My wife wanted to transfer everything from her old laptop to her new one, including the software, in one simple step. If possible, she wanted to wave her hand like the fairy godmother turning mice into horses, and it would just happen. If it was more complicated and required her to wave both hands, well that would be okay too. We found software that promised amazingly easy transfers, and it had good reviews, so we grabbed it.

When the laptop salesman walked up, my wife pointed at the model she wanted and directed him to bring her one. He had none. He checked with his company’s other stores, and they had none. He could order one, but he had no idea when it would arrive. Apparently the demo model was just there to amuse people, like a little mechanical horse in front of a grocery store.

I didn’t feel too concerned. Other stores might carry it. My wife was nice to the salesman, but as we bought the magic software and walked to the car she muttered and fumed and said some alarming things. This is one of the differences between us.

The next store didn’t have her laptop either, which sucked. But it had the newer model, which also had great reviews, and it cost less. We bought it and carried it home, giggling all the way.

Here’s how the day disintegrated from there.

My wife unpacked her beautiful, lighter, cooler laptop. She read the magic software’s manual, which might have been written by someone who studied English in another country where people who speak English are punished. She called the manual and its writers and their relatives some bad names. Nearby, I assured her that manuals are overrated anyway.

She put the magic software’s disc in her laptop, and it did nothing but make the sound a grasshopper makes when trapped in a cardboard box. But it worked fine with other discs, so maybe the disc was bad. She growled and accused the magic software and her laptop of doing this on purpose. I nodded in sympathy as I got my car keys.

We returned the magic software, but the store refused to take it back because it worked fine in every other computer they tried. The problem must be my wife’s laptop. Both grumbling, we went back to the store where we’d bought the machine. They spent an hour showing us that the laptop played a bunch of other discs just fine. The laptop and the magic software disc were clearly the god damned Romeo and Juliet of information technology, just fated to never be together. The technician suggested we download the magic software from its website and install it that way. My wife nodded and hefted her laptop bag like John Henry hefting his hammer. In the parking lot I spit on the ground and swore never to shop at either store again.

Back home my wife downloaded the magic software, as relentless as if she had twenty acres to plow. I stomped around the room and bitched about having technology more complicated than a sharp stick. At 8:00 p.m. we started the transfer, which would take several hours. My wife sat on the couch to watch True Blood. I sat next to her with my own laptop and ignored True Blood.

An hour later my wife checked her laptop and saw that some transfer catastrophe had occurred. She sighed and examined the manual as if it were a cookbook that might say she’d just forgotten the eggs. I disconnected and reconnected the cable, and each time I jammed a cable back into a port I imagined I was jamming a knife through the lead programmer’s mouse hand.

We kicked off the transfer again, and 40 minutes later it crashed again. My wife set her jaw and narrowed her eyes. She looked like the NASA engineers must have looked when one of the early test rockets had blown up. I thought about having a drink, but instead I ripped out a rope of profanity, cursing Alan Turing and Nikola Tesla, and Bill Gates too while I was at it.

The magic software people offered 24 hour support, so my wife called and put them on speaker. When the rep answered, my wife concisely explained the problem, while I added occasional frustrated and near-hysterical details. It didn’t help that she had to ask him to repeat almost everything he said because he had only slightly better diction than my cat.

The rep was polite, and an hour later he’d accomplished four things: (1) he successfully replicated the scans I’d done before we installed the magic software; (2) he verified all of our power settings; (3) he screwed up our network settings; and (4) he started another transfer. Then he said both the old and the new machines had to be in “perfect condition” for the transfer to work, so that might be our problem. I did not yell at him at that point. My wife rolled her eyes but said nothing.

Then he said that if the problem was too hard for him to solve, we’d need to pay for higher level support. That’s when I yelled at him for wasting my life, or at least the last hour of it. I’m not proud of myself. But at least I didn’t reach 12,000 miles through the phone and tear something off his body that he or his wife might want later. My wife looked at me the way she looks at the cats when they puke on the bed, and then she thanked the nice man before ending the call.

The transfer did not go well, choking after 13 minutes. I almost offered to just load everything myself, but I saw that my wife was determined to make this work. Every other person who had ever touched a computer would have to die before she’d give up. While I sat on the couch watching Duel at Ganryu Island, she tried the transfer twice more, and each failed. At midnight she called a temporary cease fire, since the next morning she had be in court to write everything said by some inept lawyers.

As of this writing the transfer’s still incomplete. My wife is considering whether to pay the magic software people to help us, but I’m arguing it would be faster to hire a chimp to load everything.

When this all started and the problems were small, my wife fretted like a girl with a lost toy. But now, when hope is almost lost, she discusses her next steps like a chess master thinking 20 moves ahead. When this all started I addressed our small problems as calmly as an elephant addressing a ripe watermelon. Now when I think about this mess I behave like a tiger with his nuts caught in a gate. This is one of the ways in which my wife and I are different. It’s not even the most significant. You should see us in the car together.

My sweetie’s new laptop computer, containing nothing but this picture of her that I copied onto it. She looks innocent and harmless holding that cat. Keep telling yourself that.

My wife doesn’t need booze or drugs. She has a kitchen. She herself slew it and brought it home, and it gives her a bigger thrill than any intoxicant, or jewelry, or fuzzy little mammal ever born. It’s not so much the cooking she loves as it is being in the kitchen and looking at it. She likes talking about it too. She created the room over several years. She plastered the pale yellow walls. She painted the cabinets cobalt blue one winter, holding heaters next to the oil-based paint so it wouldn’t bubble and run. Michelangelo could not have been prouder of the Sistine Chapel.

One thing marred her happiness, like a serpent in her garden of good things to eat. The floor was covered by scarred, pus-colored linoleum tiles that would shame any prison camp barracks. My wife considered the matter with immense gravity, and she conceived a plan in which she would dress that floor in magnificent red tile. I approved of course. It sounded pretty, and even had I wished, I lacked the force of will to deny her. She charged out to find red tiles of the particular shade she wanted, but no one—no one—sold them then. Red tiles were out of fashion, and they were expensive to make. If no one wanted to buy them, then no one was going to make them.

I found that disappointing, because I knew she really wanted them. I suggested nice brown tiles, or maybe terra cotta. My wife was unconvinced. Perhaps I wanted to just smear the kitchen floor with excrement and let it dry instead? I recognized this was sarcasm, and I recognized she hadn’t given up. I’d seen her like this before. She was going to have red tiles, or every other person on earth was going to die.

Sometime later, as we watched television, we saw a Pier One commercial. She shot up from the couch like Old Faithful and said, “There! Those are my red tiles!” The commercial depicted the inside of a Pier One store, and indeed it sported red floor tiles of just the shade she wanted. I breathed a warning that this was a set for the commercial and not an actual store, but that didn’t matter one damn bit. These tiles existed, and if they existed then she could find them. And when we walked into a Pier One store a bit later, she proved me wrong by pointing at the floor, which was covered with her tiles. I acknowledged my lack of faith.

My wife asked the register clerk where she could buy the floor tiles in the store. The clerk asked if we were serious, and my wife affirmed that we were. The clerk said that she didn’t think we could buy them, and she turned away to rearrange some boxes. I’m sure she hoped we’d go away and ask somebody else if we could buy the store’s heating unit or something. My wife asked again, louder, and the clerk took two steps away from us and paged the manager.

The manager handled this better, pulling on a fake smile and confirming that we couldn’t buy this tile. My wife asked how the manager knew this. Had anyone else ever asked to buy the tile before? The manager said he was positive that no one had ever asked that, and his fake smile kind of melted like that oil-based paint on our cabinets. She asked where the tile came from. The manager, who must have gotten high marks in conduct as a boy, said he didn’t know. She asked him who he would ask if he needed to find out, and just like the register clerk he punted. He called his district manager. And he put my wife on the phone.

I could only hear my wife’s side of the phone conversation, but it sounded like this:

“Where can I buy the red floor tiles you use in the stores?”

Indistinct buzzing of a voice on the other end of the line.

“Yes, I’m serious.”

Buzz buzz buzz.

“Well somebody has to know where they come from. Can’t you call someone?”


“Oh, I’m sure you can. Who buys these tiles?”


“I’m certain that’s true, but I bet you can figure it out if you think about it.”

Buzz… buzz buzz buzz… buzz.

“Great, could you please give me their number?”

Buzz buzz buzz buzz!

“Okay, could call them for me? I’ll call you back this afternoon to see if you reached them.”

Buzz… buzz buzz… bz-bz-bz, bz-bz-bz, bz-bz-bz-bz.

“Thank you! Goodbye.”

My wife turned to me, and I took a step back. She looked like a lioness that had just dragged down a wildebeest. She said, “Let’s go home. I have the number of the people at Pier One who build the stores.”

Over the next three days my wife talked to the following people:

-A secretary in the Pier One Capital Projects division who bonded with my wife over herb growing techniques.

-A manager in the Property Development and Renovation office who gave my wife anything she wanted because he had to go pee.

-An Executive Vice President in the Store Construction branch who thought the whole thing was so damned funny that he gave her the buyer’s number and wished her luck.

-A buyer in Purchasing who was perplexed by how my wife got her phone number, so she coughed up the name of the tile company before she really thought about it.

I would have given up at least three times before this point and taken the “smear shit on the floor” option. My wife still looked neatly pressed and determined. Then the Pier One buyer mentioned that the tile company was situated about fifteen minutes from our house. My wife was within striking distance of her prey.

A nice sales rep at the tile company told her that this tile was made exclusively for Pier One. No, he couldn’t sell it to anyone else. No, they didn’t make exceptions. No, there was nothing he could do. No, there wasn’t anyone he could call, or anyone else she could talk to. No, he didn’t like to grow herbs.

I felt bad for my wife. She’d come so far, just to be crushed now. Then she asked the sales rep, “Isn’t there anything at all like this that you can sell me?” And the sales rep offered to sell her “seconds.” These were tiles that didn’t pass inspection because their color might be slightly off or something. And they were cheaper than any other tile we’d looked at. They may have been cheaper than shit. She almost broke her jaw saying yes.

My wife borrowed a truck and picked up the tile. We started opening boxes and realized why we got them so cheap. Twenty-four boxes were about the right color and size, but twelve boxes were two shades darker and an eighth of an inch larger. There was no way we could lay this tile and make it look decent. I wilted. She just puffed up to even more impressive dimensions and sat in the kitchen with a cup of Earl Gray tea and her thoughts.

The next day my wife called a friend who’s an interior designer, and she explained our problem. Our friend laughed as if this was no harder a problem than a plaid shirt with a striped tie. She directed us to a tile man she said could lay this tile and make it look like it was meant to have different colors and sizes, rather than like it was designed by a baboon smoking dope. And within a few days the tile man had done this thing, and my wife luxuriated in the kitchen she’d wanted, striven for, and smashed through every conceivable obstacle to secure.

My wife has convinced me forever that if she really wants something, she will attain it with the inevitability of space junk falling into Earth’s gravity well. In fact, if the eccentric scientists of the world possessed her determination, the Loch Ness Monster would be jumping through fiery hoops at Sea World right now. And this is a good thing. Maybe I can convince her to really, really want an in-home theater, a Ferrari, and a recreational flamethrower.

Sometimes my wife lounges here and contemplates her kill. Nice job on the tile, too.