I am objectively a lousy father. Compared to my father, I am a psychotic crack addict trying to raise orchids in a toilet.

It started with a rose-colored memory of my family’s driving vacations when I was a boy. Swinging through the western states and the national parks. Driving from Texas to the arctic circle and back. That sort of thing. My wife and I had long discussed a trip like that, and we finally decided to do it: Dallas to Montreal and back.

Many lists were made, and my wife declared them good. We packed the necessities, like phones, computers, and some other stuff, maybe underwear. We got the house-sitter, and the person to come in multiple unspecified times a day to check on the cats, and new shells for the shotgun. We packed the night before departure. My wife would no more wait to pack last minute than she would kick a puppy over the backyard fence.

This morning, the day of departure, we loaded the car and did a cat headcount. We came up one head short.

That didn’t worry us much. This cat is a big baby, and he probably hid someplace because we were acting weirder than usual. We checked his usual hiding places. We searched unusual hiding places. We looked behind things and under things, in every cabinet twice and every closet three times. We shook cans of treats and containers of food while calling his name like the kid in Shane. He did not appear.

My wife felt sure he was hiding in some super-secret kitty spot. I thought maybe he had run out when we were loading the car. He could be wandering the neighborhood, dazed with hunger, staggering onto Crazy-Street, the six-lane race track behind our house, to be crushed like a cat-shaped jar of jelly. My fears were valid—we once had a cat that sneaked out the front door and never came back.

We searched the neighborhood. No cat. At last my wife reasoned that the cat was too much of a coward to ever go outside, so we should get on the road. I agreed, but I felt bad about it—like a rotten kitty-dad. We notified the people staying in our house to watch out for the cat and tell us if they saw him.

I pulled the car out of the driveway, certain that our cat was, at that very moment, dodging cars someplace down the block. I drove the other way though, because Montreal is in that direction. After five minutes I couldn’t stand it. I turned the car around and drove home. Our cat was laying where he always lays, on our bed, with a, “Holy shit, what are you doing back?” expression.

As we drove our first leg to Little Rock, I felt relieved and thrilled that our cat was safe at home, thinking bad thoughts about it. But all the way there a voice in my head said, “YOU WERE WILLING TO LEAVE YOUR CAT BEHIND TO GET SQUISHED BY A CAR, WEREN’T YOU? ASSHOLE.”

Little Rock is beautiful. Here’s a picture.

By the way, east of Dallas I found out there are no Buc-ees on the way to Little Rock, and I strongly recommended we go back home.

Sometimes I need to say nice things to my wife. I won’t elaborate on the circumstances, other than to say that some involve electrical explosions, and some involve stains that will remain on the kitchen counter until the end of time. That’s not really the point.

The point is that I’ve learned a lot about saying nice things to my wife. Some of my attempts have failed, creating the need to say more nice things in a cascade effect much like a collapsing suspension bridge. But I know how to embrace failure. It’s one of my best qualities, so I have learned and can draw upon my failures in order to share with others.

I don’t get fancy. I limit myself to the classic compliment, which is comparing my wife favorably to something. Shakespeare did it a lot, so I’d say that makes it pretty good. To help you understand what I’ve learned, I have scraped up various things I’ve compared my wife to, categorized them, and indicated which choices are better than others.

Category: NATURE

Pretty Good Choice: Waterfall – It’s pretty, musical and whimsical, unless it’s one of the imponderable man-killing types like Niagra.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Glacier – At first it seems classy and mysterious, but it’s really just a giant, frigid mass that sits there.
Horrific Choice: Mud Flats – Nasty, featureless and barren. Almost any invasive medical procedure compares favorably.

Category: TIME

Pretty Good Choice: Any Season – Especially Spring, because who doesn’t like to be told she’s better than budding flowers and baby squirrels?
Deceptively Bad Choice: Thanksgiving – I start off grateful for all the good things about her, but soon it’s all relatives who owe me money, plus sitting around watching football and farting.
Horrific Choice: Eternity – What am I going to say? She’s better than eternity because she won’t last forever?

Category: ART

Pretty Good Choice: Symphony – Complex, emotional and sensuous. Stay away from the Germans.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Mona Lisa – It’s a famous, beautiful woman, right? However, sixty seconds into this I’m struggling to say why my wife’s smile is better. Then I realize that to our modern tastes, Mona is kind of a troglodyte.
Horrific Choice: Die Hard (the original film) – This was a good idea, I promise. This movie is exciting, funny, touching, and you can’t stop looking at it. Yet I now know unequivocally that I shouldn’t compare my wife to something in which people get blown to pieces.

Category: PERSON

Pretty Good Choice: Her on the Day You Met Her – She is better today than she was the day I met her in every possible respect, without exception or hesitation of any kind.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Helen of Troy – This is a trap. If I’m comparing my wife to a mythical woman who’s the very definition of the most beautiful woman in history, she knows I’m just spewing easy bullshit. She begins wondering what I’ve broken, or what I bought without mentioning it to her.
Horrific Choice: My Mother – Even if I say my wife’s better than my mother in all ways, the only thing my wife can think about is how weird I am for even bringing my mother into the conversation.

Category: ANIMAL

Pretty Good Choice: Tigress – A beautiful, powerful and mysterious feline, which is good because I think my wife likes cats more than she likes me.
Deceptively Bad Choice: Unicorn – All mystical, graceful and elusive until I find myself trapped into talking about horns, virgins, and how many women I slept with before I met her.
Horrific Choice: Hobbit – I swear, it seemed so clever and playful in my head. Out loud I found myself comparing her to a chubby, pipe-smoking, hairy alcoholic who tells lies at the bar every night.

I hope that by sharing this I’ve helped someone avoid an embarrassingly inept attempt to be nice. I have no doubt I’ll continue to push the boundaries of my knowledge, because sometimes I’m a dumbass. In fact, I will now attempt to fix the coffee maker I busted last night, while at the same time considering new stuff to compare my wife to. I wonder how she’d like being told she’s better than Catwoman?

Not just better than Catwoman--better than the best Catwoman!
Not just better than Catwoman–better than the best Catwoman!

Publicity photo of Julie Newmar

Speaking as one of the slothful, unemployed wretches draining our nation of its vitality and self-respect, I enjoyed the movie Frozen. My wife and I saw the early showing, because the early tickets cost less, and what else do I have to do in the daytime, really? I’ve applied for enough jobs to form a new NBA comprised of tubby, nearsighted white guys. But thus far no one has needed my particular set of skills, which do not include stabbing terrorists in the eye with a screwdriver.

Lately I’ve been networking like Truman Capote at one of Andy Warhol’s parties, without the LSD, and it’s brought promising results in the way of people calling me about jobs. My wife listens with great patience when I describe the virtues of networking. I know she really cares because she loves me and she hates choking down store-brand peanut butter.

My sweetie has embraced the idea of networking and has begun networking on my behalf, something I appreciate quite a lot. The other day she mentioned my employment deprivation to a friend, and he asked what kind of jobs I’d had.

Rather than use my actual titles in the rest of this post, I shall henceforth use alternate titles evocative of my level of responsibility. In answer to our friend’s question, my wife said I was some kind of Sea Otter Wrangler.

As my wife and I walked across the theater parking lot, digging dollar bills and quarters out of our pockets, I felt perplexed. I told her that I had once been a Sea Otter Wrangler, but that was years ago. After that I became the Manager of Sea Otter Logistics, and I was subsequently promoted to Director of Whale and Dolphin Operations. Most recently I was Chief of Aquatic Creatures That Suckle Their Young. I paused to let that sink in.

My wife responded, “I know it seems like I don’t care about your titles and what your jobs are, but that’s just because I don’t.”

Now some fellows might have been surprised by that, and some might have gotten their feelings hurt. I laughed and clapped my hands so hard that I almost scattered quarters across the sidewalk.

She added, “It doesn’t affect my life.”

I told her that’s what I should have expected, and that’s one of the things I like about her. Her opinion of me has nothing at all to do with my job. In today’s world, that is a gift beyond price. It’s made this job search easier by an order of magnitude.

A lot of things aren’t too important to my wife. When we got engaged, she didn’t want a diamond ring. You can see that I won the fiancé lottery. She doesn’t care whether I remember her birthday, or if I watch TV shows about vampires with her. I bet she’s not even antsy about being unable to buy a shirt at Target.

She cares how we treat each other as people. How we talk to each other, do things for each other, touch each other. That’s what counts. It took me a while to grasp that, and maybe it doesn’t make sense to other people. It makes sense to us, so there it is.

All right, I’m lying just a little. She does care about whether I scoop the cat litter before she gets home. That’s true love, right there.

This sea otter needs to be wrangled in a professional and authoritative manner. As soon as I get off my break.
This sea otter needs to be wrangled in a professional and authoritative manner. As soon as I get off my break.


Last week a friend mocked me for washing a bowl before I put it in my dishwasher. She did it in a gentle way, and as I scrubbed out the dried tomato soup I admitted that I didn’t trust the dishwasher. Trust can be fragile in my world, and I can’t place full trust in a machine built by a guy who’s yearning for his break while daydreaming about his girlfriend in black stockings. Maybe I’m weird. Yet this was my friend who was asking me, so I didn’t mind sharing my mistrust with her.

A few minutes later, alone as I scoured a pot, I reflected on the romance of the mundane. Washing dishes seems about as mundane as you can get. At least it seems that way to me. But I was washing each dish as people brought them in from the den, so that my wife could visit with her friends and not have to face a Vesuvius of plates and flatware when everybody went home. It sure wasn’t dinner and dancing. It lacked passion, and nobody was getting groped in a promising way. Yet this mundane thing we shared had its own kind of romance.

Yin Yang by Nicolas Thompkins (From Chair Blog - http://www.chairblog.eu/2010/12/27/yin-yang-by-nicolas-thomkins/)

I guess this is kind of Taoist. Maybe Zen or something. I wondered if anyone else had thought about this, and I found this neat article. It even used the same words had I thought of—Romance of the Mundane. It’s all about the simple, daily tasks and events that make a shared life, and how that constitutes real romance.

I admit that I’d make a crummy Taoist. I looked into it when I was young, and while it was cool I realized it was not for me. I could give some meaningful-sounding reasons, but basically I like stuff too much, and I enjoy it too much when things get exciting. Plus, if you’ve ever heard a Taoist joke then you’d know that Taoism require a consciousness expanded beyond my capability to achieve.

A Taoist joke, courtesy of the Hog-Tao:

Accept misfortune as the human condition.
What do you mean, “accept misfortune as the human condition?”
Misfortune comes from having a body.
No body, no misfortune.
Which reminds us of a song.
Sometimes we amuse ourself at the Hog Tao.
But nobody knows.
Except Louis.
Sing it Satchmo.

Therefore, while I’m not a Taoist, I’m also not alone in my suspicion that romance of the mundane does exist, and that it’s about sharing a life. Although it’s still nice to get laid once in a while, nothing says romance like shopping for decent produce and mint chocolate chunk ice cream. Nothing says devotion like putting your lover’s clean underwear away in the proper spot in the correct drawer. Nothing says love like working together to change the sheets because the cat barfed on them.

My wife had an enormous hole jack-hammered into her jaw yesterday. Her dentist implanted a post, on which a crown will later be placed. The procedure’s a bit pricey, but compared to what she’s worth, the cost is 1 divided by infinity.

The dentist numbed the area with a bucket-full of Lidocaine. My wife is one of the happy few whose mouth resists anesthetic. So by the time she was ready for the procedure, she was deadened from her esophagus to the back of her skull. Then they opened her jaw like she was an anaconda and worked on her with the world’s tiniest hammer-drill. For the final step they jammed a shiny silver post into the hole. It reminded me of the spike driven at the meeting of the transcontinental railroad.

The nurse brought her to me in a wheelchair. She needed it. The dentist had wanted to protect my wife from anxiety, so he’d prescribed Ativan for her to take before the procedure. One of my friends took this drug for anxiety a while back. The dentist gave my wife eight times as much as that fellow took, so she was unable to walk. However, she was able to stumble from the wheelchair into the passenger seat of our car. On the drive home she chatted with Buddha and the Tooth Fairy about what a bitch Glenda the Good really is.

We arrived home. As I guided my sweetie into the house she mumbled about needing to clean the litter boxes and wash clothes, as soon as she sits down for a few minutes. I told her it’s all taken care of, and that she’ll probably sleep the rest of the day. She then drifted into the kitchen, where she sagged against various kitchen counters and prepared her ibuprofen, her antibiotics, some tea, and other necessities, while I hovered, trying to aim her at a chair and making sure she didn’t put rat poison in her tea.

At last she sat enfolded in her favorite recliner, which we call “The Womb.” She had a small table beside her holding tea, water, ibuprofen, and an icepack. On the other side sat tissues, two TV remote controls, and an iPad. Two cats drowsed across her legs and tummy. I crept off to let her sleep. She called me back, wanting to know how long she should leave on the icepack, how long she should leave it off before putting it on again, and what time she could stop using the thing altogether. I answered her questions and resumed my creeping.

Over the next few hours, when I checked she was sometimes asleep and sometimes not. The TV played programs occasionally interesting enough for her to look at. I brought her some yogurt, which was good exercise since she had to repel a cat attempting to seize it. Evening found her vertical and in the kitchen, stable on her feet, and talking about food.

“I don’t know why I’m so tired,” she said with perfect sincerity.

“You went through a lot today. And you had a lot of Ativan.”

As she selected a tomato she did not reply, and she gave no sign that she accepted my hypothesis.

I tried again. “It’ll probably take a little while to recover. They carved a big hole in your head.”

She didn’t look up from slicing her tomato. “When I had my tooth pulled I didn’t feel like this.”

“Well, this was a different procedure. This was probably harder on you.”

She didn’t respond.

I considered reiterating that she’d swallowed enough Ativan to kill a pony. But I realized that my arguments meant nothing stacked against her determination to press on and function, even if wild dogs were chewing off her leg. She’s a rock. You can drill a big hole in a rock, and it just keeps rolling.

So, instead I kissed her head on the side away from the new hole. “I imagine you’ll feel better soon.”

She flipped me a smile that was a bit pained on the left side. “Thanks for doing the kitty litter.”