Friday, October 21, 2016

A fairy tale with a happy ending

I laughed out loud when I saw this. It made me wonder what I would do if I could go back in time and give my younger self some sound advice. Just think: I could take myself out, get myself really wasted, and even drag myself to a strip club, where I'd buy myself a few lap dances and talk some sense into myself.

Or I could interrupt my own wedding, just as the minister says, speak now, or forever hold your peace. Would I speak? I can honestly say I wish I had never married. But I could never wish my children out of existence.

So I guess I'd leave my younger, foolish, in-love self alone. Instead, I'd buy lots of shares in Apple.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How I figured out my wife had PMS

My wife's behavior changed a lot after our kids were born, especially after the second. I don't think I can properly describe how the changes unfolded; there were so many of them, and each one could be explained away without much thinking.

But slowly, red flags started appearing. The first that I noticed was when the Wife became convinced that my mom stole bathroom towels during a visit. Why? She couldn't find them. And my mother had been the most recent visitor. But stealing towels isn't my mom's thing. One look in her tiny apartment will tell you she's a woman who lives a simple, comfortable life, and just doesn't need to steal. But the Wife would not let go of the idea (and still hasn't).

There were other flags. She became quick to take offense. She always interpreted events as a conspiracy against her, or our family. She flew into rages and became more violent, both verbally and physically. Small details, like lint on my suit, took on great importance. But the worst thing was that her sweetness, that quality in her which I thought would keep me happy in the post-Viagra stage of my life, evaporated into nothingness. I realized that I would spend the last decades of my life with a mean, bitter old lady.

But I also noticed that her behavior wasn't consistent. Sometimes she was cheerful and fun, like she was before the kids. But then she'd freak out about germs on the subway. And sometimes she would be so aggressive, so irrational, and so out of control that I was sure she should be locked up in a mental institution. These crazy days, as I called them, were infrequent, but they never went away.

The clue came from sex, or rather, the lack thereof. In those days I liked having sex every single day. But of course, during the rough patches this wasn't going to happen. But every time her mood picked up, and I thought I'd have a chance, I'd be rejected for another reason: she was having her period. (My wife is a bit old fashioned and just doesn't go for messy period sex.) This meant I had to go without for two weeks at a stretch, from crazy day until her period was over. I realized there was a pattern, and a pattern can be investigated.

That's when I started tracking her cycle and her crazy days. This was the best way to predict how likely I was to get laid. The default answer was not very likely—I'd have a better chance picking up someone in a bar than getting in my own wife's pants. But when conditions were right, I did pretty well.But in tracking, I noticed that crazy day always—and I mean Always with a capital A—came eight days before her period. That just couldn't be chance. It didn't take a hell of a lot of research to figure out what the answer was.

This month, crazy day came last night. It was a big one and even though I knew it was coming, I lost my temper and made everything worse. I'm not in the mood to go into the details. Maybe I'll write about it later.

But if not, don't worry, there will be another one, and another story, next month. And every month after that.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Freak accident with the fridge

We have a nice refrigerator, a Bosch, with black glass doors that reflect like mirrors. I love the fridge because the freezer is down below. I rarely need the freezer—I'm not one for putting ice in my drinks or raiding the ice-cream. But I am one for frequent munching. This design means I don't have to bend over all the time, looking for scraps that might have been pushed to the back. I can stand fully upright and see everything at eye-level.

But apparently there is a downside. I saved some scraps of chicken for the dog, which I wrapped in a little dish. Yesterday, the Wife was getting a jar of olives and it fell out, hitting the top of the freezer door and smashing, held together by plastic wrap. I liked the little dish—it was one of a few remaining from a long-ago visit to China, and was great for feeding scraps to the dog or covering up a cup of tea to keep it warm. I was also sorry that the dog lost his treat. We never seem to have anything that a dog would want to eat.

The Wife barked at me, saying it was my fault because I didn't place the dish in the fridge properly. On some days, this could trigger a real session, but not today. She was only mildly irritated, and it passed quickly.

And then I noticed a funny sound, like water dribbling down the back of the fridge. But there was no water. Just an odd, crackly sound, like water running over ice.

Then I noticed something funny about the glass door of the freezer: it was changing color. The smooth, black sheen, normally like the screen of an iPad, was becoming mottled. Then I noticed what was happening: fine cracks were slowly, but visibly, spreading across the surface to the edges, which turned a frosty white. You could see the cracks radiate from the point of impact, which was the top edge of the black glass on the freezer door.

At the edges, little diamond-like cubes of glass fell to the floor. In the middle, the glass was cracked but remained in place. You could rub your nails across it and feel the ridges, but each piece was tightly packed. I took some masking tape and ran it along the edges to keep the glass from falling out.

The cracking stopped after an hour. I guess we'll need a new door, but for now the tape is fine. It's amazing how different the undamaged fridge door looks from the freezer door now, almost as if the extra-low temperature were responsible for the color change.

Even more amazing is that the Wife didn't freak out. She even apologized. We agreed it was a freak accident, and left it at that.

Fasten your seat it comes

My daughter—let's call her BabyGirl—wanted to wear sweatpants to school this morning. I don't have a problem with this. In fact, I'm happy anytime one of my kids makes a decision about clothing and acts on it before it's time to go to school.

The Wife had a different view: today, BabyGirl would wear a skirt, with stockings. Why? because it's cold. She wears pants too often. And she doesn't have P.E. today. Because I said so. The screaming started before I finished brewing the coffee.

A short time later, a similar conflict erupted with my son (I don't have a nickname for him just yet). She wanted him to wear a windbreaker over his sweatshirt, and he said he'd be too hot. How nice it will be after he reaches puberty, I thought, and his screams take on a more manly tone. I took my coffee and disappeared into the bathroom.

With the door secure, I checked a special app on my phone, my fingers trembling. I see that I was right—PMS is knocking at the door. I shuddered. School break starts next week. The opportunities for conflict will be limitless.

I took a deep breath, opened the door, and stepped out onto the battlefield.

Friday, October 14, 2016

What the hell are we doing to our children's heads?

Today was a good day, mostly. I got a lot of work done, for a change. And I went to the gym for a fabulous workout session with Olga, my personal trainer. The Wife went off for a job interview in fine spirits, leaving me alone for hours.

But I am ashamed about losing control of myself and storming out of the house a couple days ago. It felt good in many ways, in the same way it feels good to let loose when you have bowel problems. But that moment of release aside, you don't exactly feel proud of your accomplishment.

What worries me is the effect it might have on the children. When I walked out of our apartment, seemingly for good, my son cried and cried, and begged me to come home. My daughter tried to stop me, and when she failed, crawled under her blanket and sobbed silently to herself. What must it be like for them, when the two people they depend on are so unstable, so unpredictable, and fight so often? It can't be good, they can't feel secure or safe.

Maybe this is a good thing. My parents never fought, but they're divorced. The Wife's parents are still married, but not very happy. Perhaps we are teaching them to be less idealistic about choosing life partners. Or maybe we're just fucking up their heads. I don't know.

But some good has come out of this episode. The Wife understands, finally, that the kids really do need me. She has always said that if we split, there will be no living separately and sharing the kids: I would have to get out of their lives completely. Now, that extreme solution clearly won't work.

I have always known that the children need their mother, whacked as she may be.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The three stages of a man's life

Many years ago, before I was married, someone sent a funny e-mail about marriage. It had two pictures: the first, labeled Single, showed a lion humping a lioness, roaring triumphantly. The second showed a lioness roaring at her mate, who was cowering in the corner of a cage. The label? Married.

I didn't think much about it until I had been married for a few years myself. I realized that the pictures had come true, at least in my case. When I was single, I was dominant in the relationship. She listened to what I said. She followed my lead. If I wanted sex, I got it.

But marriage changed all that. Admiration slowly turned to scorn, and I morphed into the cowardly lion. I am still trying to figure out what I did, exactly, to get from the first picture to the second.

A few years later, someone sent another version of the lion's story. This one had a third picture, labeled Divorced. It showed nothing but the sorry skin of a very dead and empty lion.

Maybe it would be worth it, just to be free.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I almost leave the family

I don't know what's going on, exactly, but the tension at home has spiked recently. Maybe it's because Rick Perry's lameness was obvious to everyone in the last Republican Party debate. The Wife just loves him, even though she disagrees with many of his views. It can't be pheromones, so it must be his looks. Which are nothing at all like mine.

My daughter, again, was the trigger. She ignored both me and my wife all evening, from eating dinner to doing homework to cleaning her room to going to bed. The Wife insisted I put my foot down. So I dragged her from the living room to the bathroom, and forced her to brush her teeth. Then I hauled her to her bedroom, and forced her to put on her pajamas. She fought and screamed and howled and cried.

It didn't help that we had drunk a bottle of wine. Alcohol makes the narrow ledge even narrower, and it becomes easier to fall off. The screaming eventually tipped the Wife over the edge.

The fight we had was ugly, bad enough that I packed a suitcase and walked out. I had imagined doing this many times in my head, as a sort of fantasy. So it was strange to be going through the actual motions, to be taking action rather than just thinking. It felt something similar to deja vu. The kids cried. The Wife shouted. I took my suitcase, then grabbed a bag of garbage, and walked out.

I'm not sure why I took the garbage. But it felt good to heave it into the trash can outside and slam the lid down. The October air was crisp, the sky was dark, and I felt free. I walked towards the subway.

My plan was to go to Grand Central and catch the first train heading out West, where I used to live when we were separated. But when I got close to the subway, my boy called, crying and begging me to come home.

I tried to comfort him, but I couldn't. Within a minute I broke down. Twice before I have returned to the nest because of him. My girl is made of tougher stuff, but my boy is soft inside, and the Wife doesn't know how to support him. So I went home.

I slept, as usual, in my daughter's empty bed, but I was too tired to take off the stuffed animals.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

My personal trainer: Olga the Merciless

This morning I had to get out of the house, and away from the Wife. So after dropping the kids off at school, I went straight to the gym.

I'm trying to go more often. In the last year, after I quit my job and became a freelance consultant, I've gained more than ten pounds. Most of my pants are tight; the only ones I can wear are my old "fat pants" from years ago, when I was even heavier than I am now.

It's not that I'm really obese. But I have high blood pressure, and the weight just makes it worse. I used to think that the stress of living with the Wife was responsible, but during our two-year separation, it was still high (though not as high as it is now).

At first, I was clueless about the equipment. I read the instructions on the machines, but I didn't know what I was doing. One of the trainers, a Russian girl named Olga, helped me out. The name Olga doesn't bring loveliness to mind, but she really is a looker. Blond, in great shape, and friendly. She turned out to be chatty, so I got to know her a little, even though I'm probably older than her dad. She was nice, so I decided to spend some money on my health and took her on as my personal trainer.

Looks can be misleading. Olga may be pretty and friendly, but she's merciless in the gym. By the time she's done, I can hardly stand up. I have a theory that she kills any ideas in her middle-aged, male clients by reminding them that they're old and fat and out of shape. And that she isn't.

But there's more to it than fitness or having a pretty woman spend some time with you. When I'm struggling, I think about the Wife. It sends a surge of anger through me, fueling my muscles and making it possible to lift the weights one more time, or run a little longer.

It burns my anger up quickly, leaving me exhausted, but emotionally at peace.

Monday, October 10, 2016

An online tank game puts me back in the doghouse

Thanks to my daughter's thievery, the Wife and I enjoyed a brief, happy weekend, with both of us on the same page for once. We went shopping together, got the kids to do their homework early, and even managed to squeeze in some early-morning lovemaking (at my age, it's a crime to waste a hard-on). The Wife downloaded Monster's Ball, threw a packet of popcorn in the microwave, and made some gin & tonics.

I'm not exactly sure what derailed the evening. It is possible that sometime after my third G&T, I expressed too much enthusiasm for Halle Berry, the stunning lead actress. Or maybe I spent too much time playing an online tank-battle game (after, not during, the movie), which my son got me addicted to. Or maybe I didn't notice her nightgown. I'm not sure. All I know is that she put our daughter to sleep in our bed, and kicked me out.

I repeated the now-familiar bedtime ritual: taking the stuffed animals off my daughter's bed, switching our pillows, and throwing on an extra blanket (the girl never gets cold, it seems). I settled in my daughter's bed with my phone, and opened the app for The New York Times for a quiet read before sleeping. At least her room gets a strong wifi signal.

In the morning, the Wife fired the first salvos about my drinking—we had finished off more than half of the gin. True, I drank most of it, but she didn't exactly use a sippy cup. I had my drinks over a seven-hour period, and ate a ton of food, so I never got more than a light buzz.

But the talk about booze was was just a warm-up: the online tank game is what really pissed her off. She said I'm an addict, hiding in my office and playing for hours instead of spending time with the kids or doing chores. Then she said I was putting our family's financial security at risk by playing instead of working.

"But it's the weekend," I said, trying to explain. "And I stopped to help the kids with homework and get them to brush their teeth." The message did not get through.

That's when I made my big mistake. "Until you get a damned job, stop bitching about my work," I said.

I'm back in the dog house, and once again she wants me to move out.

Friday, October 07, 2016

I want to waterboard my daughter

This morning, my daughter's teacher asked to have a word with me. I have a thing for this teacher (perhaps the subject of another post) so I was pleased she wanted to talk. She looked at me with her bright, blue, vibrant eyes.

"We found a special pencil box belonging to a classmate in your daughter's backpack," she said.

My good mood evaporated. I quickly transformed into the Concerned Dad Who Always Does the Right Thing. After getting the basic facts, I learned that my girl was also suspected of stealing a medal and a pair of scissors that cuts paper in a zig-zag shape. I promised to have a serious discussion with her and to look for the missing items. She thanked me and said that stealing isn't uncommon among seven-year olds, reassuring me that this kind of behavior can be easily nipped in the bud.

I definitely had the intention of doing some nipping. The situation had the potential for disaster—the teacher might hold me accountable, which would undo all the good will I've built up as a parent volunteer for the second grade.

Back at home, I searched my girl's room. I found her loot in a drawer. It was full of stolen items, and not just the medal and the scissors. There were no fewer than 30 highlighters (pink, yellow and green), about 15 whiteboard markers, tons of colored paper, a kids purse in the shape of a horse, a scarf, a ring, and a giant box of staples. I couldn't believe it. It looks like my daughter is a raving kleptomaniac.

The Wife completely freaked out when I told her, weeping uncontrollably. I was tempted to give her some sackcloth and ashes, just to help her play the part right.

"It's all your fault," she said. "It's because you don't pay enough attention to her."

I ignored the comment. I do a lot for my kids—every morning I wake them up, get them ready to go, take them to school, pick them up, help with the homework, and put them to bed. I'd say that's a hell of a lot. Luckily, the Wife didn't pursue this line of reasoning any further. Instead, she focused on the matter at hand.

"Give back the medal and the scissors," she said. "I'll throw out the rest." I was shocked. I thought we should put it all in a bag and have a chat with the school counselor. This girl might have a real problem, and we had to show her it was serious. I was all for escalation.

But the Wife overruled me. She didn't want our daughter to be labeled as a problem child. So instead, she put everything in the school's lost and found. That way the kids get their stuff, and nobody finds out our daughter has a dark side.

After school, we had what I would call a serious chat. I wanted her to explain herself, then discuss why her actions were wrong and what consequences she could expect. But she didn't play ball. She refused to admit that she had stolen anything, or done anything wrong. I was astonished at how stubbornly she defended her position, looking right into my eyes, lying, even in light of overwhelming evidence. I doubt she'd confess even if she was waterboarded in Guantánamo.

I banished her to her room, without TV. She must have known I was really upset; she didn't protest and didn't try to sneak out. She fell asleep early, on top of her covers, fully dressed.

The incident had one bright side—it got me out of the doghouse. Things with the Wife are good again. But I can't say I felt good about it.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Bumming about Steve Jobs

This morning Facebook dug up a five-year old post : Steve Jobs hit control-alt-delete. I remembered the news in the New York Times from October 5, 2011: Steve Jobs of Apple Dies at 56.

I remembered how shocked I was. This man's products were, and still are, intertwined with my whole life. I wrote my college thesis on an Apple IIe, the first personal computer I ever used. I was an early user of the Macintosh. Only after being forced to use PCs at work did I stray from Apple.

The Wife reintroduced Apple products to my life, starting with an iPad Touch. That led to a MacBook Pro, a fabulous machine, an iPhone, and then a MacBook Air. On our last anniversary, I gave her an iPad. It's perfect for her, since the only thing she does online is watch You Tube videos and read e-mail (she gets me to ghost write her e-mails for her). She hasn't touched a laptop since.

Although I still use a crappy Lenovo for work (the office provides it), I use Apple devices for my own stuff. Especially the iPhone, which I mainly use for reading newspapers, blogs and Facebook.

I hope our man Steve is resting in peace, if there's a place to rest after we're through here on Planet Earth. I'm glad I learned about his death on one of his devices. That's the way it should be.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Shopping therapy

It usually takes The Wife about three days, sometimes four, to recover from an attack of rage. But there are things I can do to speed up the process. The first is begging for forgiveness and expressing profound regret for whatever it was I did, or failed to do. Another is to do extra housework. Nothing says "I'm sorry" like a squeaky-clean toilet.

expensive cream
Therapy in a jar
But the quickest way out of the doghouse is through shopping. When The Wife comes back from the mall, I can instantly tell how much longer my ordeal will last by the look on her face and how many bags she's carrying. If she calls ahead and asks for help carrying bags from the car, then I know I'm home free.

There's also a direct correlation between how much she spends and how quickly her spirits are restored. I sometimes suspect that she engineers the biggest arguments on purpose, just to justify a guilt-free shopping spree. After some of our more epic fights, she's come home with Crème de la Mer, which costs $250 for a two-ounce bottle, diamond earrings, and stylish leather boots.

I used to fight about her purchases, but then I looked into the cost of marriage counselors. I get a much higher value for money through shopping. The results are the same, but we actually have something tangible in hand afterwards. No need to put some therapist's kids through college when we can have younger-looking skin instead.

But yesterday, she came home with only a single bag, from Gap Kids. All it had was a pair of jeans for my daughter and some underwear for my son. It may not have been the solution I was looking for, but I could tell that the sharpest edges were a little softer, and knew that the worst was behind me.

She put the bag down and went into the kitchen. Every surface was sparkling, but she didn't seem to notice.

Monday, October 03, 2016

The Silent Treatment

sinister aura
This morning I woke up early, as usual. I made some coffee – enough for both of us – and started reading the New York Times on my phone. Suddenly, The Wife entered. She walked past me silently and began making breakfast for the kids. French toast. Their favorite.

I sensed a darkness about her, as if she were wearing a black coat. But she wasn't; she still had her light-green nightgown on. Somehow, though, she projected her mood into a sinister aura that completely enveloped her. The lights dimmed as she entered the kitchen.

"Good morning honey," I said. 
Silence, except for the sound of cracking eggs and vigorous stirring.

"Are you going to pick up the kids from school today?" I asked. More silence. The silent treatment is the norm after we have a big fight. It never made a lot of sense to me – I actually want her to shut up most of the time. When she's simmering to herself, I just mind my own business and ignore it. But sometimes we have practical, parent-issues to discuss, and at times like these, the silent treatment just seems stupid.

The Wife started to fry up the French toast in olive oil. An unnatural, Mediterranean smell filled the kitchen. I know olive oil is healthy, but using it to make French toast seems like a crime against nature. But I guess it all depends on how you were fed growing up 
 my kids react to it like Pavlov's dog. They came running as soon as the smell reached their bedrooms. I poured myself a bowl of All-Bran.

"Morning kids," said The Wife. "French toast," she added, as if they didn't know. The kids smeared jam all over their breakfast, completely undoing any benefits from the olive oil. I wanted to speak up, if only to point out how unhealthy their breakfast was. But instead I just crunched on my bran.

A few minutes later, the kids were on their way to school. The Wife didn't say a word. She took the car keys and walked out the door.

Shopping, most likely.