When you are married, there are certain unmentionable negotiations that are invisible to the public, but are nonetheless an indispensable part of the marriage contract, the hidden truths between the lines, if you will. If you are married, you know what I mean. So I have the hair I have, and I looked about as “nice” as I am going to look.
On the other hand, my spouse is stunning, every bit as beautiful as the day we met. Everything about her knocks me right out. I have never gotten used to it, that feeling I get when I see her. So here we are celebrating our fourteenth anniversary, and we are going out to dinner and movie.
Picking the movie is not usually too difficult. If I pick something too scary or too “depressing” or a “guy movie” in which some troubled anti-hero saves the world or his daughter from terrorists, I know that she will get to spend the next several days giving me hell over it, which she just loves. Or I might choose a movie that we both enjoy. She wins either way.
Then there is the matter of choosing a place to eat. Of the fourteen years we have been together we have spent approximately twelve of them trying to decide what to eat. Or where to eat. Or whether to eat. It usually starts just as this conversation already has.
“I’m absolutely starving!”
“Me, too!” I’ll say. “What are you in the mood for?”
“I don’t care,” she will respond, somehow meaning it in spite of what is soon to follow. “You pick.”
I would not say that this is a trap so much as it is a quagmire, conversational quicksand. The more I flail, the faster I will sink. I already know this, but what can I do?
“How about Frog’s Leap?”
“Great food, but do we really want to spend that much for dinner? Think of what we could do with that money.”
I am thinking. The car does need new tires. Eventually, we need to get some work done on the walkway in the back yard. Our daughter will need a prom dress. And yet, I am still hungry. And I do look nice.
“OK, then, how about Chinese food? I could really go for some cashew chicken and wonton soup!”
Now we are in the car, heading east on I-40. It is about 5:45 p.m. and our movie doesn’t start for about four hours. For normal people, this is plenty of time to plan and eat a meal. But we are not those people. She is wearing the expression of someone who just took the cap off a bottle of slightly curdled milk and sniffed. No commentary is necessary.
“I guess not,” I say. “OK, then, how about Italian?”
“The girls and I just ate at Frankie’s yesterday,” she said. “I like Italian, but maybe not tonight.”
“Hey, I’ve got it!” I say. “We’ve been meaning to try one of those Korean restaurants in Asheville. I’ve got a friend who says they are amazing.”
“Yeah, I know,” she says. “But do we really want to take that chance? Do you remember the last time we tried that little restaurant downtown? That didn’t turn out so well, did it?”
“No, I guess it didn’t. How about Mexican?”
“We always eat Mexican. You know it’s my favorite, but I am just not feeling it tonight, especially before a movie. You know how it makes me so sleepy.”
“For an anniversary dinner?”
“You know, babe,” I say, “I don’t think I’m being fair. Why don’t you just tell me what you’d like and we’ll go wherever you want?”
“Really, anything is fine,” she says, pausing for a minute to check the glove compartment for Tic Tacs. “Have you ever had the feeling that you are really, really hungry, but nothing sounds good?”
No, I have not. When I am this hungry, I could eat a bucket of corndogs. I could eat the bucket. I could put Ragu on a manhole cover and call it a pizza. What she is saying makes absolutely no sense at all to me. I need to be straight with her if we are ever going to get to the restaurant, or any restaurant. I need to be compassionate and loving, but I also need to be firm.
“Oh, sure,” I say. “Isn’t that the worst?”
We end up at an earlier showing of the movie, where we inhale two large buckets of popcorn. I could have eaten my seat cushion.
“It’s just 9 o’clock,” I whisper, as the credits roll. “I bet we could still find a few places open. Are you still hungry, or did that popcorn do the trick? Should we go somewhere and grab a bite?”
“Sure,” she said, clutching my arm tightly. “You pick.”