This is just a simulation of
our beloved essayist at work.
We really are not sure what
his creative process involves,
we just print the results.
The Keys To A Happy Marriage
I have glimpsed my future and it is absolutely terrifying.
At some point in your life a sentence will come out of a parent’s mouth that
your brain cannot quite make sense of. There is that phone call that leaves you at a
loss for words. You are following the bouncing ball of words and then, out of
nowhere; you are left trying to figure out what to say.
I was doing yard work on a Saturday, preparing for the winter, when my dad
called. My parents are enjoying their golden years snowbirding in Arizona, which, to
paraphrase James Petigru’s wonderful line, is too small to be a nation and too large
to be an insane asylum. He loves the warm weather, not having to shovel snow, and
daily rounds of golf. It is a world of tricked out golf carts, estate sales, and
truckloads of black market Viagra. It is where all technology after the buggy whip
goes to commit suicide.
My parents have been married for over sixty years. Greatest parents a person
could ask for. Still, I thought it strange when my father asked me if I could find his
backup car keys and FedEx them to him overnight.
Last year my dad had major heart issues, he was days away from having what they
called “the widow maker,” and the doctors warned him not to make any major
decisions. Being the good Norwegian that he is, the next day he went out and bought
a brand new SUV or, as I call it, the spaceship. It has every piece of technology you
could ever want in a vehicle and never use. I opened the hood once and am still not
sure where the battery is. It has a butt warmer, a video screen, a satellite radio,
cameras, and, instead of a key, it has a key fob. I have never understood the whole
key fob thing. It is technology for technology sake, kind of like a smart frig or Pauly
Shore having a Facebook page.
I understand it for opening locked doors and the like, but for a car’s ignition,
it just seems like a good way of losing your car key fob. Eventually you are going to
stuff it in a purse or a pocket or a bra, and through the washing machine it will go.
With keys you can do that a time or two. Computer technology not so much.
So, I naturally assumed that dad had left his key fob in his pocket or had
misplaced it someplace. Easy to do. No, his next words were, “Your mother flushed
the car keys down the toilet.” Your. Mom. Flushed. The. Car. Keys. Down. The. Toilet.
Yes, it was a complete sentence, but for some reason my brain could not wrap itself
around what it could possibly mean. I knew it wasn’t like something out of an
episode of Cops, where in a fit of a rage, the wife is flushing her husband in the wife
beater t-shirt’s wallet and keys down the pipes. Norwegians don’t fight like that. It is
not passive-aggressive enough for my people. When we want to get back at our
spouse, we tell Ole and Lena jokes, think cargo shorts are stylish, and invite our
mothers over to visit.
Maybe it was one of those toilets with the motion sensor and automatic
flushers? It is easy to understand accidentally dropping your keys in the bowl,
standing up to retrieve them, and away they go. No, that is not what happened.
“Dad,” I asked, “How did she flush the keys down the stool?” My dad replied, “I don’t
My mother is a bright, intelligent woman, not flighty in the least bit, serious
as a heart attack, but she does these things from time-to-time. Once, we went to the
grocery store, she went to the back of the station wagon to retrieve the basket of pop
bottles she was returning for a refund, and discovered she had mixed the pop bottles
up with the family laundry. Another time walking out of the mall she discovered that
she mad mixed up her shoes and had been walking around all day with a blue shoe
and a white shoe. Seems like an easy thing to do, except there was an inch difference
in the heels. I once got a new suit and needed the pants hemmed. My mother is
magical with a needle and thread. For some reason on that day, I returned home
with a suit jacket and a pair of matching shorts. Mistakes like these were easily
shaken off by her simply pointing to the number of children and dogs she had to
Last year she lost her telephone, not her cell phone, but her landline. I later
found it packed away in the cupboards with the punchbowl. Again, easily shaken off
as the stress of the holidays and my father’s health problems.
And maybe everybody does these things? I knew a woman who was dropping
a neighbor off at her house. She pulled into the driveway, my neighbor started to get
out of the car, and the woman somehow got the brake and throttle mixed up. She
punched the car through the garage, out the back wall, across the yard, my neighbor
still half in and half out of the car, before finally coming to a stop when all four
wheels became suspended in the air when she hit the ditch. The EMTs were putting
my neighbor on a gurney when her husband arrived home. My neighbor looked up at
her husband, sighed, and said, “Nothing against you, honey, but that was the most
exciting fifteen seconds of my life.”
I had a schoolteacher who got lost in a snowstorm. If you have ever been in a
snowstorm, you know that traffic can be reduced to a crawl. It can take you an hour
to go merely a mile or two. It can be nerve wrecking. After a few hours, nature came
a rap, rap, rapping on her bladder. Getting out of your car is an easy way to get killed
in such weather, especially in traffic. So, after awhile, what happened, happened.
Exhausted, she got home and told her husband what had happened. Totally
understanding, he went out to the car to clean it up. The problem was in freezing
temperatures things that get wet freeze. He came back into the house, got the
portable heater, and returned to the car in the driveway. She took a long, hot bath,
wrapped herself up in a warm robe, and thought about what a wonderful husband
Returning to the living room, she found her husband sitting there. He simply
said, “On Saturday we will go buy you a new car.” What a perfect man, she thought.
He then finished his sentence, “’cause I just set the car on fire and I am not going to
call the fire department out in this weather.”
There was a girl in my hometown whose parents proudly let everyone know
how bright their daughter was. One day, she ran out of gas. She walked a couple of
blocks to her friend’s house to get help. Her friend and her spent about an hour
talking, waiting for her friend’s brother to get home. Her friend’s brother pulled into
the driveway. They told him about her running out of gas.
“Where’s your car?” he asked. “On the railroad tracks,” she said. “Well, you
won’t have to worry about that,” he said. “Listen.” It was the sound of a train whistle.
So, I know these things happen to everyone. It just seems the margin of error gets a
lot smaller when you get older.
I sat down on the porch. George the bulldog laid his head in my lap. Rather
than waste my data minutes checking my smart phone, I called my brother to find
out if FedEx was open on Saturday. He wasn’t answering. So, I left a message, and
called his twin. Both of them have been married forever. He answered. I told him that
mom had flushed dad’s car keys down the stool. Strangely, he did not ask me why
mom had done what she had done. He simply replied, “I don’t think FedEx is open on
His brother called me back a few seconds later. Same thing. Three
successful, happy marriages, three men not asking why. Call me crazy, but maybe
there is a pattern here. Going inside, I told the seven-year-old that grandma flushed
grandpa’s keys down the toilet. She expressed a seven-year-old’s greatest concern,
“Will grandma remember my birthday next month?” The doorbell rang. I went to the
front door. It was then that I noticed that George the bulldog, while resting his head
on my lap, had slobbered and drooled all over the front of my pants. I had a dark
circular stain all over the front of my jeans. The seven-year-old laughed.
Maybe these things happen to everyone. I even know a guy that quit a good job to
start a cartoon newspaper!
I have glimpsed my future and it is absolutely terrifying.