The way I see it

When Sarah Palin spoke of her affinity for the “Joe Six-packs of America,” I envisioned the millions of people who believe that an opinion expressed by besotted barflies has a better chance of validity than one presented in a doctoral thesis. Their premise is that anything beyond rudimentary knowledge overcomplicates decision-making, and that the resultant loss of clarity leads to liberalism. I heard it presented in church from the time I was in diapers. “Better to be poor all you life than go to a secular university, read the godless filth that godless professors call literature, study their godless science and their godless philosophy; and lose your soul.”

Led by conservative talk show hosts, the Joe Six-Packs are on the ascendancy. Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Medved, Lars Larson, and Michael Savage, are well known to me because I used to listen to them for hours each day. I quit because, despite their appeal (commercial talk radio is based on personality; public talk radio on issues) and their entertaining theatrics, there was no attempt at fairness. Their tactic was to trash the enemy, no matter how blatant the illogic or skewed the facts. If you believe your listeners are morons, there’s no need to make sense; and the fact that such talk show hosts are immensely popular implies that their assessment of their audience is largely correct. NPR at least tries to represent all sides, giving them time to answer questions, and prohibiting them from talking over one another.

Yesterday, I heard the leader of the Christian Coalition, and, as with a great many conservatives nowadays, I felt embarrassed for him. If there is any intelligence or integrity on the part of the most vocal segment of the right, I’m unaware of it. They seem to believe that democracy is great as long as they win, but if they don’t win, all bets are off. Then it’s time to “take back America,” and this would appear to leave room for pretty much anything—except working for the common good. Other than hysteria, I don’t know what the right has going for it. Unfortunately, hysteria seems to be serving it well, and that is a hard lesson to swallow.

After I wrote the above, I visited a blog in which the owner was bemoaning the lack of compassion on the part of those who oppose health care reform. One reader wrote that she was among them, whereupon there was unleashed against her the most vituperative torrent of abuse I have ever seen on any blog. Another reader and I spoke against it, thinking that, surely, others would join us. They did not. In fact, they joined in the name-calling, ending any possibility of a rational discussion. Even though the dissenter gave up after being called a parrot and a hate-filled bitch, one reader complimented the forum on its openness to opposing viewpoints—after all, no one had been physically beaten.

Experience has taught me that it is a rare day when either side to a debate has a monopoly on righteousness, yet how much sadder is that lesson when the worse cruelty is inflicted by those who claim to be on the side of compassion? Islam calls itself a religion of peace, yet how many people will be murdered today amid screams of Allahu Akbar? The second tenet of Christianity is to love your neighbor as yourself, yet how many millions of their neighbors have Christians killed, tortured, or ostracized? So would it be, I fear, with “compassionate liberals” if they had the power. The worst atrocities are always inflicted by those who think their side represents everything good and the other side everything evil.

Where my species is concerned; no enlightenment is possible, and no lasting good can ever come. For every gain there is a loss, and we extol the Gandhis and the Kings loudest when they are dead and can no longer threaten our smugness. Our lives are so very, very short that I should think we could do better. Perhaps, we are still too evolutionarily primitive. Perhaps, the truly compassionate are but aberrations. I cannot think it otherwise, and I despair.

What happens to a fantasy come true?

At night. Late. Quiet. Alone. In bed. I ponder the daylight world of color, shadow, music, plants, people. They don’t seem real in the darkness. They seem like a drug trip. I think, “Maybe this is what death is like; awareness without stimuli, as if the world were a long ago dream.”

Lately, as I lie in the darkness, I ponder Marit Larsen. I want to be Marit Larsen when I grow up.


Because she’s young, rich, healthy, intelligent, talented, beautiful, famous... Okay, I’m intelligent too, and I’m talented too (not widely appreciated for it, but talented nonetheless). But I’m also soooo old; I don’t know what my first sixty years were about, and I don’t know what to do with my last twenty. If I were Marti Larsen, life would be soooo good. Or not. I’ll admit it; I don’t know her; I just know about her.

I saw Edie Adams in an old movie last week, only I couldn’t remember her name. I just knew that I knew her. Turned out she was the woman who did the Muriel Cigar commercials in the ‘60s. Women don’t come any prettier. Then, she got old and not so pretty. No, not so pretty at all. Grace Slick was the same way. I feel cheated when women do that. Women create life—right? So what the hell are they doing getting old and dying? I expected better from them.

I worshipped them (the pretty ones anyway) from my earliest memories. It could even be that my earliest memory is of a woman who visited my family, and with whom I wanted to sleep so I could absorb her magic. I wasn’t allowed, and I screamed in protest. There it was, infinite joy right in front of me, and I couldn’t have it. I didn’t know about sex, but I knew that the universe could be mine if only I could press my body against hers in the lonely darkness.

Now, Peggy won’t sleep with me (I snore, I kick), but Peggy can’t give me eternal bliss anyway, so I can live with it. The only women who have that power are the ones who exist solely in my imagination—even though they’re based on real people. Nothing kills a good fantasy like having it come true.

I continue thinking as I lie in the darkness: Okay, if I could be Marit Larsen, what would that look like? Well, I couldn’t just be me in her body; I would have to be her, and this means that EVERYTHING that is, was, or ever will be me would be destroyed. Would I still do it? No. I wouldn’t. I say to myself:

“She too will die. I know that. I look at her, so young, so full of life; but, no matter, she will grow old, and she will die, and then she will be no more. Odds are, it will happen forty years after my death, but what is forty years in the scheme of things?”

Still, she looks like a goddess. I know better, but the little boy in me can never completely give up the old fantasies. Reality is simply too hard to look full in the face. Yet, in the wee hours, I DO look reality full in the face, if only because I can’t turn away. I hate the wee hours.

The thing that is both sad and grand is that I have at least rationally given up on magic. Women can make me feel damn good, but they can’t save me; they can only distract me. Why is such knowledge grand? Because to look to women for salvation was a heavy burden to lay upon human flesh. Men sometimes kill when their goddesses fail them.

When I was young, and I knew guys that were old and rich, I envied them because I knew they could get women that I couldn’t. Now that I’m old (and not really rich, but not poor either), I too could get women that I couldn’t have gotten on charm alone when I was young; but I don’t want them. Funny that I ever thought I would.

Now, even if I could get them on charm alone, I wouldn’t know what to do once I had them. I could fuck them, for a while longer anyway, but what would we talk about? Funny I should keep coming back to that. Peggy and I can talk about 38 years of shared experiences, or we can talk about the years that we didn’t share but that we did both experience. Marit Larsen is a 26-year-old Norwegian.

Me: “So, Marit, did you ever see that mermaid statue thingy in Oslo?”
Her: “Herregud!!! What is it with Americans and geography? The Little Mermaid is in Copenhagen. Me and my Mom saw it a long, long time ago, like in the 90’s.”
Me: “I first saw it in a book in the 50’s.”
Her: “Wow! My parents weren’t even born yet.”
Me: “Hey, I’ve got some DVDs of Have Gun Will Travel. Do you want to watch them?”
Her: “What kind of music do they play?”

Whatever shot I might have ever had at Marit Larson is gone. Watch her video. Try to see her as I see her. She looks angelic, but she’s not an angel. I know that, really I do.

P.S. For best results, double click on the video to watch it on the YouTube site.

Careers, affairs, and other marital considerations

Peggy holds the most respected job in America, and I the most despised. Registered nurses outrank doctors and professors. Househusbands fall below politicians and car salesmen. Indeed, most people don’t believe househusbands exist; they think we are simply men who mooch off our wives. Such was how my mother saw it; she called Peggy my “meal ticket.”

I got the job in 1978 after I built our house in the Mississippi woods. The plan was for Peggy to work and for me to do everything else, which at the time included gardening, preserving foods, adding finishing touches to the house, and working part-time as a writer, carpenter, candle-maker, and housepainter. After we moved to Oregon in 1986, I continued being the houseperson, but I also continued taking outside work, although Peggy never liked it because she had to help with the chores. My last job was as an on-call handyman for an office suite; when my boss left in 2001, I did too.

A major part of my househusband tenure has been remodeling the houses we’ve owned, and this points to one of the awkward aspects of my job. Namely, it doesn’t have an adequate label. Househusband implies cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry; but not remodeling, yard work, investment management, and car care. When I am asked what I do, I either have to go into a long description or offer an inadequate title. Now that I’m sixty, I just tell people I’m retired. Not that they ask much anymore because they assume I’m retired based upon how frigging old I look.

Women who understand how much I do for Peggy often ask her if they can borrow me for awhile—or they tell me that they would like to take me home with them. Peggy doesn’t know how to scan a credit card because I do the shopping. She doesn’t know how to look up a library book because I get them for her. She has no idea how to go anywhere because I either take her, or I go with her and give her directions. I set my mental clock each night so she won’t have to wake her up to an alarm. I make her bed; I cook her breakfast; and when she comes home, I have her supper ready. If she needs an appointment, I arrange it. If she needs business transacted, I do it.

I went to the dentist with her on Wednesday and held her hand while she was having her teeth cleaned. On Thursday, I sat by her side during her bone density scan and learned as much I could about osteoporosis. Later that day, I went to the doctor with her because she had a blocked salivary gland—I did most of the talking. Prior to these visits, I filled out her medical forms and printed an updated copy of her medications. Afterwards, I took her home, and then I picked-up her prescription.

I take care of Peggy like she is a cross between a child and the queen of England. In return, I don’t have to deal with the hassles of pleasing an employer, and I can schedule my time pretty much as I wish. Other than societal disrespect (which really isn’t an issue anymore) my job only has four downsides. One is that I am dependent upon Peggy for my income and my health insurance, so if she should die or lose her job, times would be hard. The second is that I do all of my work alone and miss the feeling of being part of a team. The third is that my work hours aren’t clearly defined, so I always worry that I’m not doing enough. The fourth is that Peggy is my de facto employer, and she can be a hard woman to please.

For example, she recently had a Corian top made for a table in her bedroom, and I mounted it from below with four bolts and nuts. Peggy got down on the floor and, by moving her head from side to side, noted that the sides of the nuts were not lined up with the walls of the room. Most people would consider me a careful craftsman, but I never feel that I make the grade with her. It’s not that she gets upset or gives me a hard time; it’s just that she can’t let go of something until it meets her standards. Her hobby is collecting antique clothing buttons and arranging them on perfectly laid out cards, for god’s sakes. Extreme detail is her idea of relaxation; it is my idea of torture.

The more in touch I become with my own mortality, the more I try to teach Peggy things that she would need to know if she were alone, things about our finances or how to do stuff on the computer, for example. But Peggy is incredibly resistant to such information. Even though I’ve repeatedly shown her how to get to the dentist, her best guess this week would have landed her two miles away. It’s as if she thinks she can keep me alive by making me indispensable.

I’m just the opposite. I assume that she could die at any moment. I worry about her driving to work. I worry about her riding her bike. I worry about her flying across country to visit her family at Christmas. I worry about her skiing each winter. And I really worried about her climbing mountains. Yet, I have no control over these things.

Despite what might sound like a lot of hovering on my part, I never even try to say no to anything Peggy wants to do because it’s not my place to run her life; it’s my place to assist her in running her own life. She gives me the same freedom. If I decided to spend the next month camping alone in Montana, Peggy would support me. In past years, I’ve been gone twice that long and traveled thrice that far, but I’ve since lost all desire to leave home. Everything I value is right here.

Does this mean you regard Peggy as your soul mate?

I would say both no and yes. No, in that it’s a flawed concept. How many people did any of us get to know well enough to consider marrying before we chose the person we did marry? I had precisely three girlfriends after age 18 and before I married Peggy at 22. All three wanted to marry me, but Peggy was the only one I wanted to marry. How many women did I fail to check out before I married her? Millions. And what are the odds that I might have gotten along better with at least one of them? Probably thousands.

The way I see it, the goal isn’t to find the best woman in the whole world (whatever that means), but to find a damn good woman and love her as best you can. Sure, I’ve had girlfriends since I’ve been married (which means that my best hasn’t always been that good), and I’ve sometimes wondered if I wouldn’t be happier with one of them, but I always came back to the thought that Peggy is a woman of kindness, loyalty, intelligence, and integrity, whom I know well and with whom I am highly compatible in important ways. Ergo, how much sense would it make for me to run off with someone whom—in all honesty—the main things I know about are that she’s pleasing to look at, fun to talk to, and hot in bed? A new girlfriend always looks better than an old wife precisely because she is new; I know Peggy too well to build endless fantasies around her.

I could find half a dozen “soul mates” this afternoon alone based upon the wonders I saw (or imagined) when I gazed into their eyes. Lots of women look perfect, but it’s like the seasoned trail boss (Eric Fleming) used to say to his romantic young ramrod (Clint Eastwood) on the old TV show Rawhide!: “Rowdy, just because a woman looks like an angel; it don’t mean she is one.” I’ve found it difficult to wrap my mind around this concept, and the only reason I’m getting any closer is that my testosterone levels are on the decline.

Now for the yes. Inasmuch as the concept of a soul mate is valid, she—or he—is both born and made. I’ve been with Peggy for almost two thirds of my sixty years. Even if I should meet a woman with whom I felt such oneness that she seemed like myself in another body, she still wouldn’t know me the way Peggy knows me, and I still couldn’t give her my unreserved trust because I wouldn’t know her. It’s one thing to know what I’ve got, and quite another to know what I would hope to gain, and in this, as in all things, I live by the adage that, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

You might say that I’m not being very romantic, but I’m not writing about romance; I’m writing about what I’ve found to work in life. If I lived by romance alone, I’d probably be on my fifth marriage by now. Romance is like dessert wine. It’s great to enjoy but bad to get drunk on.

By the way, the picture was made in 1971.