“Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or a goblin damned,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou com’st in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee. . .
Let me not burst in ignorance, but tell
Why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death,
Have burst their cerements, why the sepulchre
Wherein we saw thee quietly interred
Hath oped his ponderous and marble jaws
To cast thee up again.”
That’s how I greeted my wife when we met outside the department store after not having seen each other for a week and before taking the elevator up to the roof to have dinner at the food court there (though not outside, as it was a tad too chilly for that).
Actually, it was a speech I was reading in a copy of Hamlet when she broke my reverie to interrupt the Muse with her less than amusing presence. She accuses me of worshiping Shakespeare, which may be true, but at least I’m not a Christian fascist like her. She also says I shouldn’t worship the Beatles (devil music, you understand), equally bad advice as far as I’m concerned. Then again, it might be time for Paul McCartney to hang up his singing shoes, as his voice has become a little too hoarse to entertain the crowds he doubtfully commands. He’s also having trouble remembering all of the lyrics of songs he wrote nearly fifty years ago:
“Hey, Jude, don’t break it bad. . .”
He and Mick Jagger appear to be competing for the title, The Frank Sinatra of Rock. (If you ever want to see something almost preternaturally cringeworthy, feast your ears on Sinatra’s version of the George Harrison classic “Something” on You Tube: “You ask me if my love will grow, when I don’t know, no I don’t know. You stick around, Jack, it may show. But I don’t know, etc.” At that point in his career, the mob must have been using him to torture anyone who refused to cough up the dough they sought. I’d have gotten another job washing dishes right away just to avoid any more of that particular musical punishment.)
Jina and my last reunion hadn’t gone so well either–not at first, anyway. When I told her about the teaching job I’d picked up, which starts next week, she had a hissy fit as soon as I said I’d have to commute every day instead of staying overnight at the workplace all week, which is what I’ve been doing all month so far at a different gig that’s just expired (absence does make the heart grow fonder, as long as you can continue remaining absent). The reason she so suddenly went into a brown study, as Melville would say, was not that she wouldn’t want to greet me every night after work, but because now I’d have to pay for transportation every day, and would therefore be making less money. More accurately, she’d be making less money, due to her parasitic relationship to my bank account.
When I got home from the gig yesterday, I took off my suit and took a shower, then unpacked my suitcase. Jina called me and asked if I wanted to go and meet her for dinner. I was drained and would have preferred to vedge out at home, but she insisted and I relented. So I got more completely dressed and shlepped down to the bus stop. Both of our phone batteries were running down, but she kept calling me anyway to check up on my progress. The plan was to meet up on the roof, then on the first floor, then I’m not sure where. She always goes out of her way to keep me guessing. It’s part of her responsibility as a certifiably insane person.
In fact, by the time I reached what I thought was my destination in front of the department store, she wasn’t even there. She said she was down in the food market in the basement. “Shall I come and meet you there?” I asked. No, she said. Wait for me there. So I broke out the Shakespeare and started to worship the dead bard, trying not to be too obvious about it so as not to freak out the ever-flowing river of pedestrians.
The first thing Jina does when she sees me is not hug or kiss me hello, smile, or even say hi. No, she criticizes what I’m wearing–baggy pants and–as she notices later–a frayed shirt. Not to sound too politically incorrect, but I’m married to a Jewish mother–but that couldn’t be, since she’s an over-the-top Jesus freak.
When you’re in love your heart beats faster because it’s so excited to be getting laid by the right person again. (The idea of a heart literally getting laid is a little disgusting though; it conjures visions of necrophiliacs who failed medical school working the night shift at the morgue–I’ll let you fill in the details yourself.) But when you’re in hate, your heart also beats faster, mainly because it’s trying to get the hell out of there.
And yet, of course it can’t, trapped as it is in its humble cage. Or so it thinks, at any rate. (As Hamlet would say, “Conscience does make cowards of us all,” not that he was thinking of “conscience” in the way we’d understand it today; in the current context, conscience–or fear of hurting the woman who’s been hurting me for the past thirteen lucky years–is part of what makes me a coward–although were I more highly evolved I’d realize that my conscience needs to be stronger in order for me to do the right thing and get the hell out before the Grim Reaper comes along spinning his scythe overhead like a cheerleader dressed up for Halloween.)
Upstairs, I flip-flopped over whether to order a pasta-and cheese tortilla fusion dish, or else a spaghetti platter slathered with cheap cheese, gazing lovingly at the plastic simulacra of these mass-produced creations. I finally opted for the former, since it came with a small salad. Jina, meanwhile, ordered seafood risotto, which she promptly returned shortly after I delivered her tray to her as she waited at the table, replacing it with seafood spaghetti. She told me the cooks had bowed to her in shame when she brought back the rejected risotto, but she smiled and told them it was okay. Of course, she immediately contradicted herself right afterwards by telling me that they were right to be ashamed, as they hadn’t regaled her dish with enough broccoli florets.
“I’m so sleepy,” she said, her eyes starting to close, as I took the opportunity to admire another woman passing by, although she paid me about as much heed as an anorexic supermodel marching down the runway of a fashion showroom would have. I also waxed paranoid about the surveillance camera overhead, wondering if it was recording my lascivious facial expression, dissecting the evidence of some run-of-the-mill fantasy from the dime-a-dozen batch that comes with your garden-variety male libido. (Pardon the mixed metaphor and cavalcade of cliches.)
After dinner we went to a cafe and she ordered coffee to aid her insomnia, complaining that it was too strong (she likes what she describes as “brown water,” weak enough to serve a newborn baby). I had mint tea, since I wanted to obey my circadian rhythm and actually sleep through the night instead of sitting at the computer till the wee hours looking at pictures of shoes.
Outside as we waited for the bus, she said that now that the U. S. government shutdown had finally come to an end, Obama could enact his dastardly plan and instigate health care for all, which entailed subcutaneous computer chips for all of us American sheep. Then she instantly contradicted herself by saying that this would only happen the next time Congressional gridlock ensued. Talk about a deep thinker. I pretended to listen patiently while contemplating stepping in front of the approaching bus and getting it over with once and for all.
Finally, when we got home, she broke out the new suit she’d bought me and asked me to try it on. I said the pants were a little tight around the ass (it brought back a childhood trauma from the time my older brother gave me a wedgie), and she told me I should wear tighty-whiteys instead of boxer shorts. I said I can’t wear briefs because of my sciatica, which is a literal pain in the ass. When I tried on the jacket, she said it looked too small, but asked me if I wanted to keep it anyway, saying I could lose weight. I shrugged, removed the garments, and trudged off to take another shower.
After that short-lived parenthetical period of privacy, as I was drying my flabby carcass off (oh, I forgot to mention, when she saw my newly-beer-enriched belly before I entered the private bathing chamber, Jina said in her most vehement accusatory tone, “Do you want to be Homer?”), her phone rang.
I assumed it must have been her father calling, as a moment later she said to me, “Why didn’t you visit my grandmother when we were in America? She’s probably going to die soon.”
I apologized for not visiting her, as she’s a very nice old lady, saying I didn’t have time.
“You wanted me to spend time with your relatives. You could have made time to see her.”
Between you and me, I never said anything about wanting her to spend time with my family; I was hoping she’d decide not to come and bug me while I was there! As soon as she arrived, it stopped being a vacation.
Jina’s grandmother, as I said, is a sweet, kindly old woman, but she’s also batshit crazy. She’s the one who started the whole Jesus-is-everything bullshit, and the rest of the family went ahead and drank from the same rusty vat of Kool-Aid. They believe her account of having licked breast cancer through the power of prayer, literally vomiting up the tumor in a black mass (no pun intended). Then again, my family believes that my great- grandfather domesticated the Loch Ness monster and rode her around Scotland, wowing tourists at circuses and carnivals, but that’s another story for a different time.
Besides, if Jina and her church-chugging ilk are right, Grandma gets to go to heaven, and I have to go to hell.
No one ever said life (or death) isn’t redundant.