Half of My Stuff

Stuff that happened when I got married.


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Consider the daffodil.

I met my wife in 2003, the week the Iraq War began while I was on spring break in Lake Havasu, Arizona. With authority you can say that this is an inauspicious beginning.  Why? Because Lake Havasu is the inspiration for the lake in the movie “Piranha,” the plot of which is: you’re introduced to a bunch of people who deserve to be eaten by prehistoric fish–and then for the next 90 minutes prehistoric fish eat them.  And the Iraq War is pretty much everyone’s least favorite war.

I met my wife at the end of the week, when a friend of mine threw water balloons at her and her friends, then invited me to meet the girls they threw water balloons at later that night. We bonded over Jack Handey quotes which we traded back and forth for hours.

In 2005, we started dating. I told her I loved country songs, she informed me she was a huge Red Sox fan. Meanwhile, to this day I know 5 country songs by name, and she has no idea who Bobby Valentine is. It’s all part of a process. When you meet someone on a lake filled with douche bags, the day after a war starts, you tend overcompensate by bullshitting small stuff about yourself, in the same way that spackle can be considered bullshit for drywall.

Then comes the long process of letting all that stuff fall away. Now that you’re in love, it’s best to let the other person know you did not donate a kidney to a dying orphan. It was actually a case of Campbell’s Soup you donated to a hungry orphan. At least for now it was. A few months from now, that Campbell’s Soup will become a pair of old shoes your mom donated once in the 80’s to some kid who probably still had their parents. But it was your mom and they were your shoes.

As that spackle is removed, you like what’s left much more–it’s genuine, stronger and it’s true character. You’re yourself.

But once all that inward bullshit is gone… it then starts to redirect outward in the form of reckless consideration of the other person’s feelings. I once bought my wife tulips, proudly boasting “Look at what a good boyfriend I am. I got you your favorite flowers.” She smiled, hugged me, kissed and thanked me, telling me how considerate and caring I was to make the effort to get her favorite flowers in the entire world.  She assured me I was a rare find. Few men are like me.

Then five minutes later I remembered it was daffodils that were her favorite, not tulips. “Were you pretending?”

“Sweetie, they’re both yellow. I can see how that was confusing to you.”

The most common occurrence of this happens because I do most of the cooking. My wife will come home from work, greeted with dinner. When she says: “This is such an interesting flavor,” it’s really her euphemism for “There’s so much salt in here I’m worried my kidneys are about to shutdown.”

To her credit, she will call me out on a lot of things–I apparently load the dish washer like a moron who has never played Tetris–but I’ll never be criticized if I’ve done something nice. Which is sweet of her, but typically that’s how you treat children. Oh, you made me a sandwich with eggshells and shotgun casings? Yummy! Sure, be nice now, but sooner or later you’re going to have to eat that kid’s sandwich or put him up for adoption.

For her sanity, my wife needed to drop the act.  Besides, I am a huge believer in getting the crap criticized out of me in order to get better. No pain, no gain.

Then the other day I was making her favorite food, salmon. But wanting to do something special, I made a lemon glaze with, among other spices, cumin. By itself cumin smells like an unbathed hippy. And my wife’s palate is such that she’s very sensitive to some flavors, hippy armpit being one of them. So when she came home, smelled salmon, and found me singing “You’re only cumin, born to make me taste…” to the tune of Human League’s song Human,  she froze up.

And in that moment I remembered, she doesn’t like cumin, I’ve probably just ruined salmon, her favorite food. How is this going to play out? Will she smile at me, say I’m an epicurean mastermind–a palate pioneer, never wanting to seem ungrateful that I cooked for her?

Needless to say, it takes a long time to be exactly who you are in a relationship. It was Jack Handey doing the talking when we first met. It was my wife talking when she finally said “I’d prefer not to have that flavor combo on salmon again.”


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The Elevator of Past Self.

Last week, I rounded the corner in my building’s lobby and made eye contact with a guy who was standing on the only working elevator… just as the doors were starting to close. This is how the game begins.

On an elevator when you hold the door for someone you’re a hero. You get a really surprised “Thanks!” You feel good about yourself. But that feeling fades fast as you are stuck with the door open for 95 more seconds, stragglers keep turning the corner waving for you to “hold it,” and once you’ve held it for one person, you’re obliged for the rest. They keep getting on, and on, and on– like it’s Noah’s Ark for people with bad timing.

But this guy? Down his eyes go toward his iPod, and he lets the doors close before I can reach the elevator.

It’s fine. I’ve played that game before too.

He’s doing it wrong, by the way. You’re supposed to get in the elevator, flatten yourself against the side of the car, out of the line of sight of anyone, and hit the ‘close door’ button as many times as possible. The game gets really exciting when you hear someone running to catch it, yelling “Wait, no no no! Hold it!” They’ll see an empty elevator but hear that taptaptap reaching an incredible fever pitch the closer they get. To add to the excitement, and as a justification, I used to tell myself that that person running for the elevator could be a murderer.

But this guy? He had his iPod going. So he never hears the exciting part. He wasn’t even hitting the ‘close door’ button, either. Just stood out in the open. So arrogant.

It reminded me of a past version of myself I never got to say goodbye to. It was a simpler time then. Our cats were kittens and would sometimes run up to me, throw up at my feet, and run off. I’d stare at it for a second, hope my future wife hadn’t noticed, then move to the other side of the room, and pretend to be asleep.

I gave myself a hardy pat on the back when I outgrew this instinct and can now proudly say “Honey, I cleaned the mess instead of letting the other cat eat it up.”

Admit it, that was good teamwork on behalf of my other cat.

There were even simpler times, were I’d take a shower, go to work, come home, and find I had left a soaking wet towel draped over the bed. Never consciously though. It’s like I’d blackout and become an 11-year old idiot. But I’d hang up the towel and blow dry the bed, hopefully before I get caught and subsequently shamed by my future wife into not being allowed to use towels anymore.

And the simplest times, instead of being the one to tip the overflowing garbage in that unspoken roommate game of trash can Jenga, (because if it tips over you have to take out the garbage), I would just flush whatever I was going to throw out down the toilet.  I’d finish the last cup of coffee, not replace toilet paper, and then eat your leftovers.  I was the worst.

But those days are behind me now. And those elevator doors are metaphorically closing on that simpler time of being a worthless slob. With about 12 inches left, before they’ve closed completely, I see that smug bastard smile at me. It’s my former version of myself’s way of saying bye. Saying bye forever to grown up Brian.

“Good bye, inconsiderate former self” I said as the doors are about to close shut–

They have 3 inches to go in our goodbye when they open back up. A woman was standing in the car, off to the side, a place normally designated for hiding and taptaptaping the ‘close door’ button. She’d seen me at the last second, and with an “Oh my!” hit the button.

“Thank you!” I said, staring at the guy as I stepped on and hit the button for the 5th floor. Guy’s eyes went wide and did not move from his iPod’s screen. He forgot the cardinal rule of elevator; it needs to be agreed upon by everyone on the elevator if you’re going to screw over the late person.

I stood right next to him, and did what anyone would do in my situation. Stared at his head and hoped it would suddenly explode. He could sense this and tucked his chin into his chest.

Then the elevator dings for his floor. The 2nd floor. The floor that is 15 feet above the lobby. “Take the stairs next time, pal.” Is what I didn’t say to him, but should’ve. “Common courtesy? More like rare courtesy with this guy.” Is what I didn’t say and am glad I didn’t say and nobody should ever say.  But still, I should’ve said something.

Anyway, I know where he works now and on what floor. So, if anyone is looking for me, like my boss or co-workers, I’m going to be spending my mornings on the elevator, holding the door for everyone else, and making sure that guy takes the stairs.

This is the new Brian. A more courteous Brian. And he has a thirst for petty revenge.


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Surprise.

My friend Jared’s wife is good at surprises. How good? Last year she brought him out to quiet drinks at a bar in San Diego, where they live, and that’s when all of his Los Angeles friends showed up… for a two-day bender at a beach house.

“Surpri”– shut up, she’s not done.

A few days later, while Jared was at work, his wife walks in and tells him that she’s already made the arrangements, secretly, to get Jared time off while they go Belgium for 10 days. I think she even packed his bags.

“Surprise”– shhhhh, still not done.

He touches down in Belgium and finds his entire family is there. Ok, say it.

“Holy. Shit.”

Exactly. She sets the bar high is what I’m saying, and it helps to know Jared because you get to be in on the fun.  And I know Jared. We were each others best men.

So for his birthday this year, at 7:00 AM, a few Saturdays ago, she blind folded Jared, and put him in the car, and then drove for an hour and a half.

In most people’s experience when this happens, you take off your blind fold, find yourself in the middle of the desert, are then handed a shovel and instructed to dig your own grave at gun point.

For Jared, when he takes off the blind fold: “Disneyland!”

And then she levels the gun to his head.

Kidding. They park, get on the tram, walk to Space Mountain. Then while waiting in line, my wife and I sneak up behind Jared and his wife. We’re awesome people, by Jared’s standards, so we make for a pretty good surprise.

To execute our end of the bargain, I’d taken a picture of Jared and his wife while they walked through Disneyland. The plan was to text it, Jared checks his phone, only to find a picture of him and his wife waiting in line, along with the message “I’m watching you.” Who doesn’t love creepy stuff? But my patience ran out before AT&T’s threadbare 3G network would send the picture.  I put Jared in an awkward headlock instead.

“You guys are here too?! I had no idea! This is great!” And then commenced 16 hours of Space Mountain, California Adventure, weird button-trading Disneyphiles, and a lot of people who didn’t seem to really need to be in wheelchairs and yet were getting pushed around in wheelchairs. Then it was time for dinner at Blue Bayou.

Psych!!

“Dinner at Club 33!!” squealed Jared.

Yes, Club 33, the very exclusive restaurant in Disneyland where you can only get a reservation if you’re a member or know a member.  And to become a member there’s a 15 year wait list, and once you’ve made it through the wait list, there’re exorbitant initiation fees, and after you’ve paid them I’m fairly certain you have to defeat a kraken. Again, this is only to allow you the privilege of being able to make a reservation.  No free entry to Disneyland.  No free Micky ears.  Just the reservation, and bragging rights.

Also, it’s ‘spensive!

Jared approached the menu like someone crossing a mildly frozen pond with a group of friends.  Unsure if the ice is going to break, taking everyone down with you, and at the bottom of the pond a waiter hands you a huge bill.

DINNER

Garden Salad – $ – Lettuce, fresh tomato, dressing… honestly, no one orders this.  I doubt we even have one in the kitchen.

Filet Mignon – $$$ You want me…  But you’re going to order that stupid salad, because you need student loans to afford me.

So it was pretty fun seeing how appalled he looked when his wife ordered one of the most expensive bottles of wine on the wine list, because–

“Surprise!! The dinner is completely covered!! Get whatever you want!”

Holy. Shit.

She’s the Napoleon of surprises. Except she’s tall.

I once threw a surprise birthday party for my wife, in the pre-wife days. What made it a  success wasn’t that I had endless twists of surprises.  I didn’t.  People were going to yell “Surprise!” That’s it.  No, what made it a success was that beforehand she was in an uncharacteristically bad mood, and was really annoyed with me.  She wanted to invite over a couple for game night, but all I could come up with was “It is your birthday, and we should do what you want, but game night sucks, sweetie, let’s go over to Dan and Ben’s instead.”  So when I dragged her over to our friends’ apartment and thirty or so of our friends jumped out and said “Surprise!!” she turned to me, smiling and said “I love you, I’m sorry for being such an asshole just then.”

Seeing her go from “you’re sleeping in the garage tonight” to happy instantaneously was worth it.  Also, now I can say, “Remember when you were being a dick to me because I was doing something really really nice for you?” She remembers.

But that’s best case scenario for the rest of us, with Jared’s wife doing as she does.  Get someone pissed off and then surprise them.  And seriously, she should get Jared socks next year. Only socks. Mostly because Jared will be expecting something else, that other thing… that twist. And the twists is, you’re just getting socks, Jared. Just like the rest of us.

One last thing, this was my first time ever at Disneyland.  Ever.  Never went when I was a kid, and I haven’t been to its weird second cousin, Disney World either. So it’s my first impression, with all the rides you all know and love, then it culminates with one of the most expensive dinners I’d ever had, where we ate stupid amounts of food, drank ridiculously good wine and scotch and then closed down the restaurant.

So unless I cultivate a huge desire to be really disappointed the next time I go, Disneyland has been ruined for me. “Surprise.”

She’s good.


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W.I.R.

I will try to refrain from using the phrase ‘when in Rome,’ because when we were in Rome, we said it all the time. You might be thinking: Have some respect for yourself, man. I’d never do that.

You are lying to yourself.

The phrase is a bit of a justification. Similar to “What Happens in Vegas,” only no one is going to think you have gonorrhea or a baby that you left in an IHOP dumpster off the strip when you say “When in Rome.” It’s applicable to things like: You ate gelato for every meal?  W.I.R.  You drank a bottle of wine with every meal? W.I.R. You drank a bottle of wine specifically before crossing the street? W.I.R. You brushed your teeth with gelato? You get the idea.

The only time we were acting like we were not in Rome, was when we were in bed. And no, this did not just get weird. Get your mind out of the gutter, dirty pervert.

After our first night in Rome we woke up around 7:00 AM. Feeling a bit tired, we snoozed our alarms… for four and half hours before we realized it was pushing 11:45 AM. That’s 70 combined snoozes between us. By the way, screaming “shitshitshitshit” over and over while trying to get dressed, was not an effective way of slowing down time, or a smart way of cheering on your wife to get ready faster, but is 100% great for making a mirror look disgusting while brushing your teeth.

Because of this our site seeing list hit the cutting room floor.

Any restaurant recommendation:

Me: We no longer have time to eat.

Borghese Gallery:

Me: I think it’s just paintings.

Her: You’ve seen one painting, you’ve seen them all.

Pantheon:

Me: Do we even like domes? Have we ever talked about domes before today?

Her: No domo arigoto.

Roman Forum:

Me: Ughh…

Her: Skip!

National Museum of Rome:

Me: We’ll walk by it. If the front door is open, see what you can see from the street, but we’re not stopping.

Colosseum:

Me: We don’t have a choice, we have to go.

Her: Why?

Me: Because I went to USC. You went to Purdue, if we ever see a coal mine, we can stop inside.

Days later, we learned the broader application of the phrase, as it also applies when you’re in Siena, but also that it can be used as a rally cry. It was 11:00 PM, we had called it a night after a big dinner, we were brushing our teeth (with toothpaste, not gelato), and in our pajamas, when in the bar across the street, someone started playing bagpipes.

Yes, real live bagpipes. Real live bagpipes are known to do three things: give goosebumps, bolster confidence, and change lives.  Looking down at the bag piper, I day dreamt I was in World War II, in the trenches, Battle Crying at Nazis until their heads exploded, all while I rode atop my giant bald eagle named Gary.

My wife woke me from my reverie.

“Should we really go to bed?” she asked looking down at the bagpiper.

“I’ve brushed my teeth, I’ve flossed  even, so I’m pretty committed to this going to bed thing.” She agreed and we went to bed.  Such a mistake, those bagpipes were a call to arms for us to rally.  By midnight, someone had found a snare drum, and recruited probably one thousand people in a drunken parade growing louder and softer, louder and softer, pulsing as they marched around the main square chanting soccer chants.  Which we could all hear quite excellently from our bed.  By 3:00 AM, an impromptu accordion folk dance contest broke out on our street, outside of our window. Us?  Still in bed.  The entire time we hadn’t slept a wink.

I just wanted it all to stop.  I wanted everyone to go to bed, not because I wanted to go to sleep, but because I had this sick feeling of missing out. And I said nothing. Nor did my wife. We didn’t even realize the other was even awake. We both just lay there, pretending to sleep through what sounded like the kind of celebration that occurs after villagers successfully defend an attack from vikings.  But no, this was just a Friday night in Siena. When in [fill in the blank], don’t lie in bed like an asshole if you have any reason to stay up and experience something unique.

I typically don’t have FOMO (fear of missing out), but the next morning I woke with 3rd degree FOMO burns all over my face.  So did my wife. And we were both pissed, and acting pissed at each other.  Snapping.  Being quiet.  Laconic.  It was the only time we were being annoyed with each other on the trip.  And we were really just mad that we’d missed out.  It wasn’t either of our faults.  It was just misdirected.

After waiting two hours for our bus to Florence (Firenze) that morning, barely talking to each other, we finally boarded.  As we were about to pull out of the station, I turned around and noticed the bus directly behind us. Its sign stated: “Firenze Rapide” which translates roughly to “You stupid Americans are on the wrong bus.”

We both screamed, and ran off the wrong bus, and got on the right bus.

Adrenaline up from the mistake and a little bit stressed from carrying all of our unwieldily luggage down the narrow aisles, and still annoyed from missing out the night before, we looked for a place to sit and a cursory glance told us every seat was taken. Except for 1.

A girl had placed her bag on the seat next to her.  So we approached, and stood right in front of her, expecting her to move it over so one of us could take a seat.  Nothing.  The bag remained.  She just pretended there was something very important happening on her phone.

This is when I learned that in marriage, or any relationship, if you are angry at each other because of something that’s misdirected and neither person’s fault, you can either talk it through with them, or project all of your anger onto a deserving third party.

“Excuse me,” said my wife. The girl furrowed her brow at her phone, pretending the important thing just got upgraded to brow-furrowing level of importance.  My wife turned to me, amazed with anger, “Oh my god, I hate this girl. I hope she understands English. I want to tell her I hate her.”

“I’ll look in the phrase guide for ‘you are the worst person on earth,'” I dug out the Fodors.

“I know how to say hate in Spanish. It’s ‘odio,’ I think.” Then at a loss for words, we mad dogged the shit out of the girl who wouldn’t move her bag for 90 seconds straight, before finally noticing two seats at the very back of the bus.  We made our way over and sat down.  My wife leaned her head against my shoulder “I should’ve told her ‘grazie mille,’ in a really sarcastic tone. Or called her the c-word a thousand times.”

“I love you.” I said.

“I hate her so much,” She replied.


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Honeymoon: Day 1

My wife packed an entirely separate bag of clothes for Italy, whereas I, deciding to be an efficient and practical person, packed clothes for the wedding week, which would then be recycled in Italy after doing laundry. “Have fun with your bag of stale clothes,” I thought to myself.  Then 30 minutes before heading to the airport I opened the dryer and found that the dryer had broken. Every article of clothing coming with me to Italy was soaking wet.

You want to blame everyone within 30 feet of you when something like that happens.

“How could you let me do this?! Let me make my clothes wet, like a fool. Didn’t anyone think this was a possibility? No one speaks up? The Italians will never accept me now.” I wanted to say.

“Honey, are you drunk?” My wife would theoretically ask me.

Drunk off my fermented tears caused by broken dreams, I’d say.  Except I didn’t say that.  I kinda just glared into the middle distance, punched the air for 5 seconds, then stuffed my soggy clothes into a garbage bag, and shoved them into my luggage.  I briefly toyed with the idea of refurbishing my wardrobe with dry Italian clothes. Italian Gap was having a back to school sale, or so I’d heard.

The plan for the flight was to sleep–we were arriving 7:00 AM in Rome and it’s a 6 hour time difference.  Lots to do in Rome.  Need to be awake to do it.  But, I didn’t consider that there’d be free in-flight entertainment. Like The Avengers Movie.  I watched Avengers twice on the plane, and then was going for a third time when we landed.  I’ll sleep when Avengers stops being so damn entertaining and bantery.

Remember how my only dry clothes were the ones I was wearing, everything else was in a wet bag of garbage in my suitcase? Well, it was pouring in Rome. And I was wearing shorts and sandals and a t-shirt.  It was 7:00 AM.  And we weren’t expected to check in to our apartment until noon.  So now we were a little bit lost, damp as hell, homeless, and unable to communicate with anyone. Time to start screaming, right?

Right. But one thing to consider.

My wife is the perfect height. When I hold her, her head tucks under my chin perfectly, like two puzzle pieces of a picture of a head and a chin fitting together. All this stuff that would make you want to drop to the ground in histrionics, you just don’t do when you have someone whose head tucks under your chin so well. You want to be their strength, as much as they want to be yours. Also, you don’t want them to be ashamed of you after only being married 3 days.

You just stay quiet until you wrap your head around the wet clothes thing, the rain thing, the no sleep and the we don’t know how to get in touch with the guy that we’re renting our apartment from thing. Let go. Push forward. Being upset about any of that, won’t change any of it. It’s just happening. And we’re happening too.

So we dragged our crap through the rain.  Asked directions.  Stood outside of our building.  Suspected everyone of being a pick pocket, especially people with arm crutches, because you’d suspect them least, but I’m on to their tricks, so I suspect them first, “cerebral palsy my ass, pal. You’re not getting my wallet.”

And we just enjoyed it for what it was. An adventure. An adventure with rain in it.

Then we met an old man named Emilio. He let us in out of the rain and into the lobby of the building where we were renting an apartment.  We didn’t speak Italian. He didn’t speak English. But we talked with him for 45 minutes. We didn’t understand a word he was saying.  We could only guess.  It was then that I caught on to how sing-songy the Italian language is.  How speaking it in my flat-confused-consulting-my-phrase-guide way makes it sound ugly.  Sing-songy, I had to remember that. Emilio had the perfect old man Italian voice.  A little gruff. Passionate. Happy.  I think he was saying he was excited that we were from LA, and he’d been there before, and he’d seen the final resting places of several famous actresses, including Marilyn Monroe, and then he took in a show at the Pantages. Though, he might have been saying he was going to axe murder both of us and bury us at the dump.  But… you know… I can’t speak Italian, so he either said that, or the other thing I mentioned before. Either way, it was the first uniquely Italian experience of our honeymoon.  And it was wonderful.  The conversation, we’ll call it.  Worth being in the rain for.

Eventually, we figured out how to get into our apartment. Hung up all of my wet clothes to dry. And with the rain drumming on the ceramic tile terrace outside of our bedroom window, and my wife’s head tucked under my chin, we had the second experience of our honeymoon. A 4 hour nap.