“I bought my Ken doll some new clothes,” my wife said as she returned from her regular round of Saturday shopping.
“What’d you get me?”
“New boxer shorts.”
“I needed some, thanks.”
“And a pair of khakis.”
Since she’s not a native New Englander, she pronounced it the way your dictionary tells you to. It is a reliable shibboleth in this part of the country that those born in bred here put on their car-keys, then turn look around for their kha-kis. Must be something in the Atlantic.
“Did you get pleated or plain?”
“Pleated–that’s the kind you like, right?”
“I prefer whatever’s currently out of fashion, so pleated it is.”
She handed her haul to me and I seemed to notice a typo in the tag on the pants. “This says they’re ‘irony-free.’”
“Don’t they mean ‘iron-free’?”
She came up to me with that sad little girl look on her face that means she loves me despite all my faults and is about to tell me something I won’t like.
“I was hoping . . .”
“That the irony-free kind would help you cut back on your . . . smart-aleckiness.”
When I heard those words you could have knocked me over with a feather. It would have to be a really big feather, like from a California condor, but still.
“You think I’m . . . too ironic?”
She screwed her mouth up into a little moue, which wasn’t easy for her to do since she didn’t take French in high school or college.
“It’s not just the amount, it’s how you do it.”
“What’s wrong with how I do it?”
“You keep a straight face, so people . . .”
“Well, my mother.”
“She doesn’t count.”
” . . . and Jim and Judy.”
“I’m not going to trim my sails for a couple with an accounting degree and an M.B.A.”
She looked up into my eyes, and I knew the knockout punch was coming. Her eyes were watering over. “And me.”
“You? I didn’t think I could fool you.”
“Sometimes I can’t tell when you’re kidding.”
“But that’s the whole point of irony. If you can’t slip smart remarks over on somebody every now and then, you’ve failed.”
“But I’m your wife.“
She had me there. “All right, I’ll try them. But if I don’t like them, you’re taking them back.”
“I thought,” she said as she dropped the mask of offended ingenue, “as the son of a former ladies ready-to-wear retailer that you objected to people returning clothes after they’d worn them.”
I grumbled a bit. “Okay. Maybe I’d just wear them on formal occasions where cracking wise is inappropriate, like state funerals and first weddings.”
I tried the pants on and they fit all right, then laid down for a nap. When I woke it was 4:30, time to shower, shave and get ready to go out for her night of relief from defrosting and micro-waving home-cooked meals for me.
We headed over to Sunflower, the new boit-de-nuit in town, where tattoos peek out from under the sleeves of the all-black shirts the wait staff wears.
“We have a reservation for two at six,” my wife said to the maître d’, a young man who had yet to drop the French word for “master” in order to avoid offending some unknown bilingual diner.
“Perfect,” the kid said. My wife stole a glance at me, hoping I wouldn’t make my standard-issue crack to sales help who use this nonsense formula, that we must be in heaven because there’s nothing perfect on earth. I didn’t even have to bite my tongue.
“These things must work,” I said.
“I hope so,” she said. “They were $58.”
“Walk this way,” the young man said, and I was again tempted to use one of the many snappy come-backs I’d collected over the years: par exemple, “If I could walk that way I wouldn’t need talcum powder.” Sure it’s old, but so am I.
“You’re doing great!” my wife said, and she actually ran her arm under mind, like I was an indicted CEO on my way into a sentencing hearing.
We were seated outside–it was a mild autumn night, and after the obligatory third degree about whether we wanted free tap water or the expensive bottled kind, we ordered drinks. She got her usual chardonnay, and I ordered the least weird-sounding beer.
“See, isn’t this nicer than confusing people with your stupid attempts at humor.”
“I suppose,” I said. “But I feel awfully . . . stifled.”
The waiter arrived with our drinks and, no sooner had he set them down on the table than an lazy fly landed in my blue-berry IPA. It was, quite simply, the comic opportunity of a lifetime.
“Waiter,” I said as our server was about to depart.
“What’s this fly doing in my drink?”
He could have responded with any number of punch lines to that set-up: “The backstroke.” Or “Shh–if others hear you everybody will want one.” Timeless classics that have, in the words of William Faulkner, not just endured, but prevailed.
“Sorry–I’ll get you another,” the guy said, then whisked my drink off to be dumped in a sink.
“These pants–they must be very powerful,” I said.
“They apparently work by osmosis on anyone who comes near them.”
When my drink had been restored, the waiter ticked off the specials, then asked if we needed a little more time.
“I think we’re ready,” my wife said.
“Certainly.” Not sure why there was any doubt, but apparently it had been resolved.
“I’ll have the braised pork, but can I substitute spinach for the squash?”
“Of course you may.” My wife voluntarily eats foods that I considered punishment as a child.
“And for you, sir?”
I started to speak, but instead uttered a little cry of pain.
“What’s the matter?” my wife asked, alarmed that I was having a heart attack without enough life insurance.
“I seem to have snagged my pants on a furniture tack,” I said as I examined a little rip.
“And they’re brand-new!”
“I’m so sorry,” the waiter said. “Let me get you another chair.”
He pulled the offending furniture back and grabbed a seat from an adjoining table.
“Much better, thanks,” I said. “I’ll have the hake.”
“I’m sorry, we’re all out of it.”
“Do you have any other fish?”
“Scrod . . . do you like it?”
“I like it, but I didn’t know that was the past tense.”
The waiter looked at me with puzzlement. “It’s a joke–screw, scrod.”
“Oh, I get it. Very good, I’ll put your orders in and bring you some bread.”
My wife gave me a look of disappointment. “You were doing so well,” she said. “What happened?”
I showed her the tiny little hole in my pant leg. “I guess the spell is broken.”