Sunday, February 28, 2010

How Kaimin got her groove back

We brought home a new dog about a month ago. We missed having two dogs after our beloved Ozark died last year, and we wanted company for Kaimin, our 8-year-old English setter/Rhodesian ridgeback mix.

Kaimin missed Ozark, too. She had been mopey and lonely, acting and looking old. Her muzzle was turning gray. She watched squirrels in the back yard but no longer leapt off the steps to chase them. She showed no interest in dog toys or ropes or even the backyard branches she used to gnaw on. She didn’t like to be outside unless we were.

At a local shelter, we found Mimsy: about a year old, give or take. She is an enthusiastic dog who galumphs around the house making friends with the furniture and tearing apart Kong ball toys and stuffed hippopotamuses and frogs. Kaimin had no idea what to make of her new partner. She spent the first week watching, asserting her alpha-dog-ness, and asking us if we really intended to keep this white streak of energy.

Now, however, Kaimin has her groove back. She hogs the hippo from Mimsy, tricks her into a tug-of-war, chases her around the yard. They spend hours in dog play that involves sniffing and mouthing and nipping at each other’s legs. And we spend hours watching them, delighted and reminded.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

... with apologies (sort of) to Garrison Keillor

And here is the HimPlus Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday. It’s the twenty-fourth of February, two-thousand-and-ten.

It’s the fifth day since Friday, when Michael and Sheri met two other couples for dinner. Ate thin-crust pizza garnished with feta cheese and walnuts. Listened to a guitarist whose play list ranged from Edith Piaf to Pearl Jam. Talked about Italy and gender roles and about what to call contemporary music made in the classical tradition. The couples at the table all writers of some sort – a couple of novelists, journalists, literary translators, and one who works with sounds rather than words. All Him+ couples, too: Him+10, Him+15 and Michael and Sheri, Him+17.

[deep, noisy inhalation]

It’s also the 130th anniversary of the year Robert Louis Stevenson married his beloved Fanny, a woman ten – or maybe 11 – years his senior. Stevenson, author of classic books such as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Met Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, a married woman, an American, while on a trip to an artist’s colony in France with his cousin, Bob. Pursued her to California, where she divorced her husband, married the penniless writer and joined him for a honeymoon in a shack in Northern California. Their love affair continued until Stevenson’s death in 1894, and included a sitting for Stevenson’s friend, the painter John Singer Sargent.

[deeper, even noisier inhalation]

It’s also five months until the birthday of Raymond Chandler, author of detective fiction including The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, and husband to a woman 18 years his senior. Chandler was thirty-five when he married his wife, who was fifty-three. She marked her age on the wedding certificate as ten years younger, and told Chandler that was her age. He believed her. When Cissy Chandler died in 1954, Raymond drank himself into alcoholism and attempted suicide. As quoted in Judith Freeman’s history of their affair, The Long Embrace, Chandler wrote of his despair to a friend: "My only problem is that I have no home, and no one to care for if I did have one."

And now here are a few lines from “The Older Woman”, a poem by Cathleen Calbert, published in The Southern Review, Summer 2007.

The Older Woman

means a younger man. Without him, she ' s just sipping cappuccinos alone at some canal-side restaurant in Venice

or lobbing a long one to her unfaithful yet age-appropriate, career-compatible significant other

or curled up as the cupie-doll sweetie-pie of Monsieur LaRue, sensitive if impotent lover seventeen years her senior.

She needs him, that fine-looking fly-boy, the babe who hasn't seen Casablanca,

who's had women bosses and not squawked,

who spoon-feeds her scrambled eggs, who buys her a tiny diamond chip, who says things like, I'm ready to commit,

because, by God, he is. He doesn't know he’s not supposed to. Where are his brother-men?

An excerpt from “The Older Woman”, by Cathleen Calbert, published in The Southern Review, Summer 2007. And that’s the HimPlus17 Writer’s Almanac, for today, Wednesday, February 24th. Be well. Do good work. And keep in touch.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Just Like Honey From the Bee

We put our four Van Morrison CDs on random this afternoon, cranked up the volume, and gave ourselves two hours to clean the house. When “Tupelo Honey” came on, just as Michael was picking up the rugs in the kitchen, I grabbed him for a Valentine dance.

We glided and twirled around the kitchen, stumbling now and then over the rolled up rugs. “Am I doing all right at following?” I asked.

Which question led to the following exchange.

M: I think we’re good now.

S: You’ve finally learned how to lead. I kept saying, “You have to lead! You have to lead!”

M: But you wouldn’t let me.

Which was true. It was like our arguments over kitchen work. I didn’t want him in my kitchen, but I also didn’t want to do all the work. I wanted him to lead on the dance floor, but resisted when he did.

S: You didn’t know how to dance with a woman.

M: I never learned, no. And I wasn’t used to leading you anywhere. You were older, the authority figure. I followed.

Until one day when he didn’t. Now, we dance close, then spin away. One of the dogs nuzzles us as if afraid we’ll crash into the fridge or garbage can. But we don’t. Michael leads, with a firm but gentle hand on my back. And I — most of the time — follow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Marry Him

When I turned 40, I wasn’t too diffferent from Lori Gottlieb: single, not dating much, wondering what happened to all those men who used to call and send flowers.

Gottlieb’s lackluster love life went viral two years ago when she published a controversial article in the Atlantic. Now she is ramping up to Valentine’s Day with a defense of the book that article became — Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

Marry the guy who might not have 100 percent of what you want, she advises. One sentence in her piece in the Washington Post yesterday is still rattling around in my head. She wrote:

The majority of single women who responded to a survey I sent out said that getting 80 percent of what they wanted in a mate would be "settling." The majority of single men said finding a woman with 80 percent of what they wanted would be "a catch."
I read it out loud to Michael. He agreed that any guy getting 80 percent of what he wants in a woman would feel as though he hit the jackpot. I don’t think I ‘ve chosen men by the numbers, but the idea of not “settling” is pretty familiar to me. But when I chose not to settle, it was because the chemistry just wasn’t there, not because the guy didn’t earn enough money or wasn’t handsome enough or drove a beat-up car. When I met Michael, the chemistry and the certainty steamrolled any question of percentages.

Gottlieb is still looking for love this Valentine’s Day. I hope she’ll get lucky. Maybe she needs to look for a younger man.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Money woes

Sheri likes to talk about how when we met I was sleeping on a futon pad and cooking off a hot plate, entertained by a radio because I didn’t own a TV: the unformed boy bachelor in need of refinement.

Also, I was poor.

Not Oliver Twist poor. I had cash flow and a job. But a year or so before I met Sheri, a live-in girlfriend had moved out and taken most of the furniture. I blew savings on a couple months of rent I couldn’t afford. A new roommate didn’t last, so I told the landlord I needed a cheaper space and asked for my thousand-dollar security deposit. Without an inspection, the mousse-haired BMW-driving SOB said no and blamed my 30-pound dog for shedding.

So yeah. I was 26, trying to furnish an apartment with no savings and a job that paid about two-thirds of what Sheri earned. I bought a rocking chair, a futon couch, and a halogen lamp. The apartment had neither oven nor fridge, but I could afford only one and chose the icebox. For romance, I bought two gigantic candles that were half price.

Then I met this older woman. She owned a condo in a trendy building. Drank Jameson instead of Miller Lite. Enjoyed weekend jaunts. Said I should go, too. A weekend in Michigan’s dunes and woods. A longer weekend in Amsterdam.

I swallowed hard. Paid the fare. Love. What can you do?

Refinement costs money. Money has always scared me; its power is too damn great. I’m no good at earning the stuff, but I fear its absence, so my default is to hold it tight and worry whenever I buy. But my older woman wanted me to spend. Anticipating a visit from my out-of-state parents, she insisted I replace the hodgepodge of tag sale plates and dishes I’d collected with a set of new kitchenware. When I told her I was going to wear a leather coat and a bolo tie to a relative’s wedding, she made me visit a men’s store to buy a sport coat and silk tie. I needed refinement, yes, but neither my head nor my bank account was ready to live in Sheri’s tax bracket. Every time she told me what I needed, I felt a bit like a kid being shamed into growing up.

She could have made it worse by condescending. She could have bought me dinners at expensive restaurants and cashmere sweaters at Nordstrom’s. Thank God she didn’t. Her money was hers; mine was mine.

When we moved in together and even a few years into marriage, we kept separate checking accounts. We paid for bills and groceries out of a third joint account. When Sheri suggested we pool our money, I knew we’d reached a different level of commitment.

Still, her contribution was usually the greater portion. When we bought a house we used money she’d inherited. For most of our lives together, she’s earned more in annual salary. When I was in grad school, she worked full time. She has never played the sugar mama, counting out my allowance. But she has helped pay for a life I couldn’t have had without her.

I suppose that’s a common story for the younger man involved with an older woman: she pays most of the freight while he struggles to keep up. From time to time, our tale shifts from that narrative. Twice Sheri quit jobs and left us dependent on savings and my salary. For a short time as a grad student, I actually earned more than she did. And at times of greatest financial strain, we avoided arguing about money by agreeing to let Visa pay the bill.

In the next phase, our regular roles will reverse. It’s years off, but Sheri will retire one day. Given the Great Recession, it's likely I’ll bring home more in salary than her savings will provide. I hope I’ll be as graceful a primary breadwinner as she has been and that I'll know when it's time for a new set of plates.