My wife and I visited with some old friends of hers on a recent Friday night. Kathy is close to her friends, as she is to her family, regardless of the relationship’s vintage. It might be one of the things I love most about her as I still have many friends that date back to high school days. Whether you consider yourself hot shit or a piece of shit, old friends have the ability to buck you up or knock you down…they knew you when. If you don’t receive an attitude adjustment meeting with people you’ve known for decades, you must be the most level-headed person there is.
I was a little tired after a particularly grueling workday, but I didn’t have designs on cancelling my participation in the outing. I didn’t know any of the attendees particularly well, but we’ve crossed paths repeatedly over the course of my nearly twenty-five year marriage to Miss Kitty. They are, by and large, a great bunch of folks, easy to talk to, down-to-earth Michiganders that just like to get together and howl. I’ve never been an opponent of the howl.
Of course, when it’s a couples party and the event is in honor of a vacationing sister, all bets are off for the fellows. Some play pool, others try to join in the conversations and others just don’t attend. Fortunately, my personality and interests dovetail with those of the fairer sex so, in the party situation, I am usually one of the girls. Kath and I are able to hang together for a third to a half of the evening.
So, imagine my surprise when a male friend from her old neighborhood, a complete stranger to me, begins hitting on my wife. About my age, no worse for the years; married longer than Kathy and I, I learned later. But he was definitely hitting on my wife.
Now let me begin by saying that Kath and I are not jealous people. Secure in our relationship, comfortable with our roles, we don’t spend time searching cell phones for unknown numbers or trolling social media to find out who’s been talking to our significant other. We know who we are and trust each other deeply. That said, you could make a case that we are ‘territorial.’ If we are in an uncharted territory, we will quickly lay boundaries for anyone that thought they were headed for open road. Metaphorical traffic cones will be placed, directing the errant traveler to the ‘No Chance’ exit, never to be heard from again. Usually.
So, sitting among the girls, naturally, I see the boys come in and out. Sometimes to join the conversation, sometimes asking for a lighter, but they are typically exchanges that last a couple of minutes or less. We’re beyond the age of babysitters, so the questions tend to be of a banal nature. Did you turn the alarm on? Did we feed Spanky before we kenneled him?
Imagine my surprise when one of the fellows begins trying the eighties lines and the eighties stories on my wife. As I am sitting at her right elbow, he’s on the same side as my good ear, so I can hear everything he says…and he is totally trying to pick up my girl. Keeping the eighties theme, he is trying to make her remember things that happened over thirty years ago, a story file that is easily massaged for maximum effectiveness. Kath was receptive…because she is friendly. She has been to dozens of theater cast parties and understood little of what we call ‘the creative process.’ Yet, she is still an engaged partner in numerous conversations with feverish actors (myself included).
Let me also add that Kath has lost twenty-five pounds this year, yes, a pound for every year we’ve been married, and she looks great. She feels great. She walks with a renewed confidence in new clothes that cover her smaller, stronger, toned body. This is on top of the fact that she was always a “Hi-How-Ya-Doin’” sort at a party, quick with a quip and up for breaking any existing rules. I had certainly noticed the difference in her, but apparently I wasn’t alone.
Old Neighborhood Guy, having started a conversation, placed his beer on the table between me and my wife, keeping his hand on the label. Tired as I was, I immediately recognized the move. When he turned his back to me completely, my suspicion was confirmed. This dude was boxing me out. Desperate to empty my bladder, I stayed. He made landfall with his elbow on the table, putting his whole body between Kathy’s and mine. I stared at the back of his head and recited a litany of dirty words in my mind, but I also found my inner caveman in that moment. Inner-Caveman was most unhappy.
When O.N.G. lifted his hand for an elaborate re-creation of long ago glories, he returned to find my arm and my beer where he had once laid his. When he decamped for a visit to the rest room, he returned to find the spot where he previously held court gone, ‘Occupato’ as they say in Guadalajara. I told Kath during a quiet moment that the guy was hitting on her. She brushed me off with a flip of her hand and a dismissive look. He’s married! she said. He’s like a brother to me! she protested. I shrugged and moved on, talking to some of the other husbands at the built-in bar.
As many parties do, the assembled end up huddled around the bar. In the absence of a kitchen, the bar will do. Kath and one or two of the other women were behind the bar, creating new libations and searching for the Tiger game on the satellite TV. We came across a tribute to Gordie Howe, at which point O.N.G. re-appears, demanding the floor to tell his story of meeting Gordie, not just once, but twice. It was a…good story. I don’t want to nitpick but, as a writer, it could have used some editing. It only mattered what Kathy thought, as he told the whole thing to her, swirling the single-malt in his rocks glass. I don’t think she was terribly impressed. I’ve seen the same look when I attempted to act out the opening nine pages of a first-draft.
With the mood effectively killed by the sense-numbing story, the girls disappeared from behind the bar to dance in a circle to music that isn’t often heard outside of Oldies radio. The men dissipated as well, seriously regarding cigars they’d lit and extinguished throughout the evening. As I remained at the bar, nursing my third Dr. Pepper, O.N.G. reappeared, elbowing me in the ribs as yet another Gordie Howe tribute was offered on the big screen. “Hey, you know, I met him twice,” he stated.
“Yeah, you mentioned that,” I responded. My face registered no emotion in the mirror behind the bar, but my Inner-Caveman just roared.