Last weekend started out kind of rough.
Friday was my husband Saul’s birthday. He and I aren’t really the gift-giving type of couple. When we took the Five Love Language Quiz, we both scored zero on Receiving Gifts as our Love Language. (If you haven’t taken it yet, I highly recommend it. I know it has a really corny name but I swear there is something to it.)
My love language is Quality Time meaning I like someone’s full and undivided attention when I’m talking. (I often envy’s Saul’s phone for being the recipient of this kind of love.) Saul’s Love Language is Acts of Service. He lets me know he loves me by changing the kitty litter. It’s kind of like one of us speaks Bavarian and the other speaks Punjabi.
Since neither of us care about gifts, I told Saul that my “present” to him would be that I would be nice to him for the entire day on his birthday.
This was a huge mistake.
When I imagined how this “gift’ would play out, I imagined that I would be nice to Saul, and Saul would be really grateful for my niceness. I didn’t account for the variable that Saul would be in a really cranky mood for his entire birthday. And by cranky, I mean like the pure evil that possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
I did sort of okay with this whole nice thing until we went grocery shopping later in the day. (I know what you are thinking: Keith really knows how to make birthday’s special!) But we were throwing a party the next day, and needed to get food and beverages.
Saul has this weird quirk. For some reason, he thinks it is better to use the smallest shopping cart available. If there was a mini kids cart that said SHOPPER IN TRAINING at the front of the store, I’m pretty sure he would take it. I don’t know where he learned that a big cart was somehow wasteful.
Oh…and he will bring in as few reusable bags as possible.
SCENE—MY HUSBAND AND I STARING INTO THE TRUNK OF OUR CAR AT OUR BEAT-UP REUSABLE BAGS.
SAUL—We’ll only need to two.
ME—No, we’ll need all five.
SAUL—But what if we don’t use them all and they think we are trying to steal a new one and charge us?
ME—if we can’t fight them in court, I will pay the buck fifty.
Why he thinks some suspicious cashier is going to try to charge us for a wrinkled bag with crusty spilled hot sauce stuck to the bottom I can’t quite fathom. And this doesn’t make him buy less food, he just feels some sort of pride in jamming it all into one tiny cart and a few overstuffed grocery bags.
So, we shopped for the party, cramming in twelve-packs of soda, several large bags of snacks, and ingredients for a large pot of chili until everything was piled precariously high. Normally I would have insisted we get a bigger cart or just grabbed one of my own, but I foolishly thought since it was Saul’s birthday, I would let him have his way.
We were carefully pushing the piled-high cart down the last aisle, when I went to pick up a cooked chicken.
“We don’t need that,” Saul said glaring at the chicken.
“But dear…” I said through gritted teeth. “I’ll want it in the afternoon before the food for the party is ready.”
Saul shook his head in dismay as if I was making the most foolish decision anyone has ever made in a grocery store. I bravely picked out a chicken and, knowing my husband, put it in a plastic bag to avoid any juice spilling, and then tried to wedge it into our cart which at this point was like a giant Jenga of food items.
We were ready to check out with our cart filled with tons of party supplies when Saul asked if we should do self-checkout. I looked at him skeptically, but could tell by his face that this was in fact NOT a question. Normally I would protest but it was his birthday after all…
Ten minutes later, Saul was quite frustrated as we stood waiting in front of the self-checkout that was repeatedly telling us we had to wait for help from an attendant who was nowhere to be seen. Saul seemed surprised by this even though it happens at every single self-checkout anyone has ever been to. I mean, it is a gift from God if you make it through one of those without having to wait for an attendant who is not there.
But I stayed nice. Barely.
After the attendant finally showed up and helped us, we continued the check out and got to the chicken. Saul struggled to find the bar code and finally had to remove the chicken from the plastic bag. Once he scanned it. he announced to me with quite a bit of exasperation that he needed to put another plastic bag over the one I already put it in because it got juice all over the self-checkout scanner.
I knew what he was really saying. I knew he was letting me know that he thought I was never going to really eat that messy, juice-dripping chicken, and I was wasting money and valuable cart space. I quietly vowed to myself then and there to eat every part of that chicken including the marrow inside the bone.
It was pretty much at that point that I stopped being nice to Saul on his birthday. I was sullen and answered him in one-word, unhelpful answers, and made sarcastic asides under my breath. To my credit, I didn’t leave him in the grocery parking lot like I really really wanted to shouting, “FIND YOUR OWN WAY HOME!” at the top of my lungs as I peeled out steering with one hand and devouring the whole chicken with the other.
Things got better that night, but the next morning brought its own troubles that had nothing to do with my husband.
I was walking our dog, Alfie, with a woman we met through our dog walks and who we have become close to. She and her husband are both scientists and have the best dogs named Mabel and Jamie. I love our dog, but Mabel and Jamie are equally as awesome. As we were walking, a cop drove down the muddy trail we were on. It’s near a section of abandoned tracks that no one walks on but us dog walkers. Theoretically we are not supposed to have our dogs off leash but everyone has always looked the other way…until now.
“It’s a warning now but the next time I have to give you a ticket,” the cop said apologetically. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t want to be doing this, but it’s the new regime. It’s an edict form new mayor.”
“The lesbian mayor??” I replied incredulously. “But I voted for her!”
Now I realize in retrospect you shouldn’t call someone out by their sexuality. I can’t pull the I’m gay so I can do that defense. Gay men and gay women are from vastly different worlds. I’m sure we speak very different Love Languages
But until that moment, I had assumed our new mayor being a 28-year-old hip lesbian would not care about dogs on leashes in a remote trail in town. It was a wrong assumption clearly. I had voted for her because I was still sore about Hillary losing. It was a rash impulsive vote that now affects my dog’s freedom.
Now I question everything.
Now I wonder if Hillary would have been equally strict about enforcing leash laws.
I stormed home where Saul was in the kitchen busily making chili and pie for our party, and I angrily told him what happened.
“The next time I see that mayor at a restaurant, I’m going to flip her plate over on her table,” I announced. “And I will scream “IF I CAN’T WALK MY DOG OFF LEASH THEN YOU CAN’T HAVE YOUR EGG FRITTATA!”
That is the nice thing about living in a small town. You actually may see the mayor at a restaurant and be able to flip her plate of eggs over if you are upset about something. It’s probably good I’m not too likely to see Trump at my local McDonalds. I would probably be tackled and killed by the Secret Service pretty quickly.
Saul tried to convince me that being the target of the Mayor’s wrath may not be worth knocking her plate over. I don’t know if I agree. But we had a party to put together so I let it go.
We were throwing a Writers and Artists Salon that night like I read people did in the 1800’s. It’s a fun way to get people together in our community who didn’t know each other. We had done several of these when we lived in Brooklyn.
At the height of the party that night, Saul had his artists friends drawing with him on the first floor and I had my writer friends on the top floor doing writing exercises. (it’s more fun than it sounds. You’ll just have to trust me.) Alfie alternated between floors worriedly wondering why the house was full of eccentric monkeys.
That night as Saul and I got ready for bed, I looked over at him as he sat in his pajamas petting Alfie with one of our two cats on his lap. We were that good kind of exhausted you feel after throwing a party.
I smiled gratefully at him. I was reminded of a story another dog walker told me that he and his husband had.
“You fed OUR daughter yogurt?! Do you know how bad that is for her???”
“A lot of children have eaten yogurt and are still alive!”
I get it. I get those fights about yogurt and chicken. Even when we are in the middle a fight in the middle of a grocery store parking lot, Saul and I know we are solid.
I love that Saul tempers my urges to scream at our new Mayor and guides me to a better solution. One reason I love my dog off leash is because, when we walk on trails deep in the woods together, Alfie goes his way for a little bit but always comes back and makes sure we stay connected. I often don’t speak a word to him, but we are communicating the entire time. That’s what is like when Saul and I are throwing a party Each of us is being a host separately while still staying connected.
None of this is easy…being mayor, being married, being single, being a dog—but I believe it we do stay connected…to our partners, our friends, our community or our pets (or any combo of the aforementioned), I think that even as imperfect and tiny-cart loving as those people and pets may be…with them at our side and checking in especially during the rough patches—we have a much better chance of enjoying our time here in the woods.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman is writer and is working on a new book, DO THESE LIMA BEANS SPARK JOY?: THE ART OF GROCERY SHOPPING