“Mike, are you planning on taking me dancing this weekend?” my wife Helen said with her Cheshire cat smile.
That’s my wife, circumspect as ever. Okay, I wondered, what’s really on her mind? Go dancing; that’s pretty funny. We haven’t intentionally gone dancing once in forty-three years of marriage.
Truthfully, I couldn’t remember her actually asking me a question she really wanted an answer to. Evasion and subterfuge were her modus operandi—she was a real creature of habit.
“Absolutely,” I replied. “And not only are we going to disco until our feet cry out for mercy, but we’re going for dinner before that to the Four Seasons. And I think we should stay overnight at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Park Avenue. Pretty awesome idea, huh?”
Her face now glowing with excitement, she asked, “Are you serious?”
“Oh sure, and I’ll ask Prince Charles, who’s visiting New York, to join us for drinks afterwards,” I added with a smirk.
She gave me a delayed double take and then groaned. “Can you be serious for a moment? I want to know what you have planned for us to do tomorrow aside from sitting here watching curling on TV.”
“So, why didn’t you ask me that in the first place? In any case, what’s wrong with watching all those healthy young Wisconsin girls curl that stone and sweep up after themselves?”
“Give me a break, Mike; you know I don’t want to go dancing.”
“Then stop playing games,” I said a little impatiently.
“Well,” she said taking a deep breath, “I want us to go see La Palazzo.”
“What the hell is a La Palazzo and what does it have to do with dancing? Is it the new must be seen New Jersey version of New York City’s old Roseland?”
“No, wise ass! It has nothing to do with dancing. It’s an active adult residential community in South Jersey.”
I felt like my best friend had taken a bowie knife and plunged it deep into my heart.
“Why don’t we just take two shovels from the garage, go to Fairlawn Cemetery and dig ourselves two graves and then jump in? It would be quicker and more humane for us than waiting for the next ambulance to stop at our home as it works its way up and down the streets of the ‘fossil farm’ retirement community you want me to move into,” I said as my voice increased in volume, betraying my agitated state of mind.
“Take a deep breath, Mike. All I’m asking you to do is to just look at some fifty-five plus communities. We have to seriously plan for the next phase of our lives. Staying in this house is not realistic. It’s too big for us. The taxes are too high. All our friends have left the area, and our social life has dwindled to saying good morning to our millennial neighbors. We’re the surviving dinosaurs of Montvale.”
The bulldog just wouldn’t let go. For months she’d been nagging me to get a hobby, to volunteer, to do anything but sit in front of the TV or play games on the computer.
“You’ve been watching the boob tube since you retired months ago. Get a life. Get another job. Volunteer somewhere. Do anything that’s fruitful. It’s driving me nuts seeing you so unproductive,” she’d said, raising her voice as her pent-up frustration came to the surface.
And I of course, more often than not, replied that I had worked my ass off for forty-five years and now I could do whatever the hell I wanted. I’d earned the right to veg-out forever.
Today I was hoping to drown my sorrows in anticipation of my impending doom by watching the New York Jets lose their fifth game in a row by downing a six-pack of Bud. But Helen, my wife of forty-three years, pointed out in a grating, guilt-edged voice that the snow was piling up on the front walk. I guess she wanted me to feel I was remiss in fulfilling my masculine responsibilities.
“Mike, please turn off that stupid game and shovel the steps so I don’t break my neck tomorrow.”
“I’m too drunk and too old to risk wrenching my back or getting a heart attack. I won’t shovel snow any more, and I refuse to weed or mow the lawn. We can either wait until the snow melts, or break down and hire some needy soul to do what you want.”
I guess she expected that reaction from me but hoped I’d surprise her and change my uncooperative behavior. She just stared at me through squinting eyes, not saying a word. It seemed an eternity went by. Neither of us wanted to break the ice, but of course I gave in first.
Why ruin the entire weekend totally ignoring her? I reasoned.
She’d get her way—she always did—and I was resigned to my fate, sacrificing my football games to waste a full day looking for my final resting place in the waste lands of southern NJ—mecca for track housing, endless views of a boring flat landscape, and of course, a shopping center located around every turn of the road. I couldn’t be happier at the prospect of living in a place like that!
The next morning, we got into my newest toy, my pride and joy, my symbol of achievement—a luxurious Lexus 450—and drove for two hours to Nirvana. We barely exchanged a word of conversation. Instead, we listened to some light jazz on the radio while Helen looked out the window at the stunning array of gas storage tanks and the one-story semi-trailer truck facilities that dotted the landscape for miles on end. I knew Helen couldn’t wait until we got to the place where she would spend the rest of our days in utter bliss, turning mahjong tiles, melding, and going to an endless parade of luncheons, while I once again sat in front of the TV or my computer dreaming of days gone by.
No way, no how was I going to live with all those old wheelchair-bound, farting, drooling, Ensure®-drinking, toothless, close-to-death, Depend® -wearing, boring people. These are the folks, no doubt, who take the Greyhound buses to Atlantic City’s casinos so they can have a free lunch and play the slots with the free roll of quarters they give all passengers.
As a last resort, I’d threaten divorce; I would, if I had a real pair, but I don’t! It didn’t matter—we’d been together for so long, having raised three wonderful children together. I felt trapped by a situation I had very little control over.