Tuesday, August 15, 2006

the mind of the husband

My husband has a strange mind. He likes to call himself "an enigma wrapped in a mystery", but I prefer to refer to him as an idiot savant (which sometimes feels like only a slight exaggeration).

His educational background sums him all up: he's a high school dropout who never bothered to get a GED, but instead bummed around and smoked a lot of pot, but he also holds a PhD. in physics from a very prestigious university. The man is brilliant, but sometimes he can be the dumbest genius you've ever met.

Things my husband has done which smack of brilliance:

* when the refrigerator broke, he just pulled it out from the wall, opened it up, figured out the problem, and fixed it... taking about twenty minutes total. He had never repaired a refrigerator before;

* with no assistance, built a radio-controlled robot which broadcast television pictures of what it saw. By watching the televised feed, you could then use the radio control to order the robot to spray people with its pressurized water gun;

* so many computer software feats of magnificence that I can't catalogue them all.

But don't forget the Dark Side of the husband's brain. For example, he can't cook. When I was pregnant and on bedrest, I asked him to make me some frozen pierogies. The box contained instructions suitable for an idiot: they were detailed and written quite simply. Nonetheless, the husband asked me NINE QUESTIONS (I started counting them), such as "The box says to put the pierogies in oil up to their lip. Does that mean the bottom of the pierogi lip or the top of the pierogi lip?" and "The box says to cook it until they are golden. How dark is golden?" It's enough to make a person gibber.

I had told the Pierogi Story before, but friends discounted it. Then one of my friends was over for dinner, and I asked Anton to help out by making breadcrumbs. All he needed to do was to take some frozen bread (I save the ends of artisanal loaves in the freezer for this purpose) and put it in the food processor. What could be easier? But he could not figure it out. He kept interrupting my friend and me over and frigging over again. "Should I cut it up first?" "How much should I put in at once?" "Can you take a look at this? Is this small enough?" It went on and on and on. She said, "I thought you were exaggerating about him, but now I see you weren't."

His brain has no space in it for Machiavellian maneuvers or diplomacy. It's straight, painful honesty you get from the man. A few years ago, when we had a toddler, a second baby on the way, and he'd just gotten his benefits and pay slashed at his struggling start-up employer, it was clear the man needed a new job. As he was leaving the house to interview at a successful company, he remarked to me, "If they ask me why I want the job, I'm going to just have to tell them that I don't want the job." Hormonal and stressed out, I freaked out, literally pulling my hair out. "YOU CAN'T SAY THAT!" He stared at me, nonplussed. "But I don't want the job, so how can I lie to them?" "Just.. promise me... you .. WON'T SAY YOU DON'T WANT THE JOB!" I screamed at him. (He ended up liking the interviewers and taking the job, which led to making great connections and obtaining the finest healthcare benefits, which we later milked through COBRA).

But anyhow, through much of my life I have felt like I was the smartest person in a given room, and I always feel happier when that's not the case. I like being around sharp minds, able intellects, wits who can keep up a rapid volley. With my husband, I'm never the smartest person in the room, but we don't actually volley much badinage around. Our brains are smart in such differing ways that there isn't much overlap where we can enjoy being smart together. Instead, one is always sneering down or gazing up admiringly at the other. On the bright side, although the conversation may not be Algonquinesque, we do complement one another nicely in practical terms. For example, he got an imposingly long and dense consulting contract, and I marked it up for him and showed him the controversial parts. "Don't read these other pages; just don't trouble your pretty little head with them," I crooned. But when the wireless network was hosed, I was helpless to do more than flip the power switch off and on. "Just let the tech support take care of it," he said sweetly ("tech support" being one of his nicknames).

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