ducks

“Hey, I got quoted in The Atlantic.”

“What?”

“I’m reading an Atlantic article about an AskMe thread, and they quoted me… OH WHOA, they blockquoted me.”

It was a good thread: full of compassion, laughter, and condolences. MeFi member dmd (identified in The Atlantic as Daniel Drucker) posted this question: “My father passed away this morning. I’m going through his file, and I came across JOKES.TXT … which contains only the punchlines. Can the Mind please tell me the jokes?”

He included the list of punchlines, and one by one, community members popped in to offer their sympathy and answer the question. (It’s worth pointing out that MeFi guidelines require AskMe responses to answer the question above all things; a response that doesn’t answer the question is promptly deleted. In a condolence thread, it’s possible that a response offering only condolences miiiight stand, but it’s by no means certain.)

By the time I saw that thread, someone had already explained the punchline about the ducks, but I was able to add a suggestion, and a memory of my own:

O9scar outlines the riddle above, but it’s worth mentioning that this one works best deployed not as a joke but as a casual bit of trivia tossed off when you see a V of birds in formation.

Person 1 [points to birds]: Hey, y’know when you see birds flying in V-formation? And sometimes one side of the V is longer than the other? You know why that is?
Person 2: No, why?
Person 1: More birds on that side.

If you do it casually enough and your friends are sufficiently curious about random subjects, you may even be able to use it on the same person more than once. I caught my own much-missed father with that gag several times. My sorrow for your loss, and thank you for that happy memory.

As MeFi member HotToddy (quoted in the Atlantic‘s closing paragraph) says in the MetaTalk appreciation of that thread, “What an amazing thing, your dad inadvertently arranging for your friends to tell you jokes all day long on the day he dies.”

My own father would have loved to be involved in this discussion — and now he is, through my memories and my story. I love you, Dad.

fancy

My brother-in-law J. had, among his collection of tin toys and keepsakes, a can of… peanut brittle. Uh-huh. A faded, peeling, scratched-up old can, smelling strongly of basement mildew, promisingly labelled peanut brittle.

But when you opened it, did you find delicious peanut brittle, as the label indicated? You did not! When you twisted and pried the stubborn lid from the tarnished old can, HORRIBLE SNAKES would fly forth!

And I mean HORRIBLE SNAKES: musty old fabric, worn away with time, here and there the sharp spikes of the spring ends poking through. Even if they didn’t scratch you when they sprang out, trying to cram them back into the can was a tetanus-tempting chore.

So one Christmas, I bought J. a new set of Snakes in a Can. (Note: I couldn’t find peanut brittle, but apparently the Snake Nut Can company is still doing booming business; I was able to find one immediately at the toy shop across the street from my apartment.)

When I wrapped my Christmas gifts at Grandma & Grandpa’s house, J.’s daughter A., then not quite six, wandered in to help. I showed her my gift for her dad and asked her advice: should I leave the can in its packaging so J. would know it was a joke can?

Or… should I remove the wrapping so he would think it was a can of fancy nuts?

A.’s little mouth twisted in delight. Unwrap it! Take it out of its packaging! Let him open it all unawares! FANCY SALTED MIXED NUTS! He’ll never know! Y’know why? Because it doesn’t say peanut brittle!

She even helped me take off the cardboard-and-plastic packaging and wrap up the tin of FANCY SALTED MIXED NUTS prettily in tissue and ribbon. When we exchanged gifts the next day, I said “Oh, J., I have something for you,” and asked A. to fetch it from under the tree and deliver it, which she did, snickering and flicking thrilled, guilty looks at me the entire time.

J. put on his best poker face, accepting the present and unwrapping it nonchalantly, taking his sweet time and sparing me only one keen glance as he unwound the ribbon.

A. stood by, hopping from foot to foot, choking back her guffaws. Once, she almost fell over.

And then: “Oh! FANCY SALTED MIXED NUTS. Mmm. I love these, thanks. I think I’ll open them… right now.” J. leaned in toward his little daughter.

She took a huuuuuuge step back.

J. and I both almost burst out laughing. But we managed to hold it in…

… unlike the snakes, which sprang out into the room as A. and J. and everyone else started laughing. “Oh, snakes! YOU GOT ME!”

It was a good Christmas.

everything

The Fella returns to the room from grabbing a beer. Before he sits, he reaches out, and strokes the top of my head.

Him: Oooh, your head is so nice.

Me: Thank you. It’s right at the top of my body. That’s where I keep it.

Him: I like everything about you.

No punchline, folks. No joke. I just wanted to document this moment so I won’t forget it. Because I like everything about him, too.

family values

Perhaps because our household has a landline and is therefore Officially Old, we’re getting dozens of calls a week aimed at a conservative “Family Values” voting contingent. I always let the robo-caller play through in hopes that at least I’m keeping them busy for 90 seconds, and I always answer the surveys and push-polls. The thought that my unexpected, unwanted response makes a tiny bump in their data pleases me. And if there’s an actual human on the other end, I always — always — let them know that my values are family values, just not the kind they espouse.

So let’s talk about Family Values. I’m tired of that phrase being claimed solely by conservative forces. I have a family, and I have values, and my Family Values are just as valid as anyone’s.

I value education. I value science. I value equality for all our citizens regardless of race, class, gender, or orientation. I value cultural diversity. I value my rights as recognized — not given, not bestowed, recognized — in the Constitution. I value freedom of religion — including freedom from religion. I value civil discourse, even about inflammatory issues. I value individual reproductive rights, including the right to choose abortion. I value equality and freedom.

This election season, local ads from anti-equality committees frantically urge us not to let the upcoming vote “redefine marriage.” I’m quite pleased that they’re framing the issue that way. See, I’m all for for periodically redefining marriage, and I bet most Americans feel the same way if they really examine the historical and ongoing redefinition of marriage.

Think of how our laws have redefined marriage just in the the past century. Married women now have the right to own property and to maintain their own bank accounts. Single adults can legally and readily obtain birth control. Spousal rape is now a prosecutable offense rather than a right or a punchline.

That last one particularly stands as a shining example of “redefining marriage”. Until the mid-1970s, there was no process or statute by which to prosecute a spouse — even an estranged spouse — for rape. The marriage license constituted an exemption (in many statutes, an explicit exemption) from rape prosecution; it was a license for even an alienated spouse to force intercourse upon their partner. As recently as 1993, North Carolina upheld this exemption from prosecution for marital rape. In a generation, our nation as a whole has transitioned from explicitly permitting spousal rape to making it a criminal offense. This is a vast shift in our understanding of consent, sexuality, and privileged entitlement, and a redefinition of the rights and responsibilities bestowed by marriage.

Every time we update our outmoded marriage statutes, we make strides for greater equality. It’s appallingly improper to let civil rights be decided by popular vote, but if this vote — this “redefinition” — helps to shift the tide for progress, then let’s do it.

unconditional

I came down with a cold just before New Year’s Eve, and it persisted until, ooooh, yesterday. That’s more than two weeks of snotty, sniveling sickness — and two weeks of experiencing The Fella’s shining example of unconditional love. Some simple acts of love:

– insisting I sleep cozied down in the bed with him instead of confining my coughing, hacking, restless, contagious self to the hard sofa.

– gazing at my slack, shambling frame as I change from a sweaty, baggy pair of gray PJs to a clean, baggy pair of gray PJs and saying (in a voice ringing with sincerity), “You’re so pretty!”

– driving to the restaurant whose name and address I don’t know to order the soup I can’t pronounce.

emotional math

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about partnership and marriage, and especially about being married to The Fella, which is, y’know, awesome.

This Ask Metafilter comment gets to the heart of that awesomeness:

You know when you were a kid, and you’d get excited about sleepovers because you could stay up all night watching movies and talking to someone who just cracked you up and really understood you? Remember how special those nights felt?

Every day is like that now. Except we get to have really good sex, too.

Yup, that sums it up: I get to spend every day and every night with my very favorite person from now on, and we get to express that favorite-ness in every way we wish.

But I still haven’t really internalized that this is a two-way street of Awesome — that my very favorite person’s very favorite person is me.

Let me digress.

I had a rotten morning. You don’t need to know the details, but I made a small error that caused the not-sane part of my brain to castigate me and call me names (which A. is not productive and B. is NOT ALLOWED) while I flailed around trying to get dressed and out of the house in a hurry.

During this ridiculous few minutes of blistering self-loathing, The Fella kept interjecting helpful comments like, “You’re not stupid, you just made a mistake” and “How can I help?” and “Are these your pants?” When he should have been sleeping peacefully (and could very rightfully have been giving me grief over my meltdown), he was cheerfully pitching in to soothe me, to help me, to solve my problem.

And later in the day, I added some of those things together. I did the emotional math: I am married to my very favorite person, the person whose opinion I value more than anyone else’s, the person who I think is the downright AWESOMEST person in the whole wide world.

And he thinks I’m THE AWESOMEST, too.

I think he must be right. You don’t argue with the transitive property.

little things

At not-quite-the-end of a long week of work and deadlines, The Fella came home from work around midnight and sat down with a blank look on his face, getting ready to write the weekly newsletter.

“You look a little beat, hon,” I said. “Did you have dinner?”

“Not really.”

It took me all of three minutes to whip up something simple for him to eat. As I gave him the plate and a beer, The Fella took my hand and quietly, earnestly said, “Thank you. Thank you for marrying me.”

Today is our second anniversary, and The Fella’s hatched some secret plans. (Nothing big, he assures me. Just secret.) The first item on the agenda: he got me an enormous coffee. Number two on the agenda: he’s doing laundry.

This guy gets me.

* [The Fella, don’t hover over the links!] update Now that I’ve given The Fella his gift, I can describe it here. We’re going to have a mid-year variation on our Valentine’s day tradition of staying in with cheesy horror movies and pizza.

For the cotton anniversary, I gave The Fella the abominable-looking Lady Frankenstein, starring Joseph Cotten. Yeah.

Because it’s too hot to heat the oven, I’ll be picking up fantastic take-out pizza from Otto.

Wait for it… cotton.

I toyed with plenty of other gift ideas. For example, I thought about getting a really luxurious set of sheets, which we kinda need. Or towels, ditto. But I dismissed those as gifts for me, not for The Fella.

What did The Fella give me? A really luxurious set of sheets. And a really luxurious towel. Did I mention: this guy gets me.

standing order

The Fella often surprises me with a pint of ice cream. About as often, he picks one up at my specific request. (Somewhat less often, he picks one up even though I specifically asked him not to. Why would I ask him not to? Because I don’t always want it, but I will always eat it.)

Since the corner store rotates flavors randomly, there’s no point requesting a specific flavor. Still, The Fella knows what kind to get me: Chocolate with stuff in, or stuff with chocolate in.

Or pistachio.

We’ve had the “or pistachio!” conversation at least three times now, and here’s how that goes, more or less, every time:

Elsa: Or pistachio!
The Fella: [stops tying his shoes, looks up at me in disbelief] … really?
E: Yes.
TF:
E: It’s my favorite, but they almost never have it. If they ever have it, I get it. If they ever have it, get it. EVER.
TF: How did I not know this? It’s like I don’t even know you!*

*This last sentence only occurred in the first iteration of this conversation, which suggests to me that subconsciously he does recall it, or he would face the same vivid surprise and apparent horror each time.

This weekend, we had another round of the same conversation, at which time I altered the standing order. From now on, the standing order: chocolate with stuff in or stuff with chocolate in, or pistachio. Even if I have specifically requested “no ice cream,” if they have pistachio, get pistachio. “Pistachio rescinds all other orders.”

the face of love

What does love look like? There’s no one right answer to that question, but just in the last week, several people have shown me a few of the small, sweet, personal expressions of love — and I mean expressions, gestures and acts that might as well be smiles or gently furrowed brows. Here are two of them. This is the very face of love.

1. I’m scheduled for oral surgery, and I idly mentioned to my mother that the recovery period will make me wish we had cable “so I could just plop down and watch ‘Columbo’ for a few hours.”

Yesterday, she presented me with a bubble-mailer containing nine hours of “Columbo.” Mom, who is not yet confident in online ordering or particularly savvy at online searches, tracked down and ordered me a gift (and, from her perspective, a reasonable obscure gift) just to give me some comfort and distraction.

2. A few nights ago, I got three hours of sleep before I woke up hiccuping — and the hiccups lasted more than two hours. Silly? Yes. Funny? Yes. Harmless? Yes. Annoying and exhausting and, eventually, painful? Yes.

When The Fella left for work, I had stopped hiccuping. A few hours later, he called me to check in, “to see how you’re doing.”

I never miss a chance for self-mockery: “Because I was hiccuping?”

He was so gentle: “Because I know you had a hard morning.”

And that is how love can look: even in the face of the silliest affliction, he made sure I was okay before unleashing any jokes.