Ben Tanzer is the author of the books Lucky Man, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine, Repetition Patterns, 99 Problems, You Can Make Him Like You and This American Life, as well as the forthcoming novella My Father’s House. He also oversees day-to-day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life and blogs at This Blog Will Change Your Life, the centerpiece of his vast, albeit faux media empire. He is currently watching SportsCenter, but upon his deathbed, he will receive total consciousness, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
“You know how much The West Wing arouses me sexually?” the wife says.
I do, the combination of Rob Lowe, Mary Louise Parker and progressive politics are clearly too stimulating to ignore.
“I do,” I respond, “and whenever you say this I want to tell you that I feel like I’m in a short story. Not a good one necessarily, but definitely a story about us or people like us, white, aging, wannabe, Chicago hipsters who vow to watch The Wire and bemoan the loss of dive bars in the city.”
“You definitely like to talk,” the wife says.
“I thought that was one of the things you liked about me.”
“At one time I did,” she says smiling.
“At one time you found my pontificating sexually arousing as well,” I say, “even my voicemails made you wet.”
“That’s true,” she says.
“And now, what, just The West Wing?”
“No,” she says, “listening to Kid Sister works, and so does not wearing any panties when I’m out for drinks and knowing I’m the only one who knows it.”
“You do that,” I say getting aroused myself, “when?”
“Last night,” she says.
“Is that why we made love?” I ask.
“That and The West Wing,” she says.
“It was a good episode,” I say, “it’s funny though, at one time Martin Sheen was the president we wanted, but couldn’t have, and now we have Obama who’s pretty close, does he turn you on as well?”
“He did, and he’s cool, but I can’t get hot over a guy who won’t tackle immigration reform or gay rights.”
“What about health care reform, that’s historic?”
“But there’s no public option,” she says.
I stop for a moment and drink some of my coffee. We are in The 3rd Coast, neither of us apparently wanting to go home only to watch a re-run of The West Wing and then maybe have anything to avoid a serious talk sex before going to sleep.
“So, what are we doing here?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” she replies now sipping her coffee.
“We’re talking about Obama and The West Wing, but not about anything real, what is that?”
“Do you have something you want to say,” she says staring at me, one green eye, the other blue and brown, an oddity that has not stopped engrossing me since the first time we met at a porch party up on Beach.
“First,” I say, “do I still arouse you?”
“Just you,” she replies, “eh, when I pretend you’re Brad Pitt you do. Sorry.”
“What are we going to do then?” I say.
“We can’t separate if that’s what you mean,” she replies, “we’re perfect for each other.”
“We are?” I say.
“We are,” she replies, “plus there’s the mortgage, we’ll never be able to sell the condo in this market.”
“I think we should date.”
“Each other, okay, but then what’s this?” I ask.
“No,” she says, “not each other, other people.”
“Are you serious?”
“As a heart attack,” she says smiling, “and I have something set up for tomorrow night. Do you want to go home?”
I am sitting on the couch, the lights are low and I am watching a re-run of Everybody Loves Raymond, a show the wife refuses to watch when she’s home. Raymond is hoping to get laid, but it’s not happening. No reason really, but that’s why it’s funny, because there never really is a reason, marriage cannot be explained, not when it’s good, not when it’s bad. People say they can make sense of it, but they can’t.
I sit around some more and another episode of Everybody Loves Raymond comes on. Raymond is hoping to get laid, but it’s not happening. No reason really.
I put on my shoes. I wash my face. I leave the condo and start to walk. It’s not snowing, which is nice. It’s May, but it’s also Chicago, so you never know. I wander along Dearborn and turn onto Schiller, crossing Clark and then LaSalle.
I drift past the errant dog walkers and people coming from the gym, the texters and the suits, and soon find myself on Wells. I continue to walk, heading north, passing the endless banks that seem to pop-up everywhere now.
I end-up on North Avenue and as I wander I find myself at the Old Town Ale House. This was once our place. A place we drank. A place we didn’t have to talk or question anything. We drank. We laughed. We fucked. It was good. Nice.
The mornings were rough though and I could get really angry then. I never hit the wife or anything like that, but there was a rage I felt towards her when I drank that I could never quite shake. Why wasn’t she more like my mom had been towards my dad, or me, full of affection and attention and desperation? Why didn’t she want me more, or maybe more accurately, why didn’t she seem to want me as much as I wanted her? It made me so angry, and as much as it never seemed to bother me when I wasn’t drinking, it had nowhere to go until the alcohol wore-off when I was.
I was trapped by my rage and it couldn’t be managed or controlled and I couldn’t stand it when I sobered up, the memory of it, feeling like that, hating her so much, and yet loving her so much too, and knowing because of this I could never leave. And so we quit drinking, together, just like that, and it went away, all of it, but now, what, we don’t talk, we watch The West Wing and don’t feel a fucking thing, nothing, we’re dead.
The first drink goes down smoothly, beautifully. Why did I stop doing this, for her, for me, fuck, everything feels so alive, all my senses, my brain, everything. After two more drinks I’m happy, really fucking happy, haven’t been this happy in a long time.
And then I see the wife across the room, the hair flipping, the smile, she seems happy too. She turns, looks in my direction and waves to someone behind me. No, wait, it’s not her, just someone who looks like her, someone I want to be her.
Where is she and who’s she fucking right now? That waiter from The 3rd Coast probably, the one with the clunky glasses and the beard, the pre-pubescent one. Are his hands on her? Are they lying somewhere naked and intertwined? In his bed or on his floor, what?
I could kill him, easily, punch him in the face until he cried like a little girl. I down my fourth drink, maybe fifth, my head starting to spin. I can’t focus. I step away from the bar and go outside. The crisp air clears my head and I light up a cigarette. I only smoke when I drink, which means I haven’t smoked in a long time.
The first drag is like inhaling broken glass, but it too is beautiful. This is who I am, not that other guy, married, sober guy, I don’t even know him, never did, fuck him, and if she wants to date, fine, fuck her too.
I go back into the bar and sit down next to a woman who could be thirty or fifty. It’s not that she looks bad, but she’s a drunk and she’s tired and she doesn’t care. She’s perfect.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey to you,” she says breathily.
And then she smiles. Stick a fork in this one.
“How about a drink?”
“I got one,” she says.
“True,” I say, “but you have two hands, why waste one?”
“I like that,” she says, “I’ll take one.”
I order some drinks and decide cheesy will work just fine with her.
“So, if I told you that you had a killer body, would you hold it against me?” I say.
“Of course,” she says, “why are we still here?”
Soon we are smoking a joint and stumbling down North Park and towards her house.
“You got a problem with cats,” she says, “because I’m becoming an old cat lady.”
“No, I’m cool with cats,” I say, “I love pussy.”
She laughs at that, which is good, but I am starting to wonder if this is something I want to do. Am I so mad at the wife that I’m willing to fuck a cat lady? I don’t want to sleep with anybody, and I don’t want to date, but here I am, trapped again, and all because of her and my inability to let her go, it’s infuriating.
We go in and with all due respect to the cat lady, cats are not the problem. The house is filled with stacks of newspapers and magazines. They are towering, and tilting, and to get around them, you have to pass through the stacks like you’re walking through a tunnel or maze. The wife is not walking through any newspaper tunnels, I know that.
I pause for a moment to take it all in. I need to get out. I must get out.
“I want to be a journalist,” she says suddenly, “and I’m going to read all of these to see what I can learn.”
Bullshit, she’s not going to read a word of it.
“Let’s go,” she says, “my room is back here.”
When we get to her room, there are at least a dozen cats on the top of her bed.
She shoos the cats off of her bed and hands me a bottle of Tequila that’s sitting on her nightstand.
“How about one more drink before we do the deed?” she says.
I lean my head back and take an enormous swig, drinking so much, so fast it starts to stream down my cheeks like tears.
When I look up she’s lying in her bed with nothing on.
“Take me as I am,” she says.
And so I do, thinking about the wife the whole time, and The West Wing and how much I hate her, and how much rage I feel about being forced into this.
When we’re done, I can’t even look at her, not even as she curls into me and kisses my neck. I hate her now as well and I feel dirty. How did I get here? I go to light a cigarette.
“Yuck, you can’t smoke in here,” she says, her voice dripping with disgust.
I look at the piles of newspapers and the cats running around the room. I can’t smoke in here? I look at her and I want to be cool, relaxed, but I can’t.
“You don’t want me to smoke in here, here, in your fucking pathetic squalor of a life,” I say, “are you fucking kidding me?”
It’s the meanest thing I’ve ever said.
“You need to leave,” she says, covering up.
And so I do that as well, not that I have anywhere to go or anything to do besides watch old re-runs of Everyone Loves Raymond until the wife comes home.