Saturday, April 7, 2012

How Husbands Do When Their Wives Go to Italy

Robinson Crusoe

Dear George,
My dad introduced me to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, or Life in the Woods when I was in my mid-teens, and I was totally taken with it. I’d spent a lot of time constructing my own secret campsite in the woods, and I was inspired by Thoreau’s lengthy stay at Walden Pond and his themes of nature, solitude, simplicity, and austerity. All this came back to me when Katja went on her recent three-week trip to Italy with her siblings. It’s the longest we’ve been apart for many years, so it was a good opportunity to rediscover what life is like on my own. Some who know us well as a couple thought I might not even make it, but even I was pleasantly surprised at my self-sufficiency. I didn’t start off confidently. Two nights before Katja left I dreamt that my throat had suddenly closed up and I was strangling to death from lack of oxygen. I actually wasn’t sure if that was a dream or a real experience. It probably was a dream though, since it didn’t recur.

My biggest accomplishment was all of my excellent reforms in how daily life in our household is carried out. These reflect differences in the ways that men and women live. Katja, of course, is drawn to Elizabeth Taylor or Princess Diana as role models, while I’m more attracted to Thoreau, Robin Hood, or Robinson Crusoe. My first action step was to end the daily ritual of treats for the dogs. This has always struck me as too much coddling and not manly. Katja had left a jar filled with dingoes, and it was just as full upon her return. I don’t think she’s noticed yet. Or perhaps she thinks I replenished it. Along with the dogs’ restrictions, I banned all sugary sweets from the house. Then, I cut back my daily diet. No more Skyline chili or chocolate cake. For breakfast, bran flakes and reheated black coffee; a small can of tuna and seven petite carrots for lunch; a small salad for dinner. Every other day a container of aspertane-enriched yogurt as a special treat. My goal was to lose ten pounds, and, though I didn’t quite reach it, I came close. The house was eerily quiet, so the dogs and I went on long walks of at least three miles per day. I never ran the dishwasher because I only used one fork, one knife, one spoon, one bowl, one cup, and one plate, washing each of these in cold water immediately after use. Our energy costs dropped sharply: no furnace, no air conditioning, no lights on in unoccupied rooms, low TV usage, no NPR, no trash masher or garbage disposal, no car trips to the mall. Katja doesn’t share my obsession about sorting the trash correctly for recycling purposes, but I organized our garbage vs. recyclables perfectly. All in all, the dogs and I led an elemental, Spartan-like existence, much as you’d expect for a man living at Walden Pond with his two rugged sheepdogs.

I didn’t spend a lot of money, but after two weeks I did decide to cash a check at the bank. Normally, Katja does the financial stuff, but I was sure I could handle cashing a check. The US Bank is right across the street from our house. Katja had left the checkbook on the bureau dresser. When I looked in it, I found an endorsed Social Security check that she’d asked me to deposit. I’d forgotten about that. I went across the street, filled out a deposit slip for the Social Security check, and made out a check for “Cash” for a hundred dollars. The pleasant young teller asked me what I’d like to do, and I said I’d like to deposit this and cash that. She did the deposit first, typing in our account number on her computer. She looked puzzled and said she couldn’t find any account by that number. I explained that I’d copied the account number right off the check I’d written and I showed her where. She looked at the check and said, “This check isn’t from our bank. This is a Cinco credit union check.” “Oh,” I said, suddenly remembering that Katja had instructed me that we had more cash in our Cinco account. “Do you also have a checking account at our bank?” the pleasant teller asked. “Oh yes,” I said, “we live right across the street,” and she looked it up. I worried that she wouldn’t want to cash my Cinco check that I’d written out for “Cash”, but she’d apparently decided by then that I was too confused to be a criminal, and she graciously cashed it. I explained that my wife was in Italy. She nodded pleasantly and wished me good luck.

Leaving the bank, I walked past our SUV which was parked on Whitfield Ave. just across the street from our house. Much to my chagrin, there was a parking ticket under the windshield wiper. I looked around and saw a sign posted on a telephone pole that said “No Parking Today” from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. for Street Cleaning. I was really irritated since I’d parked the car there several days before, and the malevolent authorities had posted their sign after I parked without my knowledge. It seemed unfair. However, I’d tried arguing with the bureaucrats at City Hall about this once before and gotten nowhere. I anticipated that the ticket would cost a hefty thirty dollars, but I chose to think of it as my annual city street parking tax. I proceeded to pay the ticket online. The website announced that City Council had decided to raise the parking penalty to $50. There was also a $2 convenience surcharge to use a credit card. “What’s this,” I thought, “Macy’s doesn’t charge a convenience surcharge for a credit card.” I thought about protesting again, but I decided that we’d saved so much with my various household economies that we could afford the surcharge.

My car troubles had barely begun. On Monday evening I drove over to the West Side to a friend’s house to watch the NCAA men’s basketball final. I crossed the Hopple Street viaduct, turned left on Beekman, and had just turned right onto Queen City Ave. when a loud smashing sound abruptly made me aware that I’d collided with another car. I hadn’t seen the other vehicle coming at all. I pulled over and got out, as did the other driver. It was a young woman who immediately said, “I had a green light! I had a green light!” I paused, looked back at the intersection, and then said, “I had a green light too.” (This later turned out to be a fabrication.) The young woman was sort of disheveled, tee shirt, shorts, flip flops, wild multi-streaked hair, too much makeup. I guessed her to be in her late 20’s. I suggested we call the police, but the young woman said she had to get to work and couldn’t wait. She proposed exchanging information, and I agreed. She wrote down her stuff, and I wrote down mine on a piece of paper I found stuck under the fence. I showed her my insurance and driver’s license. She said she had Nationwide Insurance, but didn’t have it with her. She’d give it to me over the phone as soon as she got home. She seemed sincere enough, so I didn’t worry. I thanked her for being civil, and we parted ways.

When I got to my friend’s house, I called woman’s number. Another woman who sounded older said there was nobody by that name at that number. I explained that this was the number I’d been given at an accident, but the woman coldly replied that she’d never heard of such a person. I was certain I’d dialed the number correctly. I tried the White Pages, then a Google search, but couldn’t track the other driver’s phone number down. All I learned was that she’d been arrested last fall on felony assault charges. I was relieved that she hadn’t assaulted me. I called my insurance company, and the pleasant woman on the phone took down my report in a nonjudgmental manner. She thanked me twice for being a client of their company, and I interpreted her friendliness as meaning that they were going to raise my insurance rates. She recommended a body shop and hoped I would have a happy evening. I said it couldn’t get much worse. I was pretty stressed out, but once Kentucky and Kansas began battling on TV for the national championship, I forgot about all my car crash woes and mentally got into the game. I’d picked Kentucky as my favorite beforehand, but as the game progressed I started rooting for Kansas because they were the underdogs. Kansas almost pulled off an amazing comeback, but fell short at the end. That’s life, I decided. Full of ups and downs. All in all, the Kansas players could feel good about March Madness. I decided I could too.

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (4-7): Dear Dave, Thoreau - Did you know while he was living in the woods at Walden he used to go regularly to his mother's house for meals?  Well, no fun eating cold food all the time - did he even have a fireplace?...  Again, I'm so sorry about your car accident.  Something like that really shakes one up for awhile.  Best,  Phyllis


  1. David,

    Love your account of what husbands do when their wives are in Italy. Loved the dogs' thoughts, too. Very entertaining and glad you survived the three weeks.


  2. Thank, Kathy. Glad you're keeping up with our family travails. Dave