Monday, January 26, 2009

The Little Things You Do That Can Drive Your Mate Crazy

I use the word "mate" here rather loosely. Really it could be anyone who lives with you. But you do things that you don't even know about that can make the person sitting across from you at the breakfast table want to run screaming from the room. Or merely endure it silently while adding it to that mental list of annoying things you do that will one day reach the breaking point, the last straw, the final outrage.

I have TMJ. I've always had it. My jaw pops just talking sometimes. It certainly annoys me, but it annoys me most kissing. And it seemed to annoy past mates most at mealtime. This is just for starters. Are you sure you still like me?

My first husband, Lyle, was appalled that I didn't know how to saute fresh mushrooms. I used my grandmother's wedding present The Joy of Cooking as my source. Irma Rombauer was, according to my grandmother, the only source, the best source, the bible of cookbook gurus. Lyle said the mushrooms tasted like they'd been cooked in scouring powder. I cried. I was nineteen and had never cooked a fresh mushroom before. So to this day, I have never thought of myself as a good cook. But I've never killed anyone with my dreadful cooking, yet.

Lyle was also the first person (but not the last) to accuse me of popping my jaw at the breakfast table (chewing cereal) on purpose just to annoy him. On purpose. Hell, he thought he got a bad deal? I was horrified to find that I was expected to have sex with him. I married him because he was my boss, he was gay, and we partied at the gay bars. We were friends. He was talented and fun and gay. And his Boss hated gay men. Most especially I married Lyle because he was gay. Safely gay. Do I need to stress that again? And he had a good job. And so did I. But that sex thing really ruined it for me.

I can't begin to list the many annoying things that I do, but I'm sure I've slept peacefully next to men who wanted to smash a grapefruit in my face in the morning over poached eggs, toast and coffee.

The last table-atrocity I heard about was from a woman. Her name was Eleanor, I'd known her ages ago, but she needed a place to rent and I needed someone to share the house with. I used four of the eight rooms. She was welcome to the rest of them. She moved some heavy furniture into the house, had her bedroom wired for her vast electronic, computing life. I cooked while she supervised the Comcast guys.

I fed her clam spaghetti, garlic bread, a salad and white wine. Simple enough, not so white trashy as I can sometimes get. But tasty. I was shoveling it in, in my usual fashion and she stopped, wine glass in hand rising to her mouth, and said, rather dramatically, one eyebrow cocked, "This will never work."


"Because you make sexual sounds when you eat."

"What kind of sexual sounds?"

"You moan."

She moved out by the end of the week.

I bet in certain cultures an appreciative moan at the table is considered a compliment to the host.

Skin Hunger

Here's the reason so many old people who live alone have dogs. Cats, too. It's skin hunger. We need touch and we aren't likely to receive touch from another person, so we enjoy the touching comfort of a dog or cat. I have had both pets at the same time and whereas a cat lets you pet her if she feels like it, a dog will lie there endlessly and revel in being petted. And I envy my dog that pleasure. I too would like to be stroked just that way, without need for reciprocation, just for the pleasure of the toucher: kind touch, gentle touch, firm touch, absent minded touch, a hand resting on my head, playing with the strands of hair with no worry that it will turn from a comfort to a need that wants being turned into something more than just touch. Or that I might get up to get a drink of water and in the getting up and walking away insult the person that pets this old cat. I want touch that doesn't require a thank you or come with an IOU.

This isn't just a new thought, or a new need, or something that just occurred to me on a whim. It's something I knew when my last lover and I lived together years ago. He was the dog in that relationship. He loved to be touched just the way I absentmindedly touch Roscoe when I'm baby-sitting him at night when he curls up next to me as I watch TV. I massage his face muscles and gently stroke his neck and soft ears, I rub the loose skin behind his ears and he just soaks it in. When I get tired of this or want him to move, I say, "move." He stands up on the bed, does a quick turn and lies down. There is nothing pushy in his acceptance of my touch or huffy or sulky at my desire to stop. With my ex, touch was almost always prelude to sex. If I were touching him, maybe not. But if he touched me with tenderness and a gentle hand it would almost always be about his desire for sex. I could ask for non-sexual touch, and he might agree, but it was as if he were watching his clock for the minimum ten minutes to pass so he could stop.

I'm probably dreaming. I doubt many men would want to lie in bed next to a woman and stroke her like she were a purring cat and leave it at that. But it's a nice dream.