I’m no picnic. That much I know.
My ex-wife used to tell me that all the time.
“You’re no picnic,” she said.
And I guess she was right. At least that’s how I’ve thought of myself in the years following the divorce.
Avoid getting a divorce, speaking of ‘no picnic.’
“I’ve never thought of myself “ I said, “as a meal before this, or, more accurately, a missed meal.”
“Well, get used to it,” she said.
“Why ‘no picnic? I mean no one ever says, ‘You’re the exact opposite of a smorgasbord,’ or, ‘This would be just like a pleasant brunch if only you weren’t here.’”
“I’ve never noticed that before, thank you for bringing it to my attention,” she said. She was being sarcastic; I could tell from her tone.
“My sister once, a long time ago, described her SATs as ‘no tea party,’” I said, “but it turned out she did quite well. Strong in Language, a little less so in the Math portion. ‘They didn’t serve any refreshments at my SATs at all,’ I told her.”
“I’ll bet she just about died laughing,” my ex said, “Your sister and her much vaunted sense of humor. Known the world over.”
“Someone said, ‘Sarcasm is the worst kind of humor,’” I said.
“I think you mean ‘The pun is the lowest form of wit,’” she said, real snotty.
“Well, contrariness is just another word for obstructionism.”
So the divorce should have been no surprise, but it kind of was.
Once I told her she was ‘eight miles of back road.’
“You’re wrong,” she told me, “It’s either twelve miles or forty miles. Not eight. You can’t just fill in the blank with any goddammed number that drifts into your skull.”
“Sure I can,” I said, “I don’t see any rule books laying around here that say I can’t.”
“And it’s forty miles of bad road,” she said, “Not forty miles of back road.”
But I had nothing more to say on the subject. I figured I’d made my point, so what difference did it make? Eight. Twelve. Forty. Who cared? And, while we’re on the subject, what’s so great about a picnic anyway? I mean ants, lugging around baskets and blankets, mosquitos, unexpected thunderstorms.
This was probably the kind of thinking that made me ‘no picnic’ to be around, much less to live with.
“And it’s lying around, not laying around,” she added, which I considered gratuitous and unnecessary.
Before we’d met, both of us, independently of one another, had decided that the clothes we’d worn in high school would suit us just fine for the rest of our lives. No need to change where no change is needed is how I saw it and so, apparently, did she. That’s what attracted us to each other; we looked like escapees from a high school yearbook in Delaware.
I showed up for our first date in Fryes, boot cut Levis and a shapeless dark-green t-shirt. Pretty much the uniform I’d been wearing since tenth grade. I had other colors at home, black, maroon, dark blue, a lighter green, plus Zep, Ramones, Earth Day, E=MC2. I still had the Tall Ships from the bicentennial, which was more of a souvenir than anything.
She was wearing high-top All Stars, straight-leg Wranglers, and a flannel shirt, lumberjack plaid. No bra, though she could’ve used one, if you get my drift.
I was fifty-two, she was a year or two younger.
We went out for burgers, like in High School. Instead of milkshakes or Diet Cokes, we had beers; the only difference. We split my fries.
After, we went out and walked on the boardwalk. We were alone; the only person we had any chance of running into would be someone who wanted to rob us and the great majority of those guys, the ones with any sense, had moved on to greener pastures. She told me how her old man used to take her on the carousel and play ski-ball and all that. All those places were all boarded up now.
“I remember when this whole stretch was lit by signs with thousands of yellow bulbs that blinked in sequence like they were running a race that would never end. And neon. There were barkers, and cotton candy, funnel cakes, and beer, music, organs playing, radios blaring the Top 40, and kids,” she said.
I had nothing to say. I’d grown up in Barnegat. Way to the south. My father had always been an Atlantic City/Wildwood man, so we never strayed that far north. I never made it up there until I was an adult. It was only forty miles, and the roads weren’t bad, but people didn’t travel as far in those days like they do now, especially my old man. I missed out on all that Asbury Park stuff, the rides and all. And the Springsteen hoopla. Never been to the Stone Pony. You can keep them both as far as I’m concerned anyway.
We stayed at her place that night. When we woke up and got ready to go to breakfast, she put on fresh Wranglers and flannel, the same All Stars, as far as I could tell anyway. I was stuck with yesterday’s Levis, boots and tee. I ordered my usual mountain of food, a meal they had to bring to the table on a barge—double portion of eggs over easy, coffee, OJ, sausages, bacon, hash browns, toast, a giant stack of pancakes with two little buckets of syrup. Butter. I dumped a bunch of Tabasco over everything but the pancakes. She had half a grapefruit and tea.
“You’re cheap date,” I said, and I could immediately tell she was annoyed.
“I’m only kidding,” I said, “it’s a joke. An expression, really.” But it was too late.
I’ve always found if you look close enough at the beginnings of things you can pretty reliably see where they’re going to end up.