Toward Venice, toward Japan, toward Malibu, toward gaudy arcade lights, back toward Venice — I pace the boards at the end of the Santa Monica pier with a finger in my ear, talking to my wife’s best friend.
She is suggesting a trip to New York with her and her husband. She’s offering me a chance to play piano for a performance of her one-act musical, for which I wrote the music. It would be a chance to travel to the Lower East Side of that big, creative American city on the right-hand coast.
Would I like to perform music I wrote, for the entertainment of a live audience in Manhattan?
The answer to that question would always be yes.
We talk. Arrangements. Plans. Eventually, I acknowledge to myself what I knew the instant I heard “Manhattan:” my wife loves New York City and hanging with her friend. She should come. But — oy, so many logistics. School, kids, pets. Not to mention cost.
When we discussed her coming along, I tried to make it easy for her to agree.
She stayed home.
I flew to New York.
A guy doesn’t get many calls like that — pacing toward Venice, Japan, Malibu, talking about performing in Manhattan, Pacific night breeze occasionally blowing across the phone and making static. I was there on the left coast to make a commercial with other Midwestern advertising creatives. Fact is, I get to do a lot of cool stuff all over the place and my wife holds the house together.
How I wish it were otherwise.
“Can you see which animal is throwing up in the hall?” I imagine her shouting from the kitchen to kids absorbed in video games as, states away, I play an arpeggio for an actor to find his note. [as the cat hucks up furball juice, I start low, rapidly playing major A chords hand-over-hand until reaching the higher registers where the last two notes are a trill between A and G]
The imbalance is soooooo exaggerated.
To be clear, I should emphasize, please know — she does creative things all the time. Daily. For the family. For gifts to friends and family. Too many to catalog. She’s fierce and disciplined — random example: right now for that “neighborhood hunt for a teddy bear during pandemic lockdown game” she’s posed a plush at our window and cut out huge letters to spell “B U Y S T A M P S” as a subtle pro-P.O. political dig to the other residents here in our little red-state suburban town. Blend of cozy and slyly provoking. That’s her.
But the imbalance. Oh, oh, oh. It’s painful. As the reader, you should be pained.
Because what you don’t know yet, reader, is a few days before the phone call from my wife’s friend, I’d been asked to an invitation-only songwriter get-together in Tennessee.
LA, NYC, Nashville. Three major cities containing exciting, money-making creative communities.
Noblesville, Indiana. A small town containing my family.
Anyway, I said yes to New York and yes to Nashville.
[slightly longer pause]
[a couple days pass before I can find my way forward on this topic]
My wife does not want to be the subject of this column. She does not want me to involve her in my bids for attention, nor does she want me Rendering a Portrait of Her. She wants to be, and should be (of course!), in charge of herself.
So I keep trying to rewrite this piece and not make it about how my quixotic quests impact our coupledom. I don’t want to write about unfairness. I don’t want to invite judgments of her or me or us. I’m trying to make this not about how she stays home while I get to play music I’ve written in NYC and Nashville, how I get to travel to LA on agency funds, how I get to, I get to, I get to.
She should get to. Too.
If I change the subject, I’m just avoiding it.
And that’s not to mention how horrified she is at the reality-TV/social-media-obsessed world’s craven greediness for attention. She’s appalled by our unflattering 21st-century citizenry’s grasping, gasping need to be looked at. Are my projects part of it? Um, I guess so.
So I’m trying to write about something else.
A new theme.
An alternate thesis. [more days pass]
And yet, the thesis remains: I get to, she doesn’t get to.
Friday I’m playing synthesizers with a local Cars tribute band called The Rental Cars, at the Melody Inn! Come on down! It’s just what I needed!
I believe this is an issue for any couple where both people are “creative,” whatever that word means. One person inevitably takes charge of practical household matters, which absorb waking hours like white carpet absorbs malbec.
Someone has to Google wine stains.
I can do it. I do do it. She tends to do it first, and more.
What once was balanced begins to wobble.
Fortunately for me, the gyroscopic force of our shared history and agreement on many issues including what is and isn’t funny — the inertia of all that spinning mass tends to correct the wobble, eventually. If I keep my hands off the gyroscope.
We met doing community theater in high school (we went to neighboring schools). I was drawn to how she outwits everyone in conversation. In high school we were both warped by Aykroyd-era SNL and Steve Martin and in college she studied playwriting while I studied advertising. Twenty-some years ago, when we found we were pregnant with our first kid she suggested we go to New York for a long weekend to see plays while still safely in the first trimester, both on and off Broadway. Mamet, Albee, Ralph Fiennes in Hamlet. A shared celebration of a major life change.
[“clock wipe”-style video transition from then to today] I throw the guitar in the back of the car to go play a country song for a Nashville publisher, opening the driver’s door to see she’s put a bag of Chex Mix on the passenger’s seat for me to snack on through Kentucky.
I wave at the house, not sure if she’s looking.
My mom had an Erma-Bombeck-ish column in the sixties in the Indianapolis Star, for which she also reviewed books and interviewed movie stars passing through town. In 1976 she met with President Carter as a small-newspaper editor, and in her spare time she used to give speeches at our Methodist church, the most notable one based on a popular book called The Gospel According to Peanuts — only she substituted Star Trek for Peanuts and at the conclusion of her talk handed out hand-sewn Tribbles to everyone, Tribbles she’d cut out and stuffed and stitched together herself before the speech.
I don’t think I’m revealing laundry that’s too dirty to note that my mom was never known as much of a housekeeper. She did, uh, enough. Just this side of not enough.
Maybe heredity is influencing matters?
Clearly that’s an excuse.
[Apparently the dryer just buzzed. I didn’t hear it, due to residual rock-band-basement-practice hearing loss.]
So. I’m walking here, in New York City.
My wife’s friend’s husband and I are finding our way through the streets of the Lower East Side with the electric piano I’ll be playing. It’s surprisingly heavy. His wife rented it from a music store a few blocks from the gallery where the one-acts are being presented. He and I are Laurel-and-Hardy-ing it, each on one end, along Bowery or Delancey or Broome or Rivington.
Eventually he just takes it, hoists it and balances it on his head.
His bald head.
He’s got it up there like a circus guy, the center of the bottom of the keyboard directly against his scalp as he walks the long east-west blocks of Manhattan, me trailing. He’s really tall. We’re the sort of thing you might see in New York.
As it turns out, if you’re bald, it’s not a great idea to carry a long, heavy electric piano several blocks.
He ended up badly skinning the top of his head, like a kid’s knee after a spill on the sidewalk.
He’s a professional violinist. An actor. A writer. And he gave himself a sore.
He got it from volunteering to carry the load for his creative partner.
Man oh man, it’s hard for one creative person not to end up hurting the creative person they’re married to.
The one who volunteers to do the heavy lifting.
A year or so later they visited, and he showed my wife and me the scar. We all kind of laughed, a shared nervous chuckle as we considered the fact that he still had the wound, a seemingly permanent mark, a tender spot leftover from that little performance in New York City.