It's not about the house.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Smooth Move

The good news is that Johnny officially quit smoking. Finally. For real. No more sneaking, no more porch, no more fighting about it, and no more pjs that smell like the dirty ashtrays on the kitchen table. After thirty-five years, all it took was a short stay in the hospital and two weeks of antibiotic-enforced sobriety – et voila!

The bad news, of course, is that Johnny started smoking again.

Last Monday, he had an eye doctor’s appointment. They gave him the make-you-blind drops, which he didn’t know they were going to do until they did it, so I had to change my plans to go and get him because he couldn’t see to get his own ass home. His pupils were all big, his face was weird and squinty, and I didn’t realize until after the yelling and screaming (me) and the storming out the door (him) that we weren’t actually fighting. My adrenals got their knickers in a Pavlovian twist just because he looked so mad, is all.

After that, though, it was his fault. For the next two days Johnny was the punchy one. Fidgety, crotchety, leaving static-y sparks of emotional electricity all over the house until my brain synapses wouldn’t fire and I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t know what was going on, but I tried my best to stay out of his way. If you don’t count the above (which I didn’t), we hadn’t had a real knock-down drag-out since before my mother died, and I thought if I could just keep my head down through these aftershocks of the Eye Drop Fiasco then our smooth streak might be able to continue. But no. Johnny had to keep on buzzing and popping and following me around, scuffing his feet on our charged carpet and zapping me on the back of my stiff neck

“What are you doing?”

I’m heating up a bowl of soup.

“Do you want to make me an apple pie?”

Um, no.

“Why not?”

Because I’m writing a blog, I just came out to heat up a bowl of soup.


“What are you doing?”

I’m taking my soup into the office to eat it while I work on my blog.

“This rug is really dirty, we should take it to the laundrymat!”

Um, no!

“Why not?”

Because I’m working on a blog. I just came out to heat up a bowl of soup.


“What are you doing?”

I’m eating soup and trying to write a blog!

“Why is it taking you so long? You’ve been working on that for days!”

Yes. Yes, I have. And golly gee, I can’t imagine why.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Um… no?

“Do you think you might be in a rut?”

Get out of my office.


It was Wednesday when things finally blew, and I think I lasted pretty admirably, considering. I’d decided to eat lunch in front of the television this time, and was looking forward to shutting off my brain for an hour with the Real World, when—

Yes, Dr. Drew, I will own my addiction: my name is Erin, and I have watched every season of the Real World. I’ve never let it interfere with work, though, so I don’t think I really have a problem. It does sometimes cause tension in my marriage – mainly because Johnny hates it and insists on making who’s-this-dipshit comments the entire time it’s on – but I avoid that pitfall by sneaking around. I watch it in the bedroom after he’s fallen asleep, or on demand when he’s otherwise engaged. So far I haven’t missed an episode in eighteen years, and even if I have to go on a weekend-marathon of a bender or speedball the occasional double-feature with a Real World/Road Rules Challenge, I’m capable of handling it fine.

This time I thought I was safe. Johnny seemed (blessedly) engrossed with something in the kitchen, so I dished up my whatever-I-was-having, snuck it in the living room, and turned the volume on the TV waaay down, hesitantly confident I’d be allowed to watch my seven strangers have their hissy fits in peace.




“Who’s this dipshit with the camera?”


Things were said. Rather loudly. By both of us. But he got the last word. Not because he had such witty repartee or a spit-polished argument, but because just as The Stupidest Statement Ever came tap-dancing from his mouth (it had a top hat and a cane and everything) there was a knock at the front door, and I was left flapping on the futon like a mentally-challenged wide-mouth bass.

“…and you wonder,” he said, “why I never want to spend any time with you.” Knock-knock-knock. “Excuse me.”

Why you never want to — excuse you? No, excuse me! Because haven’t you been on my tits since Monday? Haven’t I been begging you to leave my ass alone?

It was John B. at the door. And while the two of them went in the kitchen to talk about Important Things and Scratch Themselves, I seethed, watched The Real World, and choked down what was left of my lunch. And by the time I finished and brought in my empty bowl, Johnny was smoking. Right there! Just like that! In the kitchen! After swearing for the umpteenth time that he had really-no-for-real-I-mean-it-this-time quit! And he had the gall to share the blame with me, because when I asked him how long he'd been smoking and lying about it, he said "Ever since we had that row on Monday might."

Well, I showed him.

"'We' didn't have a row," I said.


"No. You did."

"I did. Oh. Okay."

Hey man, it made sense to me at the time.

Needlessly to say, things were slammed again. Loudly, repeatedly, and all over the house, but this time it was 100% me. I called him a liar. I said I didn’t care if he wanted to kill himself. I said all the things you’re supposed to say when you’re a 22-year-old narcissist looking for screen time and there are seven other strangers in the house who want it, too. But Johnny simply sat there, calmly smoking at the kitchen table, and I notched up the crazy each time I laid eyes on his nicotine-soothed calm.

John B. must have thought I was a loon, a freak, a wide-mouthed shrew. If I were him I would have left, quite frankly – and the fact he didn’t only served to nuts me more – but in retrospect I admire the stoic way with which he held his ground. Clamming up with a ten-yard stare whenever I came storming through, he'd pick up in mid-sentence again when I passed, as if he’d merely been on cosmic pause.

I couldn’t see any way out of my temper tantrum. Johnny wouldn’t react, John B. wouldn’t leave, and what was I going to do? Come in here and write about it? Sit back down on the couch? Grab the cats and light the house on fire?

So I left.

I stomped past the boys into the bedroom, changed out of sweatpants into jeans, and slipped on a pair of fuzzy Crocs. Then I stomped back out again (as well as one can stomp in a pair of fuzzy Crocs), threw open a kitchen window (to let out the smoke, but mostly to make a point), turned off the heat ('cause of the window, but mostly to make a point), and grabbed the keys. Thankfully I also had the wherewithal to grab my wallet, because I was only about a mile down the road when the idiot light came telling me I was almost out of gas.

I didn’t care. I drove and drove. No idea where I was going, I just went. I could run away, I thought, and I could go to the ocean. I could go to the country. I could go to the mountains. I could go to Israel, Africa, Afghanistan. Hell, I’m unemployed now, I could go straight to New Haven and move in with Dr. One Friend! So what if I wasn’t wearing underwear, or socks?

Except I didn’t. I still had enough rational brain-function to realize that it was snowing like the dickens, and I probably didn’t want to find myself a hundred miles from the AssVac when I finally drove away my angry-juice. So I traced a series of local figure-eights, never getting more than about ten miles from the house, until I finally had to stop for gas. I stood, shivering, while I pumped it, realizing with diamond clarity that I had also left the house without a bra.

Well, this severely limited my choices! No one at a bar, a restaurant or mall would know if I was wearing underpants, or care if I was wearing socks, but my rosebuds are no shrinking violets, if you catch my drift.

I’m not trying to come off all hubba-hubba when I say that, either. Honestly, I looked more Mother Jones than Maxim at the time. I had neither showered nor, if I’m remembering correctly, brushed my teeth; my jeans were dog-park dirty; my hair day-old style-waxy; and if there were such a thing as an ass-bra (which there ought to be, now that I think about it), even on my best day I'm a 42EEE. So I’m not trying to pat myself on the back when I talk about my rosebuds. But if I did, you’d know, is all I’m saying.

Maybe I would just go see a movie. You don’t need bras or underpants or socks to catch a flick. It would keep me out of the house long enough to cool my jets, and maybe even make Johnny worry where I was. Especially with the snowstorm, which was really coming down. He’d think I was dead by the side of the road, when really I was eating salty treats (diets be damned!) and bathing myself in the droll comic nostrum of Hugh Grant.

But then—

Ahem. I have to interrupt myself here to warn that, if you read on, you might just wind up with more information about me than you ever wanted to possess. And if you’ve been paying attention to this drivel so far, you know how low my disclosure bar is set. But even at the risk of spoiling a punchline, I want you all to rest assured that the end of this next paragraph is as far as it will go. There will be no backing-up. There will be no impact. And there will most certainly be no outcome of what I’m about to say. In exchange, you’re not allowed to see any correlation between it and my bloated response to the to-do in my kitchen. Dealio?

—just as I was pressing 1 to spell the name of the movie I’d like to see, I heard a rumble in my seat and recalled with sudden dread the laxative I took with breakfast. I’d planned it very carefully because I knew I had nowhere to go that afternoon, but in my self-righteous outburst I plumb forgot. I had to get my 42EEE back to the AssVac now, and it would go a long way towards maintaining the anal high ground – not to mention a wee drop of my dignity – if Johnny (and, not incidentally, John B.) didn’t have to be privy as to why.

So I called and told Johnny I was on my way home – letting him believe, if he would, that it was due to road conditions in the snow. I said I’d appreciate if he were gone when I arrived and he agreed in principle, but when I got there John B.’s truck was still out front. So I sat in the car having a straight-up Real-World style, euphemistic-set-jaw stand-off, and refusing to get out of the car till they came out. Which they did, in fifteen minutes, when I gave in to visceral panic and telephoned again.

The front porch smelled like smoke when I passed through it, but at least the kitchen didn’t anymore. The windows were closed, the heat turned back on to 65. Apparently someone, even if he hadn’t quite quit smoking after all, had at least seen the error of his house-stinky-uppy ways. I watched the end of my Real World episode (the bisexual guy is really GAY? No!), then called Dr. One Friend to mewl and puke.

In hashing it out with her, I had a revelation: the tension that the AssVac had snap-crackled with all week – the “Whatcha doin’?s” and “Let’s wash the rug!s” – was not, in fact, my husband’s true pain-in-the-ass colors shining through after two months of his being unnaturally nice to me while I got pooped on by the universe. It wasn’t an indication that I was going to have to divorce him after all. It was just a snowballing nicotine fit. He needed a cigarette and couldn’t say so, that was all.

By the time he came home from the pub, we were both sorry (not that we weren't to begin with, but you know). We agreed that he would smoke a little if he had to – if it meant saving our marriage, my writing schedule, or either of our states of mind – but only a few a day, and only in the yard or at the pub. And I think he’s sticking to it, too, although I wouldn't really know, because we also agreed I wouldn't ask about it anymore.

The peacekeeping accord worked well for about a week. But this past Sunday we had the exact same fight again. This time, though, the whole thing was flipped around: this time Johnny did the screaming (mostly) and throwing things (back) and storming out, which I sat still and placidly endured (not), all because he caught me scarfing down a bag of potato chips in the living room after I swore I was really-no-for-real-I-mean-it-this-time done with junk.

Boy, did he look like an uptight ass.


Khurston said...

hee. i, for one, caught the breakfast club quote. ly

Charlie said...

Nice title!

12ontheinside said...

I feel for Johnny. Hard thing to do. Not that I've managed it successfully myself, mind you.
Also I need to focus more carefully, I misread Charlie's comment and thought it said nice titties.

ege said...

K -- Ain't I a sneak!?

Charlie -- Why, whatever do you mean?

12 -- I know, that's why I've stood silently by him the other seventy-twelve times he's tried and failed. The only reason I got so mad this time was because I really thought he'd finally succeeded. That, and he was getting on my nice titties!

jen said...

First of all, I peed in my pants a little. And this is why: Not because you pooped. Everybody poops, Erin. Even I know that. Im laughing that you still watch the Real World.
Not that I don't have my MTV vices, I do. I do. I watch Teen Mom. Religiously.
The good news is that I quit smoking too!
The bad news, of that I started smoking again. Which is exactly why Johnny's my boyfriend.

mary said...

This story cracked me up because it mirrored my own 'smoking story'. Minus the laxative. Except in my story I am Johnny. I eventually did quit, Johnny can too, and I'm going to tell you how.
Go to and buy a copy of "Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking". $10. Read the reviews. Become convinced. I have no idea how or why this book works, the nearest I can believe is that it's an exercise in self-hypnosis. All I know is that it works. I smoked for 25 years and quit in 2 days. Huh. I still can't believe it.
Good luck.