Wednesday, April 13, 2005
The Subtext
After you're married for a while, you tend to work out an unspoken language that governs most of your interactions with your spouse below the obvious surface of spoken words. I'm not talking about finishing each other's sentences or having the exact same thought at the exact same time, the lame Hollywood notions of soul-mate psychic connectedness you might find in a crappy romantic comedy starring Matthew McConaughey.

The reality of it is difficult to explain, so I'll give you an example. In order not to bloat up to 450 pounds, I take a martial arts class. This costs money in monthly dues and equipment, money I don't contribute to making in any direct way. Every time I ask my wife about it, she says it's good that I go, I get out of the house, I interact with adults, I get some exercise, all of which make me happier and easier to live with and keep me away from the internet porn.

What we both realize and would never in a million years say out loud is that she hates hates hates the fact that I leave her alone with three kids two nights per week, all this after she has worked all day and endured the hour+ commute home. Plus, boy, what we couldn't do with an extra $60/month.

She copes with this by giving me errands to run after class--usually one or two small semi-necessary items--when she knows I'll be smelly and sweaty and wearing clothes with no pockets. She gets to be passively-aggressive and I get to jump through an admittedly large hoop, minorly inconvenienced but clearly reminded that I am in her debt for the time away.

It's a happy, mutually beneficial exchange.

Last night I was called upon once more to discharge my duty (allergy medication at the Rite-Aid), when I was confronted with an unexpected joy. There was a man standing just outside the automatic doors of the drug store, moving in a slow circle, gesticulating firmly as he spoke loudly to no one in particular.

Oh yes! An opportunity for me to play America's fastest growing real-life game show phenomenon, Cell Phone or Schizophrenic?

Come on, you've all tried it. As cell-phone technology and state moving-vehicle laws together increasingly favor hands-free cell-phone use, we've all rounded a corner on a street or in the grocery store where we're confronted with someone having a conversation with nobody at all.

Before we pass too close, we have to make the judgment: Cell Phone or Schizophrenic?

The two afflictions are similar in that we, the general public, only get to hear half the conversation. Luckily there are some context clues we can pick up on in order to piece together the answer. Of course it's important to do so because if you guess "cell phone!" and the answer is actually "schizophrenic!", there's the outside chance you could end up divided up to fit into several ziploc bags. So it's not without the element of danger, which makes it fun.

Sure, sometimes the tell-tale black wire dangling from the ear gives the hands-free cell phone user away before we can make a solid guess, but don't be so hasty. Remember, the other option is schizophrenic. There's no telling what those crazy fuckers have attached to the side of their head, usually with a staple gun or a nail.

There are only a few tips I can give. The hands-free cell-phone user tends to look up while talking, can continue in their primary task while doing so (shopping, for instance), tend not to shiver uncontrollably or shout obscenities into the faces of random strangers.

The schizophrenic is a little less easy to spot, but there are some giveaways. The first thing you generally notice is the smell, followed by the fact that they are wearing three layers of clothes in 90° and are pushing everything they own in a shopping cart (as opposed to things they mean to buy). Also, if the insults they shout as their contribution to the conversation with the invisible demons have a Shakespearean slant to them ("Fie on thee!" and so forth), that's probably a schizophrenic.

[Note: Of course not all schizophrenics are homeless and not all homeless are schizophrenics. However, there's more than a little overlap on the Venn Diagram they both inhabit. One circle nearly swallows the other.]

As I said, this isn't a lot to go on.

Last night the guy in front of me was shouting, waving his hands about, clearly exercised. I listened for a few seconds and there was a lot more "No no, you're not listening to me" than "Fie!". Plus then I saw the iPod headphones were out of his ears, resting on his shoulder to make room for his cell-phone ear plug.

Just to be careful, I checked for a glint of metal, any sign of a staple or the flattened end of a tenpenny nail.

It was dark, so I just ran for it, screaming at the top of my lungs all the way to my car. You know, just in case. They won't fuck with you if they think you're crazier than they are.

Final verdict: cell phone, about 95% sure.

The good news is now that when I tell my wife this story, I'll do so in a way that makes it a lot scarier so she'll feel slightly bad for sending me out there at night. And our little duel will continue.

This post on the Narcissus Scale: 9.2


PS- Tomorrow I'll tell you about the game we used to play in high school when someone would walk gingerly down the halls. We called it Foot Injury or Swishy Queen? I don't want to ruin the ending, but it was always more fun to guess the latter. Like I said, it was high school.


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