Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Most Romantic Date Ever? Or The Most-Est Romantic Date Ever? You decide.

Sweetie had this crazy idea that the passion in our marriage was gone because I called her by her actual name the other day. She was wrong about the passion, but I don't blame her for being wrong because we rarely use each other's actual names, so calling her by her real name was a slip-up on my part. A slip-up that she read too much into, but a slip-up nonetheless.

I think that the slip-up was excusable, in that at the time of the accidental-real-name-calling, I was cooking dinner and trying to resist being pulled to help out with Superjumping and trying to defend the refrigerator from Mr F's depredations, while also arguing with The Boy about whether the english muffins were properly toasted or not.

So let me break that down for you: It was Sunday night, and I was cooking dinner, which that night was cheesy hash browns and home-made Egg McMuffins. I cook fried eggs thusly: Put a pan on the stove, spray it with some pan-stuff, break six or seven eggs into it, and let it sit until the eggs are fully cooked.

That's how I cook almost everything, except for Ramen Noodles, which I microwave on high for four minutes, then wait 23 minutes until they cool down. I've also begun mixing into my Ramen Noodles the Chip Dregs, those end-of-the-bag snack chips that are too small to eat properly but too big to throw away without feeling guilty about not ending world hunger or something.

Chip Dregs (TM 2009, Me) will likely eventually be available as a topping for a variety of meals, probably in the same aisle as you'll be able to buy Cereal Powder. Eventually the world will recognize the contributions I've made to society -- recognition that will come when everyone's spice rack contains not just parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, but also "Chip Dregs" and Cereal Powder. I prefer my "recognition" in 20s and 50s, please. Or Paypal.

And you're probably skeptical, but I'll tell you this: Save those Chip Dregs you've got (crackers work equally well) and sprinkle them on the next pizza you make. Then thank me. (I prefer my "thanks," too, in 20s and 50s.)

So I was busy watching the eggs to make sure that they didn't burn but didn't undercook, and also toasting the English muffins, which in our house is trickier than you might guess because our toaster has only two settings: Raw, and Nuclear. It's next to impossible to adjust the toaster to anything but those two settings, and I always get it wrong, primarily because I tend to use the toaster after Middle, who seems to be mostly eating charcoal for breakfast these days, judging by the setting she leaves the toaster on when she's done with it.

That's how I nearly, on Saturday, burnt the house down and wasted a Cinnabagel The Boy brought home for me. I was getting around to making my breakfast, and Sweetie and Middle had already made theirs. I sliced the Cinnabagel in half and put it in the toaster and put the lever down and then went to find Mr Bunches and Mr F to make sure they weren't accidentally wrecking the TV. When I came back, about ten minutes later, the bagel hadn't popped up, so I continued on with other business (downloading my music for the week) and checked in a few minutes, which is when I discovered that the toaster wasn't plugged in. So I plugged it in and then tried to repeatedly press down the plunger, but it wouldn't stay down.

At first, I assumed this was some federally-mandated safety measure, requiring that toasters not be activated while they are plugged in. But Sweetie heard my struggles and came and showed me the "bagel" button that I had to press to get it to work because it was a bagel, and not bread, in it.

So we've come to this: The toaster won't work unless I tell it specifically what it is toasting. Of all the ways ever imagined in which the machines would rise up against humans, that's the least likely/most annoying Robot Rebellion ever.

Having gotten the toaster down, and toasting, I again wandered away to retrieve Mr Bunches and his pants, placing one on the other and returning to the kitchen to see the toaster emitting plumes of smoke that were filling up the kitchen and dining room. I quickly and heroically popped the toaster up, pulling the Cinnabagel out and learning the Lesson of the Day, which is this:

Cinnamon gets REALLY hot when you toast it.

I (heroically) flung the blackened-and-smoking crispy bagels into the sink, then heroically also ran my fingertips under cold water until I couldn't feel them anymore, and then lectured Middle about how she should never, and I quote, "set the toaster to 'Surface of the Sun' and leave it there."

I then re-set it down to almost nothing, which resulted in Sunday night's mcmuffins being toasted to the level of, as The Boy put it "about as toasty as if you'd just looked at them." But I wasn't about to waste time trying to adjust the toaster, or risk Flaming English Muffins, so we lived with that, because I had to continuously guard the refrigerator against Mr F, who has discovered the thrills of opening and closing the refrigerator, and the related thrills of "grabbing stuff from the refrigerator and running," so that we can expect, on a regular basis, to hear the refrigerator door closing and then see a 2 year old come running through the room carrying one of the 3 different kinds of Ranch dressing we have in the refrigerator. (We have that many because I'm preparing for The Great Ranch Challenge, but that hasn't happened yet because The Boy and I can't decide on the stakes.)

While I was doing that, I had to keep fending off Mr Bunches, who wanted me to help him Superjump. Superjumping is the latest in a series of dangerous games I play with them, and it works like this: Mr Bunches climbs onto the couch, and I stand there and hold his hands. For some reason, I must always be facing the same direction -- west -- when we do this. He then begins bouncing, and I slowly bounce him higher and higher, holding his hands, until he is bouncing above my head and laughing.

I love playing Superjump (it works the shoulders and is a critical part of the Baby Workout Program) but it's tiring and it's impossible to monitor the eggs properly when I'm Superjumping, so I had to keep fending off Mr Bunches, who took that hard, dropping into a puddle of goo on the kitchen floor before going off to see if he could manage to climb up the cat tree without Daddy noticing (Answer: Yes.)

In the midst of all that, then, I was setting the table and needed to ask Sweetie what part of dinner she wanted. Sweetie's eating is confusing to me, because she doesn't eat carbs, and I'm not sure what qualifies as a "carb" or not. I've sort of gathered that there are "carbs" in anything in the "Bread" or "Noodle" food groups, but she eats breadsticks, and I always lumped breadsticks into the "Bread" food group, mostly because I never created a separate "Stick" food group, although I probably should, given how many things would fit into that category.

Sweetie was somewhere nearby amidst the swirl of pantsless two-year-olds, cats, loud music, sarcastic 16-year-olds, and the flurry that accompanies all of those, and so I didn't look around for her, I just cut through the clutter by calling out her name and asking what she wanted for dinner, and she asked why I'd used her actual name and then said the passion was dead in our marriage.

Which is, as I said, an over-reaction, but a forgiveable one also because Sweetie is basing most of her comparisons of passion in our marriage right now on the movie Twilight, which she was planning on watching this week and which she was eagerly anticipating because... something about the guy and how he looks at the girl. I don't know. So Sweetie has a misconception about what passion in a relationship is: She thinks, I gather, that it's all smoldering looks and the Pacific Northwest and people's skin looking like diamonds at certain times.

To show her what true passion is, then, I proposed to Sweetie that we have a romantic interlude, which we did, last night, when I took Sweetie out for what will, in history, go down as "The Most Romantic Night Ever Involving Cheeseburgers and A Stunned Deer."

The plan was that we would either go walking, or go for a drive, just the two of us, when I got home from work. We'd eat dinner and then leave all the kids behind and spend some time just hanging out and talking and being in love and, possibly, giving each other smoldering looks and having diamond-based skin, if I could work that. (Answer: I couldn't.)

We began "The Most Romantic Night Ever Involving Cheeseburgers and A Stunned Deer" the way most truly romantic events begin, with me getting home late because I'd had to give a presentation to a bunch of lawyers. That left me eating my dinner while the rest of them cleaned up and hung out and did their own thing, because they'd already eaten. So Sweetie and I sat and were romantic and passionate while The Boy and Middle cleaned up and squabbled over whatever it is they were squabbling about, and in the background, Mr F tried to get into the toilet while Mr Bunches threw things into my milk glass -- things including "bits of cookies," some crackers, and two separate Mr. Potato Head tongues.

With that amazingly passionate start, things were clearly on a high note and we left for the equally-romantic drive we'd decided to go on, just driving around and chatting and eating dessert, which we got at that most romantic of places, the McDonald's drive-in. Sweetie got a "McFlurry," while I got the less-traditional-dessert of "2 Cheeseburgers."

Ready with our snacks, and our passion, we then began to drive around, more or less aimlessly. Ordinarily, these Alone-Time drives take us through the two subdivisions we refer to as "Richville," where the houses are three times the size of ours and have fancy cars locked into their giant garages. We drive through those, stalk some of the houses, and alternate between being envious of the luxury and telling ourselves that they are not truly happy in their giant, fancy houses -- true happiness requires, in my mind, a shower head that needs fixing and carpeting that is 97% ground up Froot Loops, and if you're missing those, then I feel sorry for you.

But last night, we didn't do that. Instead, I struck out for parts unknown, heading down Highway 14 to check out some newer areas. I had in my mind possibly showing Sweetie a house that had a phenomenal amount of Easter decorations, a house I'd driven by on my way home from the presentation, a house that had, by my count, about 20 different inflatable Easter decorations in the yard, but I couldn't remembe where that was, so instead, I began turning left and right here and there, until Sweetie suddenly said:

"This is that scary place we ended up that one time," and she was right. The Scary Place is not far from our house, but it is as though turning right onto the Scary Place road transports one from Middleton, Wisconsin, to the setting of every scary psycho movie ever. The road narrows, is gravelly, is lined by trees that never have a full set of leaves, even in the summer. There are too many mailboxes -- we can only see about three houses, but there are, like, fourteen mailboxes. There are broken down trucks and cars, and some of them are parked on the lawns, and some appear to be of foreign make (foreign things always = scary) and-- I swear I'm not in any way over-dramatizing this -- the light is dimmer. We went there last night about 7, and when I turned onto Scary Place Road, it was dark. When I turned back out -- looking in my rearview mirror to make sure there weren't a bunch of Sharpened-Banjo-Wielding Nuclear Mutants chasing us -- it grew light again.

So we got out of there, and continued driving around other random neighborhoods in the next city down the road from us, looking at houses here and there and discussing relationships and things, and eventually decided that it was time to head back home.

And that doesn't sound very romantic or passionate, but it was because at no point during our talk did anyone accuse anyone else of getting favored because they always got easier jobs, nobody claimed that their teachers hated them, and nobody secretly slipped off their pants and diapers and started jumping, naked, on the trampoline. Romance and passion are a relative thing.

Things got even more romantic, then, when we got hit by a deer on the way home.

Yes, I said that right: We got hit by a deer. As I was driving along, minding my own romantic and passionate business, a deer leaped out of the side of the road and rammed smack into the side of our car, just ahead of my door. It then flipped up and over the car and lay in the road, looking stunned.

I pulled over immediately, and, acting in my usual calm and cool manner that I have in a crisis, said to Sweetie: "Am I supposed to call someone, do you think?"

She got out her cell phone, and I took it and got out of the car and began to examine the damage but as I did so, I realized that I didn't know where the deer was, and, more scary, I didn't know if there were other deer around.

So I took defensive action, turning around and spotting our deer in the middle of the road, lying there, and also scanning the immediate surroundings for other deer. In my mind, I could see a herd of crazed deer charging me, trying to get revenge on me for something that was clearly not my fault. Deer look all nice and cute and friendly... until they viciously ram into your car and you realize this: Deer are big and strong and have hooves. And maybe fangs, for all I know.

While I looked out for Meat-Eating Deer, I also called "911," because I don't know who else to call and report that there's a maybe-injured, maybe-suicidal, maybe homicidal deer laying in the middle of a country highway.

The 911 operator asked where I was, and I said "Highway 12." Then I realized that was wrong, and I said "Highway 14." Then, unsure, I said "Highway 12, 14, maybe."

She asked where on Highway 12 or 14, and I said "Between Cross Plains and Middleton." That, too, was wrong, as I realized when I walked to the nearest sign and saw that it said I was just entering Cross Plains, which meant I was about 5 miles further west than I'd just told her. So I corrected that, too, and said I was calling because I'd been hit by a deer.

"You hit a deer?" she asked.

"No, I got hit by a deer," I clarified. I'm not taking the blame for this. That confused the operator, though, so we went back to trying to figure out where I was. I continued to try to describe it, but remember, I was standing on a country highway, in the dark, between two cities. Eventually, I said I was just outside of Cross Plains, and she said:

"Which bar did you last leave?"

I tried to clarify that I wasn't coming from a bar -- a point that was hard to support, given my confusion -- while also trying not to say that what I'd been doing was driving around aimlessly eating cheeseburgers on a date with my wife, but that was made more difficult because another driver stopped to say that she had called 911, too, and that they'd dispatched a police officer to the scene.

My 911 operator overheard that and took offense. She said to me: "I don't have a record of another call."

I didn't respond, but kept talking to the other driver, who said again that she'd called and a cop was on the way.

"I don't have a record of another call," my 911 operator insisted, and so I relayed that to the other driver, who said that she had called and that a different 911 person had, in fact, said a cop was on the way.

"She said she did call," I reported to my 911 operator, who was still miffed-sounding and who then told me that someone would be there soon -- even though I hadn't yet clarified where I was, exactly. The 911 operator then asked me my phone number, which confused me because I thought it showed up on 911. I began wondering if I had called 911 after all; maybe I had someone whose number is close to "911," and they were just going along with the gag? But then my deer stopped laying in the road, and got up and began sort of staggering around, at the same time as some cars came down the highway towards us.

"Flag them down! They'll hit the deer!" the other driver shouted at me, so while I gave the maybe-911 operator my phone number and name, I also began waving my free hand in the universal sign language for "Slow Down, There's A Stunned, Possibly Crazy Deer In The Road."

It worked, because the deer was free to get up and stagger and limp around while the cars inched past, and then I got nervous all over again because I worried that the deer might charge or something, and even a stunned, injured deer is probably a match for me, but it didn't charge, it just wandered off into the woods as the three cops showed up to deal with the situation -- a situation that no longer existed.

Two local police officers and a sheriff's deputy got out of their cars and questioned me and shined high-beam spotlights around and took a statement and got my driver's license and did all the things that cops do. One of them came walking up and said "Hit a deer, huh?" to which I said, again, "No, a deer hit me." He didn't believe me until I showed him where the deer had cracked the car, on the side, a spot that made it impossible for me to have hit the deer unless I was traveling sideways on the road.

With all that finally sorted out, Sweetie and I were free to head back home from our romantic, passionate date, where, having restored the passion to our marriage successfully, I took a break from giving her smoldering looks to bathe Mr F and Mr Bunches, while she retired to our room to read a romance novel.

I don't know why she bothered -- I've clearly set the bar superhigh for all romance in the future. The rest of you, just try to keep up with me.

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