"Mawwiage, its what bwings us togever."
For instance, about 2 months ago EO decided he would buy his lovely wife a bicycle for her birthday. The calculus was simple. Wife's bike - purchased many years ago at WalMart (don't hate us) - doesn't shift anymore. Brakes work, sometimes. Getting it fixed will cost more than the price of the bike. Wife likes to ride bikes.
Therefore, reasoned EO, buy her a bike.
EO hatched a plan to get this done, involving other people chipping in for the bike.
In the meantime, unbeknown to EO, Mrs. EO had hatched a plan to buy a bike for EO. This situation resembles the time, 15 years ago, when both of us bought the complete Fawlty Towers videos for each others' Christmas presents. If you've ever seen "The Germans," you'd understand why this was THE BEST PRESENT EVER!!
One evening Mrs. Optimist gloatingly told EO that she had thought up the best present for him, and he would never guess. I said "I know what you're getting me. It's a bike." The stunned look on Mrs. EO's face said it all. It took her a day to admit it, but eventually she did, saying "how did you guess?"
At which point I had two paths before me, that of deception and power, or truth and humility. I could have pretended I have supernatural powers that enable me to read her mind. Or I could just tell the truth, which is that I've been keeping a secret too long, and "bike" was forefront in my mind, and it was a total guess. Although the Fawlty Towers episode did flash in my mind right before I blurted. So there was a little ESP involved.
I told the truth, which made her laugh. She remembered Fawlty Towers very well. We both laughed a lot.
That's not the end. Oh no. 29 years of mawwiage is much more involved than that.
We go bike shopping at the local Hotville bike shop, which is way cool. Lots of bicyclists in Hotville. We (kind of) settle on a combo-mountain-road bike, since I like both. Meanwhile Mrs. EO picks out her own present, which always works better in the end. She buys a cute little lime green Schwinn bike-about-town, with fenders and a back platform from which she can hang panniers (bike-ese for carry bags). Mrs. EO orders same from WalMart (don't hate us), for much, much cheaper than at the local bike store.
On to something now, I press her. "No, I mean, what do you WANT? What do YOU want?" She reiterates her want. I say "No. What if I were dead? What would you want then?" She looks stunned, then says, "oh, that's easy, I'd take a trip to see my daughters."
Epiphany. I hear angels singing.
Finally, the very center of the onion. It has taken several weeks to get to this point. What my wife really WANTS, in her heart of hearts, is to take some trips to see her daughters.
When someone asks me what I want for my birthday, my answers are very simple. The answer will be something I want. It does not involve togetherness, or how this will connect with me doing things with my wife and family. That would be icing on the cake, but it is not the cake. It is not that I don't love them; I do, with all my heart. It's that my mind just doesn't work that way.
When someone asks Mrs. EO what she wants, it is a much more complex question. Her own wants and likes are so wrapped up in the welfare and happiness of her husband and children that it is nearly impossible to disentangle them all. It can only be done over weeks, with repeated, intense interrogation.
So that's it, right? Not so fast.
The WalMart bike (don't hate us) comes in, but we have to ask several layers of management to get them to actually put it together like they said they would. Then, when the Schwinn is finally "put together," we go to the store to pick it up. Back brakes are locking, seat doesn't work, gears are not shifting. We leave WalMart and thank the young unter-manager for actually getting wheels on the bike.
I go back to the bike store and ask them to tune the bike up. They are very gracious, in part because I have decided to go ahead and buy me a bike. And not the sensible combo-mountain-road bike, mind you, but a straight, fast, road bike.
Why? Well, my daughter's father-in-law is basically the Pope of bicycling in Big Cold Town, where we are from. I ask him and he says "don't get the combo. It doesn't do either thing well. Just make a decision." I tell him its road, then. He tells me what bike to buy, in my price range.
So there I am at the cool bike store getting my wife's WalMart bike worked on, and lo and behold, the young and earnest bike salesman has the very bike recommended by the Bike Pope, like it is waiting there for me. All silver and light and fast. I take a test ride. I've never ridden anything close to this. I'm buying it.
I buy it. I bring it home. The wife is SO proud I've finally taken the plunge and quit studying all this. She LOVES the bike.
Last week we took three long rides together, Mrs. Optimist riding my old mountain bike and me, I'm riding my new, lyrically fast road bike. Great stuff! I love being able to accelerate up hills! Wow!
This morning we picked up the WalMart bike, all fixed up. Mrs. Optimist rides her bike to the car, in the parking lot, just to test it out. "Now I get to ride this one and see if I can keep up with you" she says, off-handedly. Just as off-handedly I say "not gonna happen. It's too heavy."
Just FYI, when I say something off-handedly, it is off-handed. When my wife says something off-handedly, not so much.
We stopped for breakfast. Mrs. Optimist is looking at me with her beautiful, sad eyes. I say "what's wrong?" She says "I realize I bought this bike when I thought you were getting the mountain-combo bike. But I'm not going to be able to keep up with you on this one."
I start laughing. "but I thought you liked that bike." Silly me.
Bottom line: WalMart bike goes back to WalMart, Mrs. EO will be buying fast street bike to keep up with EO. Cause EO likes riding fast. And Mrs. EO likes talking with EO. So Mrs. EO has to ride fast.
Not to worry. By our 50th wedding anniversary we will have this all ironed out.
By the way, Mrs. EO will be taking trips to see her daughters for her birthday.