or When Drugs Helped Me Learn to Get a Straight Story from My Slow Talking Texan Husband
“Houston, we have a problem.” I’m not sure I can convey the feeling of panic those few words conjure for me. They form my husband’s pat phrase for problems of all sizes.
- If he wants a sandwich for lunch, and the pastrami is frozen: Houston, we have a problem.
- If the mortgage company accidentally takes the mortgage payment out twice: Houston, we have a problem.
- If the tractor won’t start, the lawn mower has a flat, or ‘someone’ forgot to turn out the lights and my car battery is flat: Houston, we have a problem.
I have the feeling, that if he was driving 75 mph and the steering wheel came off in his hands, sending him careening into oncoming traffic, causing him to be hit by a semi, which triggered the engine to explode and the transmission to fly through the air and land with a crash on the roof of the car, the moment the jaws of life cut him free, he’d call and say: Houston, we have a problem.
I’ve tried to explain that there should be some differentiation between minor inconveniences and major catastrophes, but to no avail. “How about you start with ‘Everything’s fine, but…Houston, we have a problem’. That way, I’d know when to freak out.” He usually points out that A) I’m not one of the world’s freaker-outers and B) freaking out doesn’t help problems anyway. Then he agrees to try and be a clearer the next time. He never remembers though.
…he said, “Houston, we have a problem.”
One night shortly after my injury, I was sitting in my pj’s on the couch. I was wrapped in my trusty old fuzzy turquoise bathrobe, a healthy dose of self-pity, and the haze of pain meds. (I hate taking pain meds. They don’t make me relaxed and happy. They make me nauseous, cranky, and fidgety.) Suddenly, a bearded face surmounted by a cowboy hat appeared in front of me. You guessed it. “Houston, we have a problem.”
I stared up at the cowboy hat. I could feel the hot flush of fear slide up my cheeks. I was broken and we were broke. Houston had no more room for problems. However, the pain pills muted my reaction. I simply stared at him with worried eyes. He must have read those eyes, because, he was immediately and rapidly forthcoming with information. (Well, I’d hate to try and prove in a court of law that the info was ‘rapidly forthcoming’. Liam’s speech is slow and considered at the best of times. At the worst of times, I’ve been known to call him Captain Pedantic. However, for Liam, this was direct and brisk communication. So, we’ll give him credit for trying.)
“I went to shut the shop, but Oliver was standing on the hay walking in circles and screeching.” He paused here for effect and stared into my blank face. Oliver is our psychotic barn cat. Though fully grown, he’s smaller than the other cats. He thinks he’s a saber-toothed tiger! This cat once grabbed a piece of pork roast from inside the jaws of a vicious 150 lb dog (not our wolfies). The dog was so shocked, that Ollie made it to the fence before it reacted. By the time it came after him, the great slavering jaws snapped shut a fraction of a second too late. For Ollie to be hiding and yowling for help was odd. I continued my drug induced stare. It seemed to be eliciting more information than my frenzied ‘hurry up’ gestures usually do. Besides, I’m not sure I was capable of much else.
Liam seemed to decide, that more information was needed to garner the reaction he wanted. So, he continued. “I thought there might be a snake or something. So, I grabbed a hoe and eased my way around hay bails. Ollie kept staring over toward the table saw, so I snuck around that way.” Here the image of a bearded, booted, cowboy hat covered man trying to tiptoe through a feed sack strewn darkness while brandishing a hoe crept across my imagination. I raised an eyebrow. Taking this as encouragement, Liam continued.
“I could see eyes under the table saw, but it was too dark in there to see what they belonged to. I tried to look, but I didn’t want to shove my face under there and get it chewed off by something. So, I eased back out and got my mag light out of the truck. When I got back to the shop, Ollie was still yowling and clawing at the hay, so, I knew whatever-it-was was still there. Ollie’s carrying on was making me a little nervous. So, this time, I carried the hoe, but I had my gun too. I sneaked through the shop. I was trying not to spook what-ever-it-was out the overhead door before I got a look at it.”
I could clearly imagine my stalwart husband creeping along with a mag light in one hand, a gun on his hip, and the hoe poised to strike. Ironically, this image kept reminding me of those little old ladies on television. You know, the ones prepared to fight burglars with golf clubs, baseball bats, or frying pans? Anyway, I was convinced I’d found the way to get a succinct story from my husband. So, my raised eyebrow and I continued to stare as I calmly ventured, “And?”
Liam seemed to see this monosyllabic response as a challenge. So, he snapped, “And…there’s a skunk in the shop”. Now, as I said, my goal was for Liam to get to the point, but this was a bit terse even for me. I decided to make an effort at being a good audience. I raised BOTH eyebrows and gasped, “You’re kidding! What happened?!?” Aaahhh…The joy of having both a good story and a captivated audience shone in his eyes. “Well, I eased around the corner and shined the light under the table saw. It was a skunk! Just sitting there as calm as you please…until…” He inserted a pause for dramatic effect. I swallowed a growl.
I considered my options. I could snap, “Until what!?!”. That would destroy his joy in the story AND might provoke him to stomp off without finishing it. I opted for option two. I gasped in rapt fascination, “Until…what?!?” (Can you hear the difference? I promise there is one.)
Satisfied, he continued, “Well. I’d kind of forgotten about Ollie. I was distracted by, you know, the skunk about four feet away! Anyway, Ollie brushed my hand and I felt fur! Like I said, I’d forgotten Ollie. All I could think was ‘DEAR GOD! THERE’S ANOTHER ONE!!!’ I jumped to get away from the furry thing. When I jumped, I half dropped/half threw the hoe! It bounced off the hay onto the rabbit hutch, rolled off, and landed with an almighty clanging racket on the cement. The rabbits jumped, the skunk scuttled back to hide under the tool chest, Ollie glared at me, and I’m still not sure my heart has completely restarted!”
“What did you do?”, I asked. Interest was beginning to tow me to the surface of my drug induced funk. “Well,” he continued, “I high-tailed it out of there! I thought about just leaving the shop open and hoping it would wander out. But, it worries me this close to the house. We sure don’t need the dogs getting sprayed and I’m afraid it’ll get to the chicks or rabbits. So, I went back out. I got a shovel and some of that sheet metal. I stood on the far side and made as much racket as I could. It didn’t budge. I think it’s too scared. I couldn’t shoot it if I wanted to. The smell would be all in the shop and where it’s hiding, I’d end up with a hole in the shop wall. I’m afraid it might have rabies. It’s the wrong time for it to be wandering around like this.”
Liam paused again, for dramatic effect. (He’s big on that. Although Jonah is the world champion of annoyingly long pauses.) While Liam is paused, I want to discuss something with you. Women are regularly accused of asking their men no-win questions. I’m not prone to this particular wifely vice, but, I have friends that are. The most famous is, of course, “Does this make my butt look big?” However, there are lots of others. “I know you don’t like coconut, but aren’t these macaroons wonderful?” “If you didn’t know me, how old would you think I was?” “Do you think Cindy-Lou from church is pretty?” As I said, I don’t really ask these kinds of questions.
I prefer questions with limited options. You know instead of no-win questions, I like the questions that are win-win! For example: “Do you want to order 50 more chicks or should we buy an incubator?” “Should we pick up weaner pigs this month or next?” “When I get my new oven, where do you think the propane tank should go?” See, win-win! Whatever his answer, I get either chicks or an incubator, two or more piglets, and a new gas oven! (Let me add, for those of you who’ll fret, Liam is a strong personality who only lets himself be bullied when he wants to. He also quite likes fried eggs and bacon for breakfast, so it’s a win-win for him too!)
Okay, Liam should be finished with his pause. So, let’s go back to hearing about our odiferous vagabond. “Um…I had a thought…” (Insert another dramatic pause here. ‘I had a thought’ is another of his standard conversation starters. It’s the one that most frequently has me biting back snarky comments. Well, usually, I bite them back. I have on occasion asked him if having the thought hurt. What? I say it with a smile, and he knows he’s smart. Fine, I know. I’ll ask forgiveness later.) “…well, I was thinkin’…what if I got that old Red Ryder BB gun of the kids? I could zing the skunk with that. It wouldn’t really hurt it or the shop. It might make it move on. Whaddya think?”
Ladies and gentlemen, I kid you not! My very intelligent, common-sense driven, safety conscious, mostly sane husband actually asked his grouchy stoned hurting wife if he should ‘zing’ a confined, possibly rabid, fully armed skunk in the rump with a BB gun! For a moment, I decided it must be the drugs, because, no sane person would ask such a thing. Yet, as I replayed the conversation in my head and looked up at his expectant face, I knew he had. I also knew a few other things. I knew he was going to try ‘zinging’ the skunk, no matter what I said. I knew he could hit the animal even with the toy gun. (For a man with dubious hand-eye coordination in other areas of life, he is an outstanding shot with any projectile. He simply cannot catch car keys when they’re tossed or toss them back without hitting the person he’s throwing to or taking out innocent bystanders.)
Mostly, I knew the question was a trap. If I said, “What a brilliant plan, Darling! I’m certain that will work beautifully!” He would fire, and the skunk would fire back. He would stink for a week, and it would be my fault. If I said, “No! That’ll put you, the animals, and the shop in danger! Don’t do it!” It’d be my fault the skunk was still there in the morning. Or, more likely, he would do it anyway. Then, it wouldn’t work, because, I’d held him up with all my worrying giving the skunk time to feel at home and not want to leave.
So, I gave the only response a sane person could! “If you think I am going to tell you it’s smart to enter a confined animal-filled space and shoot a possibly rabid skunk in the behind, you are nuts! I refuse to enter into this discussion! However, there’s one thing I’ll say. If you get yourself sprayed while playing “Barnyard Sniper”, you aren’t sleeping upstairs tonight! I love you, but I’m already about to hurl. Eau D’ Skunk would finish me off. It takes weeks for that pong to fade!” Looking offended, Liam stalked back outside.
I assumed he went back to making noise to scare our friend away, but I was wrong. He already had the BB gun outside. That crazy man dropped down behind the hay, laid out like a sniper in a coastal hay ghillie suit, and dropped a bead on Pepe Le Pew. He squeezed the trigger and the first shot zinged Pepe in the rump. There was some chattering, some scampering, and a slight whiff of Eau D’ Skunk, (but just a slight whiff). Pepe went racing out the shop, Ollie curled up on his hay bales to nap, and my husband smugly (and securely) closed the shop.
I spent several days hearing how his plan worked perfectly and how I’d said it was doomed to end in disaster. See!?! I told you the question was a trap! I gave the one ‘safe’ answer, and even then the question came back to bite me. However, I’m pretty certain the question stunk less than the skunk could’ve!
Does anyone else’s spouse have difficulty getting to the point? Does anyone else have random visits from Pepe Le Pew? How about tips for dealing with no-win questions? Leave a comment, if you have the time! I love to hear your funny stories too!
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