A world without double-negative nitrogen

I’ve been writing this little column for over five years now, and just when I think I’ve got nothing left to say, my wife opens her mouth. Like most women, she doesn’t do this intentionally, it just happens. And after three decades, she still cracks me up.

I was passing Karen in the kitchen last Saturday when she reached out and violently wiped something on my sleeve. “Yuck,” she said. “It had spider webs all over it and I didn’t want to get it on my moisturizer.” She does this sort of thing to me all the time, and I’ve never quite gotten used to it. It’s like being born with one ear lower than the other: no matter how many times you see your face in the mirror, you still jump back a little.

When she blurts out no-context things like this, I’ve learned to retort nebulously, making no commitments, begging no explanations. “Glad I could help,” seems to work nicely. After a decade spent home schooling the kids, it’s no wonder the lady seems a little daft, so I cut her some slack. Plus, sometimes I don’t want to know what she’s talking about.

As empty-nesters now, our time is our own. We can leap from bed at dawn or sleep in, eat out or stay home and grill up some squirrel; our world has become serendipitously whimmy and we can do this or that or nothing at all without any thought or planning and no toddler or teenager has anything say about it. The phone doesn’t ring, the TV is rarely on, there’s always milk in the refrigerator (instead of an empty jug), and we never have to look into the garage to see if there are any cars left.

This past weekend, we had no plans and the first day unwound like a cat playing with a ball of string. It was riotously fresh outside, with fragrant air and chirping birds and greening grass and so we just flung open the windows and fell into spring cleaning without so much as a committee meeting.

Karen started it all by de-junking (her word) the mudroom, spewing winter clothes everywhere and heaping things in piles. Inspired, I strode confidently into the garage to deal with the collective chaos of winter. And so back and forth we passed the morning hours, lugging boxes and looking for garbage bags and at one point searching for a missing running shoe. “I bet it’s in your car,” Karen said, giving me her famous raised lip, which in this case meant, “along with a dead rhinoceros.”

Realizing at one point that my wife had delegated some of my favorite wintery outerwear to the “thrift store” pile, I complained bitterly, and we had one of those, you never wear that, yes I do, no you don’t conversations that go on for a while and then the husband loses.

A few minutes later, Karen walked into the garage carrying a bin full of mittens and sweaters, nearly tripped over some clutter, and then blurted out one of her classic please-read-my-mind-because-I-don’t-want-to-have-to-explain-this lines. “That mower can definitely not go there,” she said, sternly. “Absolutely!” I shouted back, hiding bewilderment behind sheer enthusiasm.

And so the morning drifted by: the mower got shoved into a dark corner, short-sleeved shirts were hung in the closet, I burned the broken handle out of an old hoe, floors were swept, things were carried up and down stairs, and the cats ran in and out of the open doors willy-nilly.

After a few hours, we flopped on the couch, happily exhausted, wherein I got out my little notebook and jotted down something random that Karen had just said (and which I thought an attorney might want to know about someday): “There’s just no double-negative nitrogen left.”

She looked over my shoulder, and shook her head. “What, am I just fodder for you? Next week the whole town is going to know about this.”

Like I said, I had almost run out of things to write about.

Peter Lewis is a resident of Bridgton. He is an award-winning columnist.

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