Note: it’s late and I want to watch “24,” so the following is unedited and no doubt contains vast swaths of flabby prose, poorly reasoned and easily refuted. Have at it.
I was grateful when the burglars came, frankly; I’d been trying to spell “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” with wooden blocks, but lacked a capital W.
DAD! THE ALARM!
It was Gnat, alarmed. But the beeping sound was coming from my studio, where my wife was already searching for the sound. In the dark. Asleep. At 4:45 AM. It was the alarm I’d set for my father-in-law a few days before; must have hit the ON button when putting it away. I turned it off the old reliable way, by removing the batteries. One rolled under the radiator. Even though I was zombie-dead myself, I knew that if I didn’t get the battery now I never would, and then I’d be dealing with the consequences for months: the Odd Battery Syndrome. Everything I have uses triple-As in pairs, so I’d always be one off. I found it and everyone went back to bed. Then the planes started. I never slept again.
Except I obviously did, because I heard her at the appointed hour. Time to get up, sir. Time to get up. Wife and child were already downstairs. I stumbled down and checked the temp:
One degree. That’s all we had. One. Once it was used up we’d be plain flat out of degrees.
Shuffled off to the bus stop; with the wind it was about ten below. I’m wearing Chuck Taylors and I have no hat or gloves, because I’m only going to be out for a few minutes. The bus came; returned home and banged hands against the countertop to restore bloodflow and sensation, then began the process of Not Falling Asleep, since I had two columns to file and one did not exist. When all my work was done I slept, and yea, it was deep and luxurious. If I’d dreamed, I’m sure I would have seen thousands of gently waving palm trees forming a forest of Ws.
I’m coming to the end of the first phase of the next book; I should finish scanning tomorrow, and then it’s the easy part. Writing it.
This article, I’m sure, will please many: the majority of American women are now unmarried. The "majority" means 51 percent of the 117 million women one might expect to be married. I gather we’re supposed to think of a vast new army of Molly Dodds out there, doin’ for themselves, but the NYT’s proprietary analysis of the Census figures includes a group one doesn’t necessarily include in the “Sex in the City” demographic. See if you can spot the moment when my eyebrows assumed the posture we call “Disbelieving Spock.” (Not to give it away, but it comes rather early.)
Among the more than 117 million women over the age of 15, according to the marital status category in the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey, 63 million are married. Of those, 3.1 million are legally separated and 2.4 million said their husbands were not living at home for one reason or another.
That brings the number of American women actually living with a spouse to 57.5 million, compared with the 59.9 million who are single or whose husbands were not living at home when the survey was taken in 2005.
So either Cletus Hogg of Prong Holler, West Virginia is handling the Times’ analysis, or the author is being disingenuous when he includes the 15 year olds in the unmarried pool. I had to smile when I read this:
Similarly, Shelley Fidler, 59, a public policy adviser at a law firm, has sworn off marriage. She moved from rural Virginia to the vibrant Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when her 30-year marriage ended. “The benefits were completely unforeseen for me,” Ms. Fidler said, “the free time, the amount of time I get to spend with friends, the time I have alone, which I value tremendously, the flexibility in terms of work, travel and cultural events.”
Ah, my old home! Romantically multicultural Adams-Morgan, as the Amtrak tour magazine called it. (I read that on a train out of DC, after the riots.) “Vibrant” was the other word used in the glossies, and means neon and unusual fusion restaurants (Madagascar tapas, Tibetan Yeti Flank steak) with some “funky” stores, venerable booze-nooks and some hot new bars-of-the-week, an absence of major clothing chains, no parking and bums galore. I loved it; I hated it. I loved the variety and buzz the density and popularity generated; I hated the dirt and trash and interludes of urban decriptitude. You know:
Anyway. It’s nice that the people who don’t want to get married don’t feel pressured to be married; if they’re happy, they’re happy, and no one’s hurt. But it’s the free-to-be-me vibe coupled with the when-I-grow-old-I-shall-wear-purple stuff that gets embarrassing.
Elissa B. Terris, 59, of Marietta, Ga., divorced in 2005 after being married for 34 years and raising a daughter, who is now an adult.
“A gentleman asked me to marry him and I said no,” she recalled. “I told him, ‘I’m just beginning to fly again, I’m just beginning to be me. Don’t take that away.’ ”
The gentleman should buy a telescope, identify the star responsible for his luck, and thank it. She goes on:
“Marriage kind of aged me because there weren’t options,” Ms. Terris said. “There was only one way to go. Now I have choices. One night I slept on the other side of the bed, and I thought, I like this side.”
That’s the saddest thing I read in the paper today. I have no doubt she’s probably happier, and if she ends up spending the next 20 years throwing pots and taking extension courses, fine. But I’m sure you’ll see more of this, and that's not always good news. To my parent’s generation, divorce for no good reason was proof of moral failure. If someone cheated, that was a reason. If someone knocked you around, that was a reason. Decades of long nasty fights over things great and small, that was a reason. But splitting because the kids were out and it was time to have a room in which no hairy saggy-arsed ex-satyr would wad up his underwear and toss it in the corner? Not a reason.
There are no husbands quoted in the article. I wonder what they thought. It reminded me of a Mary Tyler Moore episode in which Lou Grant’s wife moves out because she’s never been to me, more or less. He’s absolutely baffled. Heartbroken. Has no idea what to do. He’s unmanned, in the truest sense of the word: his identity consisted of being The Guy, and to men of his ilk, men sure and true, that meant Husband and Father. It was unthinkable that the wife would leave the den after the daughters had struck out on their own, because it made no sense. Something might be gained, yes, but what would be lost?
As it turned out, his wife married a dork, and Lou Grant took up with Sheree North, which should be a lesson. (Frankly, I never found her attractive; I think she looks like Hamilton Burger.
These articles never seem to interview the Florence King models, the resolutely unmarried and indifferent-to-the-institution women who would regard the newly-liberated sisters with amused contempt. I expect it’s one thing to be a hard-core spinster who’s forged an individual path from day one and has a hard shell, a gimlet eye, and a perspective on human relations as vaulable as a film critic's assessment of cinema. (He's never slapped a reel o film in a camera, but he knows the difference between Citizen Kane and Porky's IV.) It's different to be be a 60-something who just shed Hubby the Dull and exults in the chance to attend an exhibit on Salvadoran Textiles without the glum red-hot resentment that follows from knowing your husband doesn’t care about Salvadoran textile exhibits, never did, never will, and doesn’t get why you like them. It’s a consequence of the triumph or Romantic Love, I suppose; if you don’t mesh at the elemental level, something’s wrong. The notion of simply inhabiting the same road as you move towards the horizon isn’t enough; you must both be fascinated by the same things. I prefer the model where one person is interested in the flowers that grow by the road, and the other discourses on the history of pavement, and you both speculate on the birds in the boughs above. But that’s just me. (Or rather us.) I’m sure marriages built around interests intensely shared work just as well. It all depends on what you put it into it, to state the obvious. It’s like a fireplace: you can let it go out, or you can add wood. Ahem.
Anyway. Since the story’s methodology is fubar, what’s the point? Lay some snark on marriage, add another questionable statistic to the pool of Things Smart People Know To Be So, give aid and comfort to the readers who see the prospects of marriage slipping away for good, and erode, ever so gently, the stature of a venerable but quaintly outdated institution. I imagine the tone of the piece would be different if a majority of men divorced their lives to throw some hose in the trophy-babe pool, and pronounced their new freedom from responsibility and duty a great revelation. Sure, my kids don’t get to come home for Christmas and have Mom and Dad and the old ornaments and traditions, but the other night I slept with a 20-year old on the other side of the bed, and I thought, I like this.
Is it just me? Am I nuts? Or would a Times piece by this author about surging rates of marriage – especially among the young – somehow communicate a sense of dread and regret, of oppurtunities lost?
But that’s not the most instructive thing about the story. No. The real story reflects on the newspaper industry, and it comes after the story’s conclusion.
Ariel Sabar, Brenda Goodman and Maureen Balleza contributed reporting.
It took four people to write and report that piece. Keep that in mind the next time you hear a tale about ruthless cutbacks in the newsroom.