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Saturday, Aug. 23, 2003


A sound bite of married life

On the morning of his son's wedding, Frank Gibbs, the neighborly physician in Thorton Wilder's "Our Town," confesses to his wife that his chief concern in the early days of their own marriage was how to make small talk with his bride.

"I was afraid," he tells her, "we wouldn't have material for conversation more'n'd last us a few weeks."

Spin the world and switch sleepy Grover's Corners for wide-awake Tokyo, and I admit I had a similar anxiety when my wife and I married in 1979. In our case, however, my apprehension was partly powered by my dubious skills in Japanese. I envisioned sizzling breakfast talk not unlike the beginner dialogues in my language class:

Me: Excuse me, please? Is this a spoon?

Her: (Pausing) No, that's a fork.

Me: I understand. Thank you. Now, is this bacon or ham?

Her: Neither. It's your table napkin. Either talk normal or I'll stuff it in your mouth.

The good news is that I did indeed learn to talk (somewhat) normally and -- while our current conversations are often a cocktail shake of two languages -- like Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs, my wife and I have come to master the tricky art of marital discourse. With our 24th anniversary now upon us, I offer this humble window into an honest-to-Taro, real conversation between two seasoned vets of international marriage.

Me: (Approaching from behind as she washes dishes) Hi. What's up?

Her: Leave me alone. I'm busy.

Me: You know, I just had a thought. . . . Wouldn't it be fun if people's bodies made sounds whenever they were poked or squeezed? Like, say, a squeaky toy does. Wouldn't that be cool?

Her: Don't touch me.

Me: For example, "Booop!" or "Beeep!" That way if someone pinched you on the train, everybody'd know.

Her: Stop it right now!

Me: See, if your backside would go "Booop!" or "Beeep!" you wouldn't even have to say that. Your body would do it for you.

Her: (Bending her head and rubbing her brows) I'm afraid to hear where this is heading.

Me: It's just another practical feature that God should have installed, but didn't. I wonder why? Seems like an oversight.

Her: Can't you just talk about the weather, like other men?

Me: Nope. I prefer theology. So . . . what do you think? Did God goof or what? When I squeeze you . . .

Her: Stop it!

Me: Your bottom does not go "Booop!" What a waste. I mean, if he gave neat stripes to zebras, why didn't he give men musical buns? Do you think he likes zebras better?

Her: Zebras, I think, probably have a lot brighter things to say.

Me: But . . . hey! I've got it. All we need do is compensate for God's boo-boo. When squeezed . . .

Her: Will you stop it!

Me: We can just yell "Booop!" in a loud voice. It will have the same effect.

Her: (Pointing at my head) I think there is no way to compensate for what you're missing.

Me: C'mon. Work with me on this. I'll squeeze you and you yell "Booop!" OK?

Her: Stop it!

Me: Um, you forgot to yell "Booop!"

Her: I am not going to yell "Booop!"

Me: I see your point. It's not so colorful, is it? How about "AOOGA!"?

Her: Absolutely not.

Me: You yell "AOOGA" and I'll finish the dishes. How's that?

Her: Oh, sure, and I only have three left!

Me: Then I'll do them tomorrow.

Her: You bet you will. It's your turn.

Me: OK. Then I'll do them for a whole week. C'mon. AOOGA! AOOGA!

Her: Stop it! You make me wish I'd married a Japanese.

Me: And what fun would that be? You'd just sit around all day bemoaning the economy and lusting after raw fish. No chance to share in intense thoughts like these.

Her: (Sticking out her tongue) Phllbbbb!

Me: Very eloquent. But still not AOOGA. C'mon.

Her: Forget it.

Me: A week of dishwashing. No wait . . . a month! A whole month for one little AOOGA!

Her: (Not speaking. But the cogs in her mind are cranking.)

Me: Think of it . . . an entire month.

Her: And during that month will you refrain from these silly conversations?

Me: What silly conversations?

Her: Like this one. Or the one where you tried to convince me people should clap their feet instead of their hands.

Me: Now THAT was a good idea. We should have kept practicing. When was that? Last spring?

Her: Two nights ago.

Me: See? Time flies when you're living right. Now how about AOOGA?

Her: A whole month of dishwashing and no weird conversations?

Me: Whatever you say. I'm just trying to be the hand of God here. Ready? Here goes . . .

Her: (No reaction)

Me: Um, you failed to say "AOOGA!"

Her: I'm still thinking.

Me: Perhaps you like being squeezed. As for me, I could practice all night. So here we go. One more time.

Her: . . . Aooga.

Me: What?! That's not right! It's not "aooga," it's "AOOGA!"

Her: I said it, so you owe me a whole month of dishwashing.

Me: That's cheating!

Her: But you said, "One little aooga."

Me: No! AOOGA! AOOGA! Can't your hear the difference?

Her: Ha, ha. You lose. I win. Phllbbbb!

Me: That's not fair. Besides, once is not enough. You have to keep doing it so it becomes automatic. So that anytime you're squeezed you'll instantly shout "AOOGA!"

Her: (Handing me the dishcloth) Here. I'm gonna go sit in the living room and lust after raw fish.

Me: (Watching her go) Well, OK. But at least practice a few AOOGAs. Or maybe clapping your feet.

Her: I'll just sit and enjoy some peace of mind.

Me: Hey . . . wouldn't it be cool if people could howl back and forth like coyotes?

And so it goes. After 24 years, just like Frank and Julia Gibbs, I'm sure.

To contact Thomas Dillon, send e-mail to marriedtojapan@yahoo.com

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