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Saturday, Nov. 22, 2003
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
When nice girls go bad
My wife has gone through "the change."
No, not THAT change.
"I have become," she screeches with her brows kinked in horror, "an 'o-batarian!' "
For the uninitiated among you, "o-batarian" is Janglish term that fanged its way into the common vernacular well over a decade past. The word is a hybrid of two mismatched roots, first "o-ba," coming from the Japanese word for "auntie," or matronly woman, and the English "battalion," which in this case refers to . . . "bloodthirsty zombies!"
This is because distributors of one of the "Night of the Living Dead" films ("The Return of the Living Dead" -- I think it was No. 283 in the series) entitled the Japanese edition "Battalion," perhaps a reference to its legion of ghouls listed in the cast of characters.
Add "auntie" to "ghoul" and one gets . . .
"A hell-bent-for-whatever-she wants-woman. One in whose way you stand at your own extreme peril. A woman who will chew you up, spit you out and then kick your butt clear to Kansas."
"In other words," my son continues, "Mom."
An o-batarian, common knowledge goes, will not only burst out from the pile with the best bargain in a winner-takes-all clearance sale, she will leave with her competitors twisted into human pretzels. An o-batarian will not only get a full refund on a defective product, she will make the store manager crawl on his knees and beg for either forgiveness, life in prison or an early death -- whichever will make her go away first. An o-batarian will not only upbraid an obnoxious lad on the train, she will kindly reveal to that youth a much more profound meaning of the word "noise." At considerable length, too.
"But that's not me," mews my wife. Then her face clamps and she grabs my son by the lapels. "Is it?"
"No, Mom, no!" The other boy screams it too, just to be safe. So do I. So do several of our neighbors. We hear the words echo down the block.
Granted, my wife does not look like an o-batarian. She is still the petite, coquettish 90-pounder I dated and married 24 years ago. And she is still short enough that I can rest an elbow on her head.
Only I would never do that, because I am fond of my elbow and know it might not come back to me in the same serviceable shape.
"How did this ever happen?" she wonders aloud, all but admitting her official membership in the Union of Honorary O-batarians (UH-O).
I . . . very gently . . . offer explanations.
"Maybe it's the stress of big city life. Or the challenge of raising a pair of noodle-headed boys. Or -- who knows -- perhaps you're just getting older."
She glares at me. Then takes a swift step my way. Both boys dash for cover.
"Or! Or! Maybe it's dioxin! Global warming! Alien microbeams from Jupiter! Evil miso!"
But it's too late. She has my shirt in her fist.
"Or," she growls, with her nose pressed next to mine, "maybe it's because I married a MORON!"
Could be, I admit quickly. Could very well be, indeed.
The real reason, I endeavor to argue, is our stage in life -- for I feel it, too. The kids need attention. Our parents need attention. Our jobs need attention. Didn't Old Macdonald say it best? "Here a need, there a need, everywhere a need, need."
To top all this off, we have an international marriage, with extra pressures sewn onto the fabric of our lifestyle like shiny but sharp sequins: language, culture, family . . . And on it goes.
There just comes a point when you notice a large hole in your patience tank. And you can't endure tiny annoyances like you used to.
"Sure, I can," she insists. "I'm the most patient person I know."
"Yes, but of course you are!" My sons and I bob our heads in agreement like dashboard dolls on an off-road SUV.
"But when my patience works overtime, what choice do I have but to give it a rest?"
No choice. None. Nada. Naught. Zippo. Our house reverberates with accord.
But nevertheless, key questions linger: How does an o-batarian become un-o-batarianized? What constitutes the o-batarian cure?
Extra doses of vitamin C? Longer and hotter Japanese baths? Wasabi taken straight from the tube? Or perhaps a double garland of fresh-chopped garlic?
Or how about two weeks a year in Tahiti? With a stack of good books, a personal masseuse and a disconnected telephone.
"Forget it," she says. "The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. I should have morphed into an o-batarian years ago. It's sweet to have the world dance to my tune. . . . So let's see you three tidy the house! NOW!"
At once my sons and I boogie about the room, spit-shining anything that looks remotely unclean.
Of course, MOST of this has been an exaggeration. My gentle wife rarely raises her voice and -- even at her most agitated peak -- is about as foreboding as a hobbit.
"But not as tall," titter our boys.
To find themselves driven backward by a fire hose of Japanese that pushes them first up the stairs and then into the marginally safe confines of their rooms.
The moral being: don't mess with a mother, especially if she's yours.
"Now tell me," she asks. "Do you honestly think I've become an o-batarian?"
I swallow. Audibly. "No, no, of course not. Never."
She smiles and reclines on the sofa. I relax . . . and ask. "And do you honestly think I'm a moron?"
"A mere slip of the tongue," she says as she motions me closer. "I didn't mean 'moron.' " Her eyes twinkle. "I meant . . . 'masseuse.' "
And like any good masseuse, I can manage only one response . . . "Yes, yes, m'lady. At your service."
To contact Thomas Dillon, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org