You miss the little things when you’re trapped away from home.
From my condo in Toronto you could see a popular breakfast/lunch eatery across the street. I could see couples at sidewalk tables, and I was both happy for them and envious, like Max Bialystock in the “The Producers” when he saw the rich guy with the hot woman and white Rolls and shouted “Flaunt it, baby! Flaunt it!”
The funny thing was that watching those lucky people always reminded me of an awkward breakfast I had with Carol at Bintliff’s in Portland some time ago. It probably says something about what’s really important in relationships and blahdeblahdeblah, but I’m not smart enough to know what it is.
Most of my encounters with my wife are squeezed in between two other things she has planned to do. She keeps her attention deficit disorder at bay by marching through a daily agenda that would intimidate a Fortune 500 CEO. It’s a point of pride that I get on the list from time to time.
On this occasion, Carol was squeezing me in between trips to the post office and to Portland High School, and Bintliff’s was close to both places. Bintliff’s was also one of my go-to breakfast places at the time. It probably still would be if an Egg & I had not opened at the end of my block. Some people eat to live, others live to eat. I live to eat close, so when a place that I like opens within waddling distance of my house, it’s like a divine command. And no, I am not looking for gift certificates from either restaurant, sent discreetly in plain brown envelopes. That is not what this is about, and I am ashamed of you for even thinking such a thing of me. (Mike Langworthy, no “s” in the last name.)
It’s about an awkward breakfast when I thought I was going to learn one thing and turned out to learn something completely different. It came at an uncharacteristically shaky time for me. My hip was falling apart just as I was trying to finish my MFA thesis, a dour memoir that forced me to relive a life I had not been crazy about living the first time around. My emotions were relatively out of control, the key word being “relatively.”
Langworthys do not feel. We judge. Mostly we judge people who feel. I was raised to believe that feeling emotion may not be an actual sin, but it was certainly evidence of flaccid morality. Showing emotion, however, was one of the seven deadlies, in place of gluttony, which was seen as a virtue. Showing emotion, a.k.a., “whining,” ranked somewhere between pride and sloth, both of which I was reminded frequently that I had in abundance.
I had been girding for several days to share an important epiphany that I had recently experienced in my daily haze of pain, mild narcotics and navel gazing. This was the day to tell her. I was nervous, but everything seemed to be breaking my way. The waiter came before she started feeling shunned. The food came before she started feeling pressed for time. The attractive women in their 30s who came in shortly after us sat behind me, so it was physically impossible to appear to be staring at them. Finally, it was go time (my dialogue approximate; Carol’s verbatim).
“Carol,” I said.
“Yes?” she replied.
Good. I had her attention.
“You know how I’ve been writing my Stonecoast thesis?”
“Yes. I’m very proud of you, by the way.”
“Thanks. I only wish I had the kind of self-image that would allow me to internalize that in a useful way.” Self-deprecation. Tactical move to disarm her. Plus, I don’t have the personal infrastructure to accept a compliment.
“I know you do, sweetie.”
“Anyway, I got in touch with something the other day, and I feel a little sheepish about it, but I really need to tell you about it.”
Despite my embarrassment, I did my best to look in her eyes. She smiled pleasantly.
“While I was revising one of the pieces about our relationship, it really struck me how difficult I must have been to live with most of the time.”
“And how much time I spent running away from my emotions, and particularly my feelings about you, you know, like how life just gets in the way and you don’t say things, or you forget to say things or whatever. Anyway, the point is, I got in touch with how passionately I love you, and how much I’ve always loved you, and I just wanted to say that.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Carol smiled pleasantly, and said nothing. She kept smiling at me and saying nothing for what felt like a really long time. I’m sure it was only a few seconds, but it felt like a really long time. I breathed a sigh of resignation.
“You didn’t hear any of that, did you?”
“I think those girls behind you all work as, like, TV producers or something. They’re talking about ABC.”
It was pretty disheartening.
I would have given anything to be ignored like that just once in Toronto.
Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.