A benefit of being married 20 years is you stop trying to be seen as anyone other than who you are. The odds that self-promotion will succeed decrease with each passing year.
CHRISTINE and I were on one of our first dates. This was 25 years ago, December in Seattle, cold and drizzling and dark. We had just exited a performance of “The Nutcracker,” with sets and costume designs by Maurice Sendak, toy soldiers and gigantic rats like characters from “Where the Wild Things Are.” Walking to a bus stop on Queen Anne, I felt oddly charged, daring, Tchaikovsky’s eerie bassoons and the rattle of snare drums resounding in my ears.
Outside the QFC, a homeless man asked if we could spare some change. I was 22. I had recently completed an undergraduate degree in philosophy and sometimes quoted Aristotle. I was in love with Christine. She was beautiful, wore oversized cable-knit sweaters and loved coffee. After college, she had lived in Guatemala and worked in an orphanage. It hit me that here was a perfect opportunity for me to do something valiant, something big, a grand gesture of my character and sure to impress.
I told the homeless man I wanted to buy him some groceries. The homeless man happily accepted my offer. So we went inside, the homeless man got a cart, and led us down the aisles. I remember he grabbed a jar of peanut butter, which I felt good about. The cart was filling up when the homeless man reached for a quart-sized plastic jug of Valvoline.
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I said, “What’s the motor oil for?”
The homeless man said, “My lawnmower.”
I fell silent, too surprised and innocent to admire his audacity. I didn’t ask him to put the motor oil back. I did not think of the syllogism, “If you have a lawnmower, you have a lawn. If you have a lawn, you have a home. Therefore, rarely do homeless men own lawn mowers.”
But it was too late to change course. We had come this far, and I had brought this upon myself. I avoided eye contact…