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August 20, 2018
Notta and the Alphabet Spouse
“Warning!” Notta announced in a voice quieter than the word deserved. “Our Early Bird is in already and she is in a mood.”
“Define ‘mood,’” I said.
Notta set the copies of the articles we would read that morning for our Social Studies lesson down on the table. So far, it had been a fine morning: the sun was out, the humidity was down and the copier hadn’t given her any of what she called “Xerox sass.” Which meant no static, no toner refill, no blinking lights or distressed beeping from the gray and while behemoth.
“She’s apologized twice for her language and now she’s sitting with her head down on her arms and sighing.”
“Boyfriend,” I said. I knew the symptoms well. “She’s having trouble with her boyfriend again.”
Notta humphed. “I don’t think she’s had a week without trouble with that boyfriend.” She pushed my hands away from the pile. “Yes, you remembered to pull out the answer key for the article questions. I checked. Now what are we going to do about the turtle doves?”
“Not what I’d call them,” I said, “but what can we do?”
“Well, think of something or it’s going to be all the class talks about this morning!”
I shook my head. My students wanting to discuss “affairs of the heart” instead of the geography and social customs of the Plains Indians? Surely, you jest!* Notta was right; and she hadn’t had to shake her finger at me, either.
G-d, Fortune or whatever you’d like took pity on us that morning. We had only female students, three of them, and all with opinions.
Our Early Bird took her grammar warm-up exercise and announced, “One of these days, I’m going to kill him! Just take a knife and stab him a hundred times in the gut!”
“That could be messy,” I said. “We’d miss you in class.”
“But we’d come to your trial,” another student said.
“And come on Visitor’s Day at the pen,” the other said. “If I can get a ride, that is.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t really do it,” the Early Bird said. “He makes me so mad, though. He got fired from another job because he wouldn’t get his lazy a-, I mean, butt out of bed on time, even when I go in and yell at him to get up.”
“I think we all have times like that,” I said. The warm-up was less than supportive. Who, at my classroom table, really cared about the first person to freeze peas? “My mother used to say women talk more because men listen less.”
“That’s for sure,” the one without transportation said. “I have to tell my dad twenty times before he remembers to come pick me up after class.”
“But doesn’t it get better after you’re married?” the Early Bird asked. “I mean, you live together, don’t they have to listen to you?”
Notta spat out some of the tea she’d brought to the table. I tried not to, as one of my daughters would say, laugh hysterically.
“Dearie,” Notta said after she stopped choking on the tea, “it only gets worse because you live together. It’s like men have a dial. They see their wives part their lips to say something, and the men turn the volume down.”
“Or off,” I added.
Then second student stared at us. “That’s an exaggeration,” she said. “Isn’t it?”
“Of course,” I said. “But there are times…”
“Do you hit them or throw something at them?” the Early Bird asked.
“Not often. That gets messy, too.”
“Then what do you do?” she demanded.
“Oh, when my husband gets ‘like that,’” Notta said, “I call him NRL.”
“You mean like Emeril, that chef on TV?”
“No, like N-R-L, as in Not Really Listening. He comes home from work. Maybe he kisses me hello, maybe he doesn’t. First questions are where’s the mail and where’s the cat. I say, ‘There’s no mail because the Post Office went out of business and Congress can’t sort numerically.’ Or I’ll say, ‘I sold the cat to our neighbors, but he was such pain, they returned him and want their money back.’ He walks by me and says nothing.
“Another time, I had dinner ready and he comes in with, ‘It’s going to rain. I need to mow the lawn.’
‘Don’t bother,’ I tell him. ‘I had contractors in and dug up the lawn for a swimming pool and a terraced garden. Your tool shed is a changing room. Dinner’s ready.’
“And?” I said.
“He went out and mowed the lawn. I turned on the TV and ate the dessert. They he comes back in and says, ‘Oh, was dinner ready?’”
“Sounds like my guy,” the Early Bird chirped. “Except the name I’d give him would be Dirt. Doesn’t Really Think. I mean,” the Early Bird continued, after we laughed, “He’s like, ‘I gotta get a better job.’ I’m like, ‘You dropped out of high school. You gotta get the diploma first.’ An’ he’s like, ‘I don’t know how to do that.’ And I’m like, ‘Sign up for these classes
“How about calling him D-A-S?” another young lady said. “As in Dumb as – “
“Don’t say it,” I interrupted. We laughed again.
“What about you, Mrs. G?” the Early Bird said. “You got alphabet names for your husband?”
“Several,” I said, “but none I’d care to repeat.”
Imagine the protests of ‘we told you ours!’ I sighed.
“How about A-Gem?” I said.
“As in?” Notta pressed me.
“A Good Man.”
Groans abounded. I felt dishonest for a moment; stuffy and priggish for another. “Okay, okay, there’s not so much a name as a phrase we Gibbs women use for our men. I don’t know how to pronounce the acronym, but every woman born or married to a Gibbs man has used it: Y-C-D-F-S-A-M.”
“Something-something-Sam?” our lady without transportation said. “What does it stand for?”
“You Can Die From Such A Man,” I said. They nodded solemnly, then burst into giggles. Even Notta snickered.
“And you say that to your husband?” the Early Bird asked.