A few months ago, I took a trip to California and Arizona to promote A Perilous Conception, my then-new book, and of course scheduled an event one evening at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale. That day, my wife and I spent several hours walking through the Musical Instrument Museum (highly recommended), then, in line with my belief that a day without ice cream is a day wasted, stopped in at the Sugar Bowl (also highly recommended) for cones.
As we walked back to the car, another couple approached us. The woman sashayed into our path. Probably mid-seventies, lots of frizzy hair dyed dark reddish, fleshy features accentuated by mascara that made her look like some sort of human-raccoon hybrid, and a big grin. "Well, wouldja lookit da loveboids," she boomed. "Walkin' down da sidewalk, holdin' hands. How long ya been married?"
I didn't miss a beat. "Seventy-nine years."
Both hands shot to her forehead. "Seventy-nine years," she announced to everyone within half a block, then moved sideways to address her husband. "D'ya hear that, Charlie? They been married seventy-nine years." The woman turned back to my wife and me. "That's terrific. How'd you manage to do that?"
"Patience, persistence and stubbornness," I said.
Charlie sent a weak smile my way, then took his wife's arm and steered her to the edge of the sidewalk.
When we'd gotten a little distance away, my wife asked me, "Why did you say that?"
I admitted the question was good and fair. The woman had been trying to be pleasant, but I'd found her intensely irritating. "I don't know," I said. "I really don't. 'I do not love thee, Dr. Fell. The reason why I cannot tell. But this alone I know full well. I do not love thee, Dr. Fell.'"
That earned me a stern fish-eye.
"Maybe she reminded me of someone I don't like, but I can't think who."
"But did you have to say what you did?"
I shrugged. "It just seemed to come out before I even knew it was in my head."
Like many marital discussions, this one ended unresolved, a draw, the kind of encounter that permits marriages to go on for seventy-nine years.
But that isn't quite the end of the story. Recently, my son-in-law, frustrated by the potty training operation then in progress, asked my two-and-a-half-year-old grandson, "What is it going to take to get you to go in the potty?"
The kid didn't miss a beat. "Fifty-nine years."
Well, he's got a quarter of my genes doesn't he? Presumably including one for a button governing control (or lack of same) of social filtering.