Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Straight Man

Matt resents playing the straight man in my writing--the Cheryl to my Larry David--claiming (with some validity) that whenever I write anecdotes from our real life, he gets saddled with the boring lines, and the thankless task of reining me in, keeping me from crossing lines that I like to cross, just to see what I can get away with. 

"You can't do that kind of thing anymore," he said to me not long after we got married, when I showed him how I'd stuffed my jacket pockets full of tea bags from the Stanford business school cafeteria.  In my mind, this very minor transgression was justified, since A) the business school is richer than many solvent nations, and B) I had bought an expensive cup of tea, which I felt entitled me to extra tea bags--like a dozen at least.   "I like my tea strong!" I argued.

"Fine," he said, rolling his eyes at my lame justifications, "just don't do that kind of thing when I'm around, Blondie.  I can't get away with it like you can."

I was recently watching Wanda Sykes' hilarious one-woman show where she made the same point, telling the story of how she watched with incredulity as a white friend of hers walked out of the supermarket, openly chugging a bottle of water that hadn't been rung up, utterly unconcerned that she might get arrested.  Sykes told her never to do this again in her company--and then ordered her to go back into the store to shoplift something for her, too.

The other evening, I was coming home from picking Max up at preschool when two cars collided in the intersection in front of our apartment.  There is something seriously wrong with this intersection, because every few weeks we hear the squeal of brakes, followed by a riot of metal crushing metal, and we rush to the windows to assess the damage.  This time, the hood of one of the cars (a black 80's low rider sedan with amber tinted windows) was pleated like an accordion and flapping up over the windshield.  As I watched the wrecked car careen around the corner, cruising past the spot where Max and I had just parked, at first I thought the driver was pulling over to trade information with the other party, but instead he zoomed by: a hit-and-run.

By the time Max and I got upstairs, both of our upstairs neighbors (and friends) were still peering out the window, having jotted down the license plate and called it in to the cops.  We were rubbernecking, but no one was visibly injured, and the perk of living on a street as grimy and crime-ridden as South Van Ness is getting to witness the colorful street life.  Every Saturday, when the bars let out at 2 AM, we're awakened by telenovelas playing out at our doorstep, lovers throwing each other up against the front gate, making the whole building rattle; a particular drunkard who likes to sing, "I'm washing windows in the rain" while doing just that.  

When Matt got home from work a few hours later, I eagerly dispatched the story of the hit-and-run, slightly exaggerating our parked car's proximity to the accident to make a more exciting story.   I also claimed to have gotten a good look at the driver's face, when it was more of a fleeting glance: a dark form, a black stocking cap.

"Great," Matt said flatly.  "No wonder that woman on the corner looked at me funny."

"What are you talking about?" I said, and he pointed--with an expression that said, duh--to his black polar fleece hat, borrowed from his dad to conceal his overgrown curls.  I thought that this was one of his funniest jokes ever, until I realized that he wasn't kidding at all.  Matt--in his ironed, white Brooks Brothers oxford, computer bag slung over one shoulder--was positive beyond convincing that this woman had mistaken him for the kid speeding away in the wrecked sedan with its tinted windows, the guy responsible for the hit-and-run.

I still think he was being paranoid, but at least I understand why he won't steal so much as a tea bag.  He's the straight guy by default, or by no fault of his own, but he's funny too, for sure.

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