Getting in and out of the way

Thursday, May 27, 2004

May 27, 2004

Dear Patty,

The summer after graduating from college with my degree in English, I naturally applied for a job at the local Procter & Gamble plant that makes diapers. They gave me a test meant to assess whether or not the applicant has a rudimentary knowledge of how levers and pulleys work. Neither Procter nor Gamble ever called.

Thankfully, I am married to a woman who would have gotten hired.

Because of this difference in the way our brains work, "some assembly required" can be fighting words.

Millions of people put in air conditioners as summer approaches. It must be easy. Maybe it's not as easy at 10 p.m. on a hot night.

I read the instructions aloud. DC put the foam padding where I told her. It was wrong. She glared.

My excuse: The artist who drew the picture for the instructions showing where to put the foam padding on the air conditioner was no devotee of Realism.

More missteps followed. Finally I gave up and went downstairs, preferring sweat to frustration. Besides, I knew DC would figure it out better if I wasn't critiquing the artwork.

Half an hour later, noises from upstairs sounded promising. I returned just in time to provide the muscle, sliding the nicely insulated air conditioner into the window.

One thing I've learned about being married is when to stay out of the way. But sometimes it's necessary to get in the way.

A small turtle came into view in my lane as I drove down Hopper Road to the driving range earlier this week. It was safely between my tires as I motored on by, ready to go hit some golf balls. But I felt a pang. If DC had been in the passenger seat she would have demanded I slow down, stop and personally escort the turtle to the nicest grassy spot in someone's yard. But I kept driving ... for about 20 yards.

In DC's world view, you don't have to be overtly unkind to animals to be unkind. She expects people to behave toward a turtle exactly as they would a child crawling across the street. You come to the rescue.

I turned around and parked on the north side of the street across from the turtle. It almost had reached the grass by then.

It's safe now, I thought as a truck rumbled by, tires never threatening the turtle. But a second pickup was right behind the first. The driver was talking on a cell phone and steering impossibly close to the curb. It was too late to run across the street and scoop the turtle up.

It spun in the street like a top when struck a glancing blow by the truck's right front tire.

I ran to pick it up. Thankfully, the shell wasn't cracked.

It easily could have turned out differently.

I laid the turtle in the nicest grassy spot I could find.

"You make me want to be a better man," Jack Nicholson's misanthropic writer says to Helen Hunt's astonishingly forgiving waitress in the movie "As Good As It Gets."

DC makes me want to be a better man, too. Most often, I fall short.

I wish I was a handy man who knew how to rewire an outlet and replumb a sink. I never will be that man.

But I can brake for turtles.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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