February 28, 2012

I was walking with my wife last weekend when she popped the dreaded question. "What are you thinking about?"

This is a question that I have been asked many times over the years, almost always by Lady Laura but some of the girls I have dated have asked the same timeless question. Guys don't ask profound, or potentially embarrassing questions like this; we tend to walk along pointing and grunting at objects of mutual interest. Occasionally we may have an actual conversation, but it will usually involve specific questions such as, "I'm hungry, are you hungry?" or "Where are we going again?"

Women, on the other hand, are much more verbal, and in general tend to have a great deal more brain-wave activity. They believe that when men are quiet it means we are deep in thought about some important topic, probably involving our relationship to them, and to other members of the community, and perhaps tying that personal perspective together with Einstein's Theory of Relativity and Shakespeare's ninth sonnet. When in truth what we are thinking is, "Did I remember to take a shower?"

So when they pop the question, "What are you thinking about?" it always throws me for a loop. Do I say out loud what I am really thinking about, "Did I remember to take a shower, and if so, did I wash under my armpits?" or do I quickly try to come up with a more profound response, such as, "I was thinking what a romantic and beautiful evening it was to go on a walk with mi amore." When in fact the rain is turning into sleet, and I've finally figured out that the bad smell I keep noticing is a wedge of gourmet cheese I stuck into my coat pocket last Thursday for safekeeping. (I don't usually carry cheese in my pocket but the lady at the supermarket sample booth said I could take some with me.)

Since I have been asked this question so many times over the years I have a much better sense of what it is I am usually thinking about. In the wintertime it is frequently this: Watch your step, watch your step, don't want to slip and fall down, you're getting older - you could be permanently damaged, look out for cars, look out for ice, boy it's cold, wish I was in the Caribbean, watch your step, watch your step, your bones could get broken, is that a buzzard circling overhead? Boy-oh-boy it's cold ...

Sometimes my mind will revert to elaborate sports fantasies: "Here is suburban pentathlete Joe Myers heading for the last lap in the event that could make him an Olympic champion. He's really trained hard for this contest and it seems to be paying off. Already having completed the newspaper-skimming and donut-dunking events in record time, he currently has a ten second lead in the evening dogwalk. Oh bad luck, it looks as though his partner in this event, Rudy, has found the scent of another dog. Myers is tugging on the leash, but to no avail."

"No, Joe, I think it may be worse than that, I believe Rudy's found a dead squirrel. Myers is tugging and tugging on the leash, but that dog won't budge. And judging from the decomposition of the squirrel it looks as though there's going to be a lot of clean-up necessary to finish this event. This is a major setback on what could have been a record setting day of triumph."

Sometimes my mind is stuck on some complicated financial calculation: "If the kids' meals were each $1.99, and ours were each $6.79 but I had a coupon good for two-for-the-price-of-one, except that it wasn't valid on Saturdays after 4 p.m., and then Laura stole the change before I had a chance to count it, how is it possible I don't have any money left but I still owe her the money I borrowed from her purse the other day when she was taking a nap?"

Very infrequently I will get into a solve-all-the-problems-in-the-world-mode: "Everyone's too stuck in the rut of their own agenda. They all need to loosen up and change jobs for a while. Let the President become Speaker of the House, and the Speaker could be the Prime Minister of Israel, and the Prime Minister could become Ayatollah of Iran, and the Ayatollah could become the Pope, and the Pope could be head of the Red Cross and then after a month everyone could have a peace conference on a beach in the Virgin Islands and drink fruit drinks out of coconut shells with little parasols in them."

But more often than not I'm simply listening to music in my head. I'll start thinking about something and all of a sudden I'll realize there's Choo-Choo Charly's Good-n-Plenty jingle from the '60s playing in my brain, or the first verse of some other song the DJ in my brain will let play over and over and over, until he finally wakes up and remembers he's hungry. Now what did I do with that wedge of cheese I had?