My wife, Heidi, is a very reasonable person—most of the time. That’s why I married her. After one of our rare “energetic conversations” better known as an argument to the rest of you, she asked me “Why are you married to me?” I simply replied “You’re my moral compass.” Perplexed she answered in return “What does that even mean?” It’s rare when my wife asks a question in the throes of such an exchange, preferring instead to lean on rhetorical commentary such as “Well clearly we can’t have a discussion about this because my opinion doesn’t matter.” except, of course, that it does. And that’s the point.
In my life I’ve been married twice and have had a number of female friends. I can say without hesitation the primary purpose they each have filled was and is to show me the way. Without each of them I would have been lost—a ship adrift on the sea of life at the mercy of the current beneath me. It’s not that I can’t steer my own way or that I am without the power to change my course should I choose to do so. It’s simply the case that I often have no idea which way to go.
Case in point: I was with my friend Jen at Whole Foods in downtown Austin once while she was shopping for health food. I was just there to have lunch with her but she and her husband Rob are having their first baby and she was there because she was on a health tare. Prenatal vitamins. Fresh fish. Organic fruits. And, as God is my witness, kale (ugh).
What happened that day is what typically happens when I am with a woman who is focused on something that is important to her. I became bored. I usually become bored because what’s important to women is typically not important to me. That’s why I position their importance in my life as being my moral compass. They often help me to think about and take an interest in things that would never occur to me but that should, perhaps, matter to me. In this instance I’m not talking about kale—but it seems to me that a healthy diet is probably as important as things like calling my daughters once each week, both of which were suggested to me by women.
So to the point, I began looking at other things in the area, which is when I noticed a new form of advertising. I’m in marketing and marketing stuff fascinates me. In the background I heard what sounded like talking with music, which was playing loudly over the other overhead store music. It was kind of annoying at first but it grabbed my attention and like a child being called by the Pied Piper and his irritating fipple recorder, I was eerily drawn to the large video monitor. A person wearing jungle gear was explaining how Whole Foods selects and offers only the very best bananas.
I was mesmerized by the presentation and stood there transfixed as though I were medically catatonic. When it was done I snapped out of my trance only to realize I had lost my lunch partner. I wouldn’t describe what happened next as panic—but I was definitely unnerved. This is a Pavlovian response tied to a specific incident in my childhood.
I was about four and distinctly remember looking up from a copy of Little Red Riding Hood I found on the shelf and realizing to my horror that my parents had left me at the supermarket. OK; they didn’t actually leave the store, but I’m pretty sure they were attempting to sneak out without me. Unfortunately for them I foiled their plan by running up and down the aisles screaming until the manager forced them to retrieve me.
Meanwhile, back at the proverbial ranch, I began wandering back to the organic greens where I had left Jen as I looked earnestly for her in vain. Then I began to wander toward the meat market desperately wondering whether something horrible had happened to her (another ridiculous Pavlovian response triggered by a gruesome event unrelated to the Little Red Riding Hood affair).
As I made my way through the aisles of cosmetics and hair care products, I heard a familiar giggle behind me. I turned to see Jen who was laughing at me in a sort of friendly mocking way. “What?” I asked. “You look like a lost puppy. Come on; I have what I need. Let’s get lunch.” Completely humiliated I tried to force the blush from my face, but that’s the story of my life. Without these women in my life I’m just sort of lost: sometimes physically, sometimes morally, and sometimes metaphorically—and I was confronted with this reality in a recent, heated exchange with my wife.
I came down with a cold and my wife decided she had just the cure. She sells health supplements. They have apparently helped a number of people and I try really hard to be supportive—but I have my own health supplements: whiskey and beer. I don’t think I need anything else, but what I think in a case like this is irrelevant. What is relevant is what my wife Heidi thinks and what she thought was that I needed to take a product offered by her company called colloidal silver.
Now I’m certain that colloidal silver has many health benefits. I don’t care. When I have a cold I have a tried-and-true treatment: Nyquil gel-caps and orange juice spiked with scotch. I don’t need any new-age, high-tech products invading my body and screwing up my routine. My routine is very important to me and my routine for dealing with the common cold is no exception.
She, however, was headed out of town to a product conference and made it abundantly clear using significant verbal force that she expected me to take the colloidal silver in her absence. This is the downside of inviting a moral compass into your life: you’ve given that person the privilege of essentially telling you what to do—whether you like it or not.
The smart-ass inside me who is too cowardly to speak aloud responded to her assertion: “But you will be in Houston and I will be here in Austin.” I glanced to my right at the Nyquil gel caps in the basket on my bar.
Fast-forward to her last night in Houston and my last night of independence for some time to come; I was sitting at my bar nursing my cold remedy. Now a sidebar: there is an unfortunate side-effect of this awesome little elixir, which is that it breeds devastating honesty—a sort of low-tech truth serum. From the restaurant where she was dining in Houston Heidi called me “just to check in.”
“Hello.” I offered. “Hi. How are you?” she replied. “Doing well. Has your conference been productive?”
“Yes.” A pregnant pause. “Are you feeling any better?”
“Have you been taking the colloidal silver?”
I don’t really want to discuss what transpired next—but I think you can guess.
When all was said and done, although I didn’t take the colloidal silver, I did come to an experiential understanding that my wife really does have my best interest at heart. And that’s really the point of having a moral compass. The idea is that we all think we know what is best for us and I happen to think that whiskey is good for me. Heidi, on the other hand, thinks that colloidal silver, her cleanse extract, and her other health supplements are all much better for me. Perhaps they are; we will never know.
On my death bed at age one hundred-and-one, I will claim it was the whiskey that contributed to my longevity. She on the other hand will no-doubt contradict me immediately after the unseemly death-rattle sounds, signaling my demise, and explain to those looking on that it was, in fact, the supplements she prescribed.