It’s doubtful that anyone, upon entering into a lifelong commitment, realizes what they’re getting themselves into. Marriage certainly remains the number one eye opener of all time.
Lacking this foreknowledge, and madly in love, I married Smuffy and discovered that I’d entered a contest. No – more like a tournament.
I’d come from a large farm family where the girls outnumbered the boys 6 to 1. We had our issues – that’s for sure – but I don’t remember an overly competitive spirit amongst the siblings. It may have been there, but I didn’t pick up on it.
That thing America thrives on – competition – sped right past me and I didn’t even care. I hated team sports and shrugged off people who announced that they were going to out-do me academically. My attitude was pretty much, “Knock yourself out, Honey!”
For Smuffy, raised in a household full of boys, life had been one grand rivalry after another as each tried to prove whatever it is they were trying to prove. See, I still haven’t figured it out! But, boys will be boys, I suppose.
I shrank from participating, but Smuffy thought all I needed was a little coaxing. And, with those puppy-dog brown eyes of his, he lured me into all sorts of silly wagers – each one a contest, championship, best two out of three, winner take all.
Though it seemed irrelevant to me which one of us could spit over a log or hit a tree branch with a rock with greater accuracy, Smuffy thrived on it. I preferred, as one of my favorite P. G. Wodehouse characters once put it, “to exist beautifully”, preferably with a good book, cup of hot chocolate and a cat in my lap. I love kitties. I adored Smuffy, and I had to admit that, though it wasn’t my cup of tea, Smuffy was cute when lost in one of his fits of boyish playfulness.
Uninterested in monetary wagers, Smuffy preferred to invent stunts for the losers to perform. He liked to drag others into the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Shortly after we married, Smuffy made a bet in a pitch game we were playing with another couple. Intoxicated with the smell of victory, Smuffy strutted his stuff, promising that he and his surprised partner would, should the girls rebound from their massive losses and win, remove their shoes and socks, roll their pants up past their knees and run all the way around the house in the snow.
The temperature – in the teens. The house – large. The snow – deep.
By this time, Smuffy’s over-confidence had made me a trifle peeved. Since the girls didn’t have to reciprocate if they lost, I gave him “the look”, which, by the way, he didn’t recognize, and said, “You’re on!”
After we won, I felt a little sorry for Smuffy’s partner. Recovering from a nasty virus of some sort, he looked as though he wanted to grab Smuffy by the neck and throttle his bright idea right out of him.
I stood outside, monitoring their progress as they mushed around the house with a flashlight. Surely this would cure him!
Not a chance! No matter what the activity, Smuffy could think of a way to turn it into a contest. We couldn’t just play Monopoly. We played Killer Monopoly. I came to the point where I took amusement by letting other players sit rent free on my properties “just because they were my friends”. Then, I’d charge him full price for being “not nice”.
Smuffy did, at times, end up losing. He grew adept at slithering out of the consequences of his outrageous bets by careful wording. He always seemed to escape through some tiny loophole or technicality when I folded my arms and demanded payment.
Not caring whether I won or lost, I had relaxation on my side when Smuffy lured me into competition. It came in handy.
One day, he came home with a bow and arrows. He spent the whole weekend practicing with his new toy, perfecting his aim and technique. Sure enough, when I ventured outside, Smuffy wanted me to try it, betting, of course, that I couldn’t hit a rotten watermelon sitting at the far edge of our garden. He showed me how to hold the thing and draw back the bow. I nailed the watermelon with a satisfying foomph. Two more bets and two foomphs later, Smuffy dismissed me, saying he suffered from a tired arm. The following weekend, we acted out a similar scenario. The bow and arrows disappeared after that.
I began to think my sweetie needed help. An intervention! Surely there must be a cure!
One winter, a stray cat arrived. I admit to being a cat magnet. I love them and they love me. I think, like hobos, they must mark my house, labeling me as a soft touch. It takes all the fortitude at my disposal to avoid petting them and feeding them. I know what will happen if I do. I am firm. I am resolved – 99.9% of the time.
We called this cat Old Yeller. He was yellow. He was old, at least in experience. With a shaggy and unkempt coat, he moved his massive bulk along with fearsome purpose, as though he saw all and heard all with the one eye that hadn’t been scratched out and the one ear that hadn’t been bitten off. We never took pictures of Old Yeller. Why would you? He looked something like this –
Smuffy preferred to chuck rocks at Old Yeller in hopes of running him off. I did my best to ignore him. Cat lover or not, he just didn’t fall into the category of “snuggly” as far as I was concerned. He looked like he’d seen a thing or two and had mangled both of them. He hung around through cold weather and into spring.
One weekend, as the weather warmed and Smuffy tackled his first outdoor project, Old Yeller joined him in the back yard. Positioning himself with an air of authority on the picnic table, he snarled and hissed at Smuffy each time he moved anywhere near him. One. Tough. Cat.
Later in the afternoon, I went out for a little sunshine. Smuffy greeted me, gesturing toward Old Yeller.
“I know you’re always saying how much cats like you, but I’ll bet this is one cat that wouldn’t let you pet him. That’s about the meanest cat I’ve ever come across.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I shrugged with nonchalance. “He might not be so mean to someone he really liked.”
Smuffy’s eyebrows shot up. “You gotta be kidding me! You seriously think you can pet that cat?” He waved an arm toward Old Yeller, who took it as an act of war and responded with hair-raising yowls of feline profanity. “I’ll bet you can’t!”
I paused, basking in a wave of inspiration. Had Old Yeller come along as Smuffy’s intervention?
I maintained my casual attitude. “Oh, I don’t know…I’ll bet I could. Cats really do like me, you know. What’ll you bet me?”
Smuffy named off a couple of things and I wrinkled my nose at him, poo-pooing them as penny ante. If he wanted me to endanger myself by even approaching Old Yeller, he would have to come up with something better.
I watched as my willingness, combined with indifference, sparked Smuffy’s competitive fires. He wanted to win. He had to win.
“That cat is wild! I don’t think anybody’s ever petted him. If you can pet that cat, I’ll…I’ll…”
“You’ll what? Remember, kitties like me,” I smiled.
I had him hooked. I waited. And, yes, Smuffy went over the edge.
“If you can walk up to that cat and get him to let you pet him, I will personally, right now, walk over to the edge of this yard, face the neighbors, pull my pants down around my ankles and sing, ‘The Star-spangled Banner’ for all to hear!”
“Promise to sing nice and loud?”
“Nice and loud.”
“What about your underpants?”
“It’s really not fair if you don’t pull down your underpants.”
Smuffy hesitated. On a scale of 1-10, Smuffy’s modesty quotient is somewhere around 42. He’d already wagered a good deal of his decency. Soon, I saw that my show of confidence had only stoked his own.
“Okay. My underpants, too.”
“No cheating? No technicalities?”
“If you forget the words to the song, I’ll help you along.”
Arms folded across his chest, Smuffy watched me approach Old Yeller, warning me all the way that I’d better be careful, lest I draw back a stub.
I chose the cooing method. Slowly advancing, I called Old Yeller every precious pet name that came to mind. After a gentle stroke on the back of his head, I gave his spine a tickle before massaging his jowls. He purred in approval.
Soon, Old Yeller decided he’d had enough for a first encounter and jumped off the picnic table.
I smiled at Smuffy. “Your turn.”
“How did you do that?”
“Like I’ve always told you – kitties like me.”
Smuffy pled for mercy, exhausting every excuse at his disposal before going to the south edge of the lawn and getting down to business. I remained firm. Strong. Determined. It felt good – this new sense of power.
I had only one regret. Smuffy happened to be wearing the longest-tailed shirt he owned. I thought it took the polish off the performance and I said so. Again, technicalities prevailed as he informed me that raising the shirt had, at no time, come into discussion when the bet went down.
My little technicality hadn’t come into discussion either. I saved it till after we’d gotten past “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
“Very nice,” I said, releasing my pent-up giggles. “From now on, I’m only going to agree to a bet if the stakes are high and I know I’m going to win. Remember, you could end up singing this same song on the front steps of the theater on Main Street – without the shirt!”
Waggling a cautionary finger at him, I turned and started for the house.
“It was only a fluke,” he called after me. “I don’t know why that cat let you pet him, but I’ll bet you couldn’t do it again!”
“Oh, it’s no fluke,” I called back, turning to savor the moment. “And I wouldn’t bet on it again if I were you. I’ve been feeding that cat hot dogs… for… the… last… three… days!”
Now, I can’t keep track of Smuffy every minute, you know. He may get into an occasional competitive wager with someone else now and again, but somehow he’s lost the urge to drag me into it.
Smuffy has taken the cure! Whether or not he falls off the wagon remains to be seen. If it happens, I’ll put down my hot chocolate, shove in a bookmark and be there to chronicle the event.
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