Advice for Guys from a Country Bar

"We should probably excuse ourself, rush to the bathroom and plunge our head into the toilet bowl until the water stops boiling," I answered.
Advice for Guys from a Country Bar
In: Humor, Listening

If I walked into a country bar in the middle of the afternoon, would it smell strange or familiar? I'm not in the habit of frequenting bars, but let's say I was. The room would be appropriately gloomy to set a mood and hide cobwebs. A mixologist rushing about for thirsty patrons has little time for mop or broom.

This room is musty, smelling of stale cigarettes, and is a little sweet and a little sour. The air is heavy. The decor is old west  Americana: faded pictures of cowboys, boots and belts on shelves, rusty firearms on nails, and the centerpiece is a shaggy bison head that either lived with a skin condition or is losing handfuls of fur in death. Nobody comes for the ambiance.

A bar's job is to first relax and lighten -- much laughter at that table: loud, head-thrown-back, scattato bursts--then slowly push down like a heavy woolen blanket; now that table is quiet, the forms stoop, hunching over their drinks like guardian bears.

I sipped my second Rusty Nail. Two stools to my left a giant dude toyed with an olive and suddenly spun toward me saying, "Women, you can't live with them, and you can't kill them,"

"Having a little trouble at home?" I ask.

"It's my third wife, Esmerelda. I can't for the life of me figure her out. One minute she's all lovey-dovey and, you know, acting all interested, and the next minute she's tearing me a new one for forgetting to fill her car up. I didn't forget, exactly. I just hadn't been able to pencil it into my schedule yet, what with the Browns on."

"Browns fan, eh? So is my wife," I said. "I was bred to be a Cowboy fan so I could build character."

"True dat. So you married a foreigner like me? I'm actually from Pittsburg, but my Dad worked the docks in Erie. My younger brothers make it black and gold against orange and brown"

"I get it. I sort of married exotically. My family line is staunchly Texan, but I grew up in Southern California and married a beauty from Ohio with roots in Canada and Great Brittain. She said she would follow me anywhere but Texas, and we've been here for over 40 years. Got to be careful what you predict," I said. "So your wife just did a 180 out of the blue," I asked.

"Yeah, man. She gives me whiplash. And mostly over the tiniest things."

"Well, my friend. Do you want to know a secret about women?" I ask.

"I do. Of course, I do. Just a sec. Barkeep - another round on my tab."

"I'll have a tonic water with lime. Gotta drive after a while, you know," I said.

"I got here on my own two feet and might go home on all fours. I feel so hurt. Just yesterday I buffed a big scratch out of her passenger door without her even asking and hardly got a thank you."

We both stared at our empty glasses for a minute, as if they would fill by incantation, when the whirling bartender whisked them away and in their place appeared the new order. It was magic. She cycloned off to fill another demand.

I squeezed the lime into the tonic, raised my glass and took a gulp. "Thanks. The secret, Brownie, has two parts. The first one is the result of a genetic error when Eve was pulled out of Adam. Oh, the Creator God made Eve perfect but delegated the transcription of the DNA code to a freshly minted angel who, at the ten billionth entry of one string in the female brain, mistakenly entered a zero as a one," I said.

"You're kidding. How do you know that?"

"I deduced it from the evidence. It caused a major malfunction in the female brain that Adam and his like could never understand," I said.

"A malfunction? I knew it."

"The coding error mixes up signals. A woman is not really mad about the thing she is yelling about. Strike that. She is mad about the seemingly little thing, but she is really upset about something else--something big. The bug in the genetic code makes it so a woman cannot yell about the big thing but can only yell about a small irritant that triggers the big thing she has been riding like a saddle on a camel. Furthermore, unlike guys who can only be mad at one thing at a time, she can be mad at hundreds of things at the same time," I said.

"It's a shocking error, but it explains a lot."

"Yes, it does, but the knowledge is useless," I said."You'd think we men could use it to step back, take a deep breath, and begin to spew apologies like an Uzi hoping to hit something. But we don't."

"We don't?"

"We don't," I answered. "Instead, we get confused and waste precious time trying to make sense of the situation and solve the problem. How, we think, can she be so upset over me being five minutes late for dinner when I told her the client needed that report for the bank? I've got to provide, you know."

"Right. We gotta provide."

"So the more we analyze and turn things over in our wee brains, the clearer it becomes the facts don't jibe with what we experiencing, and our synapses begin sparking like a downed power line and overheat," I explained. "In this case I got too upset to realize she was feeling neglected, like other stuff was more important."

"Instead of..." My lecture was interrupted as the bar's work took precedence. A large, florid-faced gentleman bolted up from his chair causing it to crash back. He sputtered, "Who you calling loose-lipped," and swung a ham-fist at the head of a slim dandy. The dandy removed his head from where it was and placed it two inches to the right causing the fist to go whistling by. He calmly replied, "I said, sir, you were quite lucid given the state of your inebriation."

The momentum from the swing carried the pugilist's arm, and he hugged himself while spinning. He staggered, caught himself, and said loudly, "There, you said it again." The assailant reloaded with the opposite arm and hurled a fist at the dandy's patrician nose. The dandy tilted his head back like he was recoiling from a whiff of inferior vintage and the fist-missile flew harmlessly by.

Having set his gyroscope to account for impact, the whiff threw the lumbering giant into a dainty pirouette until he collided with a waitress carrying four pale beers on one tray and six cheese stick orders on the other. Down they went. The beers formed a frothy waterfall as the cheese sailed into the sky like featherless birds winging through a red mist.

The antagonist, now supine, received two sticks--one up each nostril, a beer bath, and three souvenir mugs about the head and shoulders. He lay still in sweet repose, and everyone turned back to their business.

"What was I saying?" I asked. "Oh yes, next the temperature gauge in our skull redlines - like that resting fellow's did, and the failsafe releases scalding steam out of our ears and eyeballs. We get defensive and the fight it on."

"What can a guy do?

"We should probably excuse ourselves, rush to the bathroom and plunge our head into the toilet bowl until the water stops boiling," I answered. "It will take a lot of flushes - ten at a minimum. That would do two things. Cool us down and keep us from talking to anyone but the tidy bowl man."

"That reminds me. Our upstairs john is plugged up. I wonder if she'd love me again if I plunged it."

"No, my Brownie-fan friend, " I replied. "Your woman is not a guy. Her needs are a little deeper than a confident flush. She needs to deeply feel listened to, understood, important, and loved."

"It will take a lot of love to free the clog in that toilet, believe me."

"How often do you sit still, gaze into her eyes and just listen," I asked.

"'Scuse me! Do I look like I am wearing a frock? She has girlfriends to talk to, and they can talk for hours. I don't get it."

"You're not supposed to get it. You're supposed to just do it," I said. "She needs to talk; you need to listen."

"Can I fake listen while checking the scores over her shoulder?"

"You can get away with that for exactly 30 seconds - no more," I said. "Otherwise, you'll make things worse, especially when you fail the pop-quiz that is sure to come. You're better off learning to really listen with empathy."

"Sounds dangerous."

"It won't kill you," I said, "and you might even learn to like really getting her. It's funny, though. I'm not sure my wife really gets how I feel about her. I think we all play well-worn narratives in our heads that can deflect input that doesn't match our self-image."


"You see," I continued, "my wife is gorgeous, talented, and very caring, but It doesn't matter how many times I tell her good things; she has trouble believing me. Especially if I have ever blown it in a fight and said something derogatory - that one negative buries a thousand positives like a pile of buffalo poo on a daisy. No light or color can get through."

"I told Esmerelda she looked like a plus-sized model in her new jeans, but I don't think she took it like I meant it. She went to stay with her mother while I was watching Sports Center and didn't even say bye."

"You are a smooth one," I said. "I think learning to communicate skillfully can be one of the toughest challenges in a relationship--especially the patient listening part. It's hard work to focus on understanding what another person means. I have a bad habit of listening with half my brain while thinking about other stuff. Especially when I am tired. I've got to remember when I get home after work and feel like crawling in a cave is when she needs to talk the most."

I continued, "It's either another design flaw I'd like to take up with the Creator or the perfect way to make guys grow up and give with empathy. The funny thing is, when I am cool and clear-headed, I know me doing the right thing brings me tenfold in love and affection. Just blabbering to you makes me realize how lucky I am to have my wife."

"She sounds great. What're you doing here, dummy?"

"Good question."

"Do you always talk this much? I gotta pee."

I watched him dismount the bar stool like a circus bear disembarking from a unicycle and exclaimed, "My wife is a remarkable, amazing person, and I am the luckiest, most blessed guy in the world!"

"What's that, pal?" said a new patron who slid onto the stool beside me and waived at the tender.

"Oh, I was thinking about my wife," I answered, tossing bills on the bar.

"Women, can't live with them and you can't kill them."

"Actually, you can - live with them, not kill them, and I'd love to tell you how, but I gotta get home."

I made for the door and scanned the room looking for my confidant but didn't see his bulky form. I hoped he was not taking a brief interlude, his head resting comfortably on a urinal, and that he was rushing home to tell his wife how much he loves and appreciates her.

I know I was.

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