Prunes and Prism

RULES FOR YOUNG LADIES: Some arch advice on snagging a husband. Exercising the mouth into a pretty shape through repetition of certain words seems to have been an indoor sport for young nineteenth-century girls; in Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens' overly bred girl repeats, "papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism." (

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Animal Husbandry

I ran into an old neighbor of mine yesterday ...

{Hold on. Doesn't it sound like this is the talky intro for the country song I'm about to sing? "I ran into an old neighbor of mine yesterday, and he said things just ain't the same on the street where we used to live. There's no kids to run after the ice-cream truck, and folks don't sit out on the porch like they once did. And I had to tell him, well, the neighborhood died for me on the day you left. OH, SWEET, SWEET, DARLIN', WHY DID YOU GO AND MAKE A HOUSE OUT OF OUR HOME?"}

So I ran into an old neighbor of mine ...

{I just Googled, and do you realize that everybody from Molly Hatchet to Fantasia Barrino has a song with the lyrics "I ran into an old friend"?}

So I ran into an old neighbor of mine, who lived downstairs from me and The Man Who Was My Husband at our first apartment in Brooklyn. I was so happy to see him (I feel so divorced from that old life, it was like getting a message from the dead) that I ran across the street and hugged the stuffing out of him.

His oldest boy is 13 now -- when I moved into that place in 1996 he was just a little snuggly blob in a stroller. Childless hag that I am, I've had a soft spot for him since the time he announced to his parents after I'd gone, "That girl has on a dress. I like it when girls wear dresses and look pretty." Clearly, even then he had the makings of an ubergenius. Now he's a chess whiz, but not a chess champion because, my neighbor says, the pressure of competing freaks him out, and the pressure of losing really freaks him out. I'd never thought about the fact that being good at the game and being good at playing it are two different things.

We were talking about the old neighborhood (and he doesn't know whether the kids still run for the ice cream trucks there or not, since he decamped en famille to Fort Greene a long time ago), and he said to me, "I always think about how you predicted the fall of Carroll Gardens."

"The paint-your-own-pot place!" I said. "When they put in the paint-your-own-pot place, I knew I couldn't afford to live there anymore."

"No, that's not what you said!" he said.

I've trotted out that paint-your-own-pot line a million times, so I couldn't imagine what was coming next: "What did I say?"

"You said that when the girls got too pretty in Carroll Gardens, you knew you'd have to move. And they did! Suddenly there were all these alterna-vixens walking around."

Now, friends, I guess it's possible that I've been having one long petit mal seizure since the late '90s (and frankly that would explain so much), but I'm almost positive I never said this. It doesn't even sound like something I'd ever have said. It was always all about paint-your-own-pot as Tipping Point for me, and then, later, the ratio of moules frites to city blocks.

I said I didn't ever remember saying that, and then that I was just going to have to get it over with: The Man Who Used to Be My Husband and I had split up. To my surprise, he said he knew it because he'd run him into a couple of years ago. The news would have still been pretty fresh then, and to think about TMWUTBMH having to break the news to people on the street, well, it killed (kills) me.

"It's just a case of two nice people who didn't make a good couple," my neighbor said kindly. I trotted out all the stuff you say, that it's better for both of us, that he's in grad school now, Morocco, house, and that we're cordial with each other, and that I'd just seen him a couple of weeks ago, but that I couldn't say we were at the point of friendship yet, because there was still just too much overarching weirdness.

"Which is not all that different from marriage!" he said.

Then I thought about the badgers the Comrade and I saw on TV the other night during a break from the World Cup. There were a couple of males battling it out for the right to woo a female (and they're adorable -- gray, fat, hairy like Emma), and apparently the less appealing of the two (I have no idea how a girl badger would gauge that sort of thing) won out and the couple grimly set to it. Then the voiceover said (I'm paraphrasing, but not by much), "The cranky pair make the best of it, and settle down to the business of furthering the species."

I'd been waiting to work this into conversation with somebody, but I never got the chance because the person who was accompanying my neighbor was ready to go, and so we had to leave it there. It was genuinely good to see him, but sad at the same time.

I was wondering why badgers were so waddly and how that could make evolutionary sense, but as it turns out all that thick, loose skin is what lets them wriggle away from predators. I guess the imperative to hitch your wagon to somebody else, though -- it gets us all in the end.


Blogger Recovering Baptist said...

Next time I have to go to a wedding, I'm going to buy a blank card and on the inside, inscribe "The cranky pair make the best of it, and settle down to the business of furthering the species."

2:55 PM  

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