Center of the Universe (16)
My Wife, the Maniac
“HOFFMAN JACKED ON PCP! CALL FAIRFAX PD! BE THERE AT 8.”
Roni is worried because I’m texting Soy, the front-of-house sister, for a table.
Unable to resist even the most minor opportunity to clown, I like to couch my reservation requests in exclamation-ridden, all-caps updates on the missus. But then, you wouldn’t want to be bringing in some raging crackhead, tweaker, duster, or whatever else my messages accuse Roni of, without a heads-up. What if she’s on bath salts?!? Shudder to think of the liability if one Sorellas guest eats another’s face — instead of her eggplant parmagian!
So I text.
“APOLOGIES IN ADVANCE FOR UGLY SCENE UPCOMING AT RESTAURANT (4 of us, 8 pm, please). HOFFMAN OUT OF CONTROL!”
What Roni is worried about is that Soy believes the texts. When I’m cackling on the couch, she’ll ask what’s so funny, and, as soon as it’s sent, I’ll read the latest to her:
“HELP!!! HOFF ON DRUNKEN RAMPAGE. HEADED DOWN AT 8. RUN!”
At which, Roni will shake her head and sputter a string of non-verbal vocalizations that seem to signify displeasure.
But the best part — to a clown just looking for a reaction — is she means it.
Over the 13 or 14 years, my messages to Soy (cc’d to sister Sonia, to optimize reach-and-frequency, as we say in the ad biz) have frequently made reference to Roni being drunk and bothering customers, bellowing Van Morrison in the middle of the restaurant and being, in general, a fat clown, among other characterizations that more accurately apply to me (I’ve even written a book called Loudmouth). A headshrinker would call that “projection.” I call it comedy.
If you’re wondering how Soy takes the wacky texts, Sorellas’ unflappable maitresse-d’ always offers a perfectly grownup, Soy-style reply:
“OK, Bob. See you then.”
On the rare occasion in recent years, having finally become accustomed to the game, she will play along, adding:
“Sorry about Roni.”
Which worries Roni even more.
“What did Soyara say?” she’ll ask after I’ve read her a text that begins simply:
And when I say Soy said, “Sorry about Roni,” Hoffman will say: “See!”
I assure my nice, sweet (well, in an old-school Brooklyn candystore-cum-bookie-shop way), completely un-jacked wife that there is no way Soy and Sonia —
And she interrupts. “You send those to Sonia, too?!?”
I sputter my own non-verbal signifier.
There is no way, I resume — loudly — that the sisters think you’re high on PCP.
And have you ever sung in the restaurant? Or been crazy drunk in the back room? For that matter, have you ever been high on angel dust, bath salts, crank or, let’s see — I think back on my texts — flakka, spice, Special K or Purple Drank? No one would believe it if you had.
But Hoffman’s not convinced. Not for a second.
You know when a thing that drives you crazy about your partner is also a thing you love?
Yeah, well, that’s me with Roni. My wonderful wife of a million wonderful years is the queen of the skeptics. And if for sure it’s a New York thing — New York and Brooklyn, from a more predatory era — it’s also a Hoffman thing.
I’ll never forget when we moved from New York to Fairfax 30-some years ago, and Roni came home scowling about the local residents.
“What’s with all the smiling?” she wanted to know. “What do these people want?”
And, once more, she meant it.
She doesn’t like to talk about herself — coming from a more predatory era when you never tipped your cards — but she will talk about that. It was that shocking to her. And while all these decades later she’s still not big on smiling — “fake-smiling,” she’ll clarify — she remains the most gentle, helpingest friend a little old lady trying to cross the street ever had.
One time she even helped a confused little granny cross who, it turned out, didn’t want to. Whereupon she dabbed the old bat’s eyes and cheerfully hustled her back.
Sometimes it makes me laugh. Sometimes it drives me nuts. And more than once it has saved me — a clownish optimist who evidently spent too many of his wonder years (through third grade) on the credulous plains of Minnesota.
No, I trust this guy! I’ll argue to Roni. I think he’s OK, underneath all the asshole shit.
She’ll emit more of those discontented non-verbal sounds and say we don’t have the time, money, knowledge or whatever practical excuse she can muster to forestall further engagement with the fake-smiling dude I’ve enthusiastically dragged in. And later, when the dude proves a lowdown snake, she’ll say — 100% truthfully (thankfully) — “I never trusted him.”
So it’s not just a habit. She has a faculty I’m missing. Or never chose to develop.
Or maybe it’s a Jewish thing.
You’d be amazed how frequently people make cracks about Jews. When you marry a woman who’s Jewish — after a Catholic childhood in the homogeneic land of credulity — and your kids are Tribe, by Hebraic law (and, in the case of my kids, proud self-identification), not to mention your in-laws and nieces and nephews, it opens your ears. (Especially if, once upon a goyische time, you made cracks of your own.)
Suddenly, it’s not so hard to see how some people become skeptical.
Not long after we’d arrived in Fairfax, we even experienced a little wisecracking in the bosom of a local beanery. Climbing the ladder of customerhood, we’d reached that rung where the server no longer just flashes a fake-smile and scribbles the order. But as this chatty young waitress was shmoozing us tableside, she paused to note the arrival of another middle-aged couple.
“Darn!” she exclaimed. “My least favorite customers.” Then she theatrically screened her mouth with one hand (the one with the carpal tunnel brace), leaned down and, never surrendering her fake-smile, fake-confided:
“Pushy Jews, from New York.”
Neither of us said anything. You’re looking for dinner, not a fight. And you tell yourself it’s not the worst crack. In fact, it’s pathetically tired — almost too worn-out to pack a sting.
But the bride didn’t appreciate it. And I felt bad. All the more because I hadn’t risen chivalrously to the occasion and demanded an apology, or some such melodrama. Later, at home, I tried to tell her the waitress didn’t mean it. Not like that. But my wife’s a skeptic and wasn’t buying. And sometimes even the optimist has to admit the skeptic’s right.
To which the clown can only add: