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Germ Bag

Equal Time

By Suz Redfearn | Posted 11/27/2002

It started as a joke, springing from my impulsive mouth during the nearly three-hour drive to a University of Virginia football game with Marty and his parents.

"Hey, you know what?" I said, feeling both defiant and silly. "Next weekend, we're all going out and getting facials!"

Marty's mom, previously quiet, came alive, whooping and giggling. The men were silent. Stunned by my threat -- or just concentrating on their football pool numbers? I couldn't tell.

I pressed on, thinking of all the hours I'd logged in stadiums since I met Marty three years ago, and the eternity Marty's mom has been obligated into doing the wave.

"Hey, and you know what, guys? After our morning facials, we'll go eat salads with low-fat dressing. Then we'll shop -- for doilies and tampons, for sequined gowns and sconces. And you know where we're going after that? Sure you do! Afternoon tea."

I was on a roll. Marty's mom was howling, nearly doubled over. The men came out of their trances and laughed politely, nervously.

"Then we'll go see a movie about feelings -- maybe White Oleander. Then, and then, you know what? We'll see another movie -- maybe the Banger Sisters. Back-to-back chick flicks. Sounds like a plan. Everyone free next Saturday?"

Orating relentlessly from the backseat, I wasn't really serious. I couldn't picture Marty and his dad padding around a salon wearing toe separators or lifting their pinkies while sipping Earl Grey. But yet, in that moment I realized I had tapped into something large and ominous, likely the underlying factor that unnerves me about these live sports events: the fact that, when it comes to recreation like this, at least among most couples, there's no equal time for the chicks. Marty's mom and I were taking an entire day to sit through the game because our dudes wanted us to, but were they coming with us for a marathon day of beauty the following weekend? Absolutely not. It just doesn't work that way.

Don't get me wrong: I knew Marty was a sports guy from the beginning. That was clear when his dad called him on our second date to update him on football scores. I've come to expect that every year when the leaves morph from green to crimson and yellow, Marty will morph into a guy has to spend most of his Sundays affixed to the TV. Some of his Saturdays too. And usually it's fine. I go into pal mode, spending the weekends recreating with chums, or I write. And all is well in our household.

Ah, but the live sports events -- the college and pro football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer games -- those are another story. Oddly, Marty's not content to just go with the guys; he wants to drag me along, too. On some level I think he wants to emulate his dad, who has somehow managed to haul his mom to far more games than a woman without school-age children should ever have to withstand. But me? I would rather cut off my own skullcap with elementary school scissors.

It comes down to this: I work hard during the week; I want to spend the weekends doing something I desire to do, not just something I can tolerate. Last fall, I'm afraid I set a bad precedent, though. As an eager newlywed, I made the mistake of agreeing to attend eight such events in the course of two months. Eight! In two months! As a result, I grew so resentful about the loss of my free time, lightening bolts began from my skin. Following that episode, I set up strict boundaries. The rule is: I will only go to one or two a year. Three tops, if Marty really wears me to the bone.

That was how I ended up at the UVa game a few weeks ago, being told that Marty's mom really wanted me to go (mmm-hmm). And thus, after the long drive down there, once we elbowed our way to our seats, she and I fell into our usual routine -- spending three solid hours leafing through the program, making comments about how thick the players' necks were. We followed that up by just staring off into space. This, while the men slipped off to that special place men go when they watch football, that place filled with much abrupt leaping to the feet, sudden piercing screams, and either a rash of high-fives or much holding one's head in one's hands, simulating weeping.

Late that night, weary and feeling like I'd had a Saturday snatched out of my purse, something started to dawn on my consciousness. It was vague at first, and then suddenly really quite clear. And pretty soon it was shrieking in my ear: Why just joke about subjecting Marty to a Girl Day? Why hold back on that at all? Why not drag him to a spa, out for shopping, tea, then a chick flick? A full lace-trimmed day of stuff he'd rather not do -- some of it stuff I'd rather not do -- so he could empathize with me better, with all women better, and maybe he'd stop pushing me to go to these games. Why not? Yeah, why the hell not? The concept was like a new day coming over the horizon, so brilliant I was nearly blinded.

Marty's a great sport, and he's also eager to display his great sport-ness. I knew what he'd say: "Sure! Neat idea! I'm up for that. When?" That's why I was shocked when he reacted with more pissyness than acquiescence.

"You're just doing tit for tat!" he bitched, stomping around the kitchen as we made dinner, clanging pots harder than they really needed to be clanged.

"Well, maybe. Sort of. But so what? There's been way more tat than tit -- for years. Don't I have a right to equal time? Don't all women?"

So uncharacteristically steamy was his reaction, I wondered if I hadn't somehow threatened the testosterone of generations of Kady men, even the burly, husky, ultra-virile ones who came from Ireland and spat nails while they worked the railroads.

"Ok, but tea?" he said. "You don't do tea."

"Yeah, you're right. But it's funny, the essence of girly. Come on, let's do it."

"And you don't even like to shop."

"Yeah, I know. So what? You owe it to me."

In a few days, Marty had calmed down, was pretending to be game, and our early-morning spa appointments were lined up. When the big day finally arrived, it was remarkably similar to the last game day I experienced, except I woke Marty at 7 a.m., hustled him out of the house, through the rain, into the car and out to the burbs. But that's where all similarities ended.

Nestled in a row of dingy strip malls, the salon I chose is less chichi spa filled with incense and hushed tones than it is a tiny, d·cor-free beauty parlor like the one my mom frequents. Despite the dearth of chimes and rock fountains, I actually like this place, with its Italian-born owner and her mom and all her chirping cousins working there under screaming fluorescent lights, gossiping their lungs out. And I enjoy observing the little old ladies.

But poor Marty. He seemed lost there, and scared. When we walked in, they quickly whisked me away for my pedicure, leaving him standing there, the lone man in the joint. He looked wide-eyed, like he might cry. Later, after his massage, I saw him again, sitting on the plaid couch amid copies of Cosmo and Allure and Good Housekeeping waiting to be called for his manicure. He appeared ready to topple over. I wasn't sure if that was the effect of the massage, the martinis we'd had the night before, the hair chemicals that permeated the place -- or all three. Probably all three. He waved bleakly at me and gave my paper sandals and toe separators a blank look.

As I relaxed into my facial, Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose" and other tunes for oldsters wafted throughout the salon, connecting Marty and I like the single sun that hung over our heads. I knew that the woman who had done my pedicure was handling his manicure. She had spoken to me about fleeing Iran 20 years ago. I hoped she was telling him the same story -- he likes foreign affairs. But since the sanding action of nail files is for him equivalent to fingernails dragged violently down a chalkboard, I knew he was out there cringing, filled with nauseating, spooky chills. Finally, he would understand how I feel at football games.

When the spa portion of the day was over, Marty didn't look so good. He said his tissues were breaking down and that he needed grub. So we drove through the rain to a nearby mall, pushing past the crowds at the food court to get a big salad, a turkey wrap and a latte to split. I was proud of him for choosing such girlie food. Maybe he was acting in the spirit of the day. It made me sad I had never thrown a ball around with him at any tailgate parties.

For what lay ahead, even I was daunted: five solid hours of idle shopping that stretched in front of us like so many lonely highways strewn with corduroys. Oh, what was I doing? To make it through, we agreed to be goal-oriented and consider it an early Christmas-shopping venture. Once the caffeine kicked in, we did some darting about looking for jammies for my niece, sportswear for Marty's brother, electronics for a few choice others. But even with the coffee buzz, it wasn't easy. There were plenty of times when I faltered, stumbled, began fantasizing hard about cots, or better yet, just giving it all up and going home. Of course that was what Marty wanted too. But I wasn't going to break. Girl Day was only halfway over. Marty threw himself a lifeline: he bought a George Foreman grill. I roused myself by buying wine glasses.

And pretty soon 4:30 was almost upon us: time for tea at the Ritz-Carlton. Neither Marty nor I were looking forward to this. I pictured a cold, Victorian atmosphere, dry crumpets, snotty waiters and much stilted conversation about the Junior League. I'm afraid Marty's visions were far worse, causing him to reflexively dial his cousin Mark asking for a college football update. Sadly, he was rebuffed.

"You're having your girl day, man," cruel Mark said. "I'm not giving you any scores."

A few minutes later, we approached the Ritz's tea den, pupils dilated. Was this going to be the worst two hours of our lives? Hmmm, maybe not, I thought as I peered past the ladies in brocade suits and spied a cushy striped couch next to a roaring marble fireplace. It didn't seem possible that we could actually plop down there, as I had assumed tea required painful mahogany chairs. But I inquired, and next thing I knew the hostess was guiding us to the coveted hearth-side couch.

And so we set down our teeming bags and slouched there for the next two hours, feeling the glow from the fire and giggling at the other patrons perched under twinkling chandeliers, pastoral paintings and great gilded mirrors. We were surrounded by a herd of pearl-covered 54-year-old ladies crossing their legs at the ankle and shooting pursed-lip glaresd. I also spotted a handful of bridesmaids trapped there by obligation, and a tiny smattering of guys, some gay, others looking like they'd rather be skinned alive. Across the room, a pianist passionately played "O Sole Mio" and then "Somewhere over the Rainbow." We played Name That Tune and since I'm five years Marty's senior, I kicked his ass.

A woman with an indistinguishable accent showed up with two floral porcelain pots of tea, and four pieces of cracker-size crustless bread, each smeared with a thin, careful layer of cream cheese and artfully covered with various stingy decorations: a tiny swath of salmon, a walnut, the top half-inch of a piece of asparagus. It was the perfect meal -- for a midget who's punishing himself. Next came a three-tiered tray full of miniature desserts.

The sad thing for Marty was that just a few feet away, on the other side of an open doorway, was the hotel bar choked with burly guys swilling martinis, downing fatty sandwiches with fries, smoking stogies and screaming at the game. We could hear them and we could smell them. It was hard for Marty, I know. But I think the apparent narcotics in the tea helped.

"I'm dizzy. If this steeps much longer, it's going to be scotch," he said, his head lolling after four cups.

Marty's tea -- called "Lapsang Souchong" -- smelled like the inside of a cedar armoire. At the same time, it reeked of peat moss. It also seemed to have barbiturates in it. My "Afternoon Darjeeling" was messing with my head, too. I felt heavy, yet I had a floating sensation. The topiary on the fireplace seemed to be swaying. On top of all that, I found myself wired, joyful, enlivened. Suddenly I was accompanying the pianist.

Don't Cry for Me, Argentina!
The truth is I never left you!
All through my wild days, my mad existence...

"Shhhh," laughed Marty, trying to stop my arms from sweeping around in grand gestures.

I shut up, sat back and got philosophical. Turned out Marty wasn't fighting this day at all. Despite the slow, baffling start at the spa, he was persevering, making the best of it, getting giddy with me even. Why, he held up through the shopping better than I did, and we both were having a hoot at tea. I slouched down a little further, feeling sorry I never pursued equal time before, sorry I'd always assumed he'd resist and make the day hell. I was wrong. How silly to waste time sitting around bubbling and boiling because I never got equal time -- when I had never really pushed for it. But now I knew all I had to do was heave a little, break through the established membrane, and everything was fine on the other side. And the membrane would stay broken; every time there's game, there follows a girl event. Forever and ever, amen.

Next we joined Marty's parents for the movie "Frida" and after that, I declared Girl Day officially over. With that, the men sprinted to a nearby bar that had the game on, and it was back to the status quo: the dudes enraptured by the TV, gnawing on wings, slurping beer and tuning out the womenfolk.

"Marty, we need to go shopping for dining room chairs pretty soon," I said over the din of LSU vs. Alabama.

"What?" he said, eyes on the TV.

My mother-in-law piped up. "Yeah, we want to help you two shop for some chairs to go with your new table."

"Huh?"

Ah, life as I know it.

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Editor's note: With this installment we bid adieu to Germ Bag.

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New Traditionalists (1/8/2003)
It was Christmas Eve morning on Harvard Street. Marty and I sat on the hardwood floor near our...

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