Lunch Is on Me

"Lunch Is on Me"

My latest visit to see the Wifey found me on her home turf. Normally, we meet at a location halfway between where we both live, making it easier on both of us in terms of driving distance.

This visit found me returning from Washington, DC, where I had gone for my youngest daughter's graduation from Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia. The trip was a long one, about nine hours, which found my Chrysler PT Cruiser quite sick when I got there -- to the tune of $775.06 -- but the graduation ceremony, held at D.A.R. Constitution Hall in Washington, was magnificent, and Rianna looked beautiful. It was a very proud day for both of us, her two sisters, and her mom and stepdad.

Since on my return I would be passing the Wifey's location, we made reservations for two nights at a hotel about 30 minutes from her home, so that we could have our monthly visit. My departure from Virginia was of course delayed from my original plan: instead of leaving about 2:00 p.m. after having lunch with my three daughters at Ghin Na Ree (the best Thai restaurant in metro DC) on Friday, June 25, I did not get to hit the road until after 6:00 p.m. That fact, coupled with a four-plus hour drive in an area that I was completely unfamiliar with, most of it at night, turned that leg of my travels into a six-hour marathon, finally arriving at the hotel after midnight.

As planned, we had been in touch on the phone as I traveled, and as soon as I checked in, I called her.

"Hi, baby. Room 131. I am so wiped out."

"Oh, thank goodness you are finally here," she said, "I have been so worried. I'll be right there. I'm at the 24-hour diner across the street."

"Excellent. I can't wait to see you, baby."

When I walked the length of the hotel's first floor to Room 131, I was tired, but elated once again to spend some time with her. I inserted the keycard, saw the light turn green, and grabbed the lever handle, pushing it all the way down. Nothing.

I tried the keycard again, and pushed again. Not a budge. Slowly, I retraced my steps back to the front desk. The night clerk, an old Indian man, seemed uninterested.

"This key is not working," I said, "and it feels like the door is locked from the inside."

"Oh, when you inserted the card," he intoned in a very serious way, "did you push the lever all the way down?"

"Yes," I replied proudly, "I did push the lever all the way down."

"Oh, but you should have pulled the lever all the way UP, very firmly," the night clerk said, smiling.

"Great, thanks," I mumbled, certain that immigration reform is just around the corner. I returned to the room, and shortly after, the Wifey arrived. We spent a few lovely minutes greeting each other.

I then began what the Wifey calls "the unbelievably laborious process" of unpacking my car with all that I have brought -- which always includes food and drink for the one- or two-night stay, plus my clothes and other necessities. But this time, owing to my exhaustion and the lateness of the hour, I took only what we absolutely needed that night, resolving that the next day I would get everything else. So it was mainly toiletries, smoked oysters and crackers and hot sauce and vodka. Ready, set, go.

We had what I will only describe here as a marvelous night, and the Wifey rose before 6:00 a.m. to go to work. That left me with the opportunity to enjoy the free breakfast at the hotel and then to get some more sleep. The breakfast was not what the chain is known for because this location's restaurant was closed for renovation: so no eggs or sausage, just bagels, mini-muffins, orange juice, apples, and yogurt. Disappointing, but adequate.

Then, after about three more hours of sleep, I rose and shaved, showered, and dressed, and began "the unbelievably laborious process" of unpacking my car. The Wifey was due to return from work at 2:00 p.m., and I wanted all the grunt work done when she returned, so that our time would be well-spent, focused on each other. Well, actually, I was supposed to go out for more vodka and some wine, but I already told you about "the unbelievably laborious process." Although I did find the time to sit down in the lobby and log into my email from the hotel's desktop computer. Which was, of course, where the Wifey found me when she called.

"Where are you?" she said. "I've been here for nearly a half-hour, and assumed you were out getting beverages, but then I looked in the parking lot and saw the PT."

"Hi, baby. Sorry, I didn't get out to the store. I'm in the lobby checking my email."

"Stop that and come to the room now."

"Of course. I'll be right there."

Luckily, it turned out that she was not angry at all, she was amorous. I love that woman.

Later, we left in her car to head to a liquor store. As she started it up, she turned and smiled at me.

"I don't think, in our nearly a year-and-a-half, that you have ever been the passenger, while I drove," she said, still smiling.

"You know, baby, I think you're right, as you usually are. Should I just buckle up and close my eyes?"

"Eh, don't make fun of my driving. I've never been in an accident that was my fault," she said.

I buckled up, and as she left the parking lot, she gunned the engine, laughing, and I closed my eyes. The electrifying ride to liquor store took only about fifteen minutes.

"Okay, we're here, Mr. Scaredy Cat. You can open your eyes now and pretend to be a man," she said.

"I will, let me just let my stomach stop doing flipflops," I said.

"Oh, stop it and come on. We should be in and out of here in less than ten minutes," the Wifey said.

"I know. I'm just stalling, because when we are in and out of here in less than ten minutes, we will then be back in this car, with you at the wheel," I said.

"Eh, with that 'tude, you can walk, dude," the Wifey said. She often rhymes her sentences.

"Okay, okay, here I go," I said, wobbling alongside the car.

Sure enough, we were in and out of there in less than ten minutes. And I resisted the urge to close my eyes for the return trip, along with the urge to take a drag on the vodka. We survived the return trip to the hotel, and got out of the car.

"Wow, look at that, we are still alive," the Wifey said, smiling.

"Yes, baby, we are, but I think we only have eight lives left now."

"Shut up, and open the hotel door," the Wifey growled. She always smiles when she growls, which makes it appear to the casual observer that she is fawning over me instead of ripping me a new one. She's got talent.

The rest of our afternoon, evening, and night went fairly predictably, by our standards: we ate, drank, laughed, watched movies on HBO and loved fiercely and often. Each visit that we've had, beginning in August 2009, has been different, but each one has been wonderful, and has solidified a deep bond, that has grown despite much misfortune suffered by both of us in the rest of our lives. We usually laugh our way through dark moments.

This morning, she woke me at 8:45.

"Hey, dude, roll out of bed. I've showered, and sex makes me hungry, so let's go get our breakfast and bring it back here," she said, smiling.

"Of course, mi amor," I said as cheerfully as I could manage. I could have slept for another year.

"And do not complain to me. I got up to tinkle at like 3:00 a.m., and you were watching HBO and drinking vodka," she said, smiling.

"Oh, baby, you must have dreamt that," I said, lying.

"Eh, move it, old man," she said, smiling.

So down to the lobby we went, and returned with full plates and full pockets, and my obligatory coffee, fortified with sugar, Splenda, hot chocolate, hazelnut creamer, and regular creamer. Each cup should come with its own insulin syringe.

"You know, baby, you should try my new coffee creation," I said, hopefully.

"Dude, I do not like coffee," the Wifey said, "and you know that. Let me have a sip," she said, smiling, "hey, this is pretty good, dude, but I have to have a Coke."

Our breakfast went uneventfully, unless you count the Wifey scolding me to eat.

"You eat so slow, baby," she said, smiling, "and if you were a mom you would eat a lot faster. Someone is always trying to get their fork into my plate."

"I've always eaten slow, baby. It lets you digest better, and you only eat until you are full."

"Whatever, dude. You know why I want you to hurry up and finish," she said, smiling.

I did know, that's for sure. If my unpacking the car truly is an "unbelievably laborious process," the reverse, of getting all my stuff packed up and back in the car before check-out time is "the equivalent of watching paint dry in a rainstorm," according to the Wifey.

But this time it went well, at least by my estimation, and we had nearly 30 minutes to spare.

"Wow, you're done," she said, smiling, "that is a record."

"Just trying to please you, my love," I said, feeling proud.

"Well the key is not working in the door," she said, smiling, "so we have to walk to the front door of the hotel."

So off we went to get the key reprogrammed so we could get back in to our room to get the last of our things and have a few "goodbye" romantic moments.

Once we had cleared out of the room, the Wifey suggested that we just take her car and go to the mall to hang out for an hour or two, since she did not need to be home until 3:00 p.m.

"Well sure, baby, that sounds like fun," I said, not sure how I would handle another round of being her automobile passenger.

"Yes, it will be," she said, smiling, "and lunch is on me."

"Wow, thanks, sweetie," I said, "that's very sweet of you."

And so off we rocketed to a local mall, where she parked at a location that seemed like there was no actual entrance to the mall.

"I always park here," she said, smiling, "because this is where there is the pharmacy, the photo place, and a hairdresser. You can always get a close space here, because people are in and out all the time." It was true, we were only about twenty feet from the hidden door, and into the mall.

We went in through a JC Penney store, with the Wifey pausing a bit to check out the children's clothes on sale. We window shopped our way through the sprawling mall, and then the Wifey announced that we would have to go upstairs to the food court for lunch. As we stepped on the escalator, a little girl playing on the first level caught my eye, and I turned to watch her as we rose, putting both hands on the handrail.

"Are you afraid of escalators?" the Wifey asked, smiling.

"No, baby, I was just watching that little girl."

"Oh, okay, I was just worried that it was more unmanliness. No worries," she said, smiling. I felt less than adequate.

We emerged into the bustle of a gigantic food court, with at least two dozen little storefront eateries ringing a sea of tables and chairs.

I should mention at this point, for context, that the Wifey is legendary for her frugality. She has taken being a frugal, careful shopper to an art form not previously seen in modern America. She never pays full price for anything, and her coupon-clipping skills are without equal in the western hemisphere, at least.

"Okay," the Wifey said, smiling, "this is how The Boy and I do this: we start here on the left with the sushi place. The server will offer you one, and you will take it, even though you don't like sushi. You will just hand it to me as we walk. Then we zigzag along, and we finish with the sandwich guy. The bourbon chicken is the best," she said, still smiling.

And so we worked our way through, sampling food from over a dozen of the eateries. By the time we reached our starting point, I was full.

"There," she said, smiling, "now a little car ride back to the hotel to settle your lunch."

I really do love her.

June 27, 2010.

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