The Night We Pretended We Were Married

It started simply enough. We were both home for Thanksgiving in the same sleepy middle-class suburb. We had both been born and raised in this suburb, even though we had not met for the first time until we were both living in Chicago. We both took the coincidence as a good sign when we discovered it and decided that this coincidence must be indicative of some sort of good karma to come our way in the future, so in fact the sleepy middle-class suburb incidentally became a big reason why we ended up dating in the first place.

It was Thanksgiving and we were both home and we were bored after spending all week with our respective families, so we decided to get together Saturday night and have dinner out somewhere. The problem, of course, is that the only restaurants in sleepy middle-class suburbs are these horrible little franchised themed restaurants, low-rent versions of the Hard Rock Cafe if such a thing is possible, overbright quaint collections of knick-knacks sprayed across the walls, bought in bulk from some warehouse in New Jersey, pathetic attempts to attach a specific culture or region or idea to the restaurant without ever once making the references too intelligent for the white trash denizens of the community, without ever once making the references too cultural or too regional or presenting anything other than in a Disneyfied, middle-of-the-afternoon-local-talk-show way.

So. We're at the mall making reservations at "The Happy Aussie," a place with all the down-under charm of a Yahoo Serious movie -- stuffed dolls shaped like koala bears dotting the interior in random locations, off-tan menu with the phrase "G'day Mate!" happily printed across the front in that very professional sort of rustic typeset that screams ad agency and market research to all of us overly cynical media-weary slackers in the know.

We get on the waiting list -- the waiting list -- and the hostess says, "You and your wife can wait in the bar if you'd like and we'll call you when your table's ready," and she looks at me and I look at her and I say, "Yes, I think we'll do that."

So we're sitting in the bar and looking through the beer list and notice that the Australian restaurant doesn't even serve Fosters, which should come as a surprise to no one because we are in Missouri where there is a state law that says you're required to drink Budweiser products, all violaters subject to a sharp fine and possible jail time, depending on the severity of the illegal beer being drank.

"What can I get you?" the bartender asks.

"I'll take a bourbon and coke," I say, "and my wife will have..."

She looks at the menu again and says, "I'll take a rum and coke."

We have not dated very long. We have not known each other very long, perhaps two months on the outside at this point. She stands up and says, "Watch my purse, honey, I have to use the bathroom."

We hold hands during dinner. We talk about various drugs we used in our high school days in the suburban wasteland, and she comes up with the killer phrase, "Nitrus oxide really is the perfect drug for 16-year-olds to take." I am constantly amazed when she utters such pearls of wisdom almost randomly. But then again, that's why I married her in the first place.

At the end of dinner the check is presented to me, which I take, because we are no longer in Chicago and no one ever is so gauche as to believe that the woman would be in charge of paying for a meal. I feel chivalrous and sexist and very manly as I plop the cash into the little faux-beaten-up-leather-Indiana-Jones envelope our bill is in.

We walk around the mall after dinner, hand still in hand, pop our heads into the B. Dalton, the Fudge Factory, the Merry-Go-Round. We get into a big argument in front of the Gap because I say I'm not going in because every time I'm in the Gap I end up wanting to buy everything and can't afford to buy anything and it gets me really depressed knowing how good I could be looking if I just had the finances to go along with my lifestyle. She convinces me to go in anyway. A saleswoman asks if we need help and she says, "I've just got to get a new outfit together for my husband here. I mean, look at him." She and the saleswoman share a secret feminine laugh, a laugh directed at all us poor clueless men, and the two walk around the store, picking out shirts and pants and scarves and underwear and socks. She keeps making me go into the dressing room and try stuff on, then coming out and modeling as she stands in front of me with a critical eye. She picks out blue plaid combed cotton boxer shorts and says, "I better go in with you to see if these work." We make out in the dressing room for a minute or two and then decide we'll seem suspicious if we stay in much longer. She picks out a pair of socks and a tie and says, "Honey, should we use my credit card or yours? Oh never mind, I'll just use mine," pulls out her credit card, buys the socks and tie.

We walk down the hallway again, discuss what things we need to get for the house soon, talk about the new underwear and how I really should be changing over to new sets now, not necessarily suddenly, it can be a gradual change, but a complete turnover nonetheless. I kiss her at the front door of the mall before heading out to the cold November air. We drive home. And I make tender love that night to my wife, my betrothed, my beloved, the woman I've sworn in front of God to honor and cherish, till death do I part.