I’m sometimes surprised by the odd habits of others: Some bake brownies without walnuts. Why do they bother? Some stay up beyond 9 p.m. How do they do that? Some open their presents Christmas Eve. What do they do the next morning?
I’m most puzzled when the peculiarities belong to my friends and family.
In college, it boggled my mind when my roommates postponed studying for a test until the evening before and then pulled an all-nighter. I shook my well-rested head in disbelief as they stumbled into class, bleary-eyed and mumbling.
My mom and dad ate pickled pigs feet and liver. I don’t.
My uncle wrote a weekly column for his local paper. Each week he sat in front of his typewriter the day before the column was due and waited for inspiration.
When I picture him — sitting and waiting, clock ticking, deadline looming — I fight hysteria. When did he have time to debate using a instead of the in the third sentence of the fifth paragraph of the ninth revision?
My sister collects nothing: no quilts, snow globes, miniature spoons, matchbooks or tractors. I think she’s strange.
Joel and I differ about TV: I like to settle in and watch something. He prefers to pound on the remote, checking out possibilities.
Even when we’ve agreed on a show, he surfs channels during commercials. By the time he finds his way back, we’ve missed a pivotal part of the show and watch the rest in a state of confusion.
When I watch a movie, I pay attention to the mood-establishing opening credits. When Joel is also watching, he and his thumb — spoon-shaped from constant use —zoom by the first five minutes, making me whine. It’s a win-win situation: he gets to play telegraph operator on the remote, and I enjoy a pity party.
Another bone of contention we chew is the degree of lighting necessary for happy living. As darkness falls, I busy myself drawing blinds and switching on lights and lamps. If I don’t watch carefully, Joel wanders in and carries on a diverting conversation while turning off lamps and dimming lights.
Even the kitchen where I chop, sauté and simmer his dinner is too bright for him. If I drop my guard, he extinguishes the overhead lighting, leaving only the glow of the under-counter lights to illuminate my cooking. It’s difficult to chop vegetables when I can’t distinguish my thumb from a parsnip; sometimes, when bending low to check on the soup’s simmer, I blister my nose.
Believing the best defense is a good offense, when Joel senses my irritation with his choice of lighting, he says, “Why do you like it so bright in here? The house looks better in low light.”
He could be commenting on my housekeeping, but I prefer to think not.
We also have our smaller issues: I put things away whether they need it or not. He likes tools, clothes and crackers left where he won’t forget he has them.
I sigh when he questions my organization. He shakes his head when I respond to a preference he offers, “I like the chair better in front of the window,” with a dismissive, “I know you do, Joel.”
Despite these differences, most of the time we accept one another’s oddities as minor nuisances, insignificant when compared to the many important values we share and the many ways we like each other.
But, I swear, the next time we go to a movie, when he interrupts an intense scene to ask what other roles the lead actor has played, I’m going to insist on my fair share of the popcorn.
That’ll show him.
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