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June 27, 2022

Reciprocate This

By Chris Barnhart

There are two things I currently love in this world beyond distraction. The first is the BBC production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The second is Otter Pops. Though never married, Ms. Austen wrote insightful prose on the courtship process in Regency period England. On the other hand, Otter Pops are refreshingly frosty and have cute names. My perfect afternoon would find me sitting on the futon with the fan running, a fistful of Otter Pops in one hand and Mr. Darcy praising Miss Eliza Bennett's fine eyes on my TV screen. Yes, I prefer the book, but I don't like to get the pages sticky. Alas, aside from my love, the only commonality I've been able to find for my two passions is that neither of them has anything to do with this story.

I was in Williamsburg Vee Ay helping some friends move. We'll call them Tohn and Jedi Spooner to protect the innocent and preserve my legal defense fund. Because it is a law of helping friends move, it was both in the nineties and raining hard enough to make me consider dropping the furniture and running for higher ground. Tohn had rented a U-Haul, but had to park it about 25 yards from the front door of the apartment. We were drenched by the time we filled the truck a couple of times, so we did the only thing that three rational adults could do at that point: we gave up.

Now, John and Tedi (oh, come on. You didn't expect me to keep that up the whole time, did you?) bought a lovely house. In the fine tradition of Southern homes, this one was graced with a beautiful family-sized porch attached to the front that Tedi and I had marked right away as a likely spot to sit and drink beers on a Sunday afternoon. That Sunday afternoon, most specifically. So, the next day, while John ran a couple of errands and returned the truck, Tedi and I volunteered to stay behind and wait for the utility guy to show up with the appliances.

We laughed, we talked, we ate otter pops and traded our favorite passages from Sense and Sensibility. No. We didn't do that at all, but I can dream, can't I? We drank cheap beers and cackled mostly, wondering how long it would take the neighbors to figure out that the new folks at the end of the cul-de-sac weren't quite right, bless our hearts.

I was extremely surprised when, an hour later, a big gray van actually pulled up to the house. I thought the appliance thing had been a ruse to get us beers faster. It was one of those paneled vans, no windows, with a magnetic logo slapped on the side. The van backed into the driveway and stopped, depositing a frumpy man in work boots, khaki shorts, a denim shirt, and a utility belt on John and Tedi's new front lawn. From a fashion conscious point of view, the guy was a train wreck.

The Guy (because he wasn't a plumber or an electrician. I don't know what he was) walked over to us and introduced himself to me, ignoring Tedi almost completely. He started asking questions about where the appliances went, but I'd noticed that his utility belt seemed to be made of a fake, suede like substance, so the only sound that reached my ears was a vaguely uncomfortable buzzing noise. I'm sure I looked confused, but the confusion on my part couldn't have compared to the look of utter astonishment when I managed to throw my voice and psychically control Tedi's mouth movements, making it appear that a woman was actually answering his highly butch and tool related questions.

By this, of course, I mean that Tedi spoke to the guy and answered his highly butch and tool related questions.

I wasn't paying any attention to the actual conversation, other than to catch a couple of words here and there, so I can't really report all that was said. The oddly dressed man -- who over time became known to me as a cross between Gabe Kaplan and Josephine the Plumber, or: The Guy -- made no sense, as far as I could tell. He used strange sounding words like 'wrench' and 'lifting'. Tedi responded with similarly out of place vocalizations. I think she may have said, "reciprocating" at one point, but that can't be right. Who in his right mind would want a saw that cuts back?

The conversation was short, but it became a game for Tedi and me. The strange little man would say something, clearly expecting me to answer him. I would stare at him blankly and Tedi would give the man an answer. To Tedi and me, it was obvious what was going on. A very capable and intelligent woman was sitting on her front porch with her bestest gay buddy getting crocked on cheap beer waiting for the refrigerator to arrive. I mean, duh. Still, that concept was very unclear to our little friend, so we snickered up our sleeves as he tried to figure out the clever system by which I, a man, was transmitting mental images to Tedi, a woman, which allowed her to give the appearance of understanding such testosterone driven tasks such as connecting a dryer to a vent.

This went on for a bit. The little man carried on this entire conversation with Tedi without once making eye contact with her. If it hadn't been so damned funny, I think she would have leapt off the porch and taught him the finer points of ball peen hammering. As it was, the poor little guy went away to finish hooking everything up shaking his head and muttering to himself. I suspect he'll wind up calling the Amazing Randi to have Tedi debunked.

He must have heard the fits of laughter echoing into the house from the front porch, but we really couldn't help it. It was obvious that The Guy had assumed I was the man of the house and Tedi was my "babe". This put us right over the edge, I can assure you. As we finally managed to regain our balance -- and get the tops off of two more frosty bottles of happiness -- we replayed the entire conversation over and over again, eagerly awaiting John's return so we could let him in on the whole joke.

As The Guy got into his van and peeled out of the driveway, Tedi turned to me and said, "Can you believe that guy thought we were married?"

"Hell, I can't believe he wore that belt with those shoes!"
Article © Chris Barnhart. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-07-28
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