|My Wife Is An Alien
The Porch Light Battle
© Copyright 2001 by Rick Sorensen
Like most men, I am caught in the middle of a psychological-linguistic war that is the central point of contention in all problems of human communication. There are two distinct sides to this conflict and my wife, Georgia, is the General Norman Schwartzkopf of the opposition. In my life, the skirmishes all began long before The Porch Light Battle, but that was when I was first recognized it as a psychological and linguistic problem.
The overwhelming dimensions of this conflict were evident to me in the Battle of the Missing Nouns. That conflict clearly drew the battle lines for the two sides. There are different races and they speak different languages. These differences are quite distinct when you view the Pronouns Without Any Reference, or the Sentence Without A Subject. For example, I get messages on my answering machine at work that go like this:
"Hi, it's me. The thing's at the usual time that they start this stuff. Can you, you know, get the thing like when your friend came over that other time?"
When I finally reach Georgia at home, she wants to know if I have am going to get "it". I try to explain that I don't know what "it" is--that there were too many "things" and no real information in herr message. I am very patient and try to objectively explain that a sentence filled with pronouns and no antecedents is difficult to fathom. Then she explains that the "Back To School Night," which I didn't know about until that very moment, is at seven that night. She has to bring a dessert, so she wants me to stop and get a cake like the one I brought home when one of my friends visited a couple of months ago. The conversion ends with the pronouncement, that I "should have known" what she meant.
Then there's time when I am in the kitchen getting something out of the refrigerator and she is sitting at the table reading the paper. Out of the blue she says, "You know, she's right, it is better. We should do it." Wise to the nature of these conversations, I say, "Sure, Hon, whatever you say." Then one of two things are likely to happen:
one, I wonder for days what it was I agreed to; or,
two, she says, "Don't do that! This is important. Why can't we have an intelligent conversation about these things?"
Then, I have ask what she is talking about, and go through the look and the tone with the inevitable conclusion that I "should have known" what she meant. You know the tone, the one that has you two IQ steps below an amoeba. The look is the one you give a bug before you squash it.
It turns out she had seen an advertisement for a discount warehouse that a friend had recommended. The one that was advertising was less expensive than the one we had been thinking of joining.
In addition to these cases, there is the use of the word "thing" as subject, object and verb. These conversations also occur after she has been thinking about something for days. They start without warning, and they sound like this:
"Honey, we should, you know, with that thing. And thing the stuff where the other thing was. You can do those things with the thing and the other stuff."
Translation: she had been thinking about the electric miter saw I wanted to buy, and agreed I should buy it. Then I could cut the molding to put down on the new floor and we would save some money.
While the Sentences Without A Subject occur daily, it is the occasional Porch Light Incident that makes life the most challenging. A classic was the Cat Food Container Caper.
While Georgia had gone to the store, I had moved the goldfish and his stuff into a larger tank. When she got home she noticed it right away and said it looked good but where was the cat food container. I thought she meant the 10 pound bag she just bought, so I said it was in garage. She said to bring it in, so I went out and got the bag of cat food.
"Where is the plastic cat food container," she said with the tone in her voice.
Thinking she now meant the cat's food bowl, I said, "It is in the garage."
"I don't want it out there, I want it by the fish tank where we always kept it!"
"Now wait a minute we always keep the cat's food bowl out in the garage."
"Of course we do. But I want the cat food container by the fish tank. That's where it was before you changed the tank. What did you do with it?"
"I didn't do anything with it. There wasn't any cat food container near the fish tank!"
"I always keep it there! What did you do with it!? I'll bet you threw it out! Or did you just knock it over and not pick it up? You never pick up things." She stomped over to the table where the fish tank is and started looking under the table and the couch. "It's not here! I need that container, it was almost full!"
"There was no cat food container there!"
She began angrily emptying the bags of groceries and slamming things onto the refrigerator shelves. Then she suddenly reached over the kitchen sink and grabbed the container of fish food on the window shelf and threw it at me. "It was here all the time! I told you I want it by the fish tank. Why did you make me get so upset? Why didn't you tell me it was here."
"What, the fish food? I moved it when I changed the tanks. Was this all about the fish food container?"
Then she said the words I have come to dread: "You knew what I meant!" Despite my protestations that she had said the "cat food container", and her admissions that she said "cat food container," nothing could convince that I was other than an idiot. Because I "should have known" cat food container meant fish food container. There are two lessons here: Never help out and never assume that words have agreed upon meanings.
But the most perfect example is the Porch Light Battle. One evening, I was sitting in my recliner which is in the family room near the French doors which lead onto the porch. My wife hollered down from upstairs, "Turn off the porch light. The light is coming in the window and the baby can't get to sleep."
I looked over to the switch and it was off, but I flicked it up and down to be sure. Then I hollered upstairs, "The Porch light is off," and went back to reading. A few seconds later she shouted, "Turn off the porch light!" I checked; it was still off so I hollered back that it was off. Then she came stomping down the stairs, muttering about how you have do things yourself if you want them done right, and how she doesn't get any cooperation. She goes over and pulls the drapes shut over the doors to the porch. She then gives me the look darin me to say anything and says, "You should have known what I meant!"
In addition to the major battles like Porch Light the are many minor skirmishes that have all the characteristic of one person knowing the other understands perfectly what they wanted to say even when they didn't say it. A good example is the directions that are too late, to unspecific, or wrong like the Little Battle of Foliage Trip.
The fall foliage was particularly spectacular as we headed out on clear crisp October day. After we dropped off our eldest daughter at her friend's, I turned to my wife and asked where would she like to go for the foliage viewing. She responded in classic style:
"Just go the way we went when we went to that place the other day."
I didn't think fast enough and said, "Which way is that?" So, of course, she said, "You know what I mean. You know the way; I don't." There was the beginning of an edge as the tone began to creep into her voice. Still not catching on, I said, "What are you talking about? What way and when?"
I should have picked a random right or left at the end of the driveway. At least then I would have had a fifty-fifty chance of interpreting what she wanted, but I guess I never learn. I insisted that she explain herself. She did with both the look and the tone darkening the bright fall day. It seems that she meant the trip to an historic Virginia town we had made several weeks before. The road we had taken was particularly scenic. She concluded her remarks with the coupe de grace: "You knew what I meant!" The fact that trip had been several weeks before, and had never been mentioned in any recent conversation could not dissuade her from her position that I should have known.
The worst part of all
this is that I after twenty-five years I am beginning to believe she is
right: I should have known. But then I began to put the facts together
and it became clear that it wasn't my fault. Georgia and others like her,
of either sex, whose communication behavior is characterized by a "discussion"
which ends with "You know what I meant!" are descendants of an alien invasion
force. Thousands of years ago these aliens invaded Earth and took over
everything because there were telepathic. They and we became assimilated
and are one race today except for the language problems. Genetically the
aliens have some vestige of their telepathic abilities which makes them
think that everybody should understand them. The unfathomable language
behavior becomes very understandable once you factor in this vestigial
(Messages are forwarded
by The Preservation Foundation.
So, when you write to an author, please type his/her name
in the subject line of the message.)
Rick's Story List and Biography