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Developing Sensitivity

Here's a special blog for the men from Oz, the Land Down Under. I've heard through various sources how emotionally retarded you fellows are. Many times I've heard your countrywomen, I believe you call them Sheilas, refer to you as Bogans.

The dictionary clarifies this:

“ Bogan: a person, generally from an outer suburb of a city or town and from a lower socio-economic background, viewed as uncultured.”

— Oxford Dictionary

Because Mary, my wife and I intend to winter yearly Down Under during your summer, I, actually Mary, needs me to rectify this issue immediately. I'm going to hit you fellas with a double whammy; reading material combined with a multiple choice quiz. I'll break up the material for those of you with minimal attention capabilities.We'll start with the read: It's from my autobiography.

Listen up, mates! Get some beer, this is a long but important lesson.

Developing Sensitivity

“He who knows nothing loves nothing. He who can do nothing understands nothing. He who understands nothing is worthless. But he who understands also loves, notices, sees…The more knowledge inherent in a thing, the greater the love.” Paracelsus

Although I had achieved mostly A’s in my college classes, and spent many hours studying for the exams, I was clueless about what was appropriate to offer a woman in a relationship at an emotional level. I comfortably embraced this naiveté from the time I started dating, rarely did I want to delve into the man/woman relationship any deeper. It was the same type of intellectual disinterest I’d noticed in my dad when I'd asked him a question one day during my high school days.

“Could you recommend any classes for me to take in high school that will help me prepare for college?’ I asked him.

“Nope,” he replied, and there was no further discussion.

Evidently, there are some things a mind doesn’t want to probe deeply into and becoming cognizant of your partner’s wants and needs were things my brain didn’t want to worry or wonder about. Early on I can explain away this emotional deficit because of my age; I was too young, many dudes in their twenties are clueless.

However, as my mind developed and disciplined my intellect, I still never bothered to remedy this emotional deficit. It was probably because I grew up watching Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford movies where a man’s actions were what defined him. In these films, it was important to talk as little as possible. Thinking and talking about thinking were weaknesses. A man just did things, the chicks liked it, and the world was perfect. Period. Ah, the good old days! This was my relationship goal, to recapture the Hollywood grandeur of the man-woman bond. Well, that’s my story….

Break #1: Take a swig, then answer a few multiple choice questions regarding Aussie manners.

Back to vet school memories. (This is the disclosure part. The learning part is lower.)

Although I was living with Martha, my fidelity was questionable more than a few times. I had no idea what fidelity was, nor did I feel a need to find it. It never bothered me as I thought my dalliances were minor and didn't impact our relationship. I lived with this blindness for years.

My brother Rick came down from South Lake Tahoe for a visit in spring 1980. He needed warmth and sunshine. He was so tired of the cold and dark up in the mountains the first thing he did when he arrived was to throw himself on the green lawn, luxuriating in the warm spring sunshine.

“I need to get back to class, Rick,” I told him.

“Do you have any beer, Jim?”

“No, but you can take some wine from this five-gallon jug in the garage. Just replace the water lock cork on top, it’s still fermenting.”

He followed me to the garage as I pointed out which carafe had the best wine.

“What’s this?” He asked, spying a metal cylinder that looked like an over-sized scuba air tank. It was painted blue, was about five and a half feet tall and weighed almost a hundred pounds when full.

“It’s nitrous oxide, laughing gas. Our housemate John is a dentist. He’s collecting equipment to open his own office.”

I worried I was going to be late. “Do you need anything else? I need to get going.”

“No, see you later.”

“Come over to the VMTH at five,” I told him. “Every Friday we have TGIF, free beer for an hour or so. We can catch up then.”

“Okay, do you still have your record collection? Can I listen to your stereo?”

“Sure, see you later.”

Rick appeared a little after five o’clock with a big goose egg bump on his forehead and a tear in the skin of his lower lip.

“What the hell happened to you?” I asked.

“I was buzzing out on the Moody Blues with the gas you have, but the high only lasts a minute, did you know?”

“I guess," I hadn’t explored all the options nitrous offered. I assumed I would ask John for tips if I needed to use it.

“Well I got tired of running back and forth into the garage, so I dragged the cylinder in the house.”

“Were you careful dragging it through the kitchen” You didn’t tear the linoleum, did you?”

“No man!” Rick was prone to slipping into radical defense prematurely. He was the youngest boy for many years until Tim came. “I rolled the cylinder across the kitchen, I didn’t drag it, and I set it up in the living room next to the bean bag chair.”

I nodded, smiling uneasily. Things with Rick were never simple.

“I cranked up the sound high and sucked on the tank for a long time like I was going to dive a hundred feet and it made me pass out. I saw stars, and became light-headed, my ears were ringing, and I was flying.”

“How did you hurt yourself?”

“I was falling instead of flying. I must have dropped on the floor. I think I missed the bean bag chair because the back of my head hurts too.”

I felt the back of his head. Yep, another knot there too.

“Did you know the neck of the tank gets so cold when the air is coming out your lips can freeze to the metal stem?”

“No, I didn’t. Is that why your lip is so ripped up?”

He nodded.

“My lip was frozen solid to the metal, so I pulled the tank on me when I fell on the floor, that’s why I have this front bump.

From then on, the nitrous tank was off limits to Rick without parental supervision.

Break #2. More test questions for the Bogans. It's okay if you want to get another beer.

Back to our story:

A few months later Rick returned from Tahoe. This time he brought his two roommates, who were sisters. Rick wanted to share the laughing gas experience with these two. We dragged the large H cylinder into the living room, making sure not to scuff the linoleum, and shared some quick whiffs. Without thinking further, I plopped down close to Terry, one of the girls. Soon we were kissing and I put my hand up her blouse. Suddenly I decided this was probably something I shouldn't be doing in Martha's house. At least I had that much sense. I got up and told everyone we needed to find something else to do, so we headed into town for some libations.

During the winter I arranged for John, the dentist and his wife Mary to go with me on a skiing weekend in Tahoe. We stayed at Rick’s house. After we had bedded down on the floor Terry, the roommate, came out of her bedroom, found me, grabbed my hand, and pulled me along behind her. I followed and stayed with her all night.

One day Martha told me we needed to talk. Any man hates these words especially when they are coming from his significant other. Martha said she’d been unhappy for a while; she felt we needed some time apart. I'm not sure why, but I fell apart. Even though I had put forth minuscule effort looking after Martha’s emotional well being, we had build a life and home together, and I had grown comfortable with the familiarity and security that was there.

“I feel like I’m going to lose everything important to me,” I blubbered. “Could you let me stay in this place for a few months, so I have some stability?”

Martha consented, opened the front door and left. I wandered around the quiet house. The reality of my new situation was hurting my head and weighing my heart. I jumped into the Honda and drove it to Hwy 118 not knowing or caring where I was going or what I was doing. I had a good cry. That, and flooring the gas pedal well past the hundred miles per hour mark for a while dissipated some of the chaos in my head. Fear of a ticket overcame frustration and distress. I slowed the vehicle and drove back home.

I was in a daze for weeks. I went to school but didn't participate or talk to anyone for three days. I was miserable. I needed to rethink the problem. I had to learn more about understanding a woman's needs, fears, dreams, and expectations. I knew I could handle this new learning experience just as I was mastering veterinary medicine.

And so, I set out upon an enlightenment towards the fairer sex. I began reading books and writing pertinent excerpts in an old lab workbook. It still had fifty or so blank pages and I filled them with quotes and ideas. It became my new project diary. The first page listed nine “Actions I do to show I am not content.” The second and third page outlined steps to help me to understand “Why I am a performer.”

I read some relationship books Martha had. The Bleeding Heart by Marilyn French became my tutor. I jotted down page after page of quotations so I could review these items as if I were preparing for a test. I had written 28 notes by the time I read half her book.

-P44 “He’ll call late at night, a little high after a rousing time with the boys at dinner, finding himself suddenly alone and not sleepy in his dull hotel room. Men can’t stand to be alone. He’ll want to come over for a quickie. Not because he’s so horny, at his age he isn’t. No, just because he gets the heebie-jeebies being alone in bed, alone in the dark.”

-P45 “What was it with men, that they could switch feelings off and on? As if they had separate selves, pieces not essentially connected to each other except by the fact that they inhabit the same body. One was full of desire and tenderness; it was vulnerable, needy, wanting. Another full of rage, vented at the slightest provocation. And another that was dressed in a shirt, suit, and tie.”

-P172 “The question was: You are a scholar and a thinker who has read the great literature of the past and has thoughtfully viewed the life of the present: what, in your eyes, is the most profound truth of human existence? Everybody fucks up.

Next, I outlined The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. Mr. Fromm believed “the experience of separateness arouses anxiety.” Yes, I could see that. I was anxious because I was now separate.

Mr. Fromm gave nine ways to overcome separateness:

Animal worship

Human sacrifice

Military conquest

Indulgence in luxury

Ascetic renunciation

Obsessional work

Artistic creation

Love of God

Love of man

I stopped reading Mr. Fromm’s book. It was going to be too hard for me to accomplish these things during the next few months to overcome my separateness. I needed to find another, quicker way to deal with this loneliness thing.

I began to write letters to express my feelings. Martha left me Friday, March 27, 1981. I started my project book Monday, March 30. By April 1 I felt I was beginning to develop the insight needed to share my growing understanding of this complex problem with people I knew.

April 1: Letter to Mom

April 10: Letter to Martha

April 16: Letter to Johanna who was a friend from Orange County

April 19: Letter to Dad

April 20: Letter to Martha

April 26: Letter to Martha

April 28: Letter to Martha

April 29: Letter to Martha

After the April 29 letter, Martha requested I stop sending them.

On Wednesday, May 27 I met a new woman. Things brightened.

It had been a long, lonely month, and I felt this meeting was in the stars because it was so fortuitous, just coming from nowhere.

Tom who lives across the street invited me to his place for a party. Tom went to Davis too. He was in the Botany department, and this party was for some botany grad students.

“Do you know the Swing?” He asked me, referring to the dance move going through the college. “Sandy and I took lessons; we’re going to show some moves off tonight.”

“Are you and Sandy dating, Tom?”

“No, we’re just good friends, lab partners mostly.”

“I learned the Swing three years ago at the first party in vet school. I’d love to dance with her if it’s okay with you?”

He nodded and shrugged. It wasn’t a big deal.

My mind was buzzing.

Sandy and I danced great together; in fact, we shared most of the dances that the night. Towards the end of the party, I invited her back to my place across the street. She sat on my lap and we kissed. Sandy told me she carried a gene that would cause baldness in her male children. I don’t know if this was a preemptive truth of disclosure or something else, but I cannot see how any man in my immediate situation was going to worry about baldness in our children sometime in the future. I truthfully told her the issue was not crucial to me as I pulled her blouse over her head.

We made plans to spend upcoming Memorial Day weekend together. I retailed coffee while I was in vet school, purchasing different coffees from a wholesaler in San Francisco in 50 lb bags. I brought the coffee home, breaking the big bags down into 1 pound packages, and sold the coffee to classmates and staff at the VMTH at a markup for $3.89 a pound. I was running low on product and needed to drive to the city for a refill.

Sandy’s parents lived in a suburb of San Jose, so we could stay at their house after we finished our chores in SF. She did tell me her parents disapproved of anyone sleeping with their daughter, so I would be in the guest room at the end of the house. We also had to wear bathing suits in the hot tub. I was okay with the conditions.

As I planned the upcoming weekend, I used my collection of Sunset magazine articles to find things to do in the city. One report described a famous delicatessen in Berkeley. I found a wicker picnic basket Martha and I purchased a while ago, cleaned it out, added a tablecloth, two wine glasses, a wine opener, a cheese knife, some plates, and some napkins.

“See what I’m learning from my new readings!” I exclaimed proudly to myself. “I’m becoming a sensitive man.”

I also added four bottles of wine I made.

We needed to use Sandy's car because I didn’t have one. Up until now, I didn’t need a car. Martha owned a car she and I shared and now all I had was a bicycle. Sandy drove a cute white Volkswagen Rabbit. I knew I was in with the gal when she handed me the keys and asked me to drive. Now it was like the old days, I was the driver, another return to normalcy.

I drove us west on I-80 into Berkeley and found the deli right on the main street. I purchased cheese, two different salads, some cold cuts, a loaf of bread, and various pastry desserts. The purchases were too big to cram into the wicker basket, so we left them in the big plastic bag with the deli’s logo, La Bedaine on it. We found a park in Berkeley, and I pulled out and arranged the magical ingredients for a romantic lunch. Afterward, we drove across the Bay Bridge to the coffee brewing company where I introduced myself, explaining I carried an account with them and wanted to show my girlfriend the coffee bean roasting process. We were shown the roaster as it was going through a turn; the coffee smell was intense.

Realizing I had created a positively romantic moment, I smiled in excited satisfaction, adroitly kicking this game of showmanship up a few notches. I was feeling like a cool James Bond type of dude, akin to a quiet chick magnet; I was running on all cylinders.

After the coffee exchange, we headed to Strybing Arboretum, walked along the pathways and enjoyed the various plant collections and themes. From the Arboretum, we drove a short distance to our dinner at the Cliff House. The restaurant is on a rocky point overlooking the ocean. I had passed it on a previous bicycle trip and made a mental note to look it up someday. It was impressive, inspiring, and romantic. I knew I scored another coup when we were escorted to our table right next to a window overlooking the ocean. After dinner, we drove south down the peninsula until we entered the San Jose area. Pulling into Sandy’s parent’s driveway, we went in to say hello. I brought the picnic basket and deli bag in with us to refrigerate the perishables.

Sandy’s mom saw the La Bedaine logo on the bag, exclaiming what a beautiful place it was, telling me she made it a point to stop there whenever she was near Berkeley. I lied, telling her I always stopped there whenever I passed Berkeley too. Pleased with the accolade I sweetened the interest with a unique gift. "Here's a homemade ham. It's a pig I raised up last summer, butchered him, even cured the ham myself," I handed her the cold wrapped meat.

Sandy’s mom was mightily impressed, and I felt as if I hit another home run. Sandy and I spent thirty minutes in the hot tub then split off to our respective bedrooms.

Dinner the next evening was like having to endure an oral examination. Sandy’s dad let me talk and talk about various subjects, but when he stopped me to ask questions, it felt like he questioned my veracity. I stopped and explained the material in a slightly different viewpoint to let him know I knew my shit.

I poured everyone a glass of my homemade Carnelian blush wine, made from grapes I bought, picked, and crushed. It had a fruity but not sweet flavor and was one of the favored wines among my friends. Sandy’s dad held his glass up and swirled the blush wine. He asked me how I make my blush wine. He thought I mixed white wine with red.

That was so far from the truth; this blush came during the crush of the red grape skin, I was there, I did the crushing. I said his way was not the way anyone makes a blush. I began my explanation. The difference between a blush and a red is the amount of time the liquid ferments with the skins. After picking, the grape clusters go through a de-stemmer, a machine separating the grapes from the stems, and the crush happens immediately after de-stemming, for both red and white wines.

Loading white-skinned grapes into the press makes white wine. Red wine is made by crushing the grapes and allowing them to ferment with their skins to leach out additional color and flavors, such as tannins. It is only after months of aging with the skins on that the pressing occurs with heavier bodied red wines. Blush wine is merely a red wine grape treated like white wine. The pressing occurs soon after the crushing, and the blush color comes from the red pigment which leaks out of the skins during the crush. No contact with the skin occurs during fermentation. He was satisfied.

Dessert came, and the questions stopped. I felt I had done a pretty darn good job. After dessert Sandy and I went out dancing. We drove home the next morning and I began spending most nights at her apartment.

By June 12 I sent Sandy a letter. These letters were part of my new sensitive side, a way to stay in touch and develop a closer, more in depth, and intimate relationship. It was something I had previously been unable to do.

Sandy left on a week-long botany field trip Monday, June 22. Our relationship was pretty solid by then; she even left me her car keys when she went on her trip. I washed and waxed it Sunday morning, the day she was getting back. Around dusk, she came walking down the street. There was another Botany grad student in our neighborhood and they had gotten together for a welcome back BBQ. Sandy came over to me, hugged me, and told me we needed to talk. She had fallen in love with a lab partner she went on the trip with and needed her keys back. So much for developing into Mr. Romantic.



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