"Hey, Denny, how warm was the water at that New Jersey beach?"
I wouldn't know.
I set a record of sorts: Seven days at the beach, and I did not go into the water.
Sharks be there, y'know. Regular readers know that "Jaws," the movie, marked an epiphany for me. Before the movie, I had no idea what would finally kill me, disease, accident, etc. After I saw the movie, I still do not know what will kill me. I do know that if I do not venture into salt water, sharks will not kill me.
So I don't, except for the occasional toe-dipping or wade-to-my-waist exercise, measurable in seconds and conducted only after thorough surveillance has revealed nary a dorsal fin in sight, including fins of dolphins and those plastic children's toys.
This year, I eschewed even those forays.
Well, so what? Not doing something is hardly news.
Ah, but this next item is news: I spent most of the week not going on jaunts suggested by the women in the group, including my wife.
Since time immemorial, or at least during 44 years of having been married (non-continuously), I have been dragooned, implored, sweet-talked or threatened into going where the women wish to go, which usually involves shopping, walking, and talking, but not about baseball, sports, politics, and never about the latest styles in bathing suits, or, rather, what hangs outside the latest styles in bathing suits, for both genders.
"You'll enjoy it once we are there" has to be the hollowest, emptiest matrimonial inducement in the history of mankind, ranking even ahead of "The children really want you to come along" (No, they want my wallet; the rest of me is irrelevant) and "If you're not there, I'll feel alone and lonesome and unmarried" (But if I am there, I will be ignored, bored, and not included in the conversations).
Much of the time, I would go.
But this year, Bill was there.
Bill is ... this is a tad complicated ... Bill is the father of Heather, who is married to Mike, who is my wife's son (not to be confused with Mike, who is my son, who is married to Colette and her father is Steve, but that's another vacation).
Bill is ... definite. He is imposing, pushing six and a half feet with a mellow baritone voice and the authoritative mannerisms of the prison guard he was before he retired.
Bill does not "go" unless it suits him, specifically.
He just states that he will be in his chair, working at a crossword puzzle, or reading, or doing what he chooses to do, while the women do their "female bonding."
Then, he doesn't move. He doesn't argue, either. He just ... sits.
I saw the opportunity. I resurrected the opposite of an argument I used to hear from my own kids and, for that matter, I had used myself in my own childhood.
"If Bill doesn't have to go," I said, "neither do I."
Then, I sat.
Wonder of wonders, it worked.
Familiarity played a large part in my getting away with it. Not for nothing do I tell and retell the same six anecdotes over and over again. It is not aimless that, when it is humid, I blurt out that "this is stickety-wickety!" I say it at least five times. I say many things at least five times when I am setting the stage for "I do not want to go."
When I am where I want to be, I attempt to be a good conversationalist; good manners dictates such behavior.
But when I am about to be dragged to where I do not want to be, I have discovered that repeating the same trivia over and over has an effect. If the trivia is drivel, the effect is magnified, producing a response along the lines of "Well, at least we won't have to listen to you saying that sticky-wicket stuff."
In marriage, it does little good to protest, directly. I advise against it unless the relationship itself is seriously at risk, because in my experience, bullheaded vehemence ends up making husbands feel guilty, and erasing that guilt becomes costly, financially and otherwise.
But being boring does have its uses.
So does having an example. It was hard to argue against the sizeable reality of Bill, pencil in hand, sitting on the porch, contentedly filling in crossword puzzle squares, not moving toward the beach, the boardwalk or wherever.
Of course, I did go with them on occasion. I trooped to the beach when it was necessary for me to carry beach umbrellas or chairs that would allow the women to sit in the shade and in relative coolness - though I fail to understand why I needed to walk five foot-blistering blocks to accomplish that, when we had paid thousands of dollars for an air-conditioned rental unit with a shaded front porch that sat idle while we tried to sit in the shade on a sandy beach.
Say that often enough, and loudly enough, and then add "I'm going back now. Call me if you need me," and the response becomes a dismissive waving of female hands.
Not going into the water at the beach represents a personal triumph for me, a victory over sharkdom.
But not having to tag along on chatty-Kathy jaunts to wherever ... that is a triumph for the entire male-husband tribe.
Denny Bonavita is the editor and publisher of McLean Publishing Co. in west-central Pennsylvania, including the Courier-Express in DuBois. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.