Winning is relevant only if battle was inevitable. Fighting unnecessary wars is stupid. -Sun Tzu, The Art of War
When the women started talking about a working vacation in Colorado, H and I knew better than to put an oar in. There’s such a thing as winning the battle and losing the war, and we’d both been married long enough to know the difference.
I have a thing for unlikely matches.
Back in the day, nobody saw The Woman and me as an obvious match. In fact, one night her roommate staged an intervention and listed all the reasons why she should break up with me at her earliest convenience and set her sights on finding a suitable life partner. The main theme focused on her perception that I was a long-haired loser who couldn’t go the distance when the going got tough.
To my shame, I can’t resist a touch of schadenfreude when I observe that The Woman and I are 40+ years deep in marital bliss with no regrets. In fact, it is our life theme.
Live without regret.
It is an attitude, a way of approaching life that I highly recommend.
As everyone knows implicitly from the moment they meet her and as the inevitable global empirical study has verified beyond contradiction, The Woman is the nicest person in the world. And I am a highly capable goofball. This is known.
I have spent a lifetime playing Court Jester for my Queen without a nanosecond of regret. If you want a diverting, amusing conversation, I am your man. If you run into one of life’s many tragedies, you want The Woman at your side. This also is known.
To set the stage for the working vacation, in the early 80s my band broke up and my closest friends left town. A story for another time. I was left adrift, but I assumed that as I had made friends before, I could make other friends just as easily. I had not taken into consideration the degree to which I am an odd duck.
I have a theory. We are all looking for our tribe, and we live our best life when we find it. In the most unlikely environment imaginable, a radically conservative East Texas college, I had lucked into my tribe. I ended up in the aforementioned band with select members of my tribe. It just happened. And because it fell into my lap, I had no idea how rare a thing it was.
I should have known better. I had spent my childhood as a stranger in a strange land. I had bounced around six schools across state boundaries without finding my people. I was a fool to think it would be a small thing to stumble upon another miracle. The band broke up and after a year of concerted effort, I awoke to the truth. You can’t fashion a golem into a soulmate.
I put my head down and soldiered on. I knew the drill. I had lived it most of my life. You take what you can get, even the crumbs, and keep going. Get up in the morning. Do the needful. Pay the bills. Lie down. Rinse and repeat.
Then a thing happened. In the mid 80s, due to various life circumstances, The Woman’s closest friends left town. At first, I chalked it up as the way of life, but as the months passed I realized that what was business-as-usual for the gander wouldn’t fly for the goose. Unlike me, she hadn’t built up an immunity through a lifetime as an outsider. Her nature couldn’t accommodate the life of a drudge. Something must be done.
Her search was no easier, but one thing became clear. It wasn’t enough to find a new friend for her. The relationship would never survive as a one-to-one proposition. It had to be couple-to-couple. And that was how it came down to H and me.
Talk about an unlikely pairing. There was nothing obvious about it, but I was determined to make it work. I studied his interests as I have never done for another person before or since. I studied his ways, discovered his favorite music. His favorite reading. His favorite pastimes. We hung out independent of the women. Guy time.
Thus came my first Superbowl hangout. My first dove-hunting trip. I learned the sacred rituals of tobacco and pipes and brandy. Watched Agatha Christie movies. Was initiated into the mysteries of sitting quietly on the deck, watching the sunset with pipes and sparse conversation.
Months passed. Years passed. And one day I realized I had set out on a quest to fill the vacuum left by the departure of The Woman’s friends, but in the process I had unwittingly had found my tribe. A new tribe. A tribe of two. And that worked for me.
For my part, I introduced H to jazz. That was my sole contribution, but it carried weight. Jazz is the essence of relationship. Improvisation. Trading ideas. Building on what is laid down by the other. In the moment. Evanescent. Solid.
Some might ask if a true friendship can be engineered with such deliberation. To them I say you know not of which you speak. I can’t speak for H, but for my part, we came to know each other as brothers. The warp and the woof, the good and the bad.
Here is the test. If you can sit in comfortable silence with a man, speaking only when thought or occasion demands, and feel no awkwardness or compulsion to fill the void with mindless chatter, understanding each other without need for words, then what would you call him if not friend? The best kind of friend.
If you find one such person in your life, you are fortunate. If you find more than one, you are indeed rich and need not defer to anyone. And if you lose that bond, it is a loss to be mourned.
But I digress. This is a story about wandering far.
Thus came the women and their proposition of a two-week working vacation in central Colorado. An older couple had a vacation property in a small town that needed repainting. We had one week to paint and another week to enjoy Colorado, all rent-free. Sweat equity as it were.
I was not a fan. Neither was H. But as intuitive students of Sun Tzu, we knew when to choose our battles. There are some things, objectionable things, that one must shut down immediately regardless of the cost. Then there are things that, while objectionable, will incur consequences far more objectionable than the thing itself. This was one of those things. The second kind.
And that is how on one summer day we came to be driving an extended rental van packed with snacks and children on a trek from Texas to Colorado to paint a house and embark on adventures. Of course I packed the camera. And the chess set.
The chess set had one purpose—to keep me awake on the first leg of the journey.
Here is a life tip. If you have a long road trip ahead of you, start just before sunset and drive through to sunrise. Of course, you must employ strategies to stay awake and between the two ditches. A good selection of podcasts is a good bet, but we had no podcasts in the 80s. I took the midnight shift, H riding shotgun, the wife and kids in the back. My plan was threefold: conversation, chess game, music.
I talked with H as long as I could, but when conversation flagged, I engaged The Number One Sun in a chess match. He sat behind me, magnetic pieces on metal board. I gave him the first move, he told me his move, I told him mine, and he made the move on the board.
We proceeded in this fashion for a hundred miles or so, getting into the occasional fracas when he failed to move my piece as instructed and the game on the board failed to match the game in my head. He fell asleep before checkmate and I resorted to CDs to distract me.
The sun came up somewhere around New Mexico and we switched drivers.
[photos: Colorado, Mexico]