What's Love Got to Do with It

SUNDAY — Margaret has been hitting me since she came to San Francisco, but it seemed like just playful fun. A slug on my shoulder here, a punch on my back later on.

Today she was hitting me harder, and it became genuine painful. She must have slapped and slugged me sixty times, from Chinatown to the Marina and back again, between kisses and ordinary conversations. The inevitable explosions of temper have always been part of her, and I could deal with that, I think, but her pounding on me is something new. I have no interest in either hitting back or becoming a battered man.

When I asked her not to hit me, she stopped for a while, but only for a while. When I asked if I'd said or done something since she'd been here, something to deserve her flurries of rage, she mentioned The Fart, and told me again that I know exactly what I'm saying that sets her off. Again I told her that I don't, and again I'm not sure that she heard me.

The day was frustrating, enough to make me second-guess the whole idea of Maggie and me. Back at the apartment in the early afternoon, she said she was bored, so I suggested a double feature at the Strand, Point Break and What's Love Got to Do with It.

Yeah, I knew she'd find the Strand disgusting. It is disgusting — it's a run-down movie palace that shows old movies at a cheap price, and caters to a skid row clientele. Many of the customers appear to be homeless, paying the discount admission not so much to watch the movies as to sleep in the seats. Can't blame 'em — it's more comfortable than a park bench, and it's legal, so a cop isn't likely to bust their heads.

I go to the Strand a lot, and at least part of the point of Maggie's visit is to show her how I live, right? That was my thinking, anyway, if it qualifies as thinking. Also, in my defense, having Maggie with me in San Francisco has been more expensive than I'd anticipated, and the Strand is easy on the budget and really all I could afford. It's $1 for a double feature. My treat? Then it's $2 for both of us. Another dollar for four Tootsie Pops and we're set for the evening.

Turns out the price goes up after 4:00 in the afternoon, so it was $2 apiece. I always go early, when it's cheaper, so that blindsided me. I'm a gentleman and a big spender, so I didn't complain, didn't ask Margaret to chip in, and still bought us Tootsie Pops. Am I a great guy, or what?

Well, maybe I'm not a great guy. I should've remembered what the Strand is like, before bringing a date. It's full of sleeping and snoring drunkards, and too many talking, coughing, and spitting patrons. For me, that's part of the charm of the place, but I think Maggie was uncomfortable. Can't blame her for that.

And then, toward the end of What's Love Got to Do with It, as Larry Fishburne was beating the hell out of Angela Bassett, voices in the audience were cheering it on. That's a new low, even for the lowly Strand. I should've taken Margaret out of that place at that moment, but leaving didn't occur to me, yet.

"He's beating her up, and these people are laughing at it," Maggie said, and again, I should've said 'Yeah, that's disgusting — let's go'. But I didn't. I didn't say anything, and she turned to me and said, "And you're laughing right along with them."

I certainly had not been laughing, or even smiling, and after all of her insults all week, I heard this as the biggest insult imaginable. The perpetually pleasant face and mood I'd tried to maintain during her visit disappeared, instantly. "Don't be a complete asshole," I said.

Maggie was speechless for a long time, before she finally said in a very stern voice, "Don't you ever call me that again."

I was, ah, not at my best. The theater was a hellhole and I never should've brought her, and I had several opportunities to gently lead us out of there, but I didn't, so I know I wasn't blameless. But …

How many times had she called me an asshole since I picked her up at the airport, a week ago tomorrow? How many dozen other insults had she given me in that time? And for what? For hosting her, for trying my best to treat her nice? She's accusing me of sympathizing with a wife-beater, while my shoulder aches from the beatings I took from her today? It's OK for her to call me vile names over and over, but unforgivable the first and only time I've said something mean to her? I was pissed. And maybe I still am.

All these thoughts were bumping into each other in my head, while words came tumbling out of my mouth. "You've been treating me like shit all day and I don't know why," was how I began, but the rest of what I said is a blur in my memory. I do remember her response: she started to cry.

I felt awful, but let her bawl for a minute. This, I think, is why evolution makes the womenfolk tend toward tears when they're distraught; it makes the menfolk feel awful. I put my hand on her shoulder, a gentle squeeze, and futilely tried to turn our attention back to the movie, but mostly I was wondering what she'd say when she again had something to say.

The theater was dark and loud so it took a few minutes before I noticed that she was still crying. And that made me feel awful all over again, but probably not as awful as she felt. If I'd known she was still crying, jeez, I never would've let her cry that long without a few soft words from me.

It was just a gloriously grand catastrophe of an evening.

I asked if she wanted to leave; she did, so we walked home, six blocks, mostly in silence. I said a sentence every block, trying to find some nice words without actually apologizing, because I didn't think I had much to apologize for. A couple of hours later, of course, I've figured out that I had plenty to apologize for.

And then, when we stepped back into the apartment, Margaret apologized. "I didn't come to California just to treat you so mean. I'm sorry, and I don't want us to fight." She said it so soft and sincerely, it was hard to remember I had even been angry. In a moment when one of us needed to be an adult, she was the adult, and I wasn't.

I apologized, too, of course, and we hugged and cuddled each other to sleep, sexlessly but sweetly.

♦ ♦ ♦   

MONDAY — Today Margaret BARTed back to her sister's house, and she didn't seem angry. She was quite nice all morning, like the lady I remember, someone I'd like to get to know again. I'm just wondering why Sweet Maggie arrived a week late.

There are visible bruises on my neck and shoulders, from the punches she threw at me at the Marina yesterday, and I don't know where we stand, Sweet and Sour Maggie and me.

When I left Seattle three years ago, I invited her to come with me. On the phone a month ago, I invited her to visit me here in San Francisco. I've never quite asked her to marry me, but the subject has come up. When she got to San Francisco for this two week vacation, I invited her to stay as long as she liked, if she found me and the city to her liking. I guess my invitation still stands. I guess. But I'm not sure she's finding me to her liking. And the 'not sure' is mutual.

She thinks I have a pathetic life, and I can't dispute that. I'm alone, with hardly any friends. Maybe zero. My job, this residential hotel, all my neighbors — there's nothing in my life that wouldn't look pathetic to most people. But this is the life I've chosen, and it's a life I enjoy.

If Maggie's not interested in sharing my pathetic life, hey, that's perfectly understandable. Just say so and say adios. Or if she is interested, then stop slugging me.

 From Pathetic Life #1
Sunday - Monday,
June 19 & 20, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


Pathetic Life 

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