RUFFIN-IT: THE HAZARDS OF PUSHING A WOMAN TOO FAR
“OK,” I said, “throw the damned thing in the fire.”
What happened over the next few seconds seemed later like a scene from a domestic comedy, though at the time I was simply in shock. I looked over, and she was holding the board in one hand and wrestling with the fireplace screen with her other.
“Just grab that little black handle,” I told her, “the one on the right, and slide the screen open to the right. It might be a little hot, so be careful. Wouldn’t want you to burn yourself.”
And then, quick as a wink, the Scrabble board was behind the back log and blazing.
She did it. She threw the board into the fireplace. SHE BURNED OUR SCRABBLE GAME! Wordless, I motioned to the bag of wooden squares, the ones she’d dumped from the board and the ones we hadn’t used. She snatched them up and shook them out over the fire, where they caught immediately, but the smoke didn’t spell anything that made sense to me. She threw the plastic bag in a trash can, along with the box the game had come in. (She told me later that she wasn’t sure about the fumes that the plastic might generate. See how considerate she is?)
OK, I told her to. Big deal. I say lots of stupid stuff I don’t mean, usually when I’m mad or just in a bad mood or when I’ve gone one sip over the line.
But a little background here, lest you believe that my woman is a pyromaniac at worst, a little insensitive at best. In this case she was neither.
Women are different. I know that’s a pretty profound declaration, and most would regard it as unnecessary to say anyway, since any fool who ever grew up a boy comes to that conclusion pretty early on and never loses sight of the fact. I mean, really different, though, sometimes in downright spooky ways. Or maybe I am suffering another kind of gender confusion.
Whatever, when Amber came into my life for good, and we’ve been married a lot of years now, we had to learn to take the time, exercise patience, and practice adequate humility to accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses without feeling superior or inferior when one of us trumped the other. She would argue with God or Satan and give either a run for His/Her money, so I discovered very early in our relationship that I’d better make certain that whatever I said to her made sense. I mean, if I left a millimeter of an opening, she zero in on it. I don’t regard it as a fault: I regard it as Amber being Amber.
But let me get back to this Scrabble story. Maybe it’s a parable. I don’t know. But I learned a lot from it.
She had never played Scrabble much, and I had played quite a bit, so I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to assert my dominance in at least that one arena right away. The fact was that at that point no one had ever beaten me in Scrabble. And, yes, I had played people other than my kids.
OK, at first it was a breeze. I beat her several games in a row. But she took defeat gracefully, which had to be really hard for her, picked herself up out of the dust and brushed herself off and came at me again. And again. And again.
Then I noticed that the scores were getting tighter. “Just gotta concentrate a little more,” I told myself and went on playing with her.
Then, lo, one night she beat me. Not by much. But she beat me. “OK, that was a fluke,” I whispered to my bruised ego.
But then she was beating me one out of four times, then one out of three, then half the time. She developed an uncanny ability to use up every square every play, for which you get an extra fifty points. She’d study the letters a while with that analytical mind of hers whirring away, move them around this way and that in front of her, and then they’d be on the board, every bloody one of them, just about every time.
Before I realized what was happening, I was about to be shipped back to the minors. I couldn’t beat her! Oh, now and again I’d manage to edge her out, and one night I hammered her really hard and gloated for nearly twenty-four hours before she busted me back.
[Next week I’ll return to the story of how my wife burned our Scrabble game.]
I became more and more difficult to play with, because I just don’t lose well. I never have. I like to win! I play games by the rules, and I try hard, and I expect to win. If I discover that I can’t play a game well enough to win, I just quit playing it. Like tennis, which I never was any good at. Or golf, which I’ve never tried, because I know I don’t have the time to learn how to win at it. That’s why I won’t play the lottery. I tried it. I played by the rules: I bought the tickets, and I religiously checked the numbers. I did everything right, but I couldn’t win (well, maybe three bucks on a few occasions), so I quit.
In short, there are just too many games in life that you can excel at without making yourself miserable engaging in those that require more time than you are willing to put into them to do little more than get by with mediocre results.
BUT I WAS GOOD AT SCRABBLE. Nobody had ever beaten me, which meant that I COULD have been the world champ, and now she was trouncing me relentlessly. It’s her downright spooky ability to use up every letter almost every time, getting those fifty-point bonuses. I’d manage it pretty often, but she was doing it almost every time.
As I say, I got harder to play with. But the night the Scrabble board lit up in Willis, we were having a good time, so I agreed to play, and I promised beforehand (as I always do) that I wouldn’t get too serious, wouldn’t get mad if she beat me, wouldn’t be grouchy for the next ten or twelve hours.
We set the game up on the floor before the fireplace and started playing. Things went fine for a while. I was having a little whiskey along and enjoying the early hands, mainly because I knew that with a few good hands I could catch up. I drew a couple of unbelievably bad hands and then found myself with seven consonants on my tray. Not a single vowel! There are a hundred letters in the game, and forty-two of them are vowels, and I did not have a single one. Oh, I could make a three-letter word playing off one of the vowels on the board, but you don’t run up the score very fast playing like that. Not a chance under the sun that I’d be getting a fifty-point bonus anytime soon, but she kept getting one just about every hand. No shortage of vowels for her. I needed a miracle, and I didn’t get it.
So I got tacky. Mainly I just got mad at whatever gods control the game of Scrabble, because they sure weren’t favoring me. They had dumped on me. I announced that I was through for the night and that I wasn’t playing Scrabble ever again, one of those sophisticated adult announcements that always make things right between a man and woman. So she said fine and picked the board up and slid the squares back into their little bag. That’s when I told her to throw it on the fire. And that’s when she did, along with the letters.
I went to bed mad, still not believing that she burned our game (even if I did tell her to). Sometime during the early morning hours I woke up and replayed the whole scene, and suddenly I found it hilarious, watching her fling that board and bag of letters into the fire. I began laughing, jiggling the whole bed. She woke up and asked me what was so funny, and I told her.
“You didn’t think it was funny at the time,” she said.
“It wasn’t then. It is now. The lesson I have learned is not to push a woman too far, or she might throw your things in it.”
If she got the pun, she didn’t let on. “Promise me you won’t burn my grandfather clock or guns or tractor or truck.”
“Behave yourself,” she said, “and I won’t. Unless you tell me to.”
(We were in Barnes and Noble a couple of months later, and I told her I wanted to buy another Scrabble set, one of those fancy ones with a rotating board with little dividers so that you can’t knock the letters out of position. [The one she burned was cheap.] She shook her head NO. For some reason she had lost her enthusiasm for Scrabble, just when I figured was about to get good at it again. Fersher.)