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Bonding Gone Awry

Somewhere along the line, a guy learns that there are essentially two categories of conversational interactions between women and men: transactional and bonding. He also learns, often at the expense of being taken to task, that the orally expressed sharing of quandaries, thorny issues, or circumstances heavy with emotion is typically not a solicitation for advice. Rather, it is akin to a form of catharsis, a declaration made for the unheralded benefit of having a quietly empathetic and trusted person there, simply there, when such thoughts and concerns are externalized by giving voice to them. The “taken to task” part comes when the guy absorbs about as much he can and immediately thereafter offers macho counsel in the form of tell you what you should do or, worse, don’t feel that way.

Though I have striven to be less didactic and more reflective (e.g., I hear you), my rap sheet for prior misdeeds as an inveterate prescriptive problem-solver often makes my motives suspect when I attempt to initiate a dialogue sans agenda of any sort other than to converse and, dare I say, “bond” – whatever that is. Case in point:

I (on stepping into Jo Ann’s craftworks parlor) – “Hey there. How ya doin’?”

She (with arched eyebrow, having been interrupted midstream of tracing a pattern) – “What’s wrong? What did you do now?”

See what I mean? Guilty until proven innocent in the Court of Questionable Intentions. Ergo, you’d think I’d know better than to ask open-ended questions, the responses to which can lead anywhere – and usually do.

Days later, I erred yet again by inquiring as to the nature of a list of cities Jo Ann had been compiling assiduously via surfing the internet on her lap-mounted iPad while recumbent in the living room La-Z-Boy. Meanwhile, across the room on the flatscreen, commercials were running in real time during replay of a previously viewed episode of Dick Wolf’s original Law & Order series, of which there have been umpteen offshoots.

Standing over her shoulder from the side, I espied Chicago, Reston, Kansas City, Bradenton, and Saratoga Springs. “What are we looking at?” I queried, crossing my fingers that it wasn’t what it turned out to be. Just then, the sardonically wisecracking figure of Detective Lennie Briscoe, played for twelve long seasons by the late, esteemed stage actor Jerry Orbach, appeared onscreen: “Three deaths and a kidnapping. I’m only on my second cup of coffee!”

Jo Ann, a huge Orbach fan, chuckled. “It’s a partial list of places holding regional and national bridge tournaments this year and next,” she replied. “Gotta plan ahead to get the best airfares.”

“You can drive to Reston. That’s only –”

“That’s the spirit!”

“I’m not agreeing to anything. I was just – where’s Bradenton, by the way? Never heard of it.”

“That’s the Manatee Regional – in Florida, south of Tampa. Thought maybe we could finally take a real vacation. Something longer than your typical one-night stay and I-wanna-go-home type of deal. Explore, you know: South Miami Beach, the Everglades, Fort Myers, and so forth. Ten days, maybe, winding up in Bradenton for the regional.”

I blanched, gulped, and sputtered – audibly, for effect.

“Oh, come on, be a sport,” she countered cheerily. “It’ll be fun. You can take your favorite baby blanket, if you like. And besides, I’ve got it all figured out. Each of these cities has something very special in store for you.”

“Like what?” I challenged in my signature put-upon puppy dog whimper.

“Okay, since you ask, but I was hoping to keep them a surprise.”

“Surprise me.”

“All right. Take Chicago, for example. Ever hear of Epic Burger? Premium Black Angus beef. Aged Wisconsin cheddar. Crispy thick-cut rashers of hickory-smoked bacon. Grilled onions. Toasted bun. Cooked to order. And shoestring fries, piping hot. It’s a destination Cathédrale de Boeuf for a foodie like you.”

Saliva dribbled over my lower lip and down my chin.

“Plus, Gordon, there’s the Art Institute, the Adler Planetarium, and the Grant Park promenade, right there on Lake Michigan within a stone’s throw of the hotel.”

“Stop, please. You had me at burger.” Indeed, anticipating my experientially validated objections to the vicissitudes of travel, she had a basketful of carrots at the ready to overcome the resistance of her dray horse hubby with dangling temptations.

Saratoga Springs, New York? “Uncommon Grounds on Broadway, Honey. Freshly brewed coffees from around the world. Scooped-out ‘everything’ bagels, toasted to a golden brown, slathered with your heart’s desires.”

Reston, Virginia? “The town center is an oasis for pedestrians. You could spend a week there and still not have time to sample all of its cuisines. Ted’s Bulletin. McCormick & Schmick’s. Barcelona Wine Bar. Ben & Jerry’s. And Mon Ami Gabi … to name a few. Remember Paris? Brasserie Lipp? Look no further than Mon Ami Gabi.”

“You left out Kansas City.”

“They’ve got some mighty pretty women there.”

“And Bradenton?”

“My gratitude. It’s nothing but bridge. You’ll do it for me as a reward for taking you to South Beach – Cubano cooking, cigars on the beach, Latin music, balmy nights, pheromones.”

“Pheromones as in romance?”

“Pheromones as in the tantalizing aroma of roasted pig-on-a-spit.”

Sure, there are guys who would object to being objectified as carnivorous creatures driven almost exclusively by hedonistic pleasures, food-related and otherwise. I am not one of them – one who objects, that is. “Okay. Okay. Uncle! You win! You’re making me hungry.”

“I am? Well, that’s a good thing! Have a seat and we’ll take ten to review Checkback Stayman again. I like to think of the opener’s rebid as a ‘hungry’ Two Notrump.”

Onscreen again, twice-divorced Lennie Briscoe let loose with another delicious zinger for the benefit of one of his colleagues: “Love – a devastating disease instantly cured by marriage.”

“You knoowwww,” I drawled, intending to leverage Briscoe’s epigram, “your favorite detective there does have –”

“No, no, no, no, no. Nuh-uh. Best for everyone if we stick with Checkback Stayman.”

(To Be Continued)