'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Car Salesman and his Wife

The missing garden gnome turned up alive and well in a box in the shed. I noticed that the other gnomes would move around the garden during the night. I have a feeling they were playing hide-and-seek.

My cousin Gary has a friend called Ruth who's obsessed with fashion. She has a different style almost every day. It changes with the weather. Sometimes the weather forecasters get it wrong and she wears something that looks out of place, but most of the time she gets it just right. The sight of her in the clothes she wears to compete with the sun has been known to make people spontaneously dance in fountains. Someone once said that if you put a lamp shade on her head you could use her to read at night, although using her to read would be a waste.

When Gary was taking a second-hand car out for a test drive the salesman went with him to make sure he didn't steal it. When the salesman asked Gary if he'd ever stolen a car before he said 'no', but even Gary himself thought he didn't sound too sure about it. Gary spent the whole time talking about Ruth because he couldn't think of anything else to talk about. The salesman started crying at the end of the test drive. Gary was going to ask what was wrong but he started whistling instead. The salesman told him what was wrong anyway. He said she sounded just like his wife, and his wife was inching towards being his ex-wife.

"I hate it when people inch," Gary said. "When you're going to do something you should do it decisively or don't do it at all. Run away rather than inching away. Or stay where you are. Generally speaking you're better off running. When a woman once told me about the depressed crows who perch on her hat I ran away. When I was in a choir and I realised that everyone else in the choir was holding a small iron, I ran away and I nearly knocked myself unconscious when I ran into a door."

The salesman stopped crying. The silence that followed was a bit awkward so Gary said, "My friend Jack says that you can learn everything you need to know about women from looking at penguins."

"What could you learn from looking at penguins?"

"I don't know. I think his point is that you don't really need to know a whole lot."

"I've tried not knowing a lot and it hasn't worked."

"Do you ever buy her things when it isn't her birthday or Christmas?"


"Try that. Christmas and birthday presents are almost always a disappointment, but get her something when she isn't expecting anything and she'll be delighted. As long as it's something that doesn't bite her. Get her something dead."

"Like what?"

"Fish. Get her some fish. That's what a penguin would do."

"I don't know."

"No, seriously, get her some fish. Fresh fish. A whole fish with a head and eyes. It might not sound very romantic to bring home something and say, 'Could you cut the head off this thing and cook it for me?' But trust me, she'll love it. As long as it's not a really ugly fish. Get her a salmon or something."

"She'd never expect me to do something like that."

"Which is exactly why you should do it. She's inching away from the man she thinks you are. Show her you're not that man."

Gary came back a few days later to buy the car, and the salesman seemed much happier. "It worked," he said. "I brought home a salmon and she said it was the first unselfish thing I'd ever done. We had a beautiful candle-lit dinner and she's inching back towards me now, leaving the door open for me to run through the open door and leave her."

"You want to leave her?"

"Yeah. I couldn't let her go first. Even when she was inching away she had a head start."

"Why do you want to leave her?"

"She can be so annoying at times. Not all the time, but sometimes. And when she's not being annoying she's just being silent, which is good, up to a point. That would be the point at which I wonder why she doesn't want to talk to me. But most importantly of all, she wanted to leave me. Some men want what they can't have, but for me, when women think they'd be better off outside of my vicinity they go way down in my estimation."

"But she wants to be with you now."

"Only because I did something unselfish."

"Looking at penguins would be much less complicated."

"We'll discuss the car in a minute, but first things first. When are you going to introduce me to this friend of yours? Ruth."

"You said she reminded you of your wife. Why would you want to meet her?"

"She reminds me of all the good points of my wife."

"It's completely unrealistic to expect a woman you've never met to have all of the good points of your wife without any of the bad points. She once bit a donkey. Did your wife ever bite a donkey?"


"That's one-nil to your wife. Your view of your wife is being distorted by your view of Ruth and vice versa. You see an idealised woman in Ruth and this highlights all of your wife's flaws because in your mind you've defined Ruth as someone who possesses none of your wife's flaws."

"Can we talk about penguins again?"

"Give your wife another chance. The fact that you want to be with someone like your wife is a good sign."

"Since when has wanting to be with someone else been good for the health of your marriage?"

"You've just got to remember that your wife is someone just like your wife. She's more like your wife than anyone else. Meeting Ruth would only be a disappointment because she wouldn't be similar enough to your wife."

"I'm willing to take my chances."

"Give your wife another chance, and if it doesn't work out I'll introduce you to Ruth. You need to inject a bit more romance into your relationship. Trust me on this. I'm an expert on romance."

"When you ran from the woman with the depressed crows was that the romantic thing to do?"

"That had nothing to do with romance."

"Were you romantically involved with her at the time?"

"Yes, but it had nothing to do with romance. With a bit of romance ye could both see each other in a different light. And if ye see each other in a different light it's a perfect time for romance. Ye need a new setting. Where would ye normally go on holidays or for weekend breaks?"

"Galway. Kerry. Spain. Mullingar. She has relatives in Mullingar. Thankfully they stay there. She's a librarian, and one of her work colleagues has a holiday home in Mayo. We've been there once."

"Take her somewhere different, somewhere you'd never think of going."

"How am I supposed to think of a place I'd never think of?"

"Have you ever considered going to Berlin, or Vienna, or Oslo?"


"Well go to Berlin or Vienna or Oslo."

"I suppose we could go to Vienna."

He didn't sound very enthusiastic about this trip. Gary told him that there's no point in doing things half-heartedly. And there's no point in doing something for a second time if it didn't work the first time. If you do it again, the chances are you'll do it with half the heart you put into it the first time around. If you absolutely have to do something twice, you could wear different clothes the second time around, or do it while standing on one leg, or pretend to be French, or learn Russian first and refuse to use your Russian when undertaking your undertaking for the second time, doing it exactly like you did it the first time, only with a working knowledge of Russian safely locked inside your head, with the knowledge that you could use it, but you won't. Give everyday activities an edge, a shot of excitement, by vowing never to use your Russian. It's not worth doing something if you can't put your whole heart into it, and you can do it again whole-heartedly if you just make a minor change to the surface. If I sound as if I'm repeating myself, that's because I am, only I'm dressing the sentences in different clothes. They wear different words. Sometimes I'll need to remind you of things in the murky depths of the distant past, things that can easily be forgotten. Sometimes I'll have no need to remind you of things, but I will anyway, such as the fact that Jack learnt everything he knows about women from looking at penguins. I don't know if he learnt everything he knows about penguins from looking at women. You might say that I shouldn't dress sentences up in any unnecessary words or phrases. Remove their clothes, leaving the naked truth, the bare facts. If someone loses the use of their clothes and comes close enough to your vicinity for you to be able to say 'hmm' or 'ahh' or 'huh?' or 'hn', you won't need to be reminded of that three paragraphs later. You might not want to be reminded of that at all. Alternatively, you might remind yourself of it on a regular basis to turn on the central heating in your mind. In terms of sentences, the ones without clothes would be those of the form 'So-and-so is a so-and-so'. You don't need to be reminded of these if the form is actualised in sentences like 'Jack is an alien' (this is just an example -- Jack is not an alien), but what about lines like 'Jack is a bit tired'. And Jack being a bit tired could be even more significant than Jack being an alien, although maybe not for Jack himself, (I can't say for sure because I don't know anything about Jack -- I'm just assuming he's not an alien). I know someone who thought he was an alien once. I know someone else who conducted a closer examination to determine if he really was an alien. I know many people who objected to this. I remain to this day a dedicated member of 'many people', and I'll always go for the option that involves clothes. It's one of our core beliefs. I've heard of groups whose most prominent features include 'many people' and 'no clothes', and in some cases you could add aliens onto that list as well, but that's neither here nor there (I'd give you directions if I knew where it was). The blunt, rusty point is this: don't do things half-heartedly, and do things differently to keep the heart whole.

It might also be said that the previous sentence didn't need to be buried at the bottom of the previous paragraph, that it should have been left on its own and we could all have learnt Russian in the time we saved. I'll take that point on board. The salesman accepted Gary's point about doing things whole-heartedly, and it worked. Gary went back to see him a few months later and he asked how the trip to Vienna went. "It couldn't have gone any better," the salesman said. "It was so much better than Mullingar. But it was even stranger than Mullingar, which was surprising. When I was waiting for her in the lobby of the hotel one evening I noticed that everyone around me was wearing blue clothes. I stood out like a sore thumb, and I got the feeling that they were all looking at me. There was an eerie atmosphere to the place. One of them said to me, 'If you were in space, would you worry about your head exploding?' I said 'no' without even thinking about the question. They all nodded. When my wife arrived they asked us if we'd like to join them for dinner. I didn't need to put much thought into that question to be able to say 'no', but she got there first with a 'yes'. As it happened, we had a great time with those people. It filled our hearts again. It's like a fresh start to our marriage."

As it happened, the people in the blue clothes could be described as 'many people', and when they weren't wearing blue clothes they believed in wearing no clothes at all. I don't know if they believed in aliens. You can read what you like into the question about the exploding head in space. The salesman and his wife became honourary members of the group over the weekend. They both discovered that they were both committed to each other, and that that committment would be even greater if they could be with other people as well. So he was still interested in meeting Ruth. Gary asked what library his wife worked in, just out of curiosity.

The moose's head over the fireplace knows Russian. He can never use it, but the fact that he knows it surely adds a shot of excitement to his daily activities, or activity (staring at the wall). We only found out about his knowledge of Russian at a party we had when one of the neighbours brought a Russian friend. He got drunk and he told a joke in his native tongue. The moose's head definitely looked as if he understood it. The wife's uncle says he can speak a few words of Russian, but all he could make out was something about an ostrich farm.