How my marriage survives caffeine-fueled mania — Part II

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My mother and her entire family are from Poland. I am not sure if it is the hyper-Catholicism of the Poles or the fact that other than God it is my wife I primarily have to deal with, but as I drove toward Fort Lauderdale past Naples, I started to feel guilty.

“I have to stay focused” I told myself. “But Melissa is going to kill me” kept echoing in the back of my head.

The phone rang. It was my wife.

As if some super male instinct came over me, I grew purposeful and vague at the same time.

“What is going on, Hun?” My wife asked.

And we have expected patterns. Usually after breakfast with Hal Lenobel and Bruce St. Denis I drive to our Longboat Key office at the Centre Shops. Now do I stop on the way and talk, socialize, sell ads, torture town staff at Town Hall and make sure there are enough papers at Publix and CVS at all times? Yes, that is all part of the routine. So when my wife asked what was going on, I wanted to spend less time selling Melissa on the house-sized espresso machine I had already bought site unseen on EBay.

“I just had breakfast and now I’m heading down the road. What are you doing?” I replied.

Then my wife, who senses like a seismographic needle the slightest deviation and inflection in my manner and voice, says, “Where are you off to next?”

And even though nobody was in the car with me I opened my eyes real wide and suddenly morphed into Bill Clinton.

“Well, I am still working on next,” I replied.

Within three seconds I told my wife like some instant confessional that I found the perfect espresso machine on EBay and I was on the way to picking it up “real quick.”

That always happens with me:  the Catholic guilt takes over in the face of the direct questioning from my German, Baptist wife.

“How much was it? Does it even work? Do you know how to install it? Where is it going to go? Did you factor in your time?”

I have learned all these questions are only worries. But also my wife is thinking through all the realistic pitfalls and unintended consequences and costs. She thinks of the exact things I eliminate from my thought. If I thought of all the problems up front I would never start anything.

So Melissa just listened and gave me her what I can best call “Hmmmmmmm” tone. It means: “Interesting. Hmm. I would not have gone about it that way but it is too late now. Hmmmm….”

But in many ways my wife does not have to argue, she just watches my nutty plans unravel.

So I confessed to having an affair with EBay while she was lying in bed right beside me. Then I told her the affair cost $250. She reminded me: “As a starting point”

Then in my pathetic attempt to be thoughtful I asked where in the kitchen would she like it to go?

Melissa then gave me the kind of answer I found indefinite and troubling.

“Well I will have to wait until I see what it looks like,” she said.

The second part of our chat was about when I might be returning from this adventure.

My wife is very realistic and makes accurate time estimates. I tend to want to turn everything into a razor’s edge challenge of perfect execution. If I have a 30-minute trip, I always somehow get caught up doing things and race like my life depends on it over the speed limit all to make it almost on time. I have perfected the art of turning life into a million and one thrill rides out of ordinary to-dos.

So that being said, Melissa asks, “So what time are you going to be home? Sounds like pretty late.”


She must be a saint

I did some quick and optimistic math. “It is only 11:30 a.m.” I said to myself. Two hours to Fort Lauderdale, three and half hours back max and an hour buying the espresso machine. How long does it take to buy a stupid cappuccino machine? I thought to myself?

“That’s crazy,” I reassured my wife, “I should be home 6 to 7 o’clock.”

And while I was born Catholic, I have formed a complex in that everyone who knows me and meets my wife immediately and spontaneously says: “Oh, you are Steve’s wife. You must be a saint.”

Then I will see the same people the next day and they say, “Your wife is lovely. She is a real saint.”

And then I feel compelled to agree. I say, “Yeah she is a saint, I do not know how she does it.”

I have had that conversation no less than a 50 times in the last few years.

That being said, when she gets mad at me, she makes a sailor afflicted with Tourette’s sound polite.


Pinning down a moving target

But while I was finishing talking with my wife, Jeanette Billings, the marketing director for our newspaper, calls. And she calls again and again.

“Oh no,” I think while speaking with my wife.

And let me confess: I forgot in my excitement of the morning that Jeanette and I were planning to have a big sales day at the office and we were supposed to strategize on how to approach the candidates for election advertising.

So with Jeanette I needed to assume the busy boss persona of someone who had but a few moments to speak and I would have to scoot off the phone to some very important appointment, which in reality was a restroom break in Alligator Alley.

Just as I go to dial Jeanette, my oldest daughter calls. She is 16. I have six children with my wife and four are daughters. I see my eldest daughter’s face pop up on my android phone screen and I immediately say, “Hey honey…”

“Dad, what time are you coming home?”

“Well I have a project going on, but as soon as I am done I am coming right home.”

I look down the nose of my green car, which is pointed like a bullet east to the espresso machine. I see no cars in front or behind and up the speed past 95 MPH.

And my daughter literally says, “Dad, you just gave me a sequence of events, not a time. What time are you coming home?”

Now I feel stuck. I do not want to tell my daughter a wrong time and somehow I feel my wife will understand if I am running late.

“I would say by 9 p.m.,” I reply.

She asks, “Can you pick up Chinese from that place that makes the good orange chicken?”

“Isn’t mom making dinner tonight?” I ask.

Then my daughter gets the teenager tone: “If you can call it a dinner — she is making enchiladas. I don’t know why mom insists on making food nobody can eat.”

If there is one thing I have learned — and it could be the only thing I truly have learned — always take the side of my wife and stand up for her in any dispute with the children. This is good practice for so many reasons I cannot explain it to those who do not immediately say “that is true.”

So for that reason I tell my daughter that I had to go out of town and had to focus on a project and that the Chinese food is mom’s call

“So work with Mom on the dinner plan,” I said.

“Well, you might as well not feed me,” she said as goodbye.


Hot, steaming and ready…

The weeds were no less than 30 inches high surrounding Il Cappuccino — a long closed down restaurant on some run down strip mall somewhere on a busy strip in Fort Lauderdale.

Sal, the Espresso machine seller, was nowhere. I knocked on the back. Legal notices were posted on the door. I called and got no answer. Finally I get Sal.

“Estevo,” he says, “I am 10 minutes from you. Just wait or get a pizza next door.”

Sal shows up with a crew of workers who grab drywall buckets and tools and they head to the door.

Then I notice he is talking very fast about how the machine is just too big for the restaurant he is renovating.

“I am going to the pod system — but this is a great commercial grade machine,” says Sal.

Then Sal says he has a commercial grinder he will throw in as well. “Do you have a truck,” he asks?

As we walk in the near-abandoned-looking restaurant, the whole scene is chaotic. Old Mediterranean photo wallpaper is half torn from the walls. The whole restaurant is about 15 feet wide and very deep. In the back is a large butchers block and that is when I saw her for the first time.

I stared at the espresso machine as if some EBay matchmaking service had left me face to face with the most stunning and intelligent and refined cappuccino machine ever dreamt of and I was taking her home.

Italian with gold, platinum, dark brown and raven black accents with hot steam slowly finding its way out as if it was saying, “I am ready.”

And Sal became obsessed in showing me how the espresso maker makes the perfect crema — the frothy head that forms on perfectly executed shots of espresso.

So in a matter of 10 minutes we had no less than six or seven espresso shots and then like a man clearing out everything associated with his old life he and the boys carried loads of supplies to the car. The espresso maker was carried by three of the guys and we moved the front seat all the way back. On a blanket and on cardboard it sat next to me like the largest date I have ever had in a front seat all the way home to Sarasota.

The grinder fit in the trunk. Sal had basically given me the backbone of a Starbucks operation for $250 I thought with some pride.

The problem is it took more than two hours to load the machine and drink all that espresso. I also had waited and waited for Sal. It was now turning dark and cold in the December evening.

I drove toward I-95 with my arm draped up and over the top of the machine. And As I drive south I noticed my phone was not charged. I am heading toward Naples, how hard can that be to find? I said to myself.

Well between the night, the lights and the caffeine, I circuitously found my way to Alligator Alley, but I was no laser.

It was pitch black and I grew tired. I kept on as the hour passed 7 then 8 and I was almost to Naples. I called my wife.

She said she just finished eating Chinese food with the kids.

“I thought you were making enchiladas?” I asked.

“I wanted to,” she said, “but I could not find the Verde sauce — I thought I had bought two cans of it at Publix…”

I pictured my oldest daughter coming downstairs with a bath towel and returning to her room with the concealed Verde sauce and hiding them in her sock drawer.

My wife asked about the espresso machine and “my progress.

“Honey — it is amazing. It makes the most incredible crema…”

“The most incredible what?” she asked.

She had far more pertinent things to talk about.

“You are not planning on installing that thing tonight are you?”

I had not thought that far ahead I said.

“Well, Sophia has been waking up easily lately. I do not know if she has an ear infection. If you could just come in quiet and leave the chaos to morning.”

Now I do take my wife’s side when she faces an adversary. But when it comes to following unreasonable requests like not installing a cappuccino machine at 3 a.m., I draw the line.


Could I be so wrong?

I keep driving in silence. Despite a front tire blowout and a 30-minute tire change outside Naples right on the highway in front of Bass Pro Shops, I made it home the same day.

But it was close to midnight and my wife was already asleep as was everyone except Alex, my oldest son and Ariana, my second oldest daughter.

Using carpets, a piano dolly and a final backbreaking hoist I put the espresso maker in place.

And In my judgment I put the Cappuccino maker right where I thought my wife will want it. I also knew that the outlet to the sink disposer, which I was going to cannibalize and covert to 220, and the water supply were in reach — or so I thought.

My son even agreed: “I think it should go there,” he said after a brief consideration.

It turned out I was wrong. Wrong on the placement, wrong on how well the machine would work — at least initially — and wrong on my electrical system approach and even in my approach to the plumbing.

But the challenges did make me work harder to meet the placement demands of my wife and the electrical needs of the machine.

But the worst thing I underestimated was the effect of the sheer volume of espressos consumed each day. It was literally a journey to a frenetic underworld in my kitchen and living room over the next two weeks. Arguments, wild spending and technical feats all are part of the story that will continue next week.

My apologies: I thought the conclusion would be this week, but occasionally my time estimates are off.

— Steve Reid

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