Filthy Habits

Even though I am a world-class expert on women, I sometimes find them hard to understand.  For example, I had been dating Margaret exclusively for about a year and a half, and I thought it was probably safe to put my arm around the back of her chair at a movie.  I was what we called in those days "a fast worker."


I still do not remember what the movie was about because I was too busy calculating exactly when to make my move.  I figured that, when the movie got really interesting, I would just casually slip my arm around her chair — nothing too crude, you understand.


Unfortunately, that afternoon I had played three grueling sets of tennis and my coordination was shot.  About three-quarters of the way through the movie, I decided the time was right.  Margaret was watching the screen intently and I was pretending to do the same.  However, instead of snaking my arm around the chair, my arm slipped and I hit her right in the eye with my elbow.  She yelped with surprise and I can tell you that in a packed, dark, quiet theater — after popping a woman in the eye with your elbow — it is very difficult to explain to her that your intention was amorous, not bellicose.


Anyway, we were married after two years of whirlwind courtship and one year of whirlwind engagement and moved into married-student housing at the seminary.  That was when I realized that if I intended to stay married, I would have to smoke my cigars out in the hall.


It wasn’t that I liked cigars all that well, but I was told by a wise, old pastor that it gave parishioners a sense of confidence and security when their minister had an obviously filthy habit which they could recognize.  That way they did not have to worry about secret vices which were worse and might embarrass them more.  Moreover, I was told that men who smoked pipes were always faithful to their wives for the simple reason that packing a pipe, keeping it lit, cleaning and caressing it left no time for anything else.


I met a lot of interesting people in that hall — some of them were seminarians.  The one I will always remember was a single student resident who had a kitten.  Of course, keeping a pet in seminary housing was illegal, but I trust he has been judged by a higher authority.


One evening I was standing in his doorway, talking to him and smoking a really fine five-cent cigar.  When we finished our conversation, I tried to close the door but his kitten wanted out and I could not close the door.  Finally I gently pushed the kitten back into the room with my foot and quickly slammed the door.  Unfortunately, I had been leaning over and watching the stupid kitten, so that when I pulled my foot away, I forgot to remove my head and slammed the door on it.


I was really outraged.  Not only did I have a door crease on each ear, but I had bitten my cigar in half.


I hurried back to my own apartment to procure a little wifely comfort and was greeted with howls of laughter.  In my experience, the feminine instinct for sympathy is greatly overrated.  IN fact, Margaret could hardly wait to have a family so she could regale them with stories of how their father had slammed his own head in a door.  At our house the Christmas story regularly includes both the wise men and the dumb Dad.


Now, I know it is important not to think of one’s self more highly than one ought to think (Romans 12:3).  Moreover, as a good father, I am quite willing for my family to have a happy time together.  That’s why I pretend to be embarrassed about the ear creases — the flash of merriment that is wont to set the table on a roar.  But actually, this event is a source of considerable pride to me because I have never heard of anyone else who had the superior ability to concentrate so completely that they could slam their own head with a door.


If you don’t believe me, dear reader, just try it for yourself.


Charles Partee
Presbyterian Outlook
March 1999