A Salty Sweet Nothing

Author: Marianne Murphy Zarzana '78

Flipping through Oprah’s magazine one day, an article titled “What Men Really Want” snagged my attention, especially one man’s hidden fantasy:

“When I’m cursing and swearing at the bonehead driver who just cut in front of me in heavy traffic, I do not want to be shushed by my wife with ‘now, honey, watch your road rage.’ What I really want is for her to simply say ‘That bastard!’ and then maybe even reach over and rub my shoulder a little. That would be amazing.”

I had hoped the article might go beyond the obvious — what men really want is sex, sex and more sex. But I hadn’t bargained for that punch to the solar plexus.

I dropped the magazine into my lap and clamped my eyes shut. Images of my husband Jim and me traveling together flashed through my head. Tooling up to the Indiana Dunes in his fire-engine-red Manta to picnic on the beach. Weaving north to Canada and down to Niagara Falls in my canary-yellow Chevette as young honeymooners. Heading east to Pennsylvania in our coin-silver Corolla for Jim’s new job, our toddler Elaine tucked into her car seat. Rambling through Minnesota in our forest-green Acclaim — the prairies, Boundary Waters, the North Shore. And trekking to countless family gatherings from Los Angeles to Boston. We must have logged tens of thousands of miles on the road.

Why couldn’t I have read those words 25 years ago so I could have coped better whenever Jim was at the helm? My well-meaning attempts to control my hot-tempered, Italian-American husband behind the wheel had never worked. On the contrary, they had not only made him angrier at the other drivers but also ticked at me, the gal riding shotgun.

Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Maybe it was high time to accept my husband’s innocuous way of venting about clueless drivers. After all, I appreciated how his passion played out in other parts of our life. Maybe I could try something new next time Jim let fly a string of colorful Italian curses he’d learned at his immigrant grandfather’s knee.

I didn’t have to wait long. While we were heading toward the Super America gas station a couple blocks from our home, a car darted out from the parking lot, prompting one of Jim’s classic outbursts. With appropriate contempt, I proclaimed, “That bastard!” then reached over and rubbed my husband’s shoulder.

The look on Jim’s face? Priceless.

Bless you, Oprah, for helping me to live my best life.

Five years ago, to celebrate the miracle of 25 years of marriage, we made a pilgrimage to the land of my Irish ancestors. As Jim zipped our tiny Irish-mist-grey Picanto down ridiculously narrow, treacherous, and rain-slicked roads, I had the opportunity to practice my new technique daily. By doing so, I gave Jim what he really wanted — a traveling companion who could shake a verbal fist alongside him at all those bastards on the road, and then share a tasty pub lunch of fish and chips along with a hearty pint of Guinness.

Marianne Murphy Zarzana writes and teaches in the English Department at Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall. Marianne, her husband, Jim ’85Ph.D., and their daughter, Elaine ’08, all love road trips. Visit her blog about writing, Fly-over Country.