In my previous update, I mentioned the musical, “Funny Girl:” The film version came out in 1968 and Stephen took me to go see it on one of our first dates.
When Barbra Streisand [as Fanny Brice] belted out her final, heart-breaking, plaintive song, “My Man,” at the end of the film, Stephen was transported, in his mind, to the stage musical, where he evidently thought he was a member of the audience at a live performance: He broke into vigorous applaud, right there in the silence of the movie theatre. This continued for several seconds, as I held my breath, watched him in amazement, and valiantly tried to conquer my giggles. This was my first clue that I was dating a man who could be so “caught up in the moment” that he could forget everything else in the world around him. In spite of my astonishment, I said not a word.
Pre-marriage, his mother told me this true story: One summer day, Stephen was home from college and offered to shop for the week’s groceries for the family. The routine at that particular grocery store involved these Five Easy Steps:
1. Pay for your groceries;
2. Leave them in the shopping basket [in the care of a curbside clerk;]
3. Find your vehicle;
4. Drive to the curbside;
5. Clerk will load up said groceries.
What could be easier?
Well, when he arrived back home, his mother said, “Stephen, where are the groceries?!” He evidently got distracted after Step Three. So, he raced back to the store to reclaim his groceries. If this incident was a warning, I chose to ignore it and held my peace.
Ironically, several years elapsed before I realized that I had married the quintessential Absent-Minded Professor [AMP]. This explains why he is able to focus laser-sharp intensity and concentration on his work. He is able, to an astonishing degree, to shut out superfluous distractions, like breakfast and lunch.
Some distractions, unfortunately, are less superfluous: Although this has happened only once, he was working feverishly one morning, in his FSU office, when a student called from a nearby classroom and asked, “Dr. Payne, are you going to show up to teach class today?”
And decades ago, when our children were small, Stephen was on car-pool duty when he became lost in thought, drove all the way to the university, parked, turned his head around, and found two confused preschoolers, peering back at him from the back seat. He explained to them that he had taken a “short-cut” to preschool and I think they even believed him.
While driving, in fact, he does some of his best thinking and he might divert the car toward his FSU office, on a Sunday morning, when we are supposed to be headed to church. However, I don’t say a word, reasoning that he doesn’t need a “front-seat/back-seat driver.”
There are, of course, several Sunday mornings that Stephen is able, quite on his own, to negotiate a straight trajectory toward church, a route that is less than two miles, from “door to door.” Yet, he is, by no means, safe — even then — because his mind might begin to wander . . . at any minute . . .
For instance, there was the morning, during the Worship Service, when he mentally “checked out” during the Induction Ceremony of The Order of the Daughters of the Holy Cross. *
The ceremony continued for several minutes and concluded with an invitation for all the new Daughters of the Holy Cross to stand, come forward, and receive prayer, a blessing, and a Daughters of the Holy Cross sterling silver cross necklace.
At the familiar words, “We invite all those …. to stand,” Stephen came out of his stupor and his head popped up. Perhaps he imagined that we were ALL being invited to stand, to witness a baptism or a marriage.
I said not a word but I surreptitiously and firmly grasped the elbow of his sleeve. He struggled three times to free himself, so that he could rise to his feet.
Finally, on the third attempt, he surveyed his surroundings and decided, no doubt after some quick self-examination, that he would not volunteer to lead the procession that Sunday morning, with banner aloft, as the first [and only] male member of the St. Peter’s Anglican Church Order of the Daughters of the Holy Cross.
Now, early in the morning on his FSU teaching days, we drive together to the FSU pool to swim laps. After we park, I don’t say a word if he grabs his black professor attaché case instead of, say, his black swim-gear bag, as he barrels toward the locker room.
And, only last week, I watched him race ahead of me toward the locker rooms, in preparation for swimming laps. I was right behind him when I saw him reach for the door. It was at that moment that I hissed, “Where are you going?!”
Normally, you see, I don’t interfere with his circuitous wanderings but I was loath to read the headlines the next morning: “Male University Professor Arrested for Entering Women’s Locker Room; Wife Claims He Is Absent-Minded.”
However, if he rushes out the door in the morning to go to work and forgets his lunch, I just store it in the refrigerator and eat it at noon. If he forgets his wallet, I pilfer some cash and go out to lunch. If he forgets his cell phone, I ignore the insistent rings and let all the messages go to voice mail.
I come downstairs on a relaxed Saturday morning to join him for espresso. We chat for a while and then I say, “I’m going back upstairs to get beautiful.” But he is already lost in his book and he is dull and slow to respond. So, I repeat myself, a little louder, and he responds, perfunctorily: “Uhh … yes … but … you already are beautiful!” or “Umm … oh … well … that won’t take very long!”
On other Saturday mornings, I watch, with veiled amusement, as roars out the door, to go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, on a frantic quest for home improvement supplies. I know he will be back soon, to retrieve his wallet. Sure, I could call him, to save him embarrassment at the check-out station, but he has also roared off without his cell-phone.
You remember, perhaps, that I am currently a subject in a Research Study at FSU. The routine includes these Six Easy Steps:
1. Report to the Faculty Parking Lot Gate;
2. Wait for the FSU students to open the Gate with an electronic “Clicker;”
3. Proceed through the Gate and pause;
4. Open car window and receive a [one-day] “Faculty Parking Sticker;”
5. Display “Sticker” on dashboard;
Well, last month, I had my own “Clicker” and “clicked” myself through the Gate. I paused and showed the student helpers my own “Sticker.”
Incredulous, the helpers asked: “How did you get your own Faculty ‘Clicker’ and ‘Sticker?’ ”
I shrugged my shoulders and blithely replied, “I sleep with a professor!” and drove on past them . . .
. . . Which proves that there are some perks to marrying a professor, even an absent-minded one.
[Written by Margot Blair Payne, April 2011]
* “The Order provides a community in which you can fulfill a lifetime vow to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Order’s four-fold vow consists of Prayer, Service, Study and Evangelism.” [From the website.]