NOW THAT I AM 85: My Little Husband and The Apostrophe Codebreaker Machine

Once again my little husband looks at the apostrophe he has found on Page 14 of the New York Post.

Once again he checks it with the magnifying glass.

“That is six times I have found it in today’s issue alone,” he announces. “They got to be hiding something. And one by one they are infiltrating the young generation to hide it also.”

“Hide what?” I say.

“How would I know? They are good hiders; that is all I can tell. Good secret code people.”

He feverishly shapes copper wire into a circle, passes it over the offending apostrophe, and inserts the wire-circle into slot 105-E of his machine.

The machine spits it back out with no comment.

This machine is so big already it no longer fits into the downstairs spare bedroom which is his laboratory and which became a spare when Number One Son went off to M.I.T. Some of it is out in the hall, and is hard to get past when you want to go to the downstairs bathroom.

“I am determined to break the code,” my little husband says. “I will find out what they are hiding. It will take all my great persistence, plus a little bit o’luck.” (He speaks the latter in a fake Cockney accent because he loves that song).

I say, “Why don’t you call our Number One Son, ask him?”

He looks at me like I am some idiot.

“He is working for the government twenty-six years?”

“Twenty-seven,” I say.

“And he is going to give away its secrets?”

I am ashamed.

“He is a good son, and a good citizen!” he scolds. “If he is involved in this, it could be only because he has been threatened.”

I have to admit this is true.

Never to my knowledge has our Number One Son been guilty of putting an apostrophe where it does not belong. Even as a child, he was fiercely meticulous about this, remonstrating with his siblings if he caught them straying.

“Although,” I say, “it is a small mark. It can’t be covering much.”

He poses a philosophical question: “If a great number of angels could dance on the head of a pin, how many secrets can hide under a mark the size of the head of a pin?”

“You got me there,” I say.

My little husband’s experiments continue.

The machine keeps spitting out everything he puts into it. There is no result of any kind. My little husband’s frustration becomes more extreme with each passing day.

I am really alarmed when he, in a sudden burst of desperation, tries to dig with his fingernail to see what is under one of the apostrophes.

“It is a NEWSPAPER!” I cry. “Where you are digging, what is under there is the preceding page! What can be making you so crazy?”

He lets the newspaper drop to the floor. He stares into space with a look of despair.

“It is Mrs. McKee,” he says. He blows his nose on one Kleenex, then another. “She gave me a gold star. It was the first gold star I ever got.”

“She said to me ‘Good work!’ She said ‘Good work!’ and she put a gold star on my ‘It’s and Its’ paper.

“She taught us this song:


“She wrote this song on the board, pointing with the chalk at the ‘It’s’ and the ‘its’.

“Then she sang it to us, in her nice voice, pointing to the words like now you have Karaoke. Then she made us all learn to sing it together.

“Sometimes I still sing it to myself, in my mind.”

After a while I say “Please call our Number One Son. Maybe he can help you to feel better.”

I hear him on the telephone, explaining his suspicions about governmental involvement in the proliferation of incorrectly-used apostrophes. Then he is very quiet. He is listening.

Now he roars in a terrible rage. “What do you mean nobody cares anymore? What do you mean it doesn’t matter anymore? What kind of a son are you to say such a thing?”

Still holding the phone, he sits down, a crushed man. I can tell that our son is still talking. I can only guess what he is saying.

Although I am sorry for my little husband’s disappointment, I am relieved that now he will be able to let go of his obsession.

But suddenly I am seized by a terrible foreboding. Things have changed, our son has said. Is it possible he is no longer my precious child who used to lecture his sister and his brothers when they broke the rules of linguistic decency?

“Before you hang up,” I say, “let me speak to him.”

I approach the landline with a trepidation so great it causes my hand to shake.

“Tell me, dear,” I ask. “Would you ever say…would you ever THINK of saying …’I’m going to lay

down and take a nap?’

My little husband shouts: “WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT?”

I stare at my little husband.

I hang up without even saying goodbye.

Each person, I think, gets to choose his own enemies.

His own enemies.
His or her own enemies.

Their own enemies.

I see that my little husband remains miserable. He whispers: “It is as if everything I learned in such a long life…is nothing. Isn’t true anymore. What is the use of learning anything? It all changes.”

I consider this. “Isn’t there something you have learned that is still the same?”

He brightens a bit. “That Eddie Minchin. In third grade I learned he was a rotten bum, he is still a rotten bum.” He smiles at this.

“Anything else?”

“The ordinary man is a terrible driver. Always was, is now and always will be.”

“But these are bad things!” I say. “Can’t you think of a good thing that has not changed, that is still good?”

He looks at me, and he keeps on looking.

I look at him.

We look at each other such a long time.

He looks in my eyes, and I look in his eyes, and I feel like my heart will burst.

(My next shlog is entitled: My Little Husband is The Monster-Watcher)


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