Nitwitness (2 of 5)

They’re so different. Keith says he’s the kind of guy who notices what’s right in a situation, while Marnie sees what can be improved and likes to think about how to accomplish the makeover. That was true when they were young; now Keith rarely sees anything right in a situation. Now Marnie is more inclined to accept things, because she knows that she has to allocate her energy. She doesn’t tilt at windmills or argue with pronouns any more. But the gulf between their attitudes has not gotten any narrower as they’ve matured.

Keith loves toys. He goes to warehouse stores. He buys appliances and electronic devices. Now that he’s pretty much stopped drinking and having imaginative sex, the only way he gets happy is when he has a new gadget to hook up or load or debug or play.

Marnie on the other hand is made nervous by things. Clutter agitates her. She says it’s like visual chatter. As far as she’s concerned every appliance and system has idiosyncrasies, and she’d like to limit her obligation to understand their quirks. The remote control unit that governs the bedroom TV, for example, has a fussy power switch. About a third of the time that it’s pressed, it turns the TV on or off, as commanded, but only for two seconds; then the machine reverts to its former, off or on, mode. Marnie and Keith have learned not to trust that button. Or their dishwasher: it has intermittent problems releasing the detergent from its little time vault, so Marnie has to pay attention for the click that indicates dispensation. Keith’s response to those issues is to look for improved governing gadgets. Marnie tries to understand and have a relationship with each of the systems, so she wants to reduce (or at least not increase) the number of systems. Their friends get each side of the argument, but just about everyone thinks Marnie is overreacting. “Just let him shop at Costco,” they all say. But they don’t understand that all the stuff makes Marnie feel a little ill in her own house – a little edgy everywhere – and she shouldn’t have to take Prozac for that.

Lately they’ve each gotten more extreme about their preferences. In the past half year Keith has gone shopping more, returning to their garage with large boxes and bags of dry goods, while Marnie has increased the time she spends in her small study. He constructs utilitarian shelf units for the basement and fills them with batteries, lightbulbs, extension cords and paper products, while she rocks in her old chair and rereads Jane Austen, or browses through Elle. She’d like to live in a smaller house. One large room with the kitchen in a corner and adjoining bath and laundry . . . that would suit her fine. Keith would go crazy in such a small space. He doesn’t imagine it or any alternative to the house they have.

(continued tomorrow)

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