Torn wallpaper is just a cleverly disguised metaphor for the chasms that divide man and woman. Here's one such, told seamlessly and based on decades of marriage:
Jason told me that marriage was a delicate balancing act, particularly in the way you and the old lady will want to avoid certain events, particular activities and—definitely—joint projects.
“I’d say you’re gonna find it tough dragging her to see rock concerts,” he said. Jason was basically a layabout who had the philosophy that work was evil. He told me early on that employers pay you in reverse proportion to the amount of pain you have to take.
“What do you mean? We both like concerts.”
“It’s just that she’s gonna want to stay home and put up curtains while you want to hang with your friends, call ‘em up and see what they’re having for dinner. You know. And women don’t like that."
I shucked Jason off by telling him I had to run an errand before the stores closed. While I walked away, I wondered about his slacker advice. Janet and I had been married for two weeks, and we both gave up our apartments for a place with a locked front door and a doorman. We left most of our furniture on the street for the scavengers and bought new with the gift certificates from the wedding and with the cash from her father.
“I really like the idea of having a country look,” Janet said immediately. “Maybe you can hide all your radio stuff, your computers and things.”
“Hide them? How come? They’re an essential part of my daily life.”
“But, does that mean I have to look at them every minute of the day? Can’t they make curtains for the screen?”
“Curtains?” I scratched my head. “What’s curtains have to do with a computer?”
“Duh, Mike! Your computer has Windows, doesn’t it.”
Janet was loveable but sort of pre-technical. I left and went to get a cold beer to think that one over. Janet’s father had told me you have to sometimes let women have their way. “I know they can sound irrational, but sometimes they may be right. And sometimes, even if your wife’s wrong, it keeps peace in the family to let them have their way. That’s been the secret of my marriage’s success.” He’d been married for about a century, so I conceded him this point.
In the end, I allowed her to put a kind of teapot cozy over the PC and drape a piece of cloth over the stereo. Several situations like this came up, but after the first month I had to put my foot down.
“Wallpaper! The wall’s white. What do you want to cover it with paper for? Hang a picture, okay—but wallpaper!”
“Mike, I want a decent place for your friends, and my friends, and our friends to come. A civilized place.”
The next day was Saturday, and Janet woke me up by covering the bed with rolls of wallpaper. “See,” she said, “all you have to do is soak it and it sticks to the wall and gives you a professional look. And, I got all the tools.”
By noon, I had bitten my lip through but I kept my mouth shut as the paper went up in the living room. I stood on a chair and dropped the paper roll down to Janet, and she'd cut it with a razor blade, roll it up in a pan of water and hand it back to me. By the time the first wall was done, I stepped down to have a cigarette.
“Know something?” I said. “Your flowers are upside down.”
“No, the paper you hung is upside down. Mine is right side up. Are you trying to sabotage my decorating? I mean, if you want to live in a hovel like you had on Avenue B, you can go back to that fleabag, but my mother's going to visit and I want her to be proud,”
“Maybe two-thirds of the flowers is a pretty good average,” I said choking back the anger.
“Oh, no, you either do it right or don’t do it at all. I know you didn’t like my choice of flowers....”
“Pansies and daisies in New York City? I’ll give you green stuff like you see in Central Park, but pansies are kinda inappropriate....”
“Oh, Mr. Ivy League Botanist, you know flowers! Ha! If I hadn’t married you, there’d be naked women on your wallpaper!”
“Or maybe no wallpaper at all!”
“Just get out of my work space! I’ll do it myself!”
“Janet, I offered to help you and I will help. Give me that sponge and roller.”
“No, I bought them. That’s my seam roller.”
I lunged for the seam roller and sponge and put my foot in the plastic thingy full of water. Lurching backward, I grabbed for Janet’s arm, the chair, anything. She saw me tilting and swinging my arms and clutched at me. Her long red fingernails missed my arm and caught the wet paper, and together we fell backwards while the paper unrolled itself from the wall, a falling curtain of pansies and daisies that covered us in a pastoral shroud.
I thought Janet had been knocked out, she was so quiet, and then I saw she was crying, the silent sobs that can make a tough guy turn to jelly.
“Ah, Janet,” I said, “I didn’t mean it. You can have the wallpaper. I like it. I really do.”
“No you don’t. You hate flowers!”
“I don’t have all flowers. Just some. I think it’s just that I really like paint. I must’ve been affected by paint when I was kid, ‘cause I just can’t get enough of it.”
“Now, look the whole wall has to be redone. It’s hideous!”
“Well, just the part that I did upside down. Or, we could leave it like it is.”
“Leave it? Are you out of your mind?”
“I mean, leave it as a testimonial to our first fight. Jason told me there’d be times like this and I didn’t believe him, and your old man told me to stop being stubborn and meet you half way.”
“Aw, that is so sweet, that you’d leave this paper on the walls as a memorial.” She gave a little snort of laughter.
“Yeah, well, that way when we look at it we’d say ‘I guess that’s where I screwed up and forgot I loved you.’”
“Oh, go on. Stop it.”
“No, I mean it, Janet, I’ve never been happier since we were married.”
“Oh, stop it some more,” she said, and punched me on the shoulder. “You didn’t hurt yourself when you fell, did you?”
“Just a little. Maybe you can give my elbow a kiss and make it better.”
“C’mon, we’ve done enough for today. Let’s go in the other room and see if I can make your boo-boos go away.”
“And the torn wallpaper? It really looks ugly.”
“Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?” And she laughed.
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