Mean and Ornery as Ever, Actually Worse

It is our semi-annual high school reunion, class of 1956. Seated at two tables are 15 octogenarian Korean American men who have worked and lived in or near New York the last 5 or 6 decades. At the third table are ten wives. Some of us have tried to integrate, thinking the segregation sexist and un-American, but old habits win out and even serve a purpose: the boys can be themselves, dropping the inhibitions they would retain otherwise, as shown in the following discourse.

“How is your wife?” asks B.

“Mean and ornery as ever,” answers J, whose wife is at home, babysitting their grandchild. “Actually worse, finding fault with me the moment she wakes up and staying cranky and cross the whole day.”

“And her health?” asks B, who knows J’s wife to be a sweet woman. But, then, who knows what goes on between a couple in their privacy?

“Good, as good as in her youth or better,” replies J with a hint of resentment. He hasn’t been well lately.

“Perhaps you are the key to her well-being, enabling her to let go,” observes S, an endocrinologist. “Cussing and swearing is known to be wonderfully liberating and restorative.”

“Doggone it! I never looked at it that way. So her meanness is actually what keeps her going, like daily medicine.”

“Sure. So heal thyself, physician, with your own medicine.”

“How?”

“Cuss her out, deploying the worst of juvenile profanities, long suppressed or forgotten.”

“Like what?”

“지**할 년 ji**al nyun (m*f*ing bitch),” B gleefully obliges, half covering his mouth, a watchful eye on the female table. “Bring out the artillery, retooled and sharpened.”

“What if she thinks I’ve gone nuts, her the cause of it, and stops being mean altogether?”

“Well, that’s her misfortune, the beginning of the end,” S philosophizes. “We must all go some time.”

“But not before me,” J shouts. “I want her, not the hospice staff, to take care of me.”

“Go light on your medication then and wait for hers to swing back in,” B counsels.

“There is a chance she might never be mean after my first deployment,” J persists.

“Then you just fade into the sunset together, quiet and courteous to each other.”

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