The other day my agent told me she had a check for me, audio royalties for sales of The Red Circle audiobook. Not huge, but perfectly timed: I knew it would come in handy. I asked her if she would overnight it that very day, so it would arrive in my hand before the weekend.
Which she obligingly said she would do.
The next day, wondering if she’d made the FedEx cutoff in time, I texted her, asking if the overnight had gone. She texted back that it had and gave me the tracking number.
I could have simply texted back, “Thanks.” Or, “Thx!” Or “TY.” And that would have been okay. But I wanted to do more than okay. She had gone out of her way for me, beyond the call of duty, and I wanted to make sure she knew I appreciated it. Better yet, I wanted her to feel good about the fact that she’d gone that extra mile. So I texted her:
“Oh bless you, my child. May the poets write of your gloriousness. May the bards laud your exploits for generations. May your Netflix queue be ever o’erflowing with excellence and mirth.”
Hardly high comedy. Not something for the ages. But it injected a little light into her day. She wrote back “Lol! Thank you!”
A few days later I had an email back-and-forth with the bookkeeper at my lawyer’s office about a check I was expecting. (Must be Where’s the Check Week.) I can’t think of a more annoying message than, “Hey, is my check there yet?” So I wrote:
“Not to be nosey …. but has that little check showed his friendly face today?”
and gave the email the subject line, “le cheque arrivè?”
She wrote back to say, no, it hadn’t.
I wrote back,
“Que sera, sera. Or, as my wife and I said to the sommelier the other day, ’Kay, Syrah … Syrah.”
Again: not the epitome of sparkling wit. Kind of dumb, honestly. But what the heck. It felt more personal than simply saying, “Okay, thanks for checking.”
She wrote back a few minutes later:
“You made our day here at the office … I did not know the meaning of the word sommelier and I don’t feel so bad b/c neither did my co-worker … however, I looked for the definition online and then one of the partners, who obviously dines in fancier restaurants than I frequent (which is usually the McDonald’s drive-thru w/ the grandkids), gave us the proper pronunciation … so this is our word for the day and one to add to our vocabulary! Thanks!”
“You made my day…”
What a great thing to hear.
In our household Ana and I share most tasks. We cook together. We both shop, we both straighten up. We both earn household income. However, I have a formal job description as husband: it is my professional responsibility to make her laugh.
I learned this from my father, the maestro. When I was a kid we used to dine formally, with linens, cloth napkins in napkin rings, the whole nine yards. At some point in the proceedings my father would belch.
My brother and I would crack up.
My mother would say, in mock horror, “Oh, Alfred!”
My father would raise his hands in unruffled dignity and say:
“It is my patriarchal duty to make my family laugh.”
I agree — and I take this duty very seriously. (“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” etcetera. These are my appointed rounds.) There is almost nothing I won’t do, no matter how foolish or ridiculous it makes me look, if it stands the slightest chance of eliciting at least a giggle from my wife. And 9 times out of 10, it does. In fact, the more years we’ve spent together, the more we seem to laugh.
I believe a relationship that is not heavily leavened with laughter is doomed. It’s not for no reason that the Inuit Eskimo word for sex literally translates, “laughing together in bed.”
But it’s not really about humor, per se. It’s not about being a clown. It’s not even about being funny.
It’s about sharing a little light.
Sometimes that means simply being interested.
A few weeks ago I was traveling to New York to meet with an editor, and booked myself a room at a Marriott. A few days later I realized there was a nicer Marriott closer to my editor (cheaper, too), and called Marriott’s 800 number. The woman I got told me her name was Betty.
Betty took such good care of me, was so diligent and genuinely committed to finding me the very best solution, that I was totally charmed.
When we were all finished with the reservation she asked me if there was anything else I needed.
“Yes,” I said. “I have a question. Is the experience of working for Marriott as delightful for you as it sounds? And is it as delightful for you as the experience of being a client is for me?”
“Oh, let me tell you!…” and she launched into a soliloquy.
Betty told me she was 78 years old. (“Who else do you know who would hire a 78-year-old woman?”) Her husband had a heart attack not long ago and needed to be at home. Betty’s work at Marriott kept their household going. In fact, she added, Marriott had just gotten her set up with the equipment she needed to work as an operator out of her house, and she was about to make the transition to being a work-at-home employee.
Betty didn’t like working for Marriott.
She loved it.
“It shows,” I told her. I added that the next time I called to make a reservation, I hoped it would be Betty who answered the 800 line again.
She thanked me and asked if there was anything else I needed.
“Yes,” I said, “just one more thing. Can you connect me to the guys who do the after-call customer service surveys? I want to tell them how lucky they are to have you.”
She did, and I did.
Made my day.
In that conversation, who shared the light? Who went beyond the perfunctory, and injected the oxygen of genuine care and interest into what could easily have been a dull and routine proceeding? Well, Betty did. And I did, too. We both did. And we both came away … what’s the word?