Gurney's Inn
August 15, 2007

Jerry's Ink


Are you happy?

Aren't these the most frightening words a man could hear from his spouse?

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Yet there isn't a man holding this newspaper who haasn't been asked this trap question by his wife or girlfriend. Note they never add the words "with me" to the question. That would be too direct. It's a two-part question and if you get the first part wrong you're dead.

I mean, what do you answer? If you say, "Yes," you hear, "Are you just saying that?" If you're quiet, the next sound you hear is the crushingly loud roll of a tear going down a cheek. Let me tell you this: No man in the history of mankind, going back to cave men, has looked at his spouse and uttered the words, "Are you happy?"

Men don't ask. If the truth were known, men believe every woman they have ever been involved with has been deliriously happy to be with them. But women ask that question at the end of a first date and keep asking that every day until you draw your last breath.

They've learned to ask the question when you least suspect it's coming. I've been asked that question when I was watching television and the show was coming to the most important point and I was leaning forward waiting to learn who the killer was or whether the hero and heroine were going to survive. Strange, I've never been asked that question during a commercial break.

I've been asked that question when I was concentrating a book and coming to the best part. The other morning I was in the shower, door closed, radio blaring, covered with soap and shampoo (on my beard), when I thought I heard my wife, The Beautiful Judy Licht, calling out to me.

"What?" I screamed over the din of the shower. Surely it was some kind of emergency. I climbed out of the shower covered with soap. Took a dry towel and risked electrocution and pulled the radio plug out of the socket. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"I was just asking you a question."

"What's the question?"

"Are you happy?"

"What?" I screamed through the door.

"Don't scream at me, all I asked you was are you happy?" I honestly tried to count to 10 before I answered. "Yes," I said. "I'm happy."

"What took you so long to answer?" That's when I found another use for the dry towel: I stuffed it into my mouth to keep from saying another word.

The worst thing about the question is you can't have a one-word answer. "No" is not acceptable, and some men have been sentenced to see a shrink until they could answer that question in a more positive and acceptable way.

Even "yes" requires a long explanation centering around the fact that one can be happy without walking around smiling like an idiot all day. I guess my favorite answer to the "happy" question came many years when I traveled back to Brooklyn to tell my parents I was getting divorced. My parents, who were very close and remained close to my first wife until the day they died, were shocked. "Why are you doing this?" I pointed out that although my wife was one of the nicest people in the world, I just wasn't happy.

That's when my father exploded. "Happy? Who's happy? You think I'm happy with your mother? I'm not happy with her. I've never been happy. What's happy got to do with marriage?"

It was a sad moment but I suddenly wanted to laugh out loud. I bit my lip. My father was steaming.

"He wants to be happy. Big shot. He moves to New York and now he can't be like the rest of us. He has to be happy. Ridiculous."

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