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Big Red Hat and All
By Eugene Williams
Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Spying on ones wife and her friends is a lot like spying on yourself, well thatís what happens in this funny story about love and marriage with the Big Red Hat Society thrown in for extra measure.


I have always wondered what it would be like to spy on my wife. Don the whole espionage garb, fake beard, and mustache --of course the KimYung Il, sunglasses. You see no good spy outfit would be complete without the sunglasses. Ever notice in all the great spy movies from the time of the immortal Charlie Chan to Hammer’s Dick Barton special agent, Marlow’s Sam Spade pure genius with a spy somewhere lurking in the back ground. Hollywood is simply clueless now with respect to making spy movies. I tell my wife this all the time; she just gives me a look and hides the TV guide. As I was saying, the first thing a spy puts on is his sunglasses. Does not matter if its 2am or high noon the glasses have to be on, which is somewhat ridiculous and of course a dead give away to who is the spy. But you wonder is he or she the spy, great actor Charlie Chan didn’t care to much for the little hairy thingamajig at the bottom of his lip, never could figure out how to eat with chop sticks either.
      Now that I have decided to spy on my wife, I am faced with a little bit of a dilemma; I do not really have a good reason to spy on her. You see after forty years of marriage one pretty much knows what the other half of their personality is up to. However, I still feel a need to seek out the underlying cause of what really goes on in that time void she has created, you know that grocery store abyss wives seem to fall head first into. It is a time void, a void of any time for me waiting at home for my snack. My wife has this strange ability to disappear for long periods at a time, by long I mean two hours at tops, nevertheless at sixty-nine two hours is an eternity and not to mention three quarters of football with a nap thrown in for good measure.
          She seems to enjoy taking off on those little escapades’ of hers right after those magic words. You know the catch phrase we husbands look for, our mental note to get ready for Armageddon, or meat loaf. Mary’s that is my wife by the way, her catch phrase is, “Dear I’ll be back in five minutes,  we need milk”. I know it is a rather long catch-phrase-by-catch-phrase standard; however its effective and two hours later she’ll return with a two week supply of goat cheese and no milk. Reason to spy, I will let you decide.
                   I’ve given some thought too, and did the mathematics on how it is nearly impossible to spend two hours shopping for milk, to come back with more goat cheese than Madelyn Miller the TravelLady eats in a year and I’m told she eats a lot of goat cheese, lives off the stuff,. It just does not add up perhaps I should spy on Madelyn, or the people that make goat cheese.
      Spying on ones wife seems to be one of those things men naturally think about, not that I spend a great deal of time thinking about my wife, I do not. However, when I do its only instinctive to wonder what she is up to, like breathing. Strange how the mind works, one minute you are completely thoughtless, the next minute you got an itch you cannot reach.
         It is only expected to be concerned about one’s spouse, which is just how my mind work. Men do not have to put a great deal of thought into solving simple tasks the solution comes instinctively to us. My wife on the other hand agrees to disagree with my last statement. She is always asking me in a kind of pointed manner why I leave the toilet seat up. To her it is a simple matter of putting the seat back down, in my defense, I have explained to her; by leaving, the seat up it frees my mind of unnecessary contemplation so I can concentrate on more pressing things at hand. Like an emergency dash to the john.
Forty seconds is about as long as a time out last in football and you never know what commercials you have not seen. I have to get in and get out, man logic I point out to her.
          I have explained my logical approach to solving two problems at once; I do not think she gets it. Hard to figure she just shakes her head at me and says. “I’ll be back dear in five minutes we need milk.” Two hours later well you guessed it damn goat cheese.
It appears that when I have the most time to contemplate spying on my wife, comes in what I call my hazy zone. That period one’s mind goes from babbling to itself to not hearing someone else babbling at you. It is in that babbling to myself period when I visualize spying on my wife.
Like most retired couples living out there last remaining days, between too many Parcheesi nights and fighting over the last bowl of Jell-O. We do try to live a modestly quiet life; well at least we did once upon a blue moon when we called the Windy City home. Now all bets are off on the quite part of self-seclusion.
You’d think that now that our children are grown and married, riding their own personal wave of self indulgence, forgetting about our contribution of eighteen plus years of agreeing with all the particulars that come with parenthood they visit more often than they do, and call at a descent hour. David our oldest was properly married that is by rabbi Goldstienburger, good man cannot understand a word he says but good man at any rate. On the other hand, Emily our daughter has decided that tradition has nothing to do with her modern way of thinking, I think she needs a traditional kick in…love does traditionally look the other way when it is your children upsetting the natural progression of things.
Happy Haven, I hate it here to pretences for me, on the other hand, Mary Ellen is like a 67-year-old grandma in a fabric store, were everything is half off and you get a free thimbo that serves no propose with every purchase. Life is just one big patchwork quilt to her, held together by hope and poligrip, I really do hate it here, but love does look the other way when your wife’s happiness is at stake.
Six months ago, we moved to Happy Haven, retirement community here in Orlando Florida. Seemed like a good idea after forty plus years of knee-deep snow and two bunions the size of Eddy Fishers last divorce settlement. It was time to leave all those old memories and busy body neighbors behind, I like to talk about the good old days of repressive memories, my wife thinks the past means past.. Reminiscing about unconstrained comfort, a total fabrication of the thought process I might add. Were for some reason freezing your matzo balls off for just for the satisfaction of living in a place where your parents ended up to broke to leave and to stubborn to want to leave even if they could. Yes the good old days of melancholy thoughts that takes you back to when your mother’s home baked bread tasted like a memory of pure happiness. I’ve simply over looked the fact my father had us say grace after we ate, never got the humor in that as a child but now as I look back, it was funny the look on my mother’s face, he would always kiss her forehead and laugh holding his favorite part of her bread the end of the loaf.
Like most retired people, we try to live a quite life, well at least I have tried, and my wife on the other hand has managed to make friends with everyone from the mail carrier to the battery sells men for the electric scooters that seem to be everywhere. What is with that, I wonder as soon as you reach 70 what you forget how to walk. I cannot walk five feet out my door without some near sighted old gizzer zipping by me at a 10 miles an hour, horn blasting and tope blowing in the wind, unnerving is what it is. In the last six months, we have been to eight weddings, ten funerals and two bris, poor little follows. After the last bris I had, had enough I told Mary Ellen stop making friends and get a cat, no cat yet but next Saturday another brisk poor little follow.
For a while, there life was good, a little peace and quiet had fallen on Happy Haven. My wife had given up the idea of entertaining everyone in town. Moreover, everyone in town had given up the idea of being entertained by my wife, a fair trade off as far as I was concerned. Nevertheless, all good things gotta come to an end, like the last piece of German chocolate cake that some saddest decided to cut the top off, instead of taking a normal piece like a normal person. What kind of person would do that, just venting. As I was saying, all good things and German chocolate cake gotta come to an end.
One lazy uneventful Saturday afternoon, I was lounging around in my lazy boy, thinking about mowing the lawn. You know sizing up the task at hand. Milling over the best way to tackle the daunting job. I was startled awake, shocked into disbelief, dumbfounded by a multicolored form hovering before. It seemed my wife had donned a huge, I mean really huge red hat, with chicken feathers, maybe parrot plumes coming out of the top and sides of it. Do parrots have plumes? not sure but it was huge. The hat that is, not the plumage, at any rate, besides the La Cage Le Folly hat she was wearing. She also had on a god awful looking purple dress. My wife looked like a crazed menopausal flapper, with a Betty Boop complex, granted a sixty seven year old Jewish grandmother version of Betty Boop without the Boop.
What can I say about the dress it was purple? First thing, that came to my mind was what kind of person wears a purple dress. I had totally forgotten about mowing the lawn, and the German chocolate cake at Mort Steimiers funeral three weeks ago was completely set aside I had bigger fish to fry.
“What do you think Oscar?”
How does one respond to such a question without sounding rude? I thought for a moment, the idea of being nice entered my mind only for a second.
“What do I think? You scar me half to death grinning at me dressed like a dysfunctional Mary Poppins with an umppa luppa complex, and you ask me what I think”.
“I think you’ve finely lost your mind Mary Ellen Finderhouse, you really need a new fashion consultant or a cat”.
“Don’t be ridicules Oscar, lost my mind indeed and what is an umppa luppa complex, are you saying I’m short and fat, Oscar is that what you think”.
“Your purple, Mary Ellen with a big red hat, with chicken feathers coming out of it you look like Willy Wonkas house keeper”.
“There you go again with the insults Oscar, I look great, I feel great, get use to it you old, old fart! Why do I bother with you Oscar”.
I was not sure what to say, Mary Ellen, seems she had the last word. The old fart, pretty much summed up the whole ordeal, well at least from her point of view. Yes indeed she was a little on the frazzled side, I would have to keep a close eye on her, there was something afoot here and I had to get to the bottom of this extreme makeover, after my nap that is.
“Oscar before you completely ignore me with your second nap of the day, I need to tell you something dear.”
“And what might that be”.
“I joined a society”.
“You can’t join a society your apart of society, that’s like saying I changed my sex how much sense does that make Mary Ellen, I joined a society my foot”.
“Well I did, and would you like for me to call the  Mohel”.
“That’s just rich Mary Ellen; perhaps I should call the fashion police”.
Things were looking a little blink at the moment, I wasn’t sure what was coming next, Mary Ellen was looking at me from beneath her big red hat brim with a strange grin on her face. After forty years of marriage you think you know someone this was a whole new twist not sure, how I should digest this I joined a society statement. I needed a sandwich, more importantly I needed to go look out the front window to make sure there wasn’t a yellow brick road outside my house, had there been a tornado while I was napping I thought..
“Mary Ellen”.
“Yes dear”.
“Was there a tornado today”?
“Tornado Oscar why would you ask me that of course there wasn’t a tornado what’s wrong with you”?
“Just checking”.
Yes, I needed a sandwich and a pair of Kim Yung Il sunglasses.
“Were did you get the hat dear”?
“Don’t play coy with me Oscar I know when you’re up to something and why would you ask if there was a tornado Oscar I just don’t get you sometimes, would you like a sandwich dear”.
“Good lord, you come home looking like I don’t know what without Toe doo I might add, I ask you were you got that hat didn’t bring up the dress by the way and you think I’m up to something, well I’m not and yes I would no damn goat cheese on it please”.
“Watch your language Oscar, you always have cheese on your sandwich now you don’t want any are you okay dear”.
“I’m fine”.
“Oscar I’m the new Queen mom of the Happy Haven, Fleur- de-leis, blue birds. I joined the Big Red Hat society are you excited for me Oscar”.
“I’m beside myself dear, I have no idea what you just said, did you join an occult Mary Ellen? You see this is just the reason why I wanted to stay in Chicago, people move down here and start driving around in golf carts and electric wheel chairs and joining Occults like it’s the thing to do, I’ll have none of this nonsense, what’s next canary sacrifices, do the neighbors need to hide their pets from us now”.
“I’m going to ignore all that Oscar, and make you a sandwich, the girls will be here in an hour dear, so no more napping I thought you were going to mow the lawn today it won’t mow its self”.
All I could do was look at Mary Ellen, time for a bathroom dash, not that I had to go I just needed a moment to sort things out, get my plan in order not sure yet what I would do there was just too much going on right now. I thought as I walked towards the bathroom door who were these girls, I was sure they were not dancing girls, thought about that, a house full of geriatric dancing girls not sure I could take it or if it was even legal. Turning on the water pretty much forced the issue. I really did have to go, listening at the door for some tall sign of what was coming next, nothing just silence. A kind of spooky silence only a paranoid husband could imagine. Was that it, had this uncanny fashion show made me paranoid, if so what was I paranoid about? Flushing I decided to face that paranoia head on.
The whole aspect of spying on my wife now had a completely new meaning; I would foil this evil plan and have a bowl of lentil soup. I needed the perfect plan, I needed more crackers in my soup, I needed another nap but most of all I needed to call my uncle Sid in Poland, New Jersey he had spied on his wife once ended in a disaster but he knew the business.
“Dear is Sid still alive”.
“Who Cid Caesar, if he is Oscar it would be a miracle. Drank too much and those woman. I once heard”.
“Not Cid Caesar for pete sake, will you listen, my uncle Cid in Poland”.
“H e died in 1966, Oscar the same year we were married. Drank himself to death “.
“He was hit by a Bus now that I remember, he never drank”.
“Oscar he walked in front of a Bus drunk”.
“Not the same thing”.
“Why Oscar thinking about calling him, maybe a little visit?”
I ignored Mary Ellen it was becoming pretty easy today to ignore her, it was time for me to put my master plan in action, I didn’t need Cid’s advice and his wife drove him to drink now that I thought about it, I would wing it, I’ve seen enough spy movies I knew the business inside and out.
“Dear I need to go and get some gas and oil for the mower I’ll be back in an hour or so enjoy your company”.
“It’s electric Oscar”.
“What’s Electric”.
“The Lawn mower Oscar It’s electric”.
Damn I thought foiled already, how does she know these things. Had to think quick.
“I know that dear. I was just testing you, see if you knew that.”
“Have fun dear and say hi to Marge for me she’s watering her lawn”.
“ Damn I thought now I would have to talk to Phil and his busy body wife, things were getting out of hand my plan was in jeopardy I had to think damn Phil and Marge and she still has that hat on.
“Will be having a blue bird meeting when you get back please be nice, Oscar for me”
“What in the devil is a blue bird meeting did I miss something.”
“My society Oscar you never listen to a word I say”.
“That’s another thing what the dickens is this society thing, are you a red hat wearing communist Mary Ellen. I will have no part of the Communist party, remember Mort Bleakenmen. He couldn’t sake that label for years and all he did was put a bumper sticker of Lenin voting for Ford on his Lincoln it was a joke, but no, good old Mort paid dearly for that, couldn’t get anyone to service his car or sell him marble rye. Is that what you want Mary Ellen”.
“Are you done Oscar?”
“What nothing to say about that you know I like marble rye.”
“Have fun Oscar I’ll see you in a little while.”
Things were beginning to make less sense as I weighed my options. My wife said she was the queen mom of, what did she say. Fleur-de-lis, blue birds. I will have to do some research on these fleurs-de-lis; it sounds French, wonder if there is any French communist living in Happy Haven. She let slip the name of this secret society. The Red Hat Society, what is with the purple dress, a rouge to throw me off their trail? Moreover, they will all be flocking together these blue birds from France at my house this afternoon, how convenient. I had work to do and not a minute to waste. Happy Haven was beginning to look a little less happy, well at least on Bridgemore Drive, at any rate.
I spent a little more time then I intended in the costume store. Amazing how many different disguises there are. A whole cottage industry could be created around spying on ones wife, and the people were very helpful, merchandise. Finally I found the perfect pair of Kim Yong Il sunglasses the Hermit dictator would be impressed with these knock off from I’m sure his personal collection. In addition, the bread well it was a little too long it highlighted my hair well, at least that is what the nice sells woman said, highlighted my hair. Mary Ellen never said anything like that before. After an hour, I knew it was time to leave this oasis of espionage behind. I felt sad in a spying kind of way. Nevertheless those Blue Birds from France were about to descend on my house and there was work to be done but first I needed a fresca and a slice of marble rye, I was off to Phil’s Deli on ninth and main.
I counted 10, maybe there were 13, Red Hatters not sure my glasses fell off when one of the ladies bent down to pick up her hat. Make a note keep an eye on the big blonde-haired woman.
The hedge between my house and Phil’s garage made a perfect area for my sting operation. I could see them talking away in the living room, sipping tea. The big blonde-haired woman was eating a cookie, one of my Oreo’s “make a note, get more Oreo’s”
Mary Ellen, seemed so happy smiling sharing my cookies with everyone of her knew friends. They were laughing really enjoying themselves. I watched them as they gathered around the kitchen table, like so many woman do, comparing a recipe or idea or simply an antidote about a man they noticed in a whimsical discrete manner. maybe I was there an half hour maybe not quite that long it didn’t matter just kneeing behind Phil’s hedge wandering with curious invasion of what was going on in my home , the silent contemplation seemed to remove me from what my mission was all about. Phil’s garage door opened with a whining jerking noise rousing me from my haphazard stoop. A close call even for the highest trained in the area of espionage, I being mid-grade seeing that this being my first real case , back tracking more to the effect of standing coughing and moving on but slough like at any rate.
Slipping into my own yard was easy compared to the ordeal of Phil’s garage door nearly had a heart attack nevertheless I made it through the breech. I placed my disguise under the lawn mower, careful not to scratch my Kim Yong Il sunglasses, rubbing my chin too rid it of any tall tale signs of my intentions. I made my way completely secure of my success towards my back door, breathing I entered clearing my throat for effect.
“Oscar is that you dear”.
“Know its Liberaracce; I’m here to get my hat back”.
“Stop it Oscar, come in and meet the girls, ladies this is my husband Oscar.”
“ Pleasure all mine ladies, being your queen mom husband whatever, I think you all look wonderful in your hats and dresses and society stuff, so with that I think I’ll have an Oreo cookie and get out of your way, ladies I bid you ado.”
“Oscar will be done in a little bit and well don’t get to comfortable ado.”
“Take your time my dear; we might need more cookies by the way.”
“He seems such a nice man, Mary Ellen how long have you been married,”
 I watched the exchange between my wife and Blondie from the uneasy comfort of my Lazy Boy, trying not to make eye contact with Mary Ellen-harder than it seemed since she was watching me watch her, kind of unnerving to be honest, but I held my ground and last cookie.
I could hear them laughing, talking about how Neil Diamond was better looking than Tom Jones, thought about that and voted for Tom Jones, the whole wanna see me do my thing pull my chain made more since then Mandy. She was happy in a kind of way I had not seen in a long time. I just sat back and blocked out the chatter and running water from my kitchen. Slipping into a fog of lost memories, tied by a male bound of selective reasoning that ask with convection why in the hell Hogan never just left Stalag 13 was Klink that stupid, when I felt Mary Ellen touching my arm, I looked up at her, hat gone smiling at me.
After forty years of marriage, not much comes by way of surprise. It is that predictability we husbands depend on to make sure the cart is heading in the right direction, granted we assume we are driving that preverbal cart. However, trying to understand the female mind is a task better left for the female mind. My wife has a tendency to tell me to put myself in her shoes when I state the obvious to her, of course what is obvious to me is not obvious to her how is that I often wondered.
For over a month now I have perfected the art of spying, I learned rather quickly when spying on ones wife when she is with a group of purple dress big red hat wearing ladies, you are in fact spying on the whole kick and caboodle, everyone becomes suspect in this game of cat and mouse.
I have become a multi-tasking spy and my wife said I could never do more than one thing at a time. How wrong she was once again I have out witted her. Following Mary Ellen, and her troupe of multicolored hats, through the geriatric streets of Happy Haven was indeed a task. Trying to avoid the onslaught of electric wheel chairs and golf carts was the hardest part of my life as a spy. Amazing how many people, you know that walk around at night well between the hours of eight and nine at tops drive around in an assistant vehicle during the day. I asked one gentleman holding a paper close to my mouth, to disguise my voice what he called the contraption he was driving “assistant vehicle” he said and what in the hell is wrong with that bread he added, I left on that note. I knew who he was but he did not know who I was, positive he was the one that mutilated the German chocolate cake; I said nothing moving on hastily watching him watch me.
Yes, Mary Ellen seemed happy, and I felt unsure like an Island in a stream that flows backwards into the memories of one’s mind. All those memories that seem to matter only after you have seen yourself in the eyes of someone you love. It is a fine line, I know between love and marriage, but I understand that line well.  What I have trouble with is this need to spy on Mary Ellen and her new friends.
Mary Ellen has in some strange way become younger a strange transformation has fallen over my wife these last few months. It is nearly impossible to explain but in some way I am happy for her, I have grown close to watching her friends with a curious interest of admiration.
The highlight of my week is when the women all get together to plan their outings. It affords me the needed mental exercise to consult all my spying skills, you know compiling a well planned assault on a bunch of old ladies unsuspecting absent mindedness like taking pudding from ninety year old, how sweet it is to be one step ahead of one’s wife and her troupe.
So far my operation has been off the fly, I like it that way improvising as I go along. Strange thing so far I noticed that none of the places they have visited have had any National Security value or any value at all. Nevertheless this game of cat and mouse has made life in Happy Haven, interesting I would not go so far as say happy, at sixty-nine content is much better than happy in my book.
As I followed my wife and her entourage into a teahouse Saturday afternoon, in what Happy Havenites call the better part of town, which of course makes no sense because every part of town looks the same. My undercover operation was almost foiled when my beard fell off and into my cup of Earl Gray Breakfast blend; two busy body red hatters started staring at me as if I was Beelzebub himself, narrow escape. Make a note; never drink your Earl Gray once a fake beard falls in it.
Yes spying on ones wife can be a trying ordeal, but yet it is amazing how much in common you have with your spouse. We often times take each other for granted in our everyday appeal at normalcy. I have learned a great deal about The Happy Haven, Red Hat Society, Blue Bird, purple dress wearing grand ma’s. Their no threat to the common good or social fabric of this nation the French connection is still up for debate but be that as it may, I just simply needed an excuse to be a part of something that didn’t include me.
Us men have our own little clubs, Elks, Great Water Buffalo were we look up to our Grand Po Ba, and contemplate the mysteries of our wives mind and why they built an over pass over Market street. Greater things of life and who died lately but it all seems different when our wives have found shelter or friendship in a mutual company of their choosing.
I Love Mary Ellen, I know I have a strange way of showing it, but sometimes you have to take the high road to get back on the low road your mind has allowed you to travel along, a destination defined by years of thinking that somehow you know more than what life has taught you.
Mary Ellen does at times need a different kind happiness, than the same emotional hayride supplied by an old man. That adjusts his weighted clock of habit to read the same hour, rather than the habit of time adjusting the old man to see his wife as not clockwork, but a person that only wants to express herself as she sees fit without fear, without pressure but with love.
I’m proud of my wife, and I do admire her knew found friends, now that I have seen their little piece of happiness through the haze of my own discontent. Mary Ellen slips into the house now quite but always with a smile after her meetings, biscuits, and tea. Somehow I believes she knows that it was me behind the fake beard and heavy sunglasses, peaking at her and her friends from behind my warn Saturday Evening Post. However, I am to cagy for her and those Blue Birds, nevertheless I think she knows.
“Yes dear”
“I picked up a little something for you, when I went out for milk.”
“Let me guess goat cheese.”
“Don’t be silly Oscar it’s on the bed.”
I watched Mary Ellen for a minute I was not sure what she was up to. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into the bed room and find out what she had got me. In lazy indifference and shuffling feet, I made my way into the bedroom looking over my shoulder to see if she was watching me pretend it did not matter. Mary Ellen busied herself ignoring me over a pot of black beans.
There t hey were in all their glory just laying there on the bed, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, as I eased myself down on the bed to try them on. The fake beard was shorter than the one I had and the Kim Yung Il glasses were perfect, I looked in the old chipped mirror above the dresser and yes the beard highlighted my faded gray hair just right.
Perhaps I had joined my own secret society, a society where a man finds himself by way of spying on his wife. I do not spy on Mary Ellen and her friends anymore, there no need, Brigdemore Drive is safe and sound these days, with the Red Hat Society doing all they can to keep an old man safe and happy. I just wish they did something about those god-awful purple dresses.
“Oscar we need milk I’ll be back in five minutes.”
“Here we go again.”
 The End





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Reviewed by Susan de Vegter 11/21/2009
Down here in Florida your story probably is truer than one thinks. I was an "Account Executive (sales) and Sun City was part of my territory. The Red Hat Society is alive and well there. I went to the drive through at Mac D's and behind me, in my rear viwe mirror, was a huge red hat with purple ostrich feathers atop a little old a golf cart.
I enjoyed the humor in this story. Come on down to Florida and you'll never lack material.

Blessings and love,

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