Having lived in a coupled world for most of my life, I have always enjoyed thinking about “perfect” couples. Who goes with whom. Living and dead. Real or imagined. I can imagine Shakespeare and the great wit, Dorothy Parker, in a long, wine-filled evening trading quips and bon mots. The two Georges, George Eliot (author of my favorite English novel, Middlemarch) and George Clooney: both big-hearted and entertaining. Mandy Patinkin and Virginia Woolf: both wildly talented and both cranky. (The “perfect” part sometimes comes with the pair’s flaws fitting each other, as much as their good qualities being complementary.) Ernest Hemingway and Madonna.
The other night, dozing through another night of so-so tv, unexpectedly, I found such a couple: The woman in the commercial for advanced depression (she’s the one who carries around a little ping pong racquet with a sad face drawn on it, in case we don’t get the gist of her story), and the man who teaches young homeowners to avoid becoming like their parents by insulting them (in yet another ridiculous insurance company ad). There they were, and my bored mind saw immediately that they belonged together. Let’s call them Harriet and Herm. Here is their story.
Harriet bumps into Herm on the way out of her doctor’s office. Her trembling fingers are holding a prescription for Happinex, the new pill that will boost the old pill and pull her out of her depression. The collision with Herm wrenches the script from Harriet’s hand, and it drifts dangerously groundward, heading for the storm drain that is conveniently nearby. Herm grabs at the paper with his right hand, while steadying Harriet with his left. Harriet’s heart almost stops. She gasps, then snatches the precious, life-saving piece of paper from him. She mumbles something that sounds to him like “thank you” but is, in fact, a much earthier and less grateful phrase acknowledging the part he just played in her almost-losing her prescription. She hurries off to fill it.
Herm, just out of a seminar in which he has undoctrinated a room full of much-too-cheerful forty-somethings from the horrors of middle aged home ownership, is invigorated by the collision. It feels real. She felt real. He thinks about her later in the day.
What a surprise, then, to see her sitting in the front row of his seminar a day later, almost like a wish fulfilled.
Actually, Harriet is there by mistake. She believes she is in a seminar about genealogy, called Up Your Auntie. (One of the side effect of the new meds is blurred vision, so she has misread the sign in front of the hotel ballroom). Their eyes meet. He knows immediately that she is not a homeowner like the others. Afterward, they go to Applebees and find they have a mutual love for the Grilled Chicken Ceasar. Before long they are sharing the 2 for $22 special, alternating taco bowl and classic burger with bacon burger and spicy wings for the entrees, with the steadying constant of fried onion rings for the appetizer.
They have been together for a year now. Harriet is no less depressed, but her mood dovetails perfectly with Herm’s sour take on life, so she no longer needs Happinex, or even craves happiness. They buy a house together, so Herm has to give up his seminars. Instead, they wander the imperfect world grumpily, but together.