JIM HENDRICKS: Sometimes marriage beats the odds

OPINION: Old habits can be hard to break

Jim Hendricks

Jim Hendricks

After more than a quarter century of marriage, those who know me agree that there remains one great mystery to be solved.

Namely, they wonder how my wife, Cheryl, put up with me for so long. That did not escape the observation of my old college pal Duke Petty, a confirmed — by general consensus of the female population — bachelor and possibly the greatest American patriot since John Wayne was (in The Duke’s words) “translated into heaven.” The Duke saw on one of those social media sites that he habitually trolls that our wedding anniversary was last month.

The Duke sent me a cordial note of congratulations.

“So, 27 years, huh?” he wrote with a certain eloquence. “Well, looks like it might stick after all. Good for you. Lord knows she coulda tossed a dart at a random page torn out of a phone book and done better. BTW, thanks again for costing me 20 bucks.”

This particular BTW, by the way, stems from a long-held tradition of placing somewhat friendly wagers at friends’ weddings. Me, the Duke and a few others would, in our more carefree younger days, size up a betrothing couple and arrive at an over/under date. For this couple, it might be three months; for that one, three years or, in rare cases, 10.

Then we placed wagers as to whether the happy couple would make it as a happy couple past that date or fall short of the mark. These essentially were votes of confidence and affection, really, only backed with a token amount of U.S. currency as an interest enhancer, being that predicting is hard work, and you need some incentive to engage in it.

While this might to the unenlightened seem a bit of a cynical assessment of the fine institution of marriage, we preferred to view it as a means of keeping us interested enough to actually attend the ceremony (particularly one scheduled for a college football weekend). We looked at it as engaging in an intellectual exercise of examining the human condition … with the added benefit of the potential for the realization of a modest profit for those who proved most adept at reading the signs of human nature.

Which means when my turn came to walk down the aisle, I almost certainly cost some dear friends a good bit of money. Someone’s always going to bet on a long shot, which, in my case, no doubt paid off handsomely for somebody.

“I’m detecting,” I messaged back, or whatever you call it, “a hint of resentment and/or envy on your part.”

That’s when I learned again how much The Duke loves a twenty-dollar bill, even one he lost custody of it a decade or two ago. His response was not suitable for printing in a family newspaper, or a trashy men’s magazine, for that matter. Might have been OK on a cable TV channel. A tough bartender in a seedy port town bar, had he heard such language as was typed, would have immediately interceded by saying something like, “Hey, hey, watch your language there, fellow! We’ve got Sailors in this bar!”

It relieved me, then, when The Duke explained that the words I read were not, in fact, the words that he typed. “What I really typed was, ‘Not in the least,’” he typed, successfully this time. “Stupid autocorrect!!!” he added, employing an adequate number of exclamation points to get his own point across with what he felt was an adequate amount of emphasis.

Indeed. The Duke’s deep disdain for autocorrect has been theorized to be one of the prevailing reasons why he never institutionalized himself in the institution of marriage, along with the general inability to persuade anyone of the female persuasion to chance a lifetime sentence at his side.

“You aren’t still betting on marriage durations, are you?” I asked in so many words. “I’d like to think we’ve all matured past that.”

There was a lull in the typing.

“Well,” he started, then admitted he was heading to a wedding involving one of our dear friends from college who’d been unlucky three or four times already was but sure the fifth time would be the charm and wanted The Duke by his side for good luck. A bit of a backsliding Baptist, he admitted he had a little action going on the nuptials and the over/under was nine months.

“I am disappointed in you,” I typed, adding adequate exclamation points to show exactly how disappointed.

“I know,” The Duke responded.

There was a longer lull in the typing. It had come to this. I had typed my piece. There was only one way to end this conversation. With jaw set and a deep determination, I began tapping:

“Put me down for 20 on the under.”