Wild West and Sewing Kits


Caliente, Nevada

Yesterday I met Jim Whitney, a former sales executive with one of Nevada’s largest liquor distributors.

In his mid-eighties, Mr. Whitney is sharp, entertaining and delightful. I came to interview him for the Early Las Vegas Oral History project at UNLV and spent two hours in his kitchen learning about what banks had the best safes and which “lodges” in rural Nevada had private landing strips.

Here’s one of the stories he told me:

“Some of our clients were brothels. Once a whiskey labels had these promotional sewing kits, so I ordered a whole bunch for the girls,” he said.

“Just as I was getting ready to travel up to visit my clients in Caliente, a button came off my jacket. I didn’t think anything about it. But then one of the girls up there saw it and offered to sew it back on. I should have known better but said OK.

When I came back from the trip, my wife wanted to know who had sewn the button back on.

I said, “Some broad in a whorehouse.”

That’s how my wife learnt we had brothels as our clients. To her credit, she was good with it for my entire 35-year career.”


5 Languages of Love

tongueJust as I was about to launch into a conversation with B. that I was dreading, I got an email from my sister with a link to Five Languages of Love.

Turns out Gary Chapman has figured out that each of us speaks one or more languages of love, and when we don’t know what that is for our partner we end up misunderstood and frustrated.

So for example, I am dying to put my arms around B. as he walks into the house. To me, touching is the most important way of showing love. But B. is a man on a mission. He narrowly avoids my hug and streamlines for the garage where he needs to recycle an empty plastic bottle this very second.

Do I feel frustrated that my affections are rejected? Yes. Does B. feel frustrated that I got in his way with my stupid hug? Probably.

Turns out that the whole issue has nothing to do with us not liking each other. It’s just we express it differently, and what we expect in return doesn’t always match the reality.

How to solve this? Figure out what your partner’s language is and learn to speak it. Even if it feels like Chinese at first.

Chapman identifies five:  words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch.

1. Words of Affirmation. My guess is that to a certain degree most people speak this language, and it’s the easiest one to learn.  Find ways to praise your partner but do it sincerely and for something they really deserve.  My sister once told me that she’s prepared to stay at work way into the evening just because her boss acknowledged the difficulty of the task and praised her for creativity and a job well done.

2. Quality time is not just time spent together when both of you are on your iPads. It’s not just watching a movie together. It’s actually engaging with each other, having a meaningful conversation, sharing an experience.  If this is a new language for you, consider asking your partner questions and getting them to do most of the talking. Or share something that happened to you that day that also somehow involved the partner, i.e. a client walked in and we talked about how both of you like to garden.

3. Presents seems like a universal language but that’s not always the case. One partner may be very excited about giving gifts when the other one, who doesn’t speak it, would find faults with them. Dress too tight. Ring too golden. Too cheap or too expensive. If you don’t speak it and know what to give your partner who does, just wrap yourself in a gift wrap. Or pick a flower. Or draw a postcard and write a cute message.

4. Acts of service can also be a double-edge sward. If your partner likes to help you with things even if you didn’t ask them, their language of love is help. Want to get them excited? Volunteer to vacuum the house, do the laundry, make something to eat, do something that they normally hate to do but do anyway. Even if it’s a steep learning curve for you, your efforts won’t go unnoticed.

5. Physical touch isn’t just about sex. Even though about sex sometimes too. Most people want to be touched and hugged and kissed, but some want and need it more than others. They share the power of touch with the people they like and expect the same in return. My dad used to hug the four of us in this giant hug when he wanted to share his joy. Sounds like physical touch would be his native tongue.

One of the ways to figure out your partner’s language is just to watch what they like to do for you. Do they offer help? Do they buy gifts? Tell you you are beautiful/smart/sexy? Invite you on walks? Touch you when they want to share joy or give comfort? Do the same thing in return. Or just ask them. If you asked me I’d tell you fair and square.

Chapman says that most people speak more than one language, with one being dominant. So that means that there’s a good chance that while you might speak different dominant languages – and it might me a process to learn them – there may be a language or two that you share. It’s so much easier to make each other feel loved when you learn that, for example, both of you like words of affirmation.

Learning to speak this new language may not be easy. Like for me, offering help is somehow not the most natural thing. I’d rather hug them or tell them that do a good job. But learning it can turn into a fun challenge with fast and furious rewards.

And yes, we didn’t have to have that grueling conversation. Because when both people feel loved, sometimes things just work out.

How to get along with your American husband. Part 1

One of the hardest things for me during the first year of our marriage was the concept of time. It was like we owned clocks from different planets.

Picture this:

I’d say, “When are we going to the store?”

H. would say, “In a minute.”

I’d go get dressed, curl my eye lashes (ok, maybe not), put on my shoes and be ready, sitting and waiting for him in the garage. And nothing would happen. Fifteen, 20 minutes would go by. The cat would come over and rub against my legs, absorbing some of the electricity beginning to get generated in my body.

I’d storm back inside and say, “Well, are you coming?”

“I said, in a minute…”

And then I discovered that my American husband had keywords when came to time. Knowing them had made a world of difference and probably added a decade to my life.

“In a second” means “Almost ready to go, go pee and get the keys.”

“In a minute” means “I’m ready when I’m done, which will probably be sooner rather than later.” In reality, this phase can stretch anywhere between 30 mins to several hours.  It’s safe to put a pot roast on, start the laundry, turn on a movie, go work on work projects….

“In a little while” means “Over my dead body.” He is doing the same trick on you as your mom did when you were a kid and you’d be passing by an ice cream store. “Mom, can I have an ice cream? Maybe on the way back…” How many times did you actually get it? Yes, by the time you were coming back you probably forgot… Well, he’s hoping the same thing.  Rephrase the question or offer some sort of incentive. I’ll let you decide on that part.

Disclaimer: Not all American husbands come with the same time mechanism… They keywords might be different, but the basic wiring scheme is the same…

How to get along with your American husband. Part 2

We are sitting at the dinner table, our usual place of brainstorming because ideas like food too. Towards the end of dinner, when I see that certain glistening of a happy Cheshire cat in B’s eyes, I decide it’s time to pick his brain.

“You know, a friend of mine has missed their anniversary. Just plain forgot about it and her husband got upset, understandably,” I say. “What do you think would be a good way for her to rectify this situation?”

B keeps mopping up the steak juices with a piece of bread, possibly considering the noise around him as AnnaFM, a radio station local to our house.

“Come on, what is your male perspective on this?” I nudge him.

“Well, what about having sex with him?” he suggests. This coming from a person who holds season tickets to two theater, collects limited-edition pens and has a PhD.

“You mean that’s it? Just have sex?” I was thinking along the lines of dinner under the stars, skinny dipping, chocolate dipped marshmallows, the new version of Xbox 360. Maybe even volunteering to host a Superbowl party for all his friends.

B. pours us tea and says,

“Well, if she truly wants to make it special, how about doing it twice?”

How to get along with your American husband. Part 3

B. does a lot of things you won’t catch other husbands within a mile radius. Like doing the laundry. I attribute his natural inclination to washing to him being a Cancer, or maybe he’s just a nice guy. Or I’m lazy. Or both.

On Sunday night, he shows up in our bedroom with my navy sweater arranged on a hanger. It’s a great sweater, adopted on sale at one of my favorite unaffordable stores. The kind of sweater you swear you’ll only wear once a week but then it just keeps sliding onto your body morning after morning.

“Your sweater is confused,” he announces.

“What do you mean?” It’s me who’s confused now.

“It can’t decide whether it’s a pullover or a cardigan.”

In all honesty, it does have a large opening on the front. That was one of its biggest assets, the fact that it’s sort of both things at once. I guess I’d never seen it as “confused.” Does that mean that something I’d always considered it as “versatile,” most people actually saw it as “undecided?” Can a sweater have “failure to commit?” Does that put its owner in the same category? Maybe that’s why I can never pick out what to wear in the morning, whether or not to quit a job and what to be when I grow up.

Moral: Husbands can be so much cheaper than a shrink…