The Truth, Mainly - 12/08/2003

Newspapers a threat to sound sleep?
by Leon Satterfield

I look the way I look because I haven't been sleeping well for the past several weeks. It's because of something I read in the New York Times.

It was a story about the legal argument in the Massachusetts Supreme Court over the ban on same-sex marriage. The "chief" argument against same-sex marriage, the Times reported, was that "marriage's primary purpose is procreation."

Say that aloud. "Marriage's primary purpose is procreation."

Ever since I read that line last month, I think of it every night just before I go to sleep. Then I have this recurring nightmare. It goes like this:

The doorbell rings sometime after midnight. I get out of bed, switch on the porch light, open the door. Someone in a Dick Tracy hat and a black raincoat is standing there. He reminds me of someone I've seen before.

"Yes?" I always say to him.

He gives me his card. It says "John Ashcroft, U.S. Attorney General, Defender of Public Morality."

"May I come in?" he always asks. "If I can't, you're under arrest."

"Sure," I always say. "Come on in. Have a seat. Can I get you a beer?"

"I don't drink," he always says. "Beer defiles the temple in which my eternal soul resides."

"I don't drink either," I say, smiling what I hope looks like a smile of brotherhood. "Beer defiles my temple too."

He sits in my favorite chair and looks around the room.

"Where are the toys?" he asks. "Where are the children?"

"They're not here now," I say. "But they're doing just fine."

He writes something in his pocket notebook.

"They're out alone?" he asks. "Without parental supervision?"

"Well," I say, feeling vaguely guilty, "they don't live here anymore."

"You're divorced?" he says. "You've broken the vows of holy matrimony?"

"Oh no," I say. "My wife and I are in near constant ecstasy over the state of our marriage. Not divorced. Nosiree. Wouldn't be divorced for anything."

"Then where," he asks, "are the products of your procreation?"

"Our kids?" I say. "Two are in Colorado and one is in Illinois."

"Have they gone to grandmother's house?" he asks, his eyes narrowing.

"I…I don't think so," I say, still feeling guilty without knowing why.

He writes in his notebook again, his pen making little blue sparks.

"Three of them?" he says. "And how old are they?"

"Well, let's see," I say. "The oldest is 44, the middle one is 42, and the youngest is nearly 40. We were quite active in our procreation."

"Past tense?" he says. "You no longer procreate?"

I don't answer. I look at the ceiling and puff out my cheeks.

"Have I got this right?" he says, scribbling in his notebook. "You and your wife haven't procreated in 40 years?"

"Well," I say, feeling like a trapped rat, "we're getting up there. Heh heh. At least I am. I'm 69. She's 66."

"Don't you know," he says, "that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation? That's why we can't have same-sex marriage. And that's why we may have to annul yours."

"Our children have procreated," I say. "We have four grandchildren. And one of them is nearly brand new, not even two years old yet. Does that count?"

"Counts for your children," he says, "but it doesn't count for you. If you want to stay out of trouble, you'd better procreate some more."

"But…," I say. "But…but."

"But me no buts," he says. "Procreate. If you haven't procreated in nine months, you get a one-way ticket to Guantanamo."

"But," I say in a hoarse whisper, "I had a vasectomy 30 years ago."

"What?" he yells, pulling his service revolver out of his shoulder holster and pointing it at me. "You've had a vasectomy? You've rendered your God-given procreation apparatus inoperable? Sex without procreation is a serious crime."

He goes to the door and motions to someone outside. It's Pat Robertson. He comes in the house and puts the cuffs on me. Then he leads me outside to the car with "U.S. Justice Department, Procreation Patrol" painted on the side.

"You and your debased marriage are hereby annulled!" the Attorney General yells at me. "Take him away, Pat."

I kick and scream, and that's when I always wake up in a cold sweat.

"Argh," I always say to my wife.

"Umph," she always replies.

And last night, just after she said "Umph," the doorbell rang. I put on my bathrobe, went to the door and turned on the porch light. The guy looked familiar.

"May I come in?" he said. "If I can't, you're under arrest."


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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