"Man the barricades!" I yell to my wife. "Batten down the
"Since when," she yawns, her eyes still on her crossword puzzle,
"have we had any barricades to man? Any hatches to batten down? And
what's a five-letter word for oafish over-reaction?"
"Oh, sure," I say. "Scoff at impending disaster! Giggle
girlishly at the approach of the end of civilization as we know it!"
"OK," she says, putting down her puzzle. "What is it? Gasoline
up two more cents? Another football coach fired? Dodgers leaving
I take a deep breath and squinch up my eyes the way I always do
when I'm about to say something of astonishing gravitas.
"Our marriage," I say, my voice quivering slightly, "is under
She ponders that for a minute, goes to the front window, then to
"There's no one out there attacking us," she says. "I believe
you're suffering from delusional paranoia. It's the strain of
"No," I say. "It's the news. It's reality. It's what's
"And what," she says, "might that be?"
"SSMs!" I whisper hoarsely.
"Silly Satterfield Misperceptions?" she says. "Yet again?"
"Same-Sex Marriages!" I yell. "Don't you pay attention to
anything? It's same-sex marriages and they're happening everywhereSan
Francisco and Portland and New Paltz, N.Y., and God only knows where
"There, there," she says, patting my head. "And what's happening
in those places threatens our marriage? Is that it?"
"Of course that's it," I say. "Even though we passed the Defense
of Marriage Amendment four years ago, our marriage is still being
"You know," she says, "that always puzzled me. How can same-sex
marriages threaten our marriage?"
"Everyone knows the answer to that," I say.
"Tell me," she says.
"Well, for one thing," I say, "the mere existence of only one
same-sex marriage saps and impurifies our precious bodily fluids."
"That," she says, "is what General Jack D. Ripper said communism
does in 'Dr. Strangelove.' You're confusing movies and reality again. So
one more time: How do same-sex marriages threaten different-sex
"OK," I say. "I don't like talking about this, but here it is:
conventional wisdom implies that there's an unlimited amount of marital
bliss available to all heterosexual couples who want it. But the
little-known truth is that there's only a finite supply of marital bliss
in our galaxy."
She rolls her eyes.
"That," she says, "is about the dumbest thing I've ever heard you
The Truth, Mainly
"It's a zero-sum game, as we say in Hard Reality Studies," I say.
"Marital bliss, once used, is gone forever. The supply is limited. So if
same-sex marriage gets more, different-sex marriage gets less. Hence, the
"You're serious," she says, "aren't you?"
"Serious as a radio evangelist," I say. "Serious as an ATM
"Neither of which has hardly anything to do with marital bliss,"
"Think of it this way," I say. "Making whoopee is like making
pie: you've got to have the ingredients. If someone else uses up the
ingredients before you do, it severely restricts the amount of pie you can
make. And if someone else uses your share of ingredients for making
whoopee, it threatens your marriage."
She gives me a look.
"So," she says, "that's what the defense of marriage is all
"That's it," I say. "I explained it rather welleven
delicatelyfor a retired English teacher, don't you think?"
"But," she says, "isn't that like saying holding hands in
moonlight uses up the moonlight so others can't hold hands in it? Like
saying smelling the roses uses up their odor so no one else can smell them?"
"Hah?" I say.
"And," she says, "aren't you trying to measure the immeasurable
when you imply that you can weigh out a pound of marital bliss like it's
"Hah?" I say.
"And," she says, just before she bonks me on the head with the
cast-iron skillet, "aren't you making a mockery of love and marriage
whether it's same-sex or different-sex? And finally, aren't you playing
hell with the American notion of equal rights for everyone?"
"Ow," I say. But that bonk clarifies my thinking considerably, her
argument, as usual, being a bit weightier than mine.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail