Meet Mel. You might think he is my husband, but I know the truth: He is my muse. If you ran into him on the street, you might not realize he's a muse due to his unshaved visage and hoarse voice. (I mean, really, don't you think of a muse as a young woman in a floaty costume?) It took me a long time to recognize Mel the Muse, but one night in bed, cozied up between Mel and my laptop, I started to read him this essay (just to make sure he woudn't divorce me if I wrote about us, er, him). His laughter and approval proved to be like a wand of inspiration. As he rolled over, stroked his back and said, tenderly, you are my muse. He grumbled back, "Very a-musing."
I should have realized that our relationship was going to be a comic alliance when we could not find a legitimate Rabbi to marry us. (Mel is Jewish and I was raised Christian.) I didn't care who performed our wedding ceremony, but Mel did. See, although Mel came from a family of rule-breaking Jews (e.g. his mother kept a kosher kitchen while his father shopped for ham and cheese sandwiches from the deli for lunch), there were certain things that mattered to him—like being married by a Rabbi. Mel looked up and down New York City, but could not find a Rabbi to marry us. So Mel had to go to the underground Rabbi network.
Finally, Mel found Rabbi Dubious, an interfaith minister/ex-lawyer/PR guy/Rabbi to marry us. This was acceptable because we could call him Rabbi, we got to step on a light bulb (wine glasses were deemed too dangerous), and we got official Jewish paperwork. However, we have had doubts, over the years, about the legal foundation of the marriage, because Rabbi Dubious's pants were unzipped throughout the ceremony. Did this undo the whole affair?
We were never bothered by our lack of orthodoxy until we moved from New York to Minnesota. When we moved to Minnesota, it became very clear that we were "different." In Minnesota, being different is not a mark of distinction; it just makes you feel bad. Minnesotans, while superficially nice, tend to be clannish, judgmental, conflict avoidant and gossipy. So this means that if you are different, they will quietly avoid you, talk about you behind your back, and you will never know what's going on. You are left with a feeling like you have dog crap on your shoes, but you can't find it. Fortunately, Mel and I had each other, and could laugh our way through our isolation. Mel, unaware of the atmosphere of subtle condemnation around him, thoroughly enjoyed himself—prodding people around him, and trying to get them to laugh out loud. (Of course, this is a great victory, as most Minnesotans laugh on the inside.)
Sadly, I am all too attuned to the nuances of the cultural temperament—having been genetically programmed for it (yes, I'm the product of German, Swedish and Norwegian immigrants). I should be more at home in Minnesota than anywhere on earth, but paradoxically I am of a genetic code that leads to extreme discomfort just about everywhere. This might be because I am a "black Norwegian." Black Norwegian? you ask. Well, I think this is a reference to my brown hair, but it could be because of my surly moodiness. I keep trying to explain this to Mel so he will really understand me. I'm dark, I say, as I consider revisiting the Bergman films for clues to my psyche. But Mel dismisses me with: You are as dark as pound cake. Not only does this make me feel misunderstood, but I also suspect it may be a reference to the "pounds" that I have accumulated since we moved to the land of cheese and parking lots.
So, where was I? Mel got off Wall Street and settled on Main Street. My outsider husband loved the land of easy parking from the day we moved here, plus he found whole new audiences to conquer with his humor. These days, Mel claims to be a school teacher, but by all reports he is more of a stand-up comic who performs for young people. And I'm serious about his. Mel will return from work, and go through all the jokes and routines he managed to work in during the course of the day, then give me details on the responses of the audience (oops, I mean students). Usually he caps this report with some kind of query, like, I was really funny, wasn't I? As you can see, Mel is the funny one in the family, and I am not. This is exactly why I require Mel as my muse.