Monday, April 28, 2008

The Five Things Alice Munro Did That Bothered James

Alice Munro (nee Laidlaw) was born in Wingham, Ontario, in 1931. Those were the days--according to my grandfather--when people were born, got married, and died. But Munro skewed the paradigm, divorcing her husband James in 1972, twenty-three years after their marriage in 1959.

Did Alice leave James? Did James leave Alice? Let's say that it was a mutual separation. But how could any man leave--even unwillingly--such a warm, caring woman? A woman who can make ice with a smile. A woman who'll have sex "when I'm done this paragraph. You know Athol Fugard is so much more interesting in Dutch."

Here, for the first time, are the five things Alice did that really irritated James. Married readers will be shocked to see that, yes, Munro's feet have actually touched ground in past. Not anywhere near a McDonald's, mind you, but she has heard of it.

(As told by James Munro to Ann Veldt of Girl magazine, Oct. 1973)

1: Singing: "Alice used to sing the most awful songs. And she could never remember the lyrics, so she would just repeat one line of the chorus. And she'd repeat it over, and over, and over again. 'Joy to the world. Joy to the world. Joy to the world. The fishes in the deep blue sea. All the boys and girls.' Last year...I can't even remember the name of the song, but it was by that Jewish boy and his family. 'One bad apple can't spoil the bushel. Give it a try, give it a try, yeah.' [Note, Munro was referring to 'One Bad Apple,' by the Osmond Brothers; the song hit #4 on Billboard's Top Hits of 1971. The Osmonds, as readers will know, are a Mormon family--not even half-Jewish.] Over and over she sung it. I thought I was going to lose my mind. When I finally heard the thing on the radio, I realized she wasn't even singing the right words. I told her, 'Alice, the least you can do is get the line right.' God, don't even get me started on that 'It's Too Late' song. 'Too late for what?" I used to say. 'Dinner?'"

2: Leaving Kleenex Around The House: "She used to blow her nose and leave the Kleenex all over the house. On the night table, on the floor. In a bag of chips. Oh, it was horrible. I keep a glass of water by the side of the bed. One night I reached over, took a drink, and there was a Kleenex floating in it. 'This has to stop!' I said. 'Right now.' The next day I opened the TV Guide and there was a Kleenex stuck between the pages. 'What's this doing here?' I yelled. 'Oh, I was just marking where The Carol Burnett Show was. It's on Thursday this week. And Paul Lynde's back!' She loved Paul Lynde! Couldn't get enough of him."

3: Making The Bed: "She could not make the bed. I did all the laundry. I don't know what's so hard about it. Here's a fitted sheet, here's a counterpane, here's a blanket. Simple, right? No, not for her. I was downstairs, watching TV, and I'd here a shout. 'James. The sheets aren't on the bed.' 'So put them on,' I'd yell. Nothing. She couldn't do it. Sometimes I'd go up at two in the morning and she'd be lying on the floor with a towel covering her, a pile of sheets at her feet. Couldn't make the bed! She kept telling the Rector I deprived her of sleep. I said, 'He sleeps on an army cot. Not gonna get much sympathy there!' But she loved talking to the Rector. It was Rector this, and Rector that. I'd say, 'The church life would've been perfect for you. All those fasts--they're not supposed to eat dinner.'"

4: Every Part Of Her Body Was Cold: "Some women I know have cold hands, cold feet. My mother always used to tease my father by sticking her hand down the back of his shirt. Alice was colder. But she didn't like to do those teasing things. Every part of her body was cold. And I mean every part. I used to joke with her that she could rent herself out as an air conditioner. Then she'd touch me with her bare feet. I stopped that joking pretty quick."

5: She Had The Worst Taste In Clothes: "Now, I don't need a fancy Cosmopolitan kind of girl, but there has to be a middle ground. I've seen Alice wear a potato sack. I said, 'What are you doing in that thing?' She said, 'It's the only dress I could find that hides my ankles.' But she didn't find it; she made it. I'd like to say we at potatoes all week, but she'd taken the damn thing from the trash outside the grocery. No potatoes in it. 'We've got money,' I said. 'You can buy clothes in the store.' 'They don't have anything I like,' she'd say, and she'd toss the catalogue at me. 'Well, I guess not,' I'd say, flipping through it. 'This is for Persian rugs.'

"But I'll say this about Alice: not once--never--in our years together did I find a pubic hair on the soap. She was always good about that."

What a relationship.

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