Today we move away from the Armenian language and back to English for this new installment of Things My Wife Says.
Take Back the Night. Say this when a situation has gone on too long, and the natural order of affairs needs to be restored. The phrase comes from feminist-oriented marches which occurred at our college in the 1980s.
The marches would take place at night. Women were re-asserting their right to walk home safely from the library, or stay up late talking in a friend’s room without getting date-raped. Women were “taking back the night.”
The marches were necessary and appropriate. What makes me laugh is my wife applying the rhetoric 30 years later to, say, our kids going to bed on time, or remembering to flush the toilet, or asking us to help them wipe their own butts.
If there is a basic situation which has gotten out of hand in your own household, take a page from Aleen’s book. Take back the night.
One of the things which distinguished Todd and made him a good assistant (and nowadays, a good manager in his own right) was his ability to keep an even keel. One of the things which allowed him to keep an even keel was the ability to sense impending work-related rage, or emotional overload, or even full, office-wide implosion, and to stave off the same by unilaterally declaring the immediate need for “some Todd time.”
This meant, of course, Todd needed a break.
Aleen later adapted the phrase for me. When I seemed overwhelmed by child care or burdened by my clients’ legal difficulties, she would say, “I think you need some Todd Time for Kit.”
The great thing about this saying is, there’s a blank space at the end. You just fill in your own name, and then say it with authority. There’s nothing anyone can do about it; you just earned yourself some Todd Time.
NOTE: There may be initial confusion. Others may believe that you are requesting time to go visit someone named Todd. Simply explain in a patient, patronizing tone that ‘Todd time’ means ‘down time.’
Mary-Stuart, You’re Panicking. Like our first item today, this too derives from a college-era situation. Aleen and I lived across the hall from each other freshman year. One of my four roommates was an extremely mild-mannered, half-Indian boy who was still, near the end of freshman year, trying to sustain a long-distance relationship with his high-school girlfriend back in Kentucky.
He would talk to her on the phone for hours, sometimes late into the night.
And when I say “talk,” well, I actually mean “listen.”
All that we, his roommates – or in Aleen’s case, one of the girls living across the hall – could hear were the boy’s own limited contributions to the endless conversations. He would listen for 10 minutes, then interrupt with a mild, detached declaration: Mary-Stuart, you’re panicking. Which would set off a new round of muffled expostulations on the other end of the line, followed inevitably, 10 minutes later, with his return to the mantra. Mary-Stuart … well, you get the idea.
Aleen uses the phrase now when listening to someone roll from one possible negative outcome through a cascade of others. What if this happens? What if that happens? The great thing is, you don’t even need to know anyone named Mary-Stuart. You can still use the expression.
The other great thing is, you will know when the time is right. The words will pop right out. “Mary-Stuart, you’re panicking.” Soon you won’t even need to say all of it, just the name. “Mary-Stuart” means “panicker.”
Finally, to say it correctly, don’t shout this phrase or even say it urgently. The tone of voice should be automatic, even robotic. The saying is more of a mechanical correction than an actual expression of warmth or sympathy. The other person is a broken record, you are just putting the needle back in the groove.
My People Were Slaughtered! Also known as Playing the Genocide Card. Less useful for those who aren’t Armenian, Jewish, Cambodian, Rwandan or Darfurian.
Aleen initially said this seven years ago when I tried to “take back the night” and assert the right to use my own damn pillow – and my share of the covers – for an entire night. What was happening was, over the course of the night, my wife was encroaching. There was a steady, aggressive strategy of dispossession.
When I did attempt to take back the night, my crafty beloved trumped me by incongruously pointing out that 2 million Armenians were killed by Turks starting in 1915. The clear implication was that these historical horrors justified some continuing countermeasures, even against non-Turks. These countermeasures could include nighttime pillow swiping. Indeed, in the context of atrocities, what kind of a low-down, petty, unsympathetic, historically ignorant jackass would even bring up such trivialities as pillows and covers?
Unemployed! You need a Ph.D in Aleenisms in order to use this one correctly. It applies to a very specific fact pattern.
Genesis. 1997-ish. Aleen and I were living in New York. After a promising career in journalism, I had decided to take a break and explore fiction writing and other sure-fire avenues for huge profit-making, such as working construction and waiting tables.
I was, in short, at a moment in life when I would not, on the surface, seem the best person to introduce to future parents-in-law. Nonetheless, in the delightfully perverse way of this world, the situation was suddenly, improbably turned on its head.
We were with our good friend Jeremy one afternoon on Long Island. We were meeting his future mother-in-law – a smart, outgoing, attractive Korean woman.
Jeremy was at an opposite juncture in life. He was between clerkships for famous, distinguished judges. In several weeks, he would start work for U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Jeremy had already gotten this job, mind you. However, the work itself wouldn’t start for another 10 to 14 days.
Jeremy’s future mother-in-law asked me what I did for a living. Then she interrupted my own shambling account to point out that Jeremy, though currently unemployed, would be back to work soon.
Application. Use this one is when a person has passed judgment on another in a way that is so factually incorrect as to be hilarious.
The pronouncement is also useful for pointing out when roles get suddenly reversed due to a change in logic or circumstances.
FRED: Sure, Bill Gates has a lot of money, but he doesn’t have ANY duct tape, sandbags, or emergency flares!
(Knowing laughter and headshakes.)
Look, I Know We Got Our Peacocks Ruffled. Belongs to the previously mentioned subgenre, English Idioms My Armenian Wife Mangles. Brought to my attention by one of Aleen’s present-day assistants, Zack M. (who probably needs some Todd Time for Zack right about now).
Aleen was concluding a phone call which had been previously tense and adversarial. A common ground had been reached. Aleen was reflecting back. “Look, I know we got our peacocks ruffled.”
I guess she meant to say that “feathers” had been ruffled. Or maybe she was trying to say that the negotiating parties had been strutting and jockeying in the manner of “cocks,” or roosters. Or maybe she was pointing out that in Hollywood, especially where celebrities and studios are involved, the players tend to be proud and vain, like peacocks. At a still further level, she may have been pointing out that managers, agents, and lawyers argue on behalf of others, i.e. their pet ‘peacocks.’
To be honest, I have no idea what the hell she was saying. I wasn’t there. Even when I am there, I frequently have no idea what she is saying.
All I know is, the mangled result has a logic and beauty of its own. Try out this saying today after a dispute at the post office or in traffic. Look, I know we got our peacocks ruffled. Improbably enough, people will understand what you mean. Plus, due to the confusing nature of the mangled idiom, the other party will be just disoriented enough to accept the olive branch. You know, the olive branch which is being presented by the previously ruffled peacock.