The thing that makes a commander brilliant is his plan.
During the siege of Petersburg, Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants devised a plan. He had his men mine tunnels under the rebel lines and pack them with gunpowder.
The rebel lines were shattered in the explosion. The Union soldiers stormed directly into the crater, and the ladders that Pleasants had ordered were not to be found. The rebels came back and shot the Union men.
So it is with love – anniversaries in particular. When the date approaches and your steely eyed girlfriend wonders just what you have in store for her, you plan. While no man wishes for war or anniversaries, they are thrust upon us for the preservation of all we cherish.
When my time came and the intelligent, beautiful love of my life asked me what I had in store for our anniversary, I told her I would surprise her and, my delaying maneuver successful, I started planning.
The day arrived. I showed up, late. I gave her a single rose and took her for a walk along the beach at night. She was cold but we persevered until we came across a fishing pole. Not just any fishing pole either, because I’d had my friend Curtis tie a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin to the end of the line so I could reel it in. Curtis, despite his innumerable admirable qualities, is not the first guy I would pick to throw $60 bottles of champagne into the ocean because he’s apt to exuberantly chuck them out past the breakers.
“What’s this fishing pole doing here?” I asked my love.
She said she to leave it alone.
Undaunted, I said we should see what was on the line.
I reeled romantically on the fishing pole and it bent in the direction of a clump of kelp washed up on the beach. I inspected the kelp. The line led through it to another clump. I dropped my pants, tucked my tie into my shirt and waded out to inspect the vegetation, where I found the broken end of the line. I believe I scowled and uttered words not quite in line with the true spirit of romance.
My love astutely guessed I’d had some scheme. “What were you expecting?” she asked sweetly.
I grumbled. We went up the beach some more to find the picnic basket (a half dozen roses, bread, cheese, grapes, chocolate and two useless glasses) blessedly intact.
Then the tide, which the love of my life had suspected of rising and I had airily assured her was not, sided with her and not me. We scrambled up the cliffs, me pants-less and holding the picnic basket. Calm and pants returned. After romantic embracing, we walked back to the car, shivering and stubbing our toes on small to mid-sized rocks.
At least, I told myself, dinner would be a success.
The night, however, was drooping toward the grave so I told my love to take a nap while I cooked dinner: chicken piccata, grilled balsamic vegetables, saffron rice and champagne poached pears. I put the butter in the pan, turned the stove on and went to brush my teeth.
Post-brush and mid-spit, I heard banging. Also, I heard screeching beeps. Clearly, I was going to have to speak firmly with the neighbors. Outside the bathroom, things were not so clear.
Thick black smoke that smelled like plastic cats burning filled the room from my shoulders to the ceiling. The banging was at my front door, the screeching, beeping sound was coming from my smoke alarm, and, off to my left, dinner was in flames. I grabbed the pan, threw it into the sink and headed for the door.
I caught my neighbor between bangs and talking to someone on a cellular phone.
“Are you, cough,” she sputtered, “okay? Cough, cough.”
“Oh, cough, fine. Just cough a little cough fire,” I said gesturing to the stove.
My girlfriend emerged from the bedroom.
“What, cough,” she asked “the hell cough is going on?”
“No problem,” I said, “just cough be a dear and open the window. Maybe, cough, you’d like to cough go outside where it’s cough not so stuffy?”
“Omigod, cough,” asked the neighbor, “should I cough call the fire people?”
“No, cough,” I said, throwing the circuit breaker, eviscerating the alarm and spraying dinner and the stove with a fire extinguisher, “cough, everything’s fine.”
She left, still talking to the phone.
After the fire was drowned, the windows open and a fan on I staggered outside to face my girlfriend. She was seated in a deck chair, wrapped in a blanket.
As we huddled outside, she told me that it was okay, plenty of men in the world set fire to their kitchens. Then the firemen arrived.
“No problem here,” I told them, “just a little flaming butter, I put it out okay.”
The fire captain swung his flashlight beam around the stove imperiously.
“Don’t you have a smoke detector?” he asked.
“Yeah, I unplugged it because – ”
“You shouldn’t unplug smoke detectors.”
“I know, but it was – ”
“They save lives.”
“Yes, well – ”
The love of my life, noticing that dinner was a little overcooked, suggested we get food. We headed for Freebird Burritos. Later, as we huddled outside eating nachos, drinking wine out of the bottle and watching smoke clear from the apartment, she gave me a little hug.
“Happy anniversary babe,” she said. “I won’t forget it.”
Next year, we’re going to the zoo.
Brendan Buhler is the Daily Nexus opinion editor and is getting around to telling his landlady this story.