It was called the war between the sexes, years ago. But some of that hyperbole might have been media-driven — these days I’d call it more like friendly skirmishing. And it’s all the better when each side can take a joke.
I have a friend I’ve known for years, I’ll call B. We get together once a blue moon for lunch. Even though our desk jobs aren’t close, we can each hike halfway to grab a bite and yak about sports, politics, whatever.
In the last year or so, when we get home and mention whom we lunched with, each of our wives will ask about the other. B’s wife, M, will ask how Mrs. Ombud is, and vice versa. More than half the time, we each say, “I don’t know, we didn’t talk about her.”
This is met with some matrimonial exasperation.
Which has in turn alchemized into some good-natured humor. I’ve pointed out to Mrs. Ombud that M must be fine, because B would tell me if she weren’t, right? And for the last half year, as soon as B comes in the door of the restaurant, he makes a point of saying “How’s Mrs. Ombud? There, now I can tell M that I asked.” And we laugh.
Recently, four of us got together for lunch at Little Joe’s, an SF place that has been around for years and is now across from the SF Chronicle building. Both B and M came, and also J — her husband went to college wth B, and we’ve known him and J for years, too.
We first knew Little Joe’s in North Beach, on Columbus Ave, and later when it moved to Broadway. The kind of place that always had bowls of garlic on the tables, with a sign saying “Italian breath mints.” Lots of good seafood and pasta and one of my favorite dishes — saltimbocca, which is Italian for something so good it “jumps” (salt) in your “mouth” (bocca). As I don’t like what is done to the little calves, I avoid veal and get the chicken saltimbocca.
So the four of us had a great lunch together. J told us about their recent trip to New Orleans, we made plans for later in the summer, talked about how wretched the Giants season is so far, etc. And about halfway through I realized that neither J nor M had asked about Mrs. Ombud. I smiled to myself, realizing what a chance I had. I admit, a couple times the conversation could have steered close, but I tried to keep it away.
When the check came, I ponied up my share of the bill and said I had to be getting back to the office. And then I took some pleasure in looking at B and saying, “well this was perfect. A good meal, good company, and all lunch long, nobody asked ‘how’s Mrs. Ombud?’” then turning to grin at M, I got up. B busted up laughing.
I could see it register on M’s face in three ways. First, her eyes got wide as she realized that she had forgotten to ask. Then, a little wider as she realized that she had forgotten to ask something she’d expected of B in the past, so this was going to double back on her. And finally, the realization that she had now lost the moral high ground on this one — that this might be grist for future milling and her window of opportunity was closing as I stepped away from the table.
As I headed for the door she blurted out, “How’s Mrs. Ombud?!!!” but it was too late. By the time I got to the door, she was laughing, too — to her credit.
And I laughed all the way down Fifth street, and as I turned on to Market.
Okay, it was a bit wicked of me. But only a little bit, don’t you think?