by Janet Gilmore

On our first long car ride together, years ago, my new boyfriend, Hugh, was merrily driving along the Atlantic City Expressway at 70 miles an hour in a 65 mph zone, when we spotted a New Jersey State Police car parked on the side of the highway.

“That’s it!” he said. “I can’t take the guilt! I’m going to pull over there and turn myself in!”

“No! Don’t!” I yelled in a panic, thinking, “What kind of nitwit pulls over and turns himself in for speeding?”

He didn’t pull over. Then, “Just kidding,” he said, as he kept rolling along at 70. “They allow you to do five miles over the speed limit.”

Oh, no, stuck in a car with a new boyfriend’s sense of humor.

“He’s crazy,” I thought. “How can I get out of this car safely? We’re on a busy highway. Who can I call to come pick me up? Maybe my parents? We’re near Brigantine; it’s a lot to ask, even of one’s parents. Maybe my last boyfriend might come get me, but I dumped him, so it might not be appropriate to ask. Besides, the cell phone hasn’t been invented yet. I’ll try to contact the police by mental telepathy.

I tried hard, but the police never showed up.

I was on my own, left to remember other guy-car-humor.

Sneezy, my worst boyfriend ever, was given to turning on the car heater on torrid summer days and driving around until one of us (me) caved.

“Sneezy (gasp! gasp!), I can’t breathe! Turn the heat off!”

“You lose!” he gloated.

The automobile, that rolling terrarium, provides lots of opportunities for mischief. A girl is a captive audience at any speed over five miles an hour.

Getting used to someone else’s humor is difficult. Much more than the smell of cologne that gives you a headache, toe-tapping impatience or the arrogance of someone who constantly corrects your grammar, the sense of humor is a good indicator of how well you might get along as a couple. And if it ain’t there, it ain’t there. The truth is in the laugh track.

“I really like this guy,” I thought about Hugh. “Can I take years and years of car high jinks?”

I looked over at him and noticed the crinkles around his eyes. He was chuckling to himself.

As a married couple a few years later, we drove to Maine in my tiny Toyota Tercel and bought an excelsior-stuffed, leather rocking chair to bring home, sit in and feed our expected baby. We liked the idea of a chair in which other babies had been rocked. We didn’t realize how big the chair was until we tried to figure out how to get it home to Philadelphia.

“We’ll have to tie it to the roof,” said Hugh. “Help me lift it.”

Somehow we wrestled the monster up and onto my car, where it threatened to crush both of us. Now, two grown-ups trying to work together to figure out the best way to tie a chair to a car strains every element of human compatibility.

“Don’t you have things to pack?” Hugh asked.

Taking the hint and wanting a happy marriage, I left him to his own devices.  He lashed the chair to the roof. I checked to make sure we had not forgotten anything, and got into the car.

Hugh gestured for me to roll down the window. He handed me the end of a rope.

“Hold this,” he said. “If you let go, the chair might fall off the roof, so hold on tight.”

I did. I am not the kind of person who wants to kill other people with falling chairs. Some people might be. I am not. I clutched the rope tightly for the entire 12-hour drive.

My arm got tired. I had pins and needles in my hand. My shoulder ached, but the chair stayed where it was.

I admit, I changed hands once in a while, holding cross-handed. I dozed off twice, but still woke up still clutching that rope.

When we finally arrived home, I took a close look at the chair on the roof. Hugh had tied it in such a way that not even the big bad wolf himself could have dislodged it. The car would flip over, and we would be stuck upside-down on top of the chair before it ever came untied. In other words, it was completely unnecessary for me to hold that rope for half a day and get rope burn but for Hugh’s amusement.

“You made me hold that stupid rope for 12 hours?” I queried in a less-than-thrilled tone of voice.

I looked at him. He looked at me. Dead silence. Then I saw the twinkle in his eyes. I started to laugh. Ripples of laughter, rolls of laughter, waves that buckled my knees and forced me to sit down right in the driveway. Pretty funny, and the joke was on me. I wished I had thought of it first.

“This guy is really good,” I thought. “I could learn a lot from him. I like this marriage. I think I’ll stick around long enough to get even.”