THE OTHER DAY, I bought the new Justin Timberlake album, The 20/20 Experience. It was an impulse purchase, like buying Tropical Fruit Skittles or a handgun, but I was pretty excited about it. I was on a train, and the idea struck me suddenly, so I fiddled with some icons on my phone, and there it was, paid for with my credit card, I think.
The cover looked cool on my little screen, and I remembered dancing to the song “Sexy Back” once in a bar years ago very late at night like a childless, carefree moron. I put my earbuds in and pushed play, and music started. I listened to the first half of the first song, and then I listened to the first twenty seconds or so of the rest of the songs, and then I decided to take a little break. I put my phone back in my pocket and told myself that I’d listen more later when I could really concentrate.
That night, back at home, after putting our daughters to bed, my wife and I were brushing our teeth at our respective sinks in the bathroom. She tends to be more of a multi-tasker than me when it comes to daily things, so while I just kind of stood there with a dumb look on my face, she brushed while reading an article in The Atlantic.
“So, I picked up the new Justin Timberlake album today,” I said.
She looked up from her article, and our eyes met somewhere in the mirror. “Really?” she asked.
My wife has about fifteen different versions of the word “really,” and I wasn’t exactly sure yet which one I was dealing with, so I carefully said, “Yeah.”
“But you don’t like Justin Timberlake,” she said.
I looked around our bathroom as if searching for someone to share my exasperation with. This is a bit that I’ve been doing for years now, as if our marriage is being performed in front of a live audience as part of some post-modern domestic experiment. “What? Yeah I do.”
“Well, you like him,” she said. “Everybody likes Justin Timberlake. But you don’t like his music.”
“Of course I do,” I said. “This new album’s supposed to be really good. It’s gotten great reviews.”
As you might be able to guess by now, I had absolutely no idea whether or not this was true, and, as long as we’re being honest, I still don’t, but it seemed like a good way to support the argument that I was apparently now making. I could see that she remained unconvinced though, so I grabbed my phone off the counter and opened iTunes. “Here, listen. This is the song he played on Saturday Night Live. It’s good.”
And so there we were, two grown-ups, tired and in our pajamas, listening to a song called “Suit and Tie” on tiny iPhone speakers next to the toilet. There were horns at the beginning, then there was this jazzy intro followed by an R&B-sounding guy with a deep voice who said, “Are you ready, JT?” And then Justin Timberlake sang falsetto for about forty-five minutes. I bobbed my head the whole time, as if to say, “See?”
I’m about four inches taller than my wife, depending on her shoes, but she was born with this mutant, X-Men superpower that allows her to create the illusion that she’s looking at me eye-to-eye. She glanced at my phone and then at me, and I could sense that something mildly devastating was coming, like farm animals that wander up into the hills just before tsunamis.
“You don’t like this,” she said. “You just want to like it.” And then she started applying moisturizer to her face.
This is the trouble with wives. They know us so well—so irritatingly well—that it’s no longer possible to lie, even when all we’re doing is lying to ourselves.
When I’ve been drinking, she knows. When I’m anxious about something, she knows. When I’m wondering if I’m a bad father because I snapped at one of the girls, she knows. And when I’m feeling old and lame and out of touch, and when I’m kind of ashamed of myself because all I want to do is listen to Achtung Baby for the five-thousandth time, she knows that, too. She knows everything.
That said, “Sexy Back” is still an awesome song. And it always will be.