One of Tony’s favorite activities is choosing one thing from a large selection. For example, evidence suggests that he likes Netflix more for browsing than for actually watching anything. Selecting music for an occasion can occupy him for hours, and bring him great pleasure. He delights in light fixtures connected to dimmer switches. Why limit yourself to “on” and “off” when you could expand the possibilities to include the many degrees of light and dark in between?
Going grocery shopping with Tony allows me to calculate this trait in minutes. If he decides he wants a fancy cheese, I plan to be at the store an extra 5 minutes, during which time Tony will carefully compare and contrast every cheese in the store. If he wants bacon, I plan for an extra 10 minutes. If he wants beer, I leave him in the liquor section and get the rest of the shopping done. Abandon all hope ye who enter here, etc.
I shouldn’t present this as if I’m airing a grievance, because the opposite is actually true. I’ve come to realize that the search for beer, or movie, or cheese isn’t without direction. In these moments, Tony is attempting to find the perfect [insert noun here] for the occasion. He is a natural connoisseur, but he operates without pretension. Unlike some connoisseurs, his end game is not impressing someone with his knowledge, but enriching his or her life by ensuring that the “nouns” of a given moment are utterly right.
It’s an admirable quality, perhaps more so for me because it is so different than the way I do things. For instance, I know this footage of a grocery store in communist Russia is supposed to be appalling, but I think it looks fine (minus some of the seemingly unsanitary packaging):
You got yer milk, yer frozen thingies, yer hunk o’ meat. This store has it all!
I am both impatient and utilitarian. Give me store brand laundry detergent, toothpaste and/or food products or give me death! To me, selecting from many options can feel like an anxiety-inducing waste of time. Given my lack of interest in choosing, it’s taken me a long time to appreciate Tony’s modus operandi. “Just pick one!” I’ve said to him, more times than I can count. “It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Repeatedly, though, Tony has demonstrated to me how nice perfection, or at least the pursuit of it, can be. He does it by putting on the perfect song while we’re folding laundry, or switching off the bright overhead light so that we’re playing doubles solitaire by lamp and firelight. He does it by introducing me to Gorgonzola cheese on a picnic one time, then later having me try Cambozola cheese, which led to me wanting to eat Cambozola all the time because it is the best cheese on Earth. These are the small but not at all inconsequential ways that Tony makes my life better.
I wonder sometimes why Tony, with all his discernment, picked me out of all the people in the world. Some of the reasons are obvious: we share a sense of humor, and an outlook on life, we like the same books and the feeling of working hard to accomplish a given goal. But maybe there are other reasons we are drawn to each other, reasons that have far more to do with our differences than our similarities. Maybe Tony is supposed to show me the value of careful selection. Maybe those lessons make me a better person.