"Is your husband a good provider?" I see and hear this question all the time, particularly in situations in which the wife is pontificating about how pissed off she is about some Man Shenanigans of the more serious nature. While I can certainly see the value of considering a man's potential to earn and provide as a necessary criterion to his suitability for marriage, I have to admit that in my own case, I did not put it at or even near the top of the list.
The Zen Master takes his work at the comic book store quite seriously as far as his customers' satisfaction is concerned. After all, the life's blood of a healthy comic book store is a steadyish stream of 20-to-40-something single dudes with disposable income and a thing for spandex. Because my husband also runs Gaming Nights at the store, there's a small core group of die-hard role-playing Ubernerds, most of whom are over 35 and have no families other than the aging parents in whose garage, basement or attic they live. These guys, known affectionately as "The Huzbros", are my husband's most loyal customers and they are the ones who will miss the store the most when it closes in October of this year. The store rarely ever did better than just breaking even in the seven years we've had it; as a business venture it has not been what anyone would term as "lucrative". More than anything else, it has been a place for The Zen Master to do what he does best: helping people when and how they truly need it.
The Zen Master used to be a bartender in a rather upscale restaurant in Houston before he packed up his truck and moved to Bumfrag, Nowhere to be with me, his lady love. When he and I were just plain roommates back in the day, I used to go and pick him up from work occasionally when he couldn't get a ride from someone else, and I had the pleasure of watching him work his regulars. Again, Zen Master had loyal, regular customers who came there to drink because he was there in addition to the libations. A bartender's job is to throw down the drinks and listen to the patrons, and he did both with a particular style that earned him his richly-deserved nickname "Zen Master". The job of Comic Book Guy really isn't that different; he throws down the comics or the dice, and he listens to his customers.
Zen Master's been staying out late all this past week. He comes home reeking of beer and anime and he falls into bed exhausted. What's he been up to that's keeping him so occupied? He's working. Not at the shop and not for money but he's working just the same. One of The Huzbros was just diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Darren is 35 and lives in his parents' garage, no wife, no kids. Zen Master has been staying out late to keep him company and cheer him up in that very special Zen Master way. When Darren first got his diagnosis, he called Zen Master and said he was going to take all his Oxycontin and end it all before he was hooked up to machines and unable to reach the bottle.
"Go for it," said Zen Master "I'm not going to tell you that you have everything to live for because you know that's bullshit and you already have 47 other people shoveling that bullshit at you. I'll say that I think suicide is a chickenshit way to go considering all the medical advances there have been and ass cancer isn't quite the death sentence it once was. I'll also say that I don't think it's the cancer that's really scaring you, it's the thought of trying to bang an Asian chick while hooked up to a colostomy bag that's really freaking you out and man, I have to tell you that you personally have a better chance of getting an Asian chick to bang you with a colostomy bag than without one, but you do whatever you want."
It's this kind of in-your-face wisdom that draws people to Zen Master and keeps them there. The other day he was speculating as to exactly why he's That Guy; his theory was that it's because he never seems to be in a bad place and need help himself that makes The Huzbros feel safe being vulnerable with him. Even though the shop is closing and that ought to be the kind of thing that would depress a person, he's not depressed about it, he really has no feelings about it one way or the other because he knows he'll still do the work he does best, taking care of The Huzbros and me and the kids his very special way, and everything will be fine just fine. While I may not have considered earning potential as particularly pertinent criterion, he did. And while I may not have the best track record when it comes to career paths and staying on them, I've never been presented with the opportunity to really try my hardest at something while being emotionally supported in the manner to which Zen Master is accustomed to supporting me. I am scared at the thought of being the sole breadwinner for this family, especially since it involves an entire year of difficult schooling before I can take an exam before I can apply for a job before I get a job, but I know I'd feel way more scared about it if I didn't have Zen Master in my corner. He is an extremely good provider in all the ways that count the most.