101. Mina Peezler, Actuary

A lot of people find Mina maddening. Her manner reminds them of their worst grade school teacher, the one most likely to keep them after school for what always seemed to be the most minor infraction. And there is her voice. Grating and precise.

Ask her husband. “If you have a sense of humor, there is no one better. She gets you through hell and high water. But when she has that tone in her voice, watch out. And don’t let her catch you laughing when she uses it. For me, it happens about three times a day. Sometimes more. We share offices and in a lot cases, clients.”

Mina’s husband, Roger, couldn’t be more different. Mina is what you might call “by-the-book.” For her, events have a certain chance of happening or not. Her sentences are carefully constructed, uttered only after a few sentences, sometimes minutes, of analytic thought. And once uttered, are not subject to argument or modification. Her favorite phrase: “When you are right, you are right.” Mina is always right. Ask her.

When she makes one of her declarations, Roger just smiles and says “Yes, dear.” He knows better than to argue or even to say, “Are you sure?” He’s not a wimp. He is a lawyer. And a very good one. He avoids adversity and confrontation whenever possible and selects his arguments very carefully. That is one reason his clients and his partners call him “The Wizard.” He has settled all but the most intractable law suits, gotten criminal clients off with the lightest possible sentence, usually involving no jail time, and negotiated some of the craziest deals on record. His wife may deal with a black and white world. Roger’s world is every color of the rainbow.

Mina and Roger have two children. They had them in the first three years of their marriage, both to please Mina’s parents and because Mina wanted to “get it over with” as soon as possible. She believed infants and preschoolers are career wreckers; once toilet trained, able to feed themselves, and are in school, it is possible for a professional woman to go back to her career. It is one area where she admits she was wrong.  First, she loved being a mother. Second, both her husband and her made more than enough money to hire all the child-care help they needed. Third, she found her assumption that after they were toilet trained and in school, they would leave her free to pursue her career without hassle proved completely wrong. Mina always forgets: most people are not quite like her.

You’d think with parents so different; the two kids would have serious emotional problems. Not so. Gloria, the oldest, seems genuinely happy and amazingly level headed for a college sophomore. She majors in Art History with plans to go to law school. She wants to work in intellectual property, a goal so arcane and specific her friends would roll their eyes. Gloria said it sounded like loads of fun.

Roger, Jr. is on his school’s tennis team and taking advanced placement courses in Math and Physics. “Maybe a doctor or something. I’m a bit young to make plans but something in the sciences probably. Who knows?” Whenever Junior says something as indecisive sounding as that, Mina insists, “Of course you are going to medical school. Why wouldn’t you.” Junior says nothing. She should know he dreads the idea of being a doctor.

But that’s about as rebellious Junior ever got. Or as disruptive a thought as may have upset what Mina saw as a pleasingly placid and, most important of all, a predictable life. So, when Mina happened to walk in on her husband watching porn on his office computer screen, it was what you might call an event and then some.

He was totally absorbed and didn’t hear her behind him. She was just about to say something when she saw what he was watching.

Her eyes bulged. Literally. And she shouted. “ROGER!” He screamed and spun around in his chair.Then, she turned and left. She slammed the door behind her. Roger just sat there. He almost threw up. His heart was racing

He heard the car start and take off. She was gone for about an hour. He was still sitting just where he was when she had walked in to his office and saw what was on the screen. He hadn’t moved. He had no idea what was going to happen next or what he might do about it. Divorce? Counseling? Embarrassment? Shame?

But what happened next truly stunned him. Without getting into the details, let’s just say Mina and Roger are happier now than they ever have been. They laugh and giggle a lot more together. And their life together is not quite so humdrum or as predictable as it once was. When Mina saw what was on her husband’s computer monitor was not like anything either of them might have imagined.

76. Marjorie “Mags” Svensen

Her Father’s Son

In more ways that she could realize, she is her father’s son. As a girl, even in her teenage years, she loved being with him. They played tennis. They camped in the roughest conditions. Later, she went her father’s alma mater. And then, into her father’s profession, chemical engineering. Along the way, he always encouraged her to do one better than he did. She never let him down. After getting a master’s in chemical engineering, Mags took a job with an international chemical company and quickly moved up the ranks, not only nailing a couple of patents but also showing unusual leadership and sales skills. Even when it came to a husband, she excelled in her father’s eyes. Ronnie is tall, good-looking, good company, and a great doubles partner. But even better, he is very smart. Who could ask for anything more? Before meeting Mags, Ronnie took a law degree and became a partner in a very prestigious law firm. His clients have included some of the most socially prominent people in the country and – in more than a few instances – the corporations that account for their wealth. And that has been a bit of a problem. In that circle, Mags is supposed to be a “proper wife,” a complement to and an ornament for her husband, an expert at charming small talk, a good mother, and an even better hostess. She is not supposed to have muscles, is definitely not supposed to drink beer with the boys, or to laugh too loudly. Or swear. Or tell amazingly filthy jokes. Or, even worse, to flirt. Mags gets enormous amusement from her flirting. She loves how it drives the women in her husband’s client circle insane. And how it drives their husbands even crazier as they realize that Mag’s flirting is just her way of making fun of them. It used to be far worse but, after Ronnie asked her to cut it out, Mags took on a more “corporate” demeanor and “behaved like a lady.” She even stopped making snide comments about conservative politics. But just lately, things have taken a bit of a different turn. First, her mother died and her father went into a deep depression. Then, Ronnie’s father broke his hip. Next, Mags got a big promotion. It meant that as an EVP she is being groomed to be President and CEO of her company. And finally, Ronnie announced that he hated his job, couldn’t stand his clients, and wanted to start a woodworking company. To which, Marjorie said, “You mean we can finally stop the bullshit with those awful clients of yours and have a real life?” Ronnie’s answer was, “Yes, yes, and yes.” They put a bottle of Champagne in the refrigerator and had a little party, all by themselves. She knows it will not be easy. As a lawyer, Ronnie made a ton of money; woodworking is not quite as lucrative. So, their income will come down a bit. She knows that her new job will mean a lot of time on the road. And she expects that their two boy-crazy, prep-school daughters will a bit upset about some of the changes ahead. But those camping trips with her father – sleeping in a tent in the middle of Maine winters – prepared Mags for anything. Maybe those two little overly-delicate girls needed a bit of that sort of experience themselves.