Louise’s life hadn’t been a walk in the park on easy street over beds of roses. But with all the ups and downs she’d had to cross-country ski over and the hoops she’d jump through in her lifetime, never had she been even anywhere near as vexed as she was now perpetually frustrated beyond measure. And the source of her seemingly interminable aggravation being the man she’d given her heart to made it all the worse. If her girlfriends comments were an accurate gauge, as husbands go, Archie seemed to be in large part one of the better than average Joes. But there was that one hurdle that she just could not overcome. No matter how often she tried to get around it or what brand spanking newfangled tactic or strategy she used to eliminate it, that apparently insurmountable obstacle was still there. This bloody bane of her existence was infinitesimally close to making her scream her lungs out while pulling out each strand of her luxurious hair by the roots.

SPORTS!!!“` That was the thirteen raised to the number of the Beast accursed behemoth of a leviathan-esque gadfly in the ointment. It transmogrified what was otherwise her balm in Gilead of a marriage into the wickedest witches’ brew more vilely loathsome than the infernal elixir concocted of the venom from the asp Cleopatra employed to kill herself, the Poison Hemlock which slew Socrates, and the centaur’s hydra-tainted blood which struck down Herakles. Sports was his all-consuming passion. Archie watched sports incessantly. Any chance he got, he was talking about this contest and that athlete and those blown calls and the obviously correct move so-and-so team would have made even if their combined brain trust possessed less than a micro-smidgen of an iota of his brainpower. All heroes on all quests combined could not match her old man’s unbridled determination for collecting sports-related memorabilia no matter how expensive or ridiculous it was. And if he could, he would gladly devote more wealth than the treasures of King Solomon and the riches of Croesus to betting on points spreads and prop bets and whatever the hell else those damnable casino sports books came up with to suck hard-earned money out of starry-eyed, gullible saps without a lick of sense to know that the house wins more often and much more than you ever will. These were the fiendishly multiplying flocks of albatrosses around Louise’s neck, hanging like the sword of Damocles over all her hopes and dreams, and ever-threatening to relentlessly drop their poop and piss and vomit on her head at any instant.

Breaking up this union in any wise was simply not an option. Anything akin to divorce was simply not tolerated by both their extended families and the at times overly tightknit community where they lived. The complications that would arise from untangling their Gordian Knot-esque finances were many and strong.

It was all too much. If she didn’t get this Atlas’s burden-sized weight off her shoulders and exorcise from her soul the emotions that came with it lickety-split, Louise would explode like a supernova in unquenchable rage far surpassing the fury of all women scorned put together. Fortunately, she knew there was one of her friends who could always be counted on to lend an attentive and empathetic, but never nosey, ear and give a caring shoulder to cry on only so long as it was appropriately called for. Thereafter, she would provide sound advice and she did so only when it was asked for. Not only that, she could be ironclad guaranteed and as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar counted on to never spill the beans about anyone’s tales of woe–no matter how juicy the intimate details of their problems were.

Her comforter-counselor-partner in crime, Ethel, invited her and her husband to dinner at her home. After agreeing to go with her, when the night came Archie backed out at the very last possible minute . It was imperative that he attend the fantasy league meeting during which fantasy team owners would draft collegiate underclass lacrosse players. If Louise had not gone alone, her next call to Ethel would probably have begun with her beseeching her bosom companion to help her in disposing of the ‘corpus delicti’ previously known to all and sundry as Archie AKA her louse of a spouse.

The get-together was fantastic. The engrossing music that caressed their ears and pleased their spirits was courtesy of Ricky’s extensive and diverse collection. Dinner was exquisite. And what especially shocked Louise was that Ethel had cooked it– and from scratch to boot. For most of the years she’d known her, Ethel gave only as much heed as was absolutely necessary to participating in any of the domestic arts. And now, this committed career woman could whip up a multiple course feast that would give all but the finest master chefs a run for their money.

After that sinfully decadent dessert, the top shelf brandy and those topnotch cigars, Ethel’s husband Ricky excused himself and went strolling off into the den. When Louise’s undeniable curiosity could no longer be restrained, she decided to broach the subject of Ethel’s acquisition of some high-end domestic goddess talents.

“Ethel, for as long as I’ve known you, it usually took a gross of the grossest death threats to get you to boil an egg and make toast–while under protest, of course. But now, whenever you want and/or need to, you can come up with a mouthwatering culinary masterpiece like what I’ve enjoyed tonight. How? … When? … Why?”

After chuckling good-naturedly, Ethel answered her. “Oh, my kitchen wizardry is primarily Ricky’s doing. After we got hitched, I found out just how much of a total whiz at gourmet cooking and lots of other homemaking skills he is. Thanks to him, I can hold my own in just about any kitchen anywhere.”

The frown that crossed Louise’s pretty face was spawned by the two-headed, green-eyed monster of envying Ethel’s domestic bliss and regret that she had never attained anything in the same ballpark. That a sports metaphor so easily lodged in her mind at this moment irked her all the more.

“I’ll bet Ricky’s never gotten himself all wrapped up in anything like who should have beaten who in the playoffs three years ago.”

“I hope you don’t make too big a wager on that, Louise, because if you did, you’d lose all your shirts. Not to mention the rest of your extensive wardrobe and everything else you’ll ever own.”

Louise fought in vain to keep her jaw from dropping literally. “I don’t understand. When the three of us were eating, he was in to you like I’ve rarely seen any man be that devoted to his wife. And now you inform me Ricky’s a sports fan.”

“Oh, he’s much more than a fan. Among sports nuts, my hubby dear is the sports junkie ‘suma cum laude’.”

“That can’t be! … But how?”
Ethel rose from her seat and then contentedly stretched for several moments. “Follow me to his man cave. Or as he calls it, the “sports zone”.

As they stood inside the den’s wide doorway, what Louise beheld took her breath away. Ricky was dreamily sprawled out lounging in a recliner. Four TVs situated around the expansive room were tuned to different sporting contests. And the two big screen televisions each showed at least two different contests apiece. A desktop PC, a laptop, a tablet PC, and his smartphone were all on. And each of these devices was apparently logged onto a different sports informational website. His eyes ceaselessly scanned all the sports-centric feeds he was presently tuned into or he had connected to. And he intensely focused upon each of the multiple video sources surrounding him. Her husband might be the only man whose strictly as a spectator dedication to sports rivalled, or might perhaps just barely exceed Ricky’s zeal for athletics.
As they played tai shogi (employing the drop rule), Louise could not extricate from her consciousness the picture of Ricky hungrily lapping up every tidbit of sports data his mind could latch on to. And yet, he devoted that same degree of devotion to his wife. How did he do it? How had this win-win situation come about? Could the cause(s) for this paradise on earth in Louise’s eyes be replicated?

Louise tended not to pry into the innards of others home lives. Yet, the parallels and contrasts between her love life and Ethel’s were overwhelming and could not be denied or simply glossed over. Louise knew full well that questioning anybody about the nuts-and-bolts of their private life was a risky business that could quickly spiral into a major disaster for all sorts of heart-rending reasons. Still, if Ethel could (and would) give her a possible solution to her dilemma, it would be invaluable.

As Ethel contemplated her next tai shogi move, Louise decided the possible benefits of questioning her about her home life outweighed the potential pitfalls. But before she drilled down to the brass tacks of what most concerned her, there was something else which piqued her curiosity.

“There’s something I just don’t understand: With Ricky being such a sports geek, how did he ever become such a cosmopolitan music aficionado?”

“Oh, I had a little hand in that. Excellent music has always stimulated me. And I’ve had eclectic musical tastes since practically forever. So I introduced Ricky to the joys of exploring music. And once he opened up to it, he took to it like a duck takes to water. I helped transform his ugly duckling taste in music into the beautiful swan of a world music lover he is now.”

“But how did you pull him away from televised sporting events long enough to get him to care about anything else?” Louise inquired.

“Ahhhhhhh! That is a fascinating story,” Ethel replied.

Ethel fell silent and would say no more. Louise sensed that the ball was now in her court. To get any more information out of her long-time gal pal, it was incumbent upon Louise to make the next move. Louise took a deep breath and locked her pleading eyes with Ethel’s relaxed gaze.

“If you’ll give me any tips that could help me get Archie to pay more attention to me: Name your price, and it’s all yours.”

Ethel smiled reassuringly, reached over, and comfortingly stroked Louise’s hand. “There’s no need for you to go to such extremes. Now, I can’t make any promises. But, I will direct you to what’s responsible for transforming my marriage.”

Ethel got up from the table and went into her bedroom. When she came back downstairs, she resumed her seat and handed Louise a large, ornate, laminated, unusual business card. On it were pictures of a baseball bat, a basketball, a football, a hockey stick, a soccer ball, a boxing glove, and a horseshoe. Below these detailed drawings and written in humongous, boldfaced, capitalized, calligraphied letters were the words “THREE STRIKES”. The contact info for whatever THREE STRIKES was filled the bottom of the card.

“Be sure to present that card when you attend your first THREE STRIKES meeting,” Ethel admonished cheerily.

The next day, Louise kept mulling over the previous evenings goings-on, that striking business card, and the significance they could have for her and her husband. As far as she could tell, Ricky’s dedication to sports had in no way interfered with his loving and eager devotedness to his wife. This was a definite nudge for Louise to delve into THREE STRIKES. Ethel was exceptionally secretive about this THREE STRIKES thing. Louise doubted it involved anything illegal. But still, Ethel’s not divulging any info about what THREE STRIKES was remained a bit of a sticky wicket for Louise. Nevertheless, Ricky and Ethel were a very happy couple. And, as far as anyone could divine, they were as upstanding and standup as anyone could be. But the secrecy about THREE STRIKES. If it was not illegal, was there something about it that might be deemed askew? Was THREE STRIKES some sort of, hopefully very much tamed and scaled way down, version of “Harvest Home”
or “The Stepford Husbands”? Grudgingly, Louise was compelled to acknowledge that even if there was something unorthodox or even unsavory about THREE STRIKES, the chance, however minuscule, that it could yield her anything resembling the bliss her lovey-dovey friends shared was an inescapable temptation. Since she knew not what THREE STRIKES entailed, perhaps it would require something of her which she just simply could not do. But THREE STRIKES might be the sole key to transforming her married life into a truly happy partnership. When she did strive to switch her focus to her job or some other task, the memory of that business card (and all her conjecturing connected thereto) flashed into and overwhelmed her mind’s feeble attempting to ignore them. She was trapped between the unmovable, deep-blue sea-swallowing Charybdis of staying in her miserable marriage and the perniciously tempting, devilishly possible Scylla of THREE STRIKES.

She could not remain perched upon the horns of this dilemma forever. A decision had to be made.