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There is nothing as relaxing as capping off a long, hectic week by going out to dinner with the better half.

We have all the elements needed for date night: sizable hunger, a few bucks in our pockets and a new restaurant. We have given our name to the hostess and are waiting outside with our pager in hand, watching couple after couple enter the restaurant. There are quiet couples, chatty couples, couples that look like newlyweds, couples that look like oldy-weds, round couples, willowy couples and couples that simply restore your faith in couplehood.

Our pager beeps, we walk inside, and are led to our table. I notice a television as I take my seat and see that the husband's favorite ball team, the one that wears blue and white, is on the screen. I ask if he would like to switch seats so he can see better.

"No thanks, I can see fine from here," he says.

Sure enough. He can see from there and I can see from here. As a matter of fact, both of us can see from any direction, from on the floor, under the tables, or from behind the swinging doors leading to the kitchen.

There are 15 -- that's 10 plus 5 -- television sets dangling from the ceiling.

"Must be some kind of sports bar," the husband says, barely able to contain his excitement.

"Must be," I say, somehow entirely able to contain mine.

May I just say that I have never understood the term sports bar.

Sports bar implies active, physically fit people pumping iron before the appetizer, smacking balls around during the main course and doing multiple reps of one-arm push-ups before allowing themselves a slab of Oreo mud pie.

The only physical activity here is the elbow bend -- tipping a glass of foam to the lips. That, and an occasional full-arm stretch, as someone drags a wedge of blooming onion through horseradish sauce. But hey, if you want to call it a sports bar, call it a sports bar.

"Who's winning?" I ask, attempting conversation lacking in so many marriages today.

"Which game?" he asks.

I look around and realize that the 15 screens are set to three different channels.

"You know, I read today that the number one issue in marriage is communication. That's why it's good to have an occasional night out like this one."

"PENALTY! Did you see that?" he asks.

"Say, what is this black box?" I ask.

"It's for sound on the game you're watching," he says, demonstrating the difference between loud, very loud and decimate-your-eardrums-loud.

"But I hear music," I say.

"That's pumped through the entire restaurant. Must be for the people who don't have the game sound turned up. Say ..." he says.

"What?" I ask.

"You going to eat the rest of that brisket?"

"Help yourself."

Fifteen dangling television sets, dozens of sweaty, grunting athletes, four selections for sound level and background music to boot.

Together time has never been so crowded.

Knight Ridder Newspapers

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