Learning to Obey the Better Half
Like employees of the CIA, your basic spymaster and field agent, my wife and I operate on a strictly need-to-know basis.
Being the natural head of domestic operations and the official household schedule-keeper, she understands my rather limited capacity for maintaining and accessing certain bits of vital operational data — birthdays of in-laws, pending dinner plans with certain people whose names I can’t seem to retain five seconds after they leave a room, trying to recall where I last left the upstairs plunger before the toilet overflows, that sort of thing — is roughly proportionate to my functional grasp of the federal budget or the sweeping new health care overhaul.
In plain language, I haven’t a clue.
So she tells me what I need to know and when I need to know it. This system works better than you might think. It is time-tested and essentially idiot-proof, meaning not even I can screw it up. The theory holds that my common male inability to handle more than one dedicated work task at any given moment is compensated for by her typical female ability to handle several complex tasks and/or household and social obligations simultaneously.
This is especially true as summer departs and autumn’s brisker pace of life resumes. It also explains why, according to the latest findings of the Pew Family Research organization, more women than men now earn Ph.D.s and two-thirds of the people in college are female.
The Official Scheduler
Here’s how the system works in real time.
Come some gorgeous Indian summer Thursday afternoon, let’s say, while I’m engaged in some terribly important business at my work place like wishing I were thigh-deep in a trout stream in Watauga County or seeing how many paperclips I can stack up without having them topple over, my telephone will ring with the official scheduler on the opposite end.
“Hi, babe. Just wanted to remind you we’re having drinks with the Spurlocks at 6:30. They’re just back from summer in France and want to show us the photographs from their fortnight on Cap D’Adge. I guess little Billy finally passed his driver’s test after four tries at the DMV. Jean and Kevin are so relieved.”
“Oh, good for them,” I’ll say cheerfully, momentarily withdrawing from my beautiful mountain stream. “It’ll be nice to see them again.”
The truth is, I have no idea who the Spurlocks are or why I should wish to see their photographs of Cap D’Adge or hear what an ordeal it was for little Billy finally to get his driver’s license. Unless I’m mistaken, Cap D’Adge is where French people go to take their clothes off in August. And whoever he is, I’m not entirely pleased to have Billy boy, the three-time loser, legally behind the wheel on the streets of my town.
But by the time we reach the Spurlock front porch in the cool twilight of a September evening, bearing Chardonnay and pleasant smiles, our charge d’affaires will have me so thoroughly briefed on these people that I could tell you little Billy’s birth weight and the precise cost of the Spurlock family plane tickets to Cap D’Adge in Euros. Though I may only vaguely recall their faces, we’ll carry on at dinner like we’ve been best pals since graduate school.
Not So Bad After All
“Oh, you must see our photos of Cap D’Adge,” Jean declares after dessert and coffee, handing me an artfully bound photo book containing their big summer escapade.
Naturally, the cover worryingly depicts Edgar Degas’ famous painting “Woman in Bath.” Being a good guest, I open the book bracing for the inevitability of seeing people I barely know stark naked and acting like a bunch of brainless French tourists, cavorting in the buff far from home.
Instead, I am deeply relieved to see bucolic snapshots of a broad sand beach and tilting sea oats, Kevin and the twins (wearing bathing suits, no less!) patriotically making a 1/300th scale sand sculpture of Yankee Stadium. There are also gorgeous shots of the ancient Roman coliseum at Nimes, the quant medieval streets of Carcassonne, cute market cafés, happy sunburned crowds.
In one, Jean perches in a peasant’s donkey cart full of cut sunflowers. In another, Little Billy sits in some dude’s convertible Porsche Cayman looking like he’s about to steal it.
“See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?” asks my wife as we depart for home.
“No,” I’m forced to admit. “They sure had a great summer vacation. I just wish we hadn’t agreed to let little Billy park our car. I think he drove it to Raleigh and back while we were eating.”
Errands to Run
Back at work on Friday, I am busy busy busy with all sorts of important office projects. Pencils to sharpen, for instance, lunch to think about.
Also, I plan to go mentally fly-fishing in a tumbling blue stream high in the Andes later this afternoon.
Somewhere around midmorning, my iPhone quits functioning, which I barely notice because I basically have no idea how it operates anyway. There are far too many buttons, choices and options. Sometimes I push a button for the current weather forecast, for instance, and a comprehensive street guide to Vienna, Austria, appears. Other times I touch a cute app hoping for the latest news on the economy and find I am directly in touch with Justin Bieber’s Twitter page, whoever he is.
I have no idea how to Twitter, which makes all of this activity doubly pointless. So I push another button and up comes Paula Deen’s personal recipe for deep-fried apple dumplin’ happiness. At least I’ve found something I finally understand. If I could, I would go there for lunch, wherever there is.
My wife, who I have no problem admitting is my functional superior on multiple fronts, naturally knows how to navigate every bit of this bewildering cyber world at one’s fingertips. She is a true master of the universe, a whiz at managing human affairs, apps, dinner dates, dental appointments, whatever, a cool head in any crisis imagined or real, virtual or otherwise.
I should seriously consider loaning her to the president two days a week. The nation would thank me.
On Saturday, for instance, we were supposed to head out early to the big noon football game at the old alma mater and spend the night with friends on the Pamlico River. Thanks to her organizational moxie, we have season tickets for the first time ever, seats on the 50-yard line, no less.
How she managed this feat of bureaucratic legerdemain remains wholly unexplained, though I am admittedly on a need-to-know basis and not entirely eager to know any details. For better or worse, it may either have something to do with her recent acceptance into the school’s graduate management program or a planetary shift in favor of female chai energy — which may also explain why more women drive pickups and attend NFL games than ever.
Pretty soon, we fellas may be kept around just to run specific errands and take out the trash on Friday morning.
A Flea Invasion
Anyway, I got up early and enthusiastically dressed in my loudest school colors and put on the coffee, only to discover that the dog had rubbed half the hair off her body overnight. She was scratching a great deal, too, prompting me to wonder if maybe she had bedbugs. They’re back in the news this summer.
“Not bedbugs,” declared our resident Chief of Household Operations, coffee in hand. “Fleas. In fact, we’re under invasion.”
As quick as that, the entire weekend agenda shifted from football Saturday to emergency flea mode. I was dispatched to Lowe’s for several cans of a specific brand of flea-bombing gas and PetSmart for dog and cat flea shampoo. So I wouldn’t get confused or sidetracked, she wrote all of this down on a single piece of paper.
“Are you going to the big game?” asked the clerk at PetSmart, who couldn’t help but notice my enthusiastic school colors.
“No final word has come down from Central Command yet,” I said. “I’m on a need-to-know basis. We’re under imminent invasion by fleas.”
“Don’t feel bad,” she said, “It’s been a terrible summer for fleas. I know someone who had to have their entire house wrapped in plastic and filled with bug spray. Hope that doesn’t happen to you!”
To my surprise, by the time I got home, both dogs had already been treated and the house thoroughly cleaned by my wife and her supersonic English vacuum cleaner, which for some reason she never allows me to touch. I’m on a strictly need-to-know basis with most appliances, too. If ever I loan her to the nation, her Dyson vacuum cleaner will surely have to go with her.
“This will hold everyone until tomorrow,” she explained. “Get your cap and car keys.”
I asked where we were going — fearing it was back to the store to buy plastic and wrap the house.
“To the big game, of course.”
My spymaster is just full of nice surprises. After my busy week of stacking paper clips and fishing in imaginary trout streams, my wife had this crazy autumn schedule all figured out. Luckily, it didn’t involve wrapping the house in plastic.
The next day, we bombed the house and I got to wash a pair of very unhappy cats in the kitchen sink. Don’t ask me what that was like. Let’s just say you’re on a need-to-know basis. Once the arm wounds heal up, why, I think I’ll go take a relaxing spin with that three-time loser, little Billy Spurlock.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist with The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at email@example.com.
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