Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Perfect Husband

I thought my marriage was in great shape. Then, one day, when I got home from work, my wife hit me with the words I had dreaded only in my worst nightmares:

“I can't live like this anymore.”

My gut tightened and vibrated, as if I'd swallowed an electric toothbrush. The world began to spin around me as I braced for the impact of her next sentence.

“The house is a disaster.”

I looked around. Everything was where it belonged: a pile of mail on the counter, next to the cutting board. On the table, remnants of Tuesday's dinner remained available for scavenging. Laundry was compressed into an out-of-the-way pile next to the bedroom door.

I marveled at the effort I had made to neatly stack the dishes in a way that would pack the maximum number of plates and cups into the sink while still allowing the faucet a solid inch of clearance to swing back and forth, at least on one side.

Even though I had prepared with dread for this pivotal moment in our relationship, I momentarily forgot I was dealing with a woman at the end of her rope (read: cycle), and I tried to reason with her.

“This is not a disaster,” I said, with a tone of authority that would later haunt me on the couch. “Hurricane Ike was a disaster.

“This, my dear, is simply a case of mild disorder. Nothing to freak out about.”

It was soon made clear to me that I was the one with the disorder. Several of them, actually.

I tell this story to illustrate that no matter how much we think our society has advanced toward equality of the sexes, the males are still the ones who have to register for the draft, and the females are still the ones who are trained subliminally to notice every puny, insignificant patch of soap scum that makes it nearly impossible to breathe within eight or ten feet of the bathroom.

I don't know bout you, but it really burns my briefs.

The Today Show recently aired a segment explaining that women want men to take on an equal share of domestic responsibilities, but they resent it when we do a good job at it.

The modern dad spends an average of 21.7 hours a week “on childcare and related duties, like shopping and housework,” an increase of nine hours a week since 1978, according to msnbc.

Sometimes, experts say, if the dad actually does something well, mom gets insecure about no longer being #1, and has to knock him down a peg with a few weeks of incessant nagging or nitpicking.

(Okay, the article didn't say it that way, but you get the drift.)

I found this insight very helpful. Every time I get my daughter dressed, my wife has to make a bunch of exasperated comments and do it over again because I made some critical error, as if her eventual college admissions status will depend on whether or not she wore a pink shirt with red pants.

After a while, I start to wonder why I bother.

“Researchers found that even dads who believed they should be highly involved in childcare shied away from doing things for their infant if Mom was very judgmental,” the article states.

Fellas, we just have to remember that the wife’s criticism is just her way of saying how wonderful you are.

Mention that to her the next time she tells you she “can’t live like this anymore.” Let me know how it works out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Garbanzo Economics

I’ll bet you know next to nothing about chickpeas. We’re going to correct that situation right now.

(Trust me – it’s important).

Also known as Garbanzo Beans, chickpeas, eaten by the handful, taste like wax paper.

But if you mush them up and mix in some spices, you have hummus, which compares favorably to other condiment options for your BLT.

The Garbanzo “provides a good source of protein,” even though it is “low in calories and virtually fat-free,” according to some Portugese chickpea web site I found.

It “can be enjoyed all year round,” and is a staple in ultra-healthy ethnic foods, such as that crazy Indian meal I had four helpings of at the American Folk Festival.

They also go great on salads.

So do what I did: go out and buy a few hundred cans of chickpeas to keep on hand for survival after our economy plummets to third-world levels.

And it will. Don’t believe these “experts” who insist the economy will “bounce back.” They’re required to say that. If you could follow them home, you’d find them weeping in despair, swallowing mayonnaise by the cupful.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Just take note of historical precedent:

Panic of 1893: Lack of regulation during a Republican administration enabled sketchy lending practices. Railroads grew faster than a high school shortstop on steroids, but they over-extend themselves and couldn’t pay off debt. Banks failed, and the bubble burst. People were forced to stand in long lines for scraps of stale bread.

The Great Depression: During Republican presidencies in the “Roaring Twenties,” America had a giant raging party, and the economy went through the roof. This encouraged an orgy of investing, but businesses couldn’t pay off debt when market conditions changed. Banks failed, the bubble bursts, and people had to stand in long lines to qualify for roles in John Steinbeck novels.

Recession of the Early 1990s: Ten years of “trickle-down economics” under (surprise!) Republican administrations helped the economy grow faster than OJ Simpson’s legal bills. But Lack of regulation led to a Savings and Loans scandal as people could not afford to pay their debts. The bubble burst, and people were forced to stand in long lines to vote for a known lecher.

(Are you noticing any patterns yet?)

The Great Catastrophic Collapse of 2008 (as it will come to be known):Under-regulated during eight years of Republican rule, banks give mortgages to anybody with a pulse (I was able to buy a house by applying in the name of my dog, Jethro, listing his occupation as “Tester of Furniture Puncture Resiliency”). When the housing bubble burst, home-owners couldn’t pay their debts, and banks collapsed. People will be forced to stand in long lines for a turn picking through the dump for scraps of half-rotted fruit rinds….

UNLESS they heed my advice, and stock up on chickpeas right now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Going Swimmingly

Flashbacks to childhood trauma always result in cheap entertainment, which is why I knew this week I would have to write about my turn in the dunk tank.

It started out as a way for the sophomore class at my school to raise some money during the homecoming football game. But when I climbed in, it immediately turned into something more sinister, basically an opportunity for thousands of angry people around the community to release some pent-up hatred by repeatedly humiliating and degrading a tub of water.

Sitting on that platform, waiting for that first plunge, took me back to one of the diving boards at the Bangor YWCA pool, where as a fourth-grader I fidgeted and shook for several minutes before the menacing swim instructor nearly threw me in the water.

I guess this is what constituted a “swim class” back in the 1980s. As part of the “non-swimmers” group, this aquatic genius had allowed me to fart around in the shallow end for five weeks, dog paddling and doing fruity little kicking drills while holding onto the side of the pool.

Then, on the last day of class, I was supposed to fearlessly dive into the deep end as though it were as natural and intuitive as picking a scab.

Everyone else gleefully hopped into the water, wearing only their swimsuits. I put myself at the end of one line, and another pathetic little guy named Heath kept himself at the end of the other, each of us armored in enough Styrofoam to close a municipal landfill.

When our turns came, Heath and I stood on our respective diving boards, stricken by the simple facts of the situation: breathing was necessary to continue existence, and being underwater reportedly made breathing just about impossible.

Incredulous, the instructor told everyone we were “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” He strode onto Heath’s diving board and tossed him flailing and screaming into the water.

It took me only a second to decide that if my lungs were going to fill with water anyway, I might as well avoid Heath’s humiliation. So I grabbed my nose and hopped in.

The worst part is, that pinhead probably went home thinking he had taught us how to swim. In reality, I didn’t touch the water again for years. To this day, I still won’t go under without holding my nose, and while I can maneuver in deep water when necessary, I generally avoid it, being about as graceful and efficient a swimmer as your average Dodge Durango.

In how many other potentially lethal situations do we expect kids to learn by just jumping in and learning to cope? Imagine if we taught people to drive that way. “Just pay attention and wear your seat belt, and you’ll be fine. Now GET IN THE CAR.”

Fortunately, my inadequate swimming skills were not much of a problem in the dunk tank, since it was only four feet deep. I was able to use some of the larger ice cubes to keep myself afloat until my feet found the bottom.

Overall, it wasn’t that bad. I don’t know what the big deal is about throwing a ball to dump somebody in the water. It’s not like I didn’t need the bath.

The kids had a good time, and the whole experience forced me to reflect on a character-shaping experience from my past, and realize, after much introspection, that I could eek out another 600 words this week by whining about it.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Top Secret! Do Not Read!

I don’t understand how leaks happen.

I’m not talking about plumbing leaks. Everyone knows that plumbing leaks result from your toddler putting live ammunition into the garbage disposal.

But there’s really no excuse for informational leaks, because there is a well-known, proven strategy for keeping secrets from spreading:

Don’t make them available to anyone.

Best-selling author Stephanie Meyer has her tights in a twist because details from her new book, “Midnight Sun,” have surfaced on the Internet.

This should be no big deal, because you can only write so many vampire romance novels before they all start to sound the same, anyway.

But it’s big news to some people, regardless. According to Reuters news service, Meyer made some “early drafts” available to a few “trusted” people, such as her editor, her parents, and her drug-addicted, gossip-obsessed, destitute ex-hairdresser.

Some people just can’t hold on to classified information, and Stephanie Meyer is apparently one of them.

I have some suggestions for her, and for anyone else who just can’t bear to keep anything “close to the vest.” Memorize these foolproof techniques so you’ll always be able to get a secret off your chest without facing any consequences:

1) Write down the secret, fold it up, and try to get Wal-Mart to sell it in the toy section. By the time anyone gets the fortress of packaging undone, and frees the paper from the relentless clenches of those stupid screws and plastic ties that turn Christmas morning into an agonizing Houdini ritual, all the concerned parties will be dead anyway.

2) Buy advertising on a sports pre-game show. I guarantee nobody will hear it, because everything blends together. (“You’re listening to the Chrysler-Lexus-Jeep-Peugeot-Doritos-Carl’s Taxidermy-Brian Is Sleeping With Sarah’s Best Friend-Pre-Game-Show, on the Shaw’s-WRKO Red Sox Radio Network.”)

3) Jot it down on the owner’s manual of a new gas grille, right next to where it says “WARNING.”

4) Have it printed in your town’s annual report, on the one page everyone always skips over (“Budget Information”).

5) Three words: Public Radio Telethon.

But in this age of piracy, even these reliable strategies are not entirely guaranteed to work.

Ms. Meyer is learning what the music industry has understood for more than a decade: the Internet has neutered the concept of intellectual property. It is no longer possible to tell for sure where anything came from.

There’s nothing to stop some lowlife annelid from copying this column and pasting it on his or her own blog for some incomprehensible personal gain.

Or, for all you know, maybe I stole these very words from some obscure website you’ve never heard of, and am now selling it as my own work.

Given the number of people who read my column regularly (nine, if you count family and editors), it would be virtually impossible for anyone to find out.

If high school term papers are any indication, the Stephanie Meyers of the world might as well resign themselves to the fact that anything they create will belong to everyone in the world at the moment it is published.

The leaders of tomorrow, I’m sure, will pass laws to legalize plagiarism, provided they can find such laws in some other country that are readily available for copying.