Sunday, March 13, 2005

Can We Talk?

Well I guess I have always known that education has nothing to do with intelligence and that a person can have multiple degrees and still not be able to pour soup from a bowl with the instructions on the bottom. After all just look at that flower power reject with a PhD -- Ward Churchill – at the University of Colorado. He obviously has been able to prosper without ever actually having a job or learning anything meaningful about America or American Society. So in my defense I have actually had a job (several actually) that required me to control my budget and earn more than I spent. I have been able to earn some rather impressive certificates that hang on my wall while doing this. But unfortunately I still fall into the category of people – mostly men -- who are brilliant on the outside but dumb as dirt inside – at least according to my wife who is convinced I am not only dumb as a rock but unable to communicate even the simplest thought. . Naturally I deny this allegation while seemingly doing everything I can to corroborate it – but then I am a brilliant manager, leader of men, author, and all around deep thinker, so I can’t be expected to master all of the petty details of everyday living and to communicate with any clarity to those who simply don’t understand what I am saying.

This reflection on my ability to communicate all began with a simple request from my wife who wasn’t feeling well and asked me to prepare dinner. Something I have done in the past with results ranging from WOW to “what on Earth is THAT???” But I am always up for a challenge so I agreed to prepare dinner. It seems that the menu called for us to have London Broil but there was only one (large) available, so my wife, languishing on the couch like the final act of La Boheme, instructs me to cut it in half. Now before we go on – ask yourself – what would YOU have done given that simple request? If you are a man you probably would have reacted like I did. I simply took the cleaver and whacked the steak in half as neatly as if I had used the Guillotine, plunked it under the broiler and went on to step two – the rest of the meal, which to me means – the potatoes. Now I should point out that there is nothing in life that my wife and I agree on, especially our food. When we were first married I accused her of confusing seasoning food with cooking in the same room as the spice rack. But then we were young and I hadn’t yet learned the cardinal rule of marriage which is “you’re wrong!” – accept it. But to my point, she likes her meat rare – very rare – dare I say disgusting-- while I like mine done – crunchy even. So when I served my dinner of steak and potatoes I was confronted with gales of laughter – confusing to me because I thought I had done a pretty good job. But Au contraire , it seems the steak should have been cut horizontally into two smaller steaks, not whacked in half as if it were a cantaloupe. This prompted an immediate telephone call to our daughter so that the two of them could laugh about the complete ignorance of the male sex and their general lack of commonsense. It also provided the opportunity to discuss communication and the almost total lack of the sexes to communicate with each other.

Of course any man who has been married for longer than it takes to get to the end of aisle, knows communication between husbands and wives is actually a rather simple affair and there are certain communication rituals, which are learned early if the marriage is to get off the ground. The proper answers are – in no particular order:
Yes dear
No dear
Of course I love you
You do not look fat!
I don’t mind going shopping with you

Of course the last item is said with a smile while inside you’re thinking I would rather have my fingernails pulled out by a hungry Tasmanian Devil than shop for anything other than a new computer or really big TV. But for some obscure reason women insist that their husbands accompany them on these excursions to the supermarket.

Have you noticed that in the supermarket the men fall into specific groups. You have the single man shopping for himself. He is easy to spot because his basket is only partially filled and what’s there consists of various types of chips, soda pop, frozen pizza, a few frozen dinners, and maybe some bread and lunch meat. The emphasis is on speed and convenience without regard for nutrition. Then there are the married guys. These are the ones standing around with one hand on the cart staring off into space clearly wishing they were home watching curling or badminton, waiting for their wives to examine every single item in the aisle while searching through a stack of coupons. You feel their pain and can see that they have reached an out-of-body state bordering on comatose. Now everyone knows that shopping has to be done and that food has to be purchased and placed into the refrigerator, but why does that have to involve the husband? I asked my wife that because clearly neither I nor any of the other men I see in the market are doing anything other standing around staring into space. Her response to this question was “Training – all of you guys need training and all of us women are determined you are going to understand how hard our job is - so stay alert!” See – it’s all in the communication!

But as every man knows there are a lot of adjustments in a marriage. You get used to the idea that there are her things, our things but there are no “my things” other than your underwear and toothbrush. But it is the little things that act like grit in an otherwise smooth running machine, like the tooth paste. For example after years of arguing over the toothpaste and how it should be maintained, we now each have our own tube of toothpaste, which is zealously guarded. Mine is neat and trim while hers is squished and disgusting. I spent years in the Army and that training stays with you and to this day I can sleep in a bed without touching anything. When I get up the bed is almost undisturbed. In fact, I cannot sleep comfortably in a bed that is not tucked in. My wife on the other hand can get into a king sized bed and within 3 seconds can turn the entire bed into a mound of material that looks like the remains of a Laundromat after it was hit by a tornado. But we adjust – we all adjust to the little foibles of our mates – for example--it was my wife’s birthday.

Having already experienced the aftermath of several forgetful events I had learned that certain gift giving occasions have a great deal of meaning to women and birthdays are one of them. So on this particular birthday I was brimming with pride because I not only had remembered I had purchased a nice personal gift AND a card, plus a card from the children. But as the evening wore on my darling wife became less and less communicative and finally burst into tears. After some coaxing it seems that while I thought I had hit a home run I had in fact struck out because there was NO BIRTHDAY CAKE. Horrors! How could I be so callous and forgetful – unfortunately it was now almost 9 PM and all of the stores were closed except the nearby supermarket. I dashed out of the house and raced to the market determined to bring harmony back to our little home. But the market was closing and after some desperate pleading on my part, I was able to make ONE purchase but the bakery only had two cakes available. So I purchased one and dashed home – triumphant – bearing my cake like tribute to Caesar.

Well my wife opened the box and there it was – a beautiful white birthday cake suitably decorated with flowers and spring flowers at that. I was bursting with pride as if I had just slain the Dragon and saved my little Princess from durance vile. However, there was no joy in Mudville for I had once again struck out. My wife looks at the cake and ignoring my triumphant look once again bursts into tears and between sobs points to the offending cake and says “It says Happy Birthday Amy. Who is Amy?” “Well of course it says Amy” – I reply with all of my masculine logic – “what did you expect? That’s the only birthday cake they had – the other cake said Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad”. Well that stunning logic sort of brought the conversation to a halt and after a moment of reflection on my dedication and overall rising to the moment we were able to laugh and put it into perspective and since that time every birthday cake in our family says “Happy Birthday Amy”.

So in spite of everything the politically correct can do, the fact is that men and women are different. In spite of those who think they should be alike I think most people – especially those who have been married for a while – are glad of these differences because it brings spice and perspective. It is these little challenges and adjustments that make each day an adventure. Excuse me now, because I have to go and explain that the printer works best when the little light is on. It indicates that the power is turned on.

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