Wednesday, May 19, 2010

94 days to Bar Mitzvah: division of labor

It's a fact: there are days when my wife arrives home, sees me sitting on the couch or worse, lying on the floor doing a crossword puzzle, and says to herself, "Does he do anything but lie around?" To my everlasting embarassment, I've only realized this over the past five years or so. Before that, I figured as long as I always put the toilet seat down, I was golden.

Unfortunately, the one thing I will only do during extreme crisis conditions -- make dinner -- is the most obvious, possibly the only way to change her inner monologue from "I do everything around here" to "look how nicely my husband and I share domestic responsibilities." Anything short of that is lost in the face of what is very obvious: that she worked a long day, making way more money than me, only to come home and find dinner not made.

And I do try to do things to ease her pain, really I do. I mean, as long as they don't cause me pain. No sense in both of us hurting.

For several years, I thought we had an equitable arrangement in which she made dinner and I did dishes. Yes, it got a little less equitable when we bought our house, which came with first a very old and leaky dishwasher, then later a very slick-looking Bosch dishwasher, which stood ridiculously alone and embarassed in our kitchen, whose last remodel had come in 1966.

Eventually, we did a complete kitchen remodel, but not before first entertaining plumber candidate Bill Tracy, who, despite having spent his entire life in San Francisco, looked and dressed exactly like Richard Petty. Bill Tracy stood in our decaying kitchen, wishing he could go back outside to his El Camino and smoke, and told me stories. He told me about how our house, which (I theorize now) had been on San Jose Avenue before they widened it into a pseudo-freeway, had been moved to this spot in 1959.

He told me that he'd once owned the house across the street, which hade begun its life as a horse stable. He'd paid $10,000 for it in 1962. There was a house up on Diamond, near Safeway. Bill Tracy used to go to swinger's parties there in the 70s. Bill Tracy grew up on a farm about a mile from here. I loved Bill Tracy.

Bill Tracy once owned a bar in Glen Park called "Bill Tracy's Lodge." We called it "the scary bar." It was where the French restaurant is now. In the few years we was here before Bill sold out, we never went in, maybe because the guy who stood out front every day, wearing a Giants replica game jersey and a 2.7 degree of difficulty mullet, intimidated us. Just as well. Bill said people used to sell drugs out of the bar until he came down on them like a ton of bricks.

"You know," Bill told me, pausing, "I think I did the last remodel on this kitchen."

But Bill Tracy worked only with copper. While he looked like he'd have been at home in a double-wide, he did not come cheap. Bill Tracy was out of our league in more ways than one, and we'd already spent a ton on our electrician.

Finally, after six months of doing dishes in the bathroom and two very productive weekend visits by my wife's father the general contractor, the new, gleaming, impressive kitchen was done, ending the Bosch dishwasher's days of shame. All it cost was yet another slice of my already-limited masculinity. Two weekends of a man's man trying to impart his handyman wisdom on you, only to have your eyes glass over for ten minutes before reminding him that, while you haven't misspelled a word in 10 years and really do love his daughter, he's wasting his time trying to teach you how to property "mud" drywall, can potentially leave your sense of macho ragged and torn, blowing in the wind like a linen surrender flag.

At the end of each working day, we'd sit at the kitchen table, the three of us, drinking Budweiser and looking at the unfinished project. Sandra Bullock and her father would beam with pride, pointing out to each other the progress we'd made, strategizing for tomorrow's work. I counted the days until we were done.

Eventually, Sandra Bullock re-took dishwashing duties from me. Even with the powerful Bosch dishwasher in my corner, my subpar dish-rinsing skills forced her to decide that it was preferable to do the work herself. And that's the first time she's ever done that.

So I try to do other things, often measuring their impact against the effort they require. I make the bed every morning. I take out the trash, and I do an average of six loads of laundry every week in the fallacious belief that mad folding skills are the equal of bandsaw competency on the manly scale.

Today, Sandra Bullock was home only for an hour before meeting Surrey Street friends for dinner. Sometime around noon it occurred to me that having her make the Jawa and I dinner even though she wouldn't be joining us would not be a good thing. "I hate making dinner," I thought, "but there's no way." Unfortunately, we had macaroni and cheese on Monday. My one cooking option was exhausted.

Halfway through the afternoon, as I was touring this outrageous, 20,000 square-foot church that had been converted into a house, I got an email from my wife. "I'll make the Jawa a hot dog," it said. "There's some leftovers for you, if that's okay."

Now if she suggests it, it's not me making her do it, right? That's the logic that got me through the rest of the day not feeling like a heel.

Still, I tried to increase my low-impact contributions. By the time she got home, the Jawa (inexplicably home today and tomorrow for one of the seemingly endless, obscure Jewish holidays that stretch his school year into mid-June) and I had walked Shack -- a truly awful chore that includes carrying poo around in a small, blue bag.

More than that, in the 40 minutes that elapsed between the time I got home and Sandra Bullock arrived, I convinced the Jawa to clean up, which basically involved retracing his steps to the moment he woke up this morning. This exercise reinforced the idea of just how annoying it is to come home and find that someone who's been there all day hasn't managed to do anything except mess the place up. Score a subtle and unintended point for Sandra Bullock.

Where's this "tikkun olam/save the world" stuff they're supposed to be teaching him at school? Is it too much to ask that it start with not leaving your half-eaten breakfast on the kitchen table for eight hours?

Find me the sloppiest, most inept private detective. He would have no problem accurately recreating the Jawa's day. He began with some pancakes. They were good, but too filling to finish. Same with the grape juice.

A few hours later, rather than eat lunch, he ate two Nutri-Grain bars and handfuls of pretzels while sitting on the living room floor, simultaneously watching on-demand episodes of "Mythbusters" on TV and reruns of "Lost" on his little netbook computer.

At no time did he entertain any thoughts of changing out of his pajama bottoms and into pants. It was only when I made him walk Shack that he begrudgingly made the switch. Even then, he stuck with the green t-shirt he'd been wearing since he got out of the shower at eight last night.

Much of the day was spent handling Butters, his new hamster. Butters was in the kitchen. She made a brief visit to the coffee table in the living room. Time was spent in the hallway, and on the Jawa's bedroom floor. Don't be impressed by my crisp, all-knowing report; all I had to do was follow the trail of white shredded paper, Butters' cage bedding of choice.

I kept my cool, reminding myself that Sandra Bullock feels like this more days than not, and knowing from experience that I was never more than two or three angrily delivered comments away from a scene where the Jawa ends up slamming his door after making a series of progressively more defiant and cutting remarks. Instead, we both kept up our cool, communicating in a tight, overly-patient way that we pretended the other didn't notice. No big deal. And better than the alternative.

1 comment:

Holger said...

same dynamic in our house, only that our kids are too young to blame them.

funny, now i know why i rarely see you out with shack. honestly, this is exactly one of the reasons we don't have a dog...