It all began when the last of our children left home to make it on their own, or, to paraphrase satirist Tom Lehrer, to begin their long slide down the razor blade of life.
My wife said to me, "Now that we're alone, I think we should start sharing the load."
"What load?" I said.
My policy when faced with work is to be evasive.
"We both have jobs elsewhere and I see no reason why we shouldn't each do the household chores."
Her policy when faced with evasion is to persist.
"So much for la dolce vita, " I said.
It had been a sweet life, all right. Our son and daughter-in-law lived with us for two years while they saved to get a place of their own. They absorbed the household chores while my wife and I struggled in the jungle.
Lisa cooked and cleaned; Marty took out the garbage and fed the animals.
Feeding the animals is no small chore. We have two dogs, two cats, two fish, a bird and a goat that was injured in a dog attack years ago and as a result wanders around with her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth.
The goat belongs to my wife. I find it hard loving anything with its tongue hanging out.
"I hate taking out the garbage," I said. "I doubt that Jack Smith takes out the garbage."
"OK," she said. "I'll take out the garbage if you'll do the cooking."
All I cook is spaghetti. I make a puttanesca sauce, which is also known as a whore's sauce.
"I'll take a shot at that," I said. "I'll cook maybe 30 pounds of spaghetti and put it in the freezer."
"You're going to have to figure out how to cook something else. I'm not living on whore's sauce and pasta."
"What else is there?"
"You can cook potatoes," she said. "Anyone can cook potatoes. All you do is stick them in the microwave until they're done."
"Well, you have to put fork-holes in them first so they don't blow up."
"Too dangerous," I said. "I think that's how James Thurber was blinded, by an exploding potato."
Years ago, a friend and I cooked dinner for our wives on New Year's Eve. His name was Tom Flynn. We were in our early 30s and no challenge was too great, so we chose a French recipe for duck. The recipe called for smothering the duck ourselves. The French are like that.
"It's OK with me," I said, "but you're going to have to smother the little sucker."
"Why me?" Tom said. "You're combat-tested. It's only right that you smother the duck."
"I made a vow in Pusan never to kill again," I said. "Especially ducks."
We settled on beef. The cow came pre-killed.
"Well," my wife said, "what is it, cooking or taking out the garbage?"
"Cooking. I'll vary the spaghetti with days of Hamburger Helper."
"You bring Hamburger Helper into this house," she said, "and I go out the door."
My wife is a gourmet cook who considers Hamburger Helper an offense in the eyes of God.
"Must I chose between you and Hamburger Helper?"
"You got it, muchacho. "
No contest. Hamburger Helper is a fleeting love.
"Tell you what," she said. "I'll cook and take out the garbage. You straighten things up around the house. You're very good at straightening things up."
"I'm also good at caring for animals," I said.
"I'd better handle them too," she said. "I'm the only animal-lover in this family."
"Oh yeah? What about Maximillian?"
Max was a turtle. She thought he was hibernating and put him in a closet for the winter. Either he wasn't hibernating or he woke up early and starved to death.
"It was a misunderstanding," she said.
"Death by misunderstanding," I said, "is a terrible way to die."
"This is getting us nowhere, Martinez. We'll trade off on the chores. I'll do them all at first and then you do them all when your turn comes. That way, we'll get something to eat beside spaghetti and the animals will have a 50-50 chance of staying alive."
So far, my turn hasn't come. I suspect she's given up. But should it come, I'm ready. I've already frozen some whore's sauce and have begun a campaign to limit our amount of garbage.
There's no way I can get around feeding the animals occasionally, I guess, but the goat is on her own. I'm not feeding anything with its tongue hanging out.