How to get what you want when you are married

Susan/ June 30, 2012/ Personal Essay/ 0 comments

I know what Don is thinking after he reads my title. But this is not the story he thinks, though it is, it is not, it is, it is not, wait, no it’s not… well, I just think it’s funny, but when I tell this story, or any part of it, (out loud, to friends or family, he cringes. He thinks it makes it look like, well, I guess maybe like I’m the one wearing the jeans, er, pants.)

Marriage is about compromise, right? So I do the shopping, the cooking, the laundry, I clean the toilet and the tub, and Don does the onerous tasks of dish washing (we do have dishwasher now, though, so it’s not so bad), vacuuming and mowing the lawn. He also makes the Transfer Station trips, and trudges out into the night with the compost pail when it’s full. I bathe the dogs. I make sure he knows how tedious this is.

It wasn’t always like this. I could recite a long list of all the behaviors (on both of our parts) that have evolved over the years of our journey to the relative utopia we are experiencing now. There is only one pesky little thing I’m still trying to figure out–how to get him to help me file Buddha’s nails. Yes–we use a Dremel sander, I hold the dog and provide a steady stream of cheese while Don bends over and files one nail at a time, Buddha squirming even as he’s gagging down cheddar. Before we’re even done with one nail, the dog’s heart is pounding and Don and I are sweating profusely.

Brahma’s much easier. I can just clip him. He’s a dream.

Anyway, we really have to file Buddha’s nails. I can hear them catching on the couch fabric. I feel them like razors on my thighs in the car… Believe me, I’ve complained about it.

“I wish you would stop talking about it,” Don says.

But he’s the one who says,  when we do it, “We just need to do this every two weeks.” Right.

“Don’t talk about it until we’re ready to do it,” he says now. “I don’t want to hear about it when we’re in no position to do it,” and by this he means, after dinner, when we’re plopped in front of the television, and the last thing we feel like is a sweaty, cheesy wrestle with Buddha.

I’m smart enough (by now) to know that we will only trim Buddha’s nails when he gouges Don good.

Because that’s the gist of this piece: nothing will change until your spouse feels your pain. I figured this out a long time ago. So long ago that it was possibly the ’70s, but it couldn’t be that long ago because I was like 10 then. I wish I knew this when I was trying to manipulate my parents.

Okay, so my first inkling came after a dreadful tropical summer where the lawn was like a jungle. We had a tractor mower and a push mower, but the push mower was not self propelled. It was a monstrous beast and our lawn is not flat, and let’s just say that the few areas we mowed with it, well, it was pretty much a workout. Okay. So we did most of the lawn with the tractor. But then…

The tractor broke.

The grass grew. I remember it being really lush. There were lilacs all around the yard back then. That was before I knew that you could hire people with big trucks to come and rip things out and actually rearrange land.

He must have said we’ll just have to use the push mower. All I really remember was that the push mower was my job. So now I had to do the whole (excuse me: FUCKING) yard with the push mower! Gah, I remember being out there, pushing it up the hill, cursing and sweating and just generally letting my rage and frustration mount. I must have cried, complained, begged, cajoled, nine ways from Sunday beat him about the head and neck to go look at another tractor… but:

Let’s face it.

He wasn’t out there with the grass up to his knees at high noon, pushing a 75 pound  (or more–it actually felt like 200 pounds) mower around. I was. So it was not a high priority for him.

Time to try a different tactic.

Honey, listen, I’m so tired. I’ve been mowing the whole lawn for a while now with that push mower and it’s really hard! Could you do it just this once? Just this one time, I swear, I won’t ask again.

So he did it! Then he came inside and took a shower, and said, “Let’s go.”

“Let’s go where?”

We drove straight to Pittsfield Tractor and bought a 48-inch deck John Deere. (This was before zero turn. I’m still trying to figure out how to get one of those!)

That sucked, was all he said. About mowing the lawn with that push mower. Shortly thereafter we gave it away. He hated it.

This was a great day for me. Like enlightenment. He has to feel my pain.

For a long time the washer and dryer were um, not doing a very good job. Then the dryer broke. So I should say that during these years I was doing freelance music reviews, and had more free time than Don, so like a good little wench I started going to the laundromat. Well, what a pain. You can’t just throw your clothes in and leave. What if someone needs the machine? They take your stuff out and throw it on the counter, and that’s how you lose socks.

Hours of every week lost to staring at the walls. Or the spinning clothes. This was way before iPhones, baby. Plus, the men in laundromats seemed think I was there to meet them. And these are the last men I want to meet–the ones in laundromats. It means they don’t have a washing machine at home, and god knows what that means.

Plus, to save money I was washing the clothes at home and then dragging the wet things to the laundromat dryers. Wet clothes are very heavy! I could feel my chest tightening every time I did it. Like it might explode. Explode with rage. I could see this was no sweat off Don’s brow. He had no idea what an ordeal this was. Ah, but then I remembered the John Deere. So one bright Saturday morning, I said:

Um, honey? So you know how the dryer is broken? Well, I’ve been taking our stuff to the laundromat, but it’s a hassle, so if you don’t mind, can you help me with it today?

“Sure,” he said. He ridiculed me for washing the clothes at home and lugging all the wet stuff to the laundromat. “That’s just dumb–what are you saving? $1.25? Let’s go.” He hoisted up the laundry basket, threw it into the car and off we went.

At the laundromat, he fed the quarters into the machine, and then looked at me sitting there with a book in my lap. “C’mon–let’s go get breakfast.”

“What?” I said. “We can’t leave. What if our laundry finishes, and someone else needs the machine–they can take our wet clothes out and toss them on the counter, but what if they miss a sock or a pair of underwear? That’s how you lose clothes!”

Don just looked me. Then he looked up over my head toward the door. I could tell he was thinking he might just leave me here alone. I gave him my best puppy dog eyes. He looked at me again, and then he slumped into the seat next to me. This is long before iPhones, iPads and other distractions. He watched the clothes spinning. He moved them from the washer to the dryer. We folded them together. We loaded everything back into the car, and drove to Sears.

This time I said it out loud, in the car. “Wow, it really only takes that!”

“What?”

“You to feel my pain! No matter how much I complain about it, nothing changes until you feel my pain.

Let’s face it. No one wants to run out and buy a major appliance unless they really have to.

So some 10 years ago now, I was in the kitchen making deviled eggs, Don was at work and some thugs were in the basement pouring cement (we were having some work done). We had plans to meet late in the afternoon and head over to Amherst for a family reunion. But then I heard a little poink from the refrigerator. Hmn? There were some other noises, and some noises that should be there were not. I wiped my hands and tried to turn on the light near the basement stairs. Nothing. I groped my way down, the guys were shuffling around in the near blackness of the basement.

“Did you guys trip a circuit?” I said.

“No–this bulb over here got real dim, and these fluorescents over here got really bright, and almost blew up,” they said, motioning to either side of the basement.

It was not clear what happened right away, and it’s kind of a long story, but the short of it is that the neutral wire broke, and all the wattage came through one side of the house–a surge protector in Don’s room flamed and melted the carpet, filled the room with smoke–we lost the fridge and our aquarium heaters, a few other things… the fire department came, WMECO came twice (the first time they said, not our problem) … then I called an electrician, who was a plump fellow. He came after WMECO and before Don got home. Despite his plumpness, he shimmied up the power pole and gave me the news. You can bet your buns I had something to say to WMECO. The reps came back with their heads hanging.

The electrician said, “Call your homeowner’s insurance. WMECO won’t pay, even though it’s their fault for not maintaining the wire box. Your homeowner’s will pay for the new fridge and stuff.”

Okay, well, the long and short of it is we already had another refrigerator. It was downstairs. It’s a bar refrigerator–we kept beer in it. So Don was not keen to run out and drop $1 to $2 K on a new icebox–even though insurance would cover it. He said, “Let’s just use the fridge downstairs.”

“What?” This made no sense to me. Who doesn’t have a refrigerator in their kitchen?

Well this lasted about 3 days. First, the downstairs fridge is not climate controlled. My salad greens froze, and food just generally spoiled much quicker. Plus, the kitchen is upstairs. I got tired real quick of running up and down the stairs. Listen, I’m into exercise, but I don’t like to be forced. By now I was an old hand.

“Honey? You know it’s kind of a pain having the fridge downstairs. (I’d already complained a lot about spoiled food, lack of climate control and all that, but he wasn’t hearing me.) Would you mind helping me?”

I put a pan on the stove and told him to get me five or six things out of the fridge. Down he went, up he came.

“Oh, darn–butter and parsley too.”

Down he went and up he came. I started cooking and he started to walk away. “Wait,” I said. “I need some carrots too.”

Down and up. “Here now, this can go back down,” I said.

He looked at me.

“Sucks, doesn’t it?” I said. Within minutes we were at Sears looking at an Amana.

Just so you know, it works both ways. I bought an expensive pair of jeans and he found out. “Oh, so I guess I’ll just go and buy whatever I want now,” he said. Now, he knows this causes me pain–I’m the one managing the bills, paying the credit cards–blast, I paid CASH for the jeans, but he knows how to log in to online banking. “Calvin Klein or something?” he said.

“J Brand,” I said, sullenly. How can I tell him that these are Kate Middleton’s favorite jeans, and just now I’m feeling old and out of touch and I bought these jeans to feel young and sexy again? I know what he would say.

“Who is Kate Middleton?” That’s what he would say.

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