By MITCH TRAPHAGEN
She wakes to her iPhone alarm at 5:30 a.m., lets the dogs out and then sips coffee for 30 or so minutes alone on the lanai. At 6 a.m., if I’m not up already, she wakes me with a gentle nudge. As recently as a few years ago, that gentle nudge was almost always accompanied by confusing and overly complex questions that, for reasons known only to her, needed to be answered right then. Through the years, however, she has learned that the first words from her husband’s lips mumbled sleepily, “What the hell are you talking about?” was no way for either of us to start the day. Now, the mornings begin with the gentle nudge sans questions. The questions, it seemed, could wait.
By 6:20, she walks into the backyard with collars and leashes to take the dogs out for their daily walk. All four of them go insane in the exact same way they went insane the previous morning and the morning before that when they realize it is time to walk around the neighborhood. One goes beyond insane and starts biting the other dogs, almost screaming: “REALLY? WE’RE GOING FOR A WALK? A WALK? OUTSIDE? REALLY A WALK? YAY! WE’RE GOING FOR A WALK!” She does this despite the fact that they walk at exactly the same time each morning — her surprise and amazement should have long since waned but hasn’t. For that particularly crazy little dog, each day is a new beginning and the walk is a surprise of indescribable magnitude. Together, the five of them head through the back yard gate and out into the quiet neighborhood streets. In sum, the four dogs are more than double Michelle’s 118 pounds — a fact that occasionally makes itself known through bloodied knees incurred when a neighborhood animal on the loose is seen — or, perhaps when a yard ornament is noticed. One of the four loves yard ornaments and black and white cats. The dog has an enormous amount of admiration and love for both, and as a result, Michelle has occasionally been dragged down the street as the other three hope to share in the excitement of the often seen but always forgotten, random yard ornament.
Certainly most of the neighbors have come to know her — the shrimpy woman walking down the middle of the street with a herd of completely disparate dogs, two with disabilities. A few neighbors have made comments and most probably think she is a dog walker for hire.
One of the dogs has only three paws. As a result, he hops along happily until he wears out. There is no warning or indication that he is going to wear out — he just plops down in the street to die. A few moments of that, and upon discovering that he didn’t die, after all, he gets back up and continues hopping happily along with the other dogs. It is this dog that so loves lawn ornaments. And black and white cats.
By 7:30 a.m. she is out the door to her office in Tampa. More often than not, she car pools with one or two male co-workers. Each morning as she leaves I wonder if those co-workers think she is insane.
I try to do my part by handling the daily fur removal operation. I will not walk the herd of dogs my wife has attracted to our home, but I do clean up after them. The quantity of fur they shed does much to explain why they sleep all day. Since they shed copiously and since they aren’t going bald, the dogs’ bodies must be working overtime to continually regrow fur. I assume it is all of the fur-growing that makes them so sleepy and lazy. Regardless, with vacuuming a necessity and my not walking them non-negotiable, I clean up the staggering quantity of fur. Each day at 5 p.m. the dogs are in for their second major surprise as I plug the machine into the wall socket and turn it on. In a flash, 270 pounds of dogs are hightailing it for corners and the slight, albeit temporary, protection of the dining room table. Each and every day they run terrified despite the fact the vacuum has never once sucked up a tail or ripped off a paw or made any of them disappear into the whirring vortex.
By 5:30 p.m., Michelle arrives home, sometimes carrying a pizza, other times a few bags of groceries or some strange vegetables she found at a roadside stand. The dogs, of course, are surprised and amazed that she has suddenly appeared. They had apparently assumed she was gone forever, perhaps sucked into the vacuum when they weren’t looking.
Dinner occurs anytime between then and 8:30 p.m. She then tackles cleaning up after the dogs in the yard and then offers to rub my shoulders as I try to work myself into writing or editing mode while sitting in front of a computer. Or, she offers to help with programming something on the latest work-related computer project. Or she makes a baked treat for dessert. On any given weeknight she doesn’t kick back or take time for herself for more than an hour — if even that. Come to think of it, it is rarely even that.
She is usually asleep an hour or, perhaps, three hours, before I am. She almost never gets more than six or seven hours of sleep.
She does more around the house than I do. I can’t stand dealing with bills and bank accounts. She takes care of that silently, knowing that at any moment my head could explode if I hear about the slightest financial thing. I don’t care about money. I like to know there is enough in the accounts to buy this or that but that is about as far as I’m willing to commit myself. She dusts way more than I do and is much better about loading the dishwasher or simply washing dishes by hand — a task that I prefer to put off until we’re down to the plastic utensils left over from fast food takeout and saved for reasons entirely unknown. She offers to help more than I do — if I have to run to cover a weekend event, she always volunteers to join me. I don’t do the same when she runs to the grocery store. My feelings about the grocery store are roughly on par with balancing the checkbook.
I try to balance out the equation, however, by making it seem as though mowing the lawn is a herculean effort. I also balance it out for real by fixing the cars. Michelle is an automotive Antichrist. For some reason, despite her best intentions, our cars break down only when she is driving them. Often the results are dramatic. I once answered her call for help, pulling up behind her disabled car on I-275 near downtown Tampa to see her stuffing chewing gum into a gushing hole in the radiator.
To be honest, however, I don’t know if the vehicle maintenance and rescue has equaled the daily workload imbalance. To be really honest, it hasn’t. There are other intangible things, too, but I’m not sure they are enough added weight to tip the scales.
I believe if women were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, 90 percent of the earth’s men would be dead within a year. If nothing else, a steady diet of Cheetos, Pop Tarts, Pizza Rolls and beer would do them in. Wars, however, would disappear because without women to impress, striving for power would simply be too much work. Who would want to start or fight in a war when there’s a cupboard full of Pop Tarts in the kitchen? On the plus side, since Pop Tarts are finger food, the sink full of dirty dishes would become irrelevant. Death, however, would be swift.
On the other hand, if men were to disappear, women would likely live on to a ripe old age in a world filled with broken down cars. Women would maintain standing armies; but wars would be few and far between. As fellow members of the “fairer” sex, they know the truth: women are crazy. No one army would want to screw around with another army because no one would want to die that badly. Public transportation would be huge — and maintained at a steep price worth paying by the incomparable talent of those women exposed to cars from their youth. Invariably, they were better mechanics than the men who flippantly handed them their first wrenches. Those women in charge of public transportation would be driving Ferraris and Lamborghinis on gloriously empty highways. They wouldn’t be driving to impress anyone. They would be driving because they know there is absolutely nothing in life like shifting from second to third gear in a Countach at 80 miles per hour.
I’m going to mow the lawn now. Given the heat, I’ll walk into the house a sad-looking mop of sweat when I finish. If I play it right, Michelle will feel sorry for me. At least I won’t feel bad about skipping the grocery run. I wonder if she’ll pick up some Pop Tarts?