founder of M.I.L.D.E.W.
Men with Intimacy and Learning Disorders Experiencing Women
The Wife’s Birthday
If I were allowed to eliminate unnecessary roughness in the game of life, I’d start with eliminating someone throwing a birthday party for me. I don’t know about you, but balloons with my name on them seem to turn these psychic screws in the drywall of what passes for my personality.
First of all, let’s face it, people feel obliged to constantly smile at you if you’re the birthday boy. What happens if you don’t feel like smiling back? Then there’s coming up with something cute to say for each present. Can you refer to a pre-scripted response list you’ve made, or is that bad form?
As the party progresses, you find yourself getting depressed when you realize no one has suggested how young you look. That’s why it’s good to keep a picture of yourself at age twenty in your wallet. And then we have the wonderful experience of blowing out the candles and getting your germs all over the cake, as if that’s supposed to make you happy and the cake enticing. That’s the only good thing I can think of when it comes to Covid – no more candle blowing.
O.k., for the record, I’ve had some pretty awful birthday parties. Nothing against my mother, but on my fifth birthday when she set me up on a blind date and dropped me off at the movies, it sort of set the tone for so many birthdays to come. At my thirteenth birthday party, people played pin the tail on my zit. Frankly, I’ve gotten over most of that, and now as an adult I actually don’t mind going to someone else’s birthday party because I appreciate the wine.
In fact, truth be known, I do have a favorite birthday … for a number of years now, I’ve been uniquely celebrating my wife’s birthday ever since I signed up for a MILDEW group on ‘Birthday Presents for your Spouse‘. That was when I came up with the idea of Manuel Labor.
Apparently women have a love/hate relationship with cleaning the house. To tell you the truth, I was never aware of that. So, inspired by my MILDEW group, I decided that for the wife’s 40th birthday, I’d send her a letter from a secret admirer and then clean the entire house while she was at work …
On an historic December morning, as the children left for school, and the house emptied into the nirvana known as silence, I kissed my wife of sixteen years good-bye and told her I was leaving for work.
On my way out the door, I carefully made my way into the forbidden province of a female’s handbag, and surreptitiously placed a small brown envelope containing a brief letter of admiration from a man my wife didn’t know. That man was Manuel Labor. The letter claimed that when this hard-working under-appreciated woman returned from work, the entire house would be cleaned in her honor.
I placed the letter strategically under some work documents and a hairbrush, hoping she wouldn’t find it until she was far away from the scene of the crime – a case of breaking, entering, and cleaning.
As planned, I drove cautiously to work making absolutely sure no one was following me before I turned back and headed home. Within ten minutes or so, I made my way back to the house, ascertained the coast was clear, closed the garage door behind me, and went inside.
Once inside, I closed all of the curtains and went directly to the black hole beneath our kitchen sink and methodically located each and every detergent/cleanser/degreaser known to humankind.
Then on the kitchen counter, shoulder to shoulder, I lined up every one of those liquid chemicals, and stood across from them in silence, in reverence actually. I was the brigadier general of a formidable army including Lysol, Pine Sol, and Recycled Ammonia. Let the war games begin.
With reconnaissance, I’d already determined that all three bathrooms were Code Red (skid marks, toxic waste baskets), followed by children’s bedrooms at Code Green (old food, clothes stuck to each other).
The kitchen was a mild Code Blue (a few dishes and a floor to be swept), and the living room (a room we make believe we actually use when we entertain) was a comfortable Code White. I already knew I would skip the living room. I mean, what’s the whole thing about dust anyway?
It was 8:52 in the morning. I had maybe four hours.
I entered the first bathroom and for those men who haven’t been down this road, cleaning a bathroom can be intimidating. And let me make this clear, there is no shame in this. For any of you newbies, think of it as pledging a fraternity.
I looked back at my army of chemicals now perched on the bathroom sink, and I had this foreboding like there was a pigeon taking aim – I soon realized I was totally over my head doing this cleaning thing. To begin with, I wasn’t even sure what was dirty?
Luckily, I flashed on one our MILDEW workshops, Moving Forward, that discussed if you really feel confused or overwhelmed, the first step towards clarity is to find a place of comfort … instinctively, I walked into the kitchen, stopped and then turned to stand directly in front of the refrigerator.
Grateful to be in a safe place, I took a deep breath, and upon pulling the door open, was relieved to be greeted by a beacon of light, showing me the way forward. I decided to do what I usually did in the kitchen – I made a sandwich and opened a beer at 9:15 in the morning. Two beers actually.
From there, I decided to walk around the house to see if our indoor plants were growing. Then, I watched the fish in our fish tank deciding which one I liked best. So far, so good.
By the time 10:00 rolled around, I knew I needed to get to the task at hand, so looking at my two empty beer cans, I left the plants and fish tank behind, and decided upon a strategic plan of motivation – I would allow myself a half beer for every bathroom I finished. I’d been a psychology major in college, and when I first came upon this idea, I remember wondering if all housekeepers employed this same strategy?
Three bathrooms and two beers later, in just an hour and a half, I felt pretty good about myself, pretty damned good in fact, especially because I was ahead of schedule. Three bathrooms in an hour and a half – I was on fire.
It was a beautiful day outside … o.k., I admit I was feeling pretty cocky about being ahead of the curve and all, and as hubris would play its part, I wound up napping on the patio thinking there was more than enough time to spare. Considering the number of beers I’d consumed, napping is probably not the word for what I did.
When I woke up, I quickly realized my face was half-sunburned and I’d been asleep for over two hours. The wife would be home by one, so the rest of the house needed to be done in less than twenty minutes! I immediately called the MILDEW Hotline and was incredibly lucky to have a cleaning specialist available.
“Shoot no,” the answer came matter-of-factly, “this ain’t the worst thing I ever heard. You’ve got like twenty minutes the way I see it! I had one guy looking straight into the eyes of God during the blizzard of ’91 – the poor lad had less than three minutes until his wife came home. I ran with him through the entire thing!
“So son, here’s what ya ‘gotta remember … number one – the name of the game is it don’t matter if it’s really clean. All that matters is that it smells clean, both you and the house.” I listened intently as this wise man offered his counsel.
“Women just have this freaky sense of smell which is why they ask us to take showers all the time. And what matters most to a woman is that the damn place smells clean. You could have a place cleaner than a fart that wound up in your head, but if it don’t smell clean she’d tell you the place was a mess, fact Jack.”
“So, how do I make the place smell clean?” I asked with palpable fear. “You got Pine Sol, son?” “Yes sir, I do.”
“That’s all you need… ‘just take that there Pine Sol and start sprinkling it around the house, on the furniture, in the garbage, around them kitchen utensils, everywhere. And get some bleach an’ pour it down every drain. Pine Sol and bleach is like Brady and Gronk having a good day on a Sunday afternoon … hell, when I clean with Pine Sol, I gargle with it.”
Like so many unheralded heroes, I never got his name. Though I’m sure my cleaning job fell a bit short, the clear success of Manuel Labor became a family classic.
In fact, the very next year I did the whole thing again, but this time I played Antonio the Italian Mechanic with an entire tool set, which brought what I believe to be the first encore I’ve ever received in my entire life, that is if you don’t include the time I mooned our chemistry teacher at high school graduation.
Antonio the Mechanic celebrated his tenth anniversary this past December, and I have MILDEW to thank for showing me the way –