Early Thanksgiving afternoon, I was sitting on Diane’s daughter’s deck watching the Pacific Ocean slowly recede and re-expose Stinson Beach when I was called to duty (“John!”). This was somewhat of a surprise as I had offered to help several times that morning and been turned down, once verbally and once non-verbally. I had followed the verbal instruction to “get out from underfoot,” and retired to the deck chair with Pat Houston’s “Cowboys Are My Weakness.” Research, I figured.
When I got inside, I was asked: “Would you give a light sweep to the kitchen floor? The kids will be here in a few minutes.”
I looked at the light-toned travertine floor and saw nothing to sweep up, but I have learned over lo these many years that when you are asked to assist in a domestic chore in a time of domestic stress, you’d best comply. Otherwise, you drastically reduce the odds of being allowed to nap after dinner — or root for the 49ers.
I am making a distinction between domestic chores and what I would consider manly chores like loosening lids on stuck jars, garbage removal, and answering sadistic questions like “Do I look fat in this dress?” Those chores are expected of a man and he gets considerable ego reinforcement — if only from himself — for doing them.
As I went through the motions of sweeping the floor, I noticed a small cluster of dust particles — and the occasional crumb from the morning’s toast —gathering in front of my broom’s whiskers. Then I had an epiphany. A woman can’t see dirt any better than a man, but she knows it’s there and it drives her crazy.
Let me underscore the nature of this epiphany. Contrary to popular belief, men have epiphanies, just not as often as other genders do. Excluding religious ceremonies, there are three times when a man may have an epiphany: When he first comes across a cut-away drawing of an internal combustion engine, when he first sees an adult woman without her clothes on, anytime he puts his hand into a flame and when he masters belching the alphabet. OK, four times.
To my knowledge, there has never been a recorded incident of a man having an epiphany while engaged in a non-manly household chore. Just so you know, I was really on to something.
I was unsure how to leverage this newfound learning. Inventing and discarding ways I could turn this revelation to my advantage kept me busy and, before I knew it, I had finished sweeping the floor and was the proud owner of a small pile of dust and other stuff awaiting its fate.
I retrieved a brush and dustpan from under the sink and corralled the floor droppings into it. Each time I brushed dust into the pan, a thin line of particles remained. I’d shuffle those into another pile, go for the pan again and another line appeared, though smaller each time.
I don’t know how women deal with this variation on Zeno’s paradox. (If you don’t know what that is, Google it. It’s worth learning). I’m sure there’s a dustpan technique approved by Good Housekeeping and mothers everywhere, but most of those techniques take patience or small muscle dexterity, both of which I possess in minute quantities.
My approach to making the dust line disappear is illusionary but it works for me. When no one is looking, I sweep the mini-offenders under a nearby chair or rug corner. I try to remember which one I used so the next time I can vary my disposal site. But I sweep so seldom, that’s unlikely to happen.
I hang up the broom in the aptly named broom closet — though other utensils reside there as well. I suspect the broom was the first domestic cleaning tool and therefore got naming rights.
I announced my task’s completion in a loud, manly voice. I was in such a state of satori, I almost left to meditate on the beach. Instead, I cracked open a Millers and retired to the living room to enjoy my football free pass.
This Week's Ponder: Would the study of quantum mechanics help to understand women?