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Something to Bark About.

"I didn't know whether it was safe to get out of the car or not," the census taker chirped. "I saw your sign at the end of the driveway: Beware of M.G. Stoddard.' "

After she had finished prying into how many bathrooms we had in our little termite picnic shelter and such, I walked down the drive to see if she was just being cute. No, by golly, she was right. The "Dog" had disappeared from the sign, and the "Beware of" led directly to the wooden letters of my name beneath it. My dear wife was quick to express an opinion that the sign made sense as it stood. She was, I'm sure, referring to the fact that 12-year-old Brutus no longer could detect a prowler if one

stepped on his tail, much less hear a car coming up the drive. Nevertheless, in hopes of fooling some of the people some of the time, I bought a new "Beware of Dog" sign and, armed with sign, hammer,

and five nails (one to drop in the long grass below the sign), I headed for the post at the foot of the drive. On the way, thinking all the time, I thought, I'll switch the nails from my right-hand coat pocket to the left-hand coat pocket because I'll be hammering with my right hand, and it will be difficult to put that hand into my coat pocket to get the nails while it's holding the hammer. Got that? Maybe you'd better go over it again.

Making the switch while wearing gloves wasn't easy, but I managed it. Only to find upon arriving at the post, that my left-hand coat pocket didn't possess a bottom. I looked up and down the drive until my eyeballs bulged, but no nails. My left front tire, however, had no trouble picking up the first two that same day. I'm sure the other three will turn up shortly by the same means. If I'd only thought of this sooner, it would have saved a lot of looking.

It's no wonder that Lump, our cat, is the only thing around here that purrs. My dear wife hums, Brutus whines, and I-so it is said--bark. If that is true, at least I have plenty to bark about.

I've just come down with a bad case of smut from stacking bales of straw around our fuel-oil tank. Dear wife, a retired R.N., says I am crazy. "It's nothing but a mild touch of leprosy" was her diagnosis, which she thought was real funny. It would serve her right if that's what it turns out to be.

I'm also having trouble shaving because of fruit flies fogging the mirror. Which raises the question of whether we keep fruit in the bathroom. The answer is no. It's got to be that jug of strawberry cologne one of the grandsons bestowed upon his doting grandmother this past Christmas.

In hopes of no longer having to repeat everything I say, I took advantage of this same gift-giving occasion to surprise my dear wife with a hearing aid. She won't wear it because she says it doesn't fit. I thought all ears were the same size. Except for the outside flaps, of course.

This place seems to be a breeding ground for controversy. Before the ground froze this winter, I asked dear wife to lay aside Hearts Aflame, her complete library, and help me replace three chewed-up wooden fence posts with steel posts, which, I hoped, would offer the termites more of a challenge. How trippingly the names of other duos come off the tongue: Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, Gilbert and Sullivan, corned beef and cabbage. Now try Lois and Maynard. Sort of sticks in your throat, right? And for good reason. (Excuse me-her cat just dipped its tail in my coffee.)

To decide which of us would hold the post and which would mount the stepladder with the sledge hammer to drive the post into the ground, I took a poll. And her answer was, "I'll hold the post, thank you."

I said, "O.K., steady the ladder."

She said, "I can't steady the ladder and hold the post too. What do you think I am?"

Here I'd been waiting years for this opening, and whatd'ya know, folks, I lost my nerve. So I had scaled halfway up the ladder, at which point, in scaling ladders while carrying sledge hammers, one can drop the sledge hammer on his foot or not. It's optional. I usually do. And I did. So I scaled back down the ladder, and after regaining my power of speech, I said, "Would it be convenient, light of my life, to hold the ladder instead of the post until I have arrived safely at the step from which I can apply the sledge hammer to the confounded post?"

Even employing that strategy, I defy any man, including Schwarzenegger himself, to stand on a ladder holding a 16-pound sledge hammer and apply it to the top of a post that a woman is waving around like a drum major's baton. So naturally I missed completely, and the velocity of my swing sent me sailing over the fence. Had it not been for landing in a clump of thorn bushes, I might have been hurt.

"Why couldn't you hold it steady? " I yelled up at her.

"Why couldn't you hit where I held it?" was her rejoinder. And when my dear wife rejoins, it's just as well not to pursue the matter further. The last such exchange ended with her statement that one more word and I'd be parking for the next two weeks in places reserved for the handicapped. Sometimes that woman is tougher than her pot roasts.

Our efforts to work together are not always this serious, of course. They can actually be funny. Funny to one of us, anyway. Her helping me to install a new blade in my bow saw would be a fair illustration. All I wanted her to do was line up one of the two holes in the end of the blade and hook it over this little peg when I pushed down on the metal bow, which would require every muscle, sinew, and tendon in my whole united body. And I was right in the middle of this superhuman effort . . . when she began to giggle. Giggle and jiggle. And when that woman begins to jiggle, you can just forget it.

"What's so funny?" I wheezed.

"The holes keep going past the peg-there goes one now," she screamed. Oh, how funny! Here my small intestine was practically tied in a granny knot from exertion, and she was having a ball. I finally gave up and took advantage of my adrenaline flow to retire to the patio and push the bow down myself, although my clavicle will never be the same.

In way of apology, the next day dear wife drove into Spencer and charged a ceiling fan to my account at the hardware store. She had been expecting one for Christmas, instead of the hearing aid. And did she want it put in the living room, where it would make a little sense? Don't be silly. It was going in the kitchen, presumably to cool the tasting samples of tuna hash or whatever she was throwing together for the evening mess.

And of course, to install the thing she had to call Martin Morton-or is it Morton Martin? I could look it up on one of his bills. Lord knows we've got enough of them lying around.

Upon arriving home the next night, I noticed that the yard could have served for no man's land in a war movie. We're talking here of trenches, bunkers, foxholes, the whole business. When I saw the lengths of pipe lying around, I rushed in to embrace my surprised wife. "You went out to bury the garbage and stuck oil!" I joyously cried. "Good girl!"

She said, "Don't be silly. After Martin got the fan up, I showed him the lead under the sink." She was referring to a drip of no consequence I had already taken car of by placing a plastic bucket under it. If we remembered to dump the bucket three times during the day and three times during the night, it was, as I sa, of no consequence.

"So how did that rip our yard asunder?" was my pertinent question.

The answer was that in checking, Martin, or Morton, had discovered that not only was our drainage pipe too small, but even what we had had been thoroughly plugged with roots from the French lilac.

"So when is he coming back?" was pertinent question No. 2.

"He isn't."

"He whatn't?"

"I told him you could finish it. it'll save hiring him for another day."

A day, she said. I worked at the project practically full-time for a week. To be honest, however-but I wouldn't want this to go any further-it wouldn't have taken so long if only I'd remembered to lay the pipe before filling in the trenches. Some men for piping and some for typing, as I tried to explain to dear wife while she was draining my blisters into a pot of African violets.

In review, what concerns me most is that the woman is only a heartbeat away from taking over this whole shebang. Then she'll probably marry some hand-kissing vulture who'll squander our whole estate in less than two weeks.

Maybe instead of a will I'll leave a won't. She won't get but half. The other half I'll split between Tom, our mechanic at Algood's Chevrolet, and Morton Martin-in case the hand kisser is no more adept at repairing stuff than I am.
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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