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Why women live longer; a veteran of marriage recounts some of the reasons the male of the species goes first.


The IRS has issued a new life-expectancy chart that for sanity is right up there with its 1040 form. In this rather important business of breathing in and out, it has both sexes ending in a dead heat. If one has made it to age 70, according to the chart, male and female alike are good for another 16 years. Survivors to age 75, be they named Harry or Harriet, still have another 12.5 years to dust off the old Bible and begin boning up for their finals.

I say rubbish! No, make that hogwash. I say the guy who prepared the chart has never been married a day in his life. Single people, yes, they might come out about even. But if the chartist had entered into his computer what the ravages of marriage do to hubby's life term, his figures would have given the female at least a dozen years more.

Don't tell me about equal stress in the marketplace now that the housewife has deserted the kitchen cabinet for the filing cabinet. I'm saying hogwash because of the ravages that take their toll when the housewife isn't filing.

"Do you want to go out, Brutus?' the longer-liver will ask our dog, who is standing with his front paws on the doorknob, back legs crossed, tongue out, tears in his eyes. Not once in ten years has Brutus replied, "Yeah, I'd kinda like to go out, if it's not too much trouble.'

Of course it's not too much trouble. Because this question is my cue to heave myself off the sofa, whack my knee on the corner of our glass-topped coffee table (I don't think I've missed once since she bought the stupid thing), and let the dog out.

"I can't remember turning off the stove,' Lois will muse after climbing into the car and fastening her seat belt. Interpreted, this means, "Why don't you shove the thingamajig into Park, shut off the engine, unbuckle, and go in to check?'

Let the telephone ring (especially after we're in bed) and she will say, "Is that for you?' You know, as many times as I've heard that telephone, I still can't tell a male ring from a female ring. On these occasions it is my custom to whack both knees on the coffee table. The fact that it's usually a female ring doesn't help a whole lot.

The responsibility for keeping the movable parts of our household and yardhold appliances moving falls upon you-know-who. If a part is burnoutable, why be concerned if it burns out?--the replacement also falls on hubby's side of the work ledger. And should the job be beyond his limited talents, it's up to him to call in one of those chaps in the white-denim jumpers at 20 bucks an hour, plus parts, plus service charge.

As a result, rather than making our water pump start up, I shave with water Lois has used for boiling eggs. She, on the other hand, thinks nothing of activating the pump by letting the water run until it's hot enough to wet her bangs. (Who ever heard of wetting bangs with cold water?) I try to make up for the wear and tear on the hot-water heater by taking my summer baths down at the creek and beating myself against a rock.

She'll put the vacuum sweeper in action to suck up nothing more than a wisp of navel lint from the bedroom floor. I pick up flakes of artificial snow from under the Christmas tree by hand. She heats the car in winter and air-conditions it in summer just to drive to the mailbox at the foot of our driveway. In rain or snow or dark of night, I walk to the mailbox. She turns up the thermostat to dry the panty hose she won't be wearing for another week. To spare the furnace, I dry my socks on my feet.

Consider the refrigerator. A man pretty well knows what he's after before opening the door. If I'm putting in rather than taking out, I can yank the door open and stick the stuff in before the motor realizes I'm there. My best time for a bowl of Jell-O, a dish of coleslaw, and a carton of eggs is seven seconds. Oh, a little coleslaw might plop into the Jell-O, but the eggs have to be cracked sometime anyway, as I point out at the inquisition.

Women, on the other hand, are browsers. My wife especially delights in opening the door and just standing there, humming. Maybe she'll finally stick a finger tentatively into a bowl and mutter, "That looks like coleslaw in the Jell-O.' Or she'll lift a cover from a casserole and muse, "That must be the Hungarian goulash from last Thursday . . . I'd better fry it tomorrow for breakfast.'

Not until the fridge has begun to vibrate nicely will she begin to move things. Sometimes she moves things from one shelf to another; sometimes she moves things to a new location on the same shelf. Sometimes she indulges in a game of "refrigerator checkers' by jumping one dish over another and sticking the jumped dish out on the table. Then she'll begin putting everything she can into smaller receptacles. By this time the furnace has come on, and she is standing there with frosted eyebrows and wondering what it was she wanted in the first place.

Counterclockwise, the electric range has no movable parts. So anyone from an alien planet might think it's beyond a woman's touch. It has, however, an $80 thermostat that can fall victim to overuse. Ergo, while I am sparing the toaster by eating stale rye bread and pretending it is toast, wife is charring her bread in the over. While I'm wearing a sweater on chily mornings, she not only starts up the furnace but turns all four range burners on High, turns the over to Bake, and leaves the oven door open. By the time we sit down to a breakfast of cold cereal, the mercury on the thermometer outside the kitchen window is trying to get out at the top.

One of the more subtle ways a wife has of cutting down on hubby's life span is in the moving of furniture. Coming home late one night from an exhausting game of golf that went to the 19th hole, I considerately removed my shoes before tippy-toeing upstairs. And so as not to awaken sleeping beauty, I undressed in the dark and hung my clothes on the floor before going over and dropping exhausted onto the bed. Only it wasn't the bed. From the tinkling of vials and the crash of bottles and jars I surmised I had landed on the vanity. For the next three days I carried the aura of an Avon lady stuck in a revolving door in mid-August.

Then there are the instructions a wife leaves with hubby when she's to be away for a three-day flower-arrangement seminar, or whatever. The lima-beans episode must have shortened my time on earth by a full six weeks.

"All you have to do,' she said, "is wash them, let them soak awhile, put them in a pan, be sure there's water in the pan, and put the pan on the burner. And oh yes, turn the burner on. Do you know how?'

Of course I know how to turn the burner on. But how do you wash a lima bean? When I couldn't find where she hides the vegetable brush, I made my toothbrush do. Holding on to those little devils while dipping the brush in a dish of Dove is not the easiest trick in my repertoire. By the time I did 25 (salvaging 23; 2 got away from me and shot underneath the stove), I decided I had enough for a mess.

Soak them awhile, she said. Without a chart showing the number of minutes in awhile, I gave them a full ten minutes before putting them on the stove and turning on the burner. After the water came to a boil, I gave them another ten minutes and then spooned one out to test it. This maneuver left me with 22--the thing skidded out from under my testing fork and joined the 2 underneath the stove.

Fifteen minutes later, afraid the beans would turn to mush, I ladled them onto a plate. Right away I knew my fears were groundless-- mushy beans don't rattle. Still, I had to prove it by chipping the enamel on my best tooth before dumping the beans into my tackle box. If I can figure a way to drill holes in their little carcasses, they'll make ideal sinkers.

When the routine gets a little dull at our house, woman enjoys no greater thrill than making a dramatic phone call to hubby at the office. "Your refrigerator is shot!' is high on the list, closely followed by "Your furnace just blew up!' An appliance is "ours' only when new and being shown off to envious neighbors. Once the thing is shot or blows up, it's all yours, buddy. I've had calls on everything from "The wires on your space heater have melted!' to "Your electric carving knife is stuck in the curtain rod I was trying to shorten!' to "I got only three walnuts cracked, and now your ice-cube crusher just sits there and whines!'

When it comes to knocking years off a man's life span, a wife counts heavily upon the car--like the time my wife drove to Spencer to buy a new belt for her sewing machine, the old belt having given up the ghost midway through sewing up a stuffed turkey.

"Your car won't run!' she yelled into the phone, without even the courtesy of the customary preface "Guess what?'

The car, it seems, had died on her third pass at parallel parking in front of Hanlon Brothers Hardware. My own automotive skills being limited to kicking the tires and reading the dipstick, I suggested she might better have spent her quarter calling the service department at Algood Chevrolet. Her cool "Thanks a lot' and the clicking of the phone left no doubt what the main topic of conversation would be when she came home.

Sure enough. Algood's had diagnosed her trouble as being out of gas. And why in the world hadn't I checked the tank before she left? And in the heat of her monologue her bangs dried out. So they had to be watered. This started the pump. And the wet bangs brought on a chill. Which meant turning on the range and opening the oven door. Which caused the refrigerator to begin refrigerating. Which caused me to head for the creek. Not that I needed a bath . . . I just felt like beating myself against a rock.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1986
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