Uh, what’re you doing with yourself?
My wife, Wink, was traveling for a week and people wondered if maybe I’d lapse into a comatose state.
“You’ll be all right?” our elder son asked over the phone. “Long time for you.”
“As a matter of fact, I will be entirely fine,” I answered. “This is not exactly Outward Bound. We have running water and indoor plumbing. And don’t forget I was a Boy Scout.”
Still, I understood the concern.
Wink and I have been married for more than a half-century — it’s OK to gasp, we do, too — and of course I depend on her good judgment and clearheaded thinking to keep me out of trouble.
If, for instance, I am cleaning the rain gutter in my one decent pair of corduroy Dockers, Wink might suggest an immediate wardrobe change. “Get into play clothes,” she is apt to advise.
Or let’s say I am insisting that we leave five hours early for a flight from LaGuardia on the belief that you cannot possibly allow enough time at an airport these days, Wink might say: “Fine, why don’t we just pitch a tent in front of Delta and spend the night?”
Deserving particular praise are Wink’s admirable bookkeeping skills. Living for years on a strict austerity budget — at one point we had four kids in college at the same time! — Wink and I stayed at least a stride or two ahead of collection agency enforcers.
This was no cinch. Our children insisted on being fed at least three times a day and their feet never stopped growing. There was a store in Brooklyn called Sneaker Circus that we often visited. We occupied center ring. Somehow, Wink kept us solvent.
We have a loose division of labor in our house — pretty familiar stuff.
I get the oil changed every 3,000 miles. Little repairs are my responsibility. For more complicated matters, I send an SOS to Roger, our fix-up guy, Rich the plumber, David the computer whiz and Jack, the staff exterminator, who arrives when crickets take over the laundry room. I fold clothes, do a little cooking, and don’t mind running the vacuum cleaner.
Daughter of an engineer who took his time and got things right, Wink is a careful and efficient household manager — a measured approach to what might be called my improvisational style. “Oops, looks like I splashed a little paint on this shirt,” I might say. “Let’s see,” Wink will answer patiently, reaching again for the spray bottle of Zout she might as well wear in a holster on her hip.
Still, I caused no major damage to person or property while Wink was gone.
But solitude is instructive.
What do you do when no one is watching?
Here’s an incomplete list:
I noticed that a picture in the bathroom was off-center by three-fifths of an inch and moved it to the left. I sanded and painted around a clothes hook recently installed. Off to the town recycling center I went with a couple of old, abandoned plastic pails that had been across the street for months.
It was still baseball season and, cheering, I watched the Houston Astros knock off the Yankees in the American League playoffs — any 1950s fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers will understand the raw emotion — and made myself a layered nacho concoction that lasted three meals.
For additional entertainment, I watched a new episode of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO. I love Larry. He can’t get out of his own way. He makes a big deal out of small things. He says things he shouldn’t. Women are always smarter than Larry. I can identify.
Most days, Wink called from the road. She was in Idaho, of all places, touring the Northwest with our two daughters. They were seeing all kinds of great things — driving to the top of buttes, eating on a floating restaurant at Coeur d’Alene. One night, they stayed in a bed-and-breakfast shaped like a beagle — Dog Bark Park Inn, Cottonwood, Idaho, you can look it up.
“How you doing?” Wink would ask.
“Good,” I’d say. “Moved a picture over three-fifths of an inch today and made myself some nachos.”
The night before she came home, Wink called to make sure I knew her flight number.
I did, of course, and assured her I’d be at JFK on time, look for me at baggage claim.
I was leaving the house early, like always. No point taking chances.