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Jack Smith

Getting rid of his how-to books, he comes face to face with a tricky how-to decision

March 04, 1986|JACK SMITH

I have often wondered what I would do if I were to retire, but I never could think of anything.

Now I believe I could spend the time managing our estate.

I don't mean that we have any sizable investments to watch, or any vast lands to supervise. I don't expect to be like those gentlemen in English movies who seem to have no visible means of support but are pictured riding their fences, going down to the barn to help with the sow, tending to the spiritual and material needs of their help, and occasionally doing sums in their study, within reach of a bottle of Scotch.

Of course they dress for dinner and go down to London on Tuesdays for lunch at the club and a fitting on Savile Row. Or is that life gone completely?

What I have in mind is simply trying to keep our house from falling apart. When both partners work, a house can go downhill quickly.

The other day, when we were in the midst of that hot spell, I went outdoors to look about and found our place in a state of alarming disrepair.

The grape-stake fence around my wife's bathroom garden had been blown down in the last big wind. The wind had also blown the shingles off the roof of the children's playhouse, which badly needed a coat of paint.

The outdoor clock above the swimming pool had never been reset to Pacific Standard Time. Oh, well, Daylight Saving Time will be here soon enough, and then it will be correct again.

There was a gap at the bottom of the main fence where the landscaper had cut out a piece of the chain link for his drain pipes. Our new dog Suzie had escaped through it once, and we had put in a temporary patch of stakes and planks, but she would undo it sooner or later.

Things are even worse inside the house. One of our electric beds is very erratic. I kept dropping the hand control on the hardwood floor when I was just home from the hospital, and something is out of order inside. It goes up and down in short, jerky bursts. Sooner or later it will stall, no doubt in the raised position.

The bedroom ceilings leak. Great dark stains were made by the recent rains. Only a year ago we paid $1,400 to have the roof repaired. If anything, it is worse.

I suspect a leaky ceiling is like a smoking fireplace. It is part of the house's character and can never be fixed.

My books have overrun our bookcases once again. The last time I added a bookcase my wife predicted that we'd never fill it. I have been trying to weed them out, but that calls for some hard decisions. I have the feeling that two weeks after I throw a book out I will need it.

I am being fairly ruthless with how-to books. I have no idea where they come from. I have discarded "At Your Age You're Having a What?! The Advantages of Middle-Aged Motherhood." I just can't believe that we'll need that one in a couple of weeks.

Also, I am discarding "Mr. Wrong: A Guide to the Least Eligible Bachelors in America," "What Do You Really Want for Your Children?" and "How to Raise Your Man: The Problems of a New-Style Woman in Love With an Old-Style Man."

I was about to throw out "Do You Know Your Husband?" but opened it and found that it was full of questions that my wife had answered seven years ago, evidently, when the book was published.

I was curious about how she had sized me up that long ago. Some of her answers surprised me:

"If you died tomorrow, would you husband consider remarrying?" She had checked "Yes, right away."

Little she knew.

"Has your husband lied to you during the past month?" Answer: No.

At least that hasn't changed.

"How many photos does your husband carry in his wallet?" Answer: Two--his own.

Now that wasn't fair. I do have two pictures of myself in my wallet but one is on my driver's license and the other is on my Times ID card. I don't like her implication.

"Assuming he liked the location, would your husband rather have a one week's vacation at a luxurious hotel or a two weeks' vacation at a just-decent hotel?" She had checked the luxurious hotel.

Right again.

"In a strange city, which would your husband head for first: a museum or historic site or the shopping area?" She had checked the museum.

Wrong again. I'd head for a sidewalk cafe and order a beer.

"For whom did your husband vote in the last presidential election?" Answer: Carter-Mondale.

She never told me whom she voted for.

"Does your husband look at men's magazines that feature photos of nude women? Often; sometimes; never?" Answer: Sometimes.

"What household chore does your husband hate most?" Answer: My vacuuming.

"Given four TV channels from which to make a selection, what would your husband watch? A football game; a hockey game, a soap opera, an old movie, none?" Answer: A football game.

"What does your husband think is the most common cause of fights in your house?" Answer: Chores.

If that's what she thinks of me, maybe I'd better keep "How to Raise Your Man: The Problems of a New-Style Woman in Love With an Old-Style Man."

But I'm still getting rid of "At Your Age You're Having a What?!"

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