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The Guy Chronicles

A Modern Man Strikes While the Iron's Hot

September 20, 2000|Chris Erskine

So it's early, early Tuesday and I'm ironing my wife's shirt despite this pain in my neck, which probably seems superhuman except that this is what today's husbands do--iron shirts in an emergency, even when we're hurt. Keeps us at the forefront of daily life while preventing the complete motherization of America. At home, at work, on the ball field, mothers are taking over and creating a more-perfect world, despite our innate male disdain for perfection. Goodbye, Bobby Knight. So long, Hugh Hefner parties. Hello, perfection.

"Mom wants to know if her shirt is done," some kid asks as I iron.

"In a minute," I say.

On the right side of my neck, there is a sharp pain. Farther up, there is a screw loose. I'm not sure where. When I shake my head, I hear the screw rattle. I think it's near my oil pan.

"What are you doing?" the boy asks as he grabs something off the dryer.

"I'm ironing," I say.

"You are?" he asks.

"You got a problem with that?" I ask.

The boy tries to resist a smile, but you know how that goes. He smiles. He doesn't smile. He smiles. He doesn't smile.

The boy seems to know that you don't make fun of a guy who's ironing. Because he's already a little edgy.

"Well, you're doing a good job, Dad," he finally says, then laughs to his room.

"Later, pal," I mutter under my breath. "Later."

I iron this shirt for five minutes before realizing that the iron is not on. I thought that when you plugged irons in, they went on. Who would plug in an iron if you didn't want it on? In a sense, it's like a TV.

So I turn the iron on. Then I look at the shirt label. The shirt is made of cotton and linen. The cotton makes up 45% of the fibers. Linen, the rest. Made in Sri Lanka, this shirt. It's a little tricky around the collar, as Sri Lankan shirts often are.

"What are you doing, Dad?" my lovely and patient older daughter asks.

"Reevaluating my life," I tell her.

"That should be set to cotton blend," she tells me, looking at the iron.

"Thanks."

"Can you iron my green shirt?" she asks.

"Don't push your luck," I say.

Good as he was, I don't remember my father doing much ironing. Or picking up a dirty dish. Or diapering a baby. It was a different time. Dads left in the morning; moms stayed home. Now both do both. In a sense, we're working twice as hard.

Of course, it doesn't help to have those "Sex and the City" girls running all over the place, giving people ideas.

"Dad?" the little girl says.

"Huh?"

"Mom needs her shirt," she says.

It bothers me a little that the mother didn't come ask for the shirt herself. Instead, she sends one of these young personal assistants that mothers have these days, cheeky kids with a little too much confidence. The kind of kid who got Bob Knight in trouble.

"Tell her it's on the way," I tell the little girl.

"When?" the little girl asks.

"When it's ready," I say.

You know, for a while, life as a guy is good. You start out as Holden Caulfield, then segue for about 10 seconds into Gatsby, young and all-seeing and desperate for love. Which can only lead to trouble. Major trouble.

Sure enough, before long you're married and middle-aged. Suddenly, you're not desperate for love anymore, just your youth and a decent night's rest.

So you make the best of things, as guys always do. You grab an ironing board and a shirt and think about the spread on the UCLA game and how you have to get the oil changed Saturday before kickoff.

You make a mental list of all the things you have to do. Point spreads and oil changes. That's about it. Since you're a guy, your mental list of things to do is very fluid. Only you control it. People are always trying to add things to your mental list, yet you reject them. Not everything. Just the superfluous stuff.

"Got it," you say, then forget it on purpose.

Still, stuff slips through. It's the ugly underbelly of our raging economy, these things husbands do so their wives can be super productive. The government doesn't index it. Basically, it's immeasurable what we do. The extra effort. The ironing.

"How's this look?" I ask the little personal assistant, holding up the ironed shirt.

"Not so good," she says.

"Did I mention my neck hurts?" I say.

"Daddy, are you OK?"

"Never better," I say.

But I explain to her that when she gets to be middle-aged, she'll have these nagging little morning aches and pains that used to disappear but don't. She'll probably have to wear a knee brace when she works out. At the dentist, she'll hear about gum disease.

"And it's never too soon to start thinking about life insurance," I tell her.

"I want life insurance," she says.

"That's the spirit," I tell her.

The more I tell the little girl about middle age, the more excited she becomes. By the time I get to company 401(k) plans, she's ready to move into middle age today. Preferably, a middle-management position.

"How long till I'm middle-aged?" she asks, envy in her voice.

"About 35 years," I tell her.

"That's a long time," she says.

"Not really," I say, then hand her the shirt.

The little girl races to her mother with the shirt. It's 6:55 in the morning. Everybody's late.

I unplug the iron, then glance at the dirty breakfast dishes. In a minute, the little girl comes running back waving the shirt.

"Starch," she says.

"Never heard of it," I say.

"Starch," she says, pointing to the Niagara.

As she watches, I spray starch on the collar, then down the front of the shirt. Then on my hand and leg. It's a good feeling. Kind of tingly.

"Oops," I say, looking at my starched leg.

"You OK, Dad?" she asks.

"Did I mention my neck hurts?" I say.

*

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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