It was the respected philosopher Pat Benatar who once said that love is a battlefield. And in my house, no battlefield is more contested than the bathroom, a place that is rife with opportunities for marital discord.
I’m not talking about the toilet seat. I’ve spent the last 27 years living in a house with between one and three women. I drank the Kool-Aid long ago: The toilet seat goes down.
No, I’m talking about other elements of the smallest room in the house. Much of it has to do with what might be termed replenishment. Long ago, humans were divided into two classes: hunters and gatherers. Now, the division is between users and replacers, or, to put it another way, between me and My Lovely Wife.
There is a certain level of forethought that characterizes being a certain kind of adult, the kind who can anticipate one’s needs. My wife is that kind of adult, the kind who says to herself: “I’ll probably be hungry around 6. It will take 45 minutes to prepare dinner, so, even though I’m not yet hungry, I’d better start making it now.”
I approach things in a much more feral fashion. I start to make dinner only when I realize I’m getting hungry. Of course, that means I’m often in a low-blood-sugar stupor by the time I eat, my organs starting to digest themselves. Sometimes I’m dealing with the kind of rage that comes from reading a recipe that begins, “First, marinate the meat for three hours.”
Three hours!? If only I’d known that three hours ago!
But we’re not here to talk about the kitchen. We’re here to talk about the bathroom. The general rule of thumb there is: “The person who uses the last of something replaces it.”
Finish a roll of toilet paper? Then hang a new one, while also remembering to retrieve another backup roll from the basement to load into the stainless steel toilet paper silo next to the toilet. Take the last Q-Tip from the little glass jar? Get more from the cupboard in the hall. Squeeze out the last drop of toothpaste? Ditto.
For me, this has become a game of chicken. If I can carefully husband — the perfect word — the resources, I will never have to replenish them. I once broke the last Q-Tip in half so my wife would be forced to use the single remaining cottony ball, which no longer looked like a miniature pugil stick but like a tiny torch, just waiting to be dipped in pitch, lit and carried off in search of Frankenstein’s monster.
I’m lucky that my wife thought this was amusing and not grounds for divorce.
I also hate squeegeeing the shower. Do you squeegee your shower? We started doing it 15 years ago after staying with some friends in Denmark. They had a squeegee in their shower. It was a revelation: Reduce mold and water spots with some diligent squeegeeing!
The problem is, I hate squeegeeing even more than I hate walking to the cupboard. Whichever of us showers first doesn’t have to squeegee. Why squeegee some tile that’s just going to get wet when the next person takes a shower?
This leads to some subtle jockeying every morning to avoid being the last person in the bathroom. We discuss who’s going to run first on the basement treadmill. We subtly probe who has to iron a shirt or needs to answer some work e-mails, all in hopes of sussing out the timing of the other’s ablutions.
But no matter how I structure my morning, I always seem to end up the designated squeegee-er. Perhaps this is my wife’s way of getting back at me for being a user, not a replacer.
Or as she might put it, “Hit me with your best shot, squeegee away!”
Today our youngest daughter turns 21. Happy birthday, Beatrice. She’s doing it far from home, in London, where she’s gone to college for the past three years. She’ll move back to the States later this month and start law school in New York City in the fall.
Beatrice didn’t go totally native while living in England, but her vowels did get a little soft, and she developed an odd affection for tea. She probably knows how to get around on the Tube better than on the Metro, and she uses the word “revise” when she means “study.”
Her mother and I feel that Beatrice needs a dose of super-concentrated Americana to flush from her system all that built-up Britishness (limey scale?). And so we promise for her birthday to take her on a road trip later this summer somewhere in this great land of ours.
But where should we go? Graceland? Route 66? Yorktown, Va., where Britain’s Gen. Cornwallis surrendered?
What would you nominate as the most American of places — or the least English? Send me your suggestions.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.