She'll be back any day, so here's my chance. Men, after all, are tempted to break the moral law when their wives are out of town, as mine is now. And the one I'm about to break, laid on me in confidence by my great-grandfather some years ago, goes like this: "If you know what's good for you, Richard, you'll never tell the truth about women, or to them."
But since it's just between us guys, as it were, why not tell the truth, just this once, about housework . We men always lie when it comes to that, because when women haul off and kvetch about how dull, dirty and repetitious such work is, we customarily wring hour hands and allow as how it is a low and terrible thing, a hard fate, a disgrace and -- we hope -- only a temporary arrangement. Housework , mind you! -- which, as any man who's ever had his wife go away on vacation can tell you, is the most enjoyable and subline pursuit in the world. The truth is that all the many favors we do for women, the greatest of these is to let them do the housework.
I have had a lot of experience in this field, having spent a whole hour on housework every day for a week -- a time in which my new vocation has made me blissfully happy, and in which the only discomfiture has been when there was no more work to do. For no house needs more than an hour's work a day, although we lie about this, too, and when we come home to a woman who pretends to have worked all day, we pretend to believe it.
But although housework is, in terms of sheer time expended, a trifling occupation, I have been happy with it for a whole week -- the warm, wonderful feeling of hot sudsy water clear up to my elbows, and the fun of twirling around the big Hefty trash bag and putting the little wire thing around the top and carrying that outside, and with that increasingly healthful feeling my muscles have gotten from repeatedly bending to pick up the Racing Form or empty beer cans, or from algilely stepping over the recumbent dog on my busy, cheerful way about my chores. The more things there have been to pick up, the better I have liked it. And then, of course, there's always the bed to be made or the vacuum cleaner to be run. The vacuum cleaner, as we all know, is a toy that, in a dirtless world, would make the invention of dirt almost obligatory.
I love housework and am always happy while I am doing it, because it is the great banisher of tension and worry. And if you know how to do it right, it even becomes a kind of ballet, in which, staring slowly and working with an ever increasing sense of pleasure, you enter into some benign, thoughtless Xanadu of the spirit, a kind of euphoria that goes a long way toward explaining why there are so few first-rate women composers or painters. After all, who would want to bother with a symphony or a mural when there's so much happiness to be had from scouring out a pan?
Most women don't know how to do housework; they swear too much and fight against it and try to get through too quickly. They don't know the little labor-saving tricks, like letting the dishes soak three days or calling in the dog to lap up the spills. But even in their ineptitude, they're better off than we are, because they get the healthful benefits of housework, even while scandalously complaining of it, and this is why they live longer than we do. Work around the house is a wonderful soother of that anger that, if allowed to fester, may have serious consequences for one's health. Most wise men, then, know that letting a woman do a lot of housework is the best way to cool her out. Most stupid men know this, too. Therefore, he who steps in to dry the dishes when he doesn't have to is a traitor not only to his fellows but to himself, one who for the sake of a spurious helpfulness would destroy his own domestic tranquillity: in other words, a fool.
John Ruskin put it best: "When women are rightly occupied, their amusement grows out of their work, as the colour-petals out of a fruitful flower." And so, given its benignity and usefulness, housework is obviously their rightful occupation, as even feminists will have to agree. Because giving a bath to a yelping, recalcitrant dog -- as I have done six times this week when work was slack -- or rearranging Teddy Bears on a shelf is a far higher occupation than jutjawedly chairing some fool meeting downtown. With those, one is obliged to come home and brag about how important it all was. Otherwise, who would know -- since what passes for "work" in our city is so abstract and ambiguous? But a clean dog speaks for itself.
I write all this with a sense of resignation, because in a couple of days, when my wife gets back from Pennsylvania, I'll have to do the noble thing and step aside from housework, at which I have developed a real excellence. And when she says there is too much to do, I'll go on nodding my head and pretending to agree with her, as always.
Nevertheless, I'll be sad because "vocations which we wanted to pursue but didn't," as Balzac said, "bleed, like colors, on the whole of our existence." So it is with me, and between now and next August, I will, in my heart, be looking forward to that brief, happy time when I can tidy up around the house again. In fact, I've even thought of investing in a bonnet and shawl.