One day some years ago, I complimented my wife on a new shirt she was wearing. “I like that shade of pink,” I said, to pitiless laughter. My daughter was quickly summoned. “Dad thinks this is pink,” the wife said, and more hilarity ensued.

The consensus of the women was that the shirt was “coral,” although some sentiment was expressed for “persimmon.” But there was agreement on the utter incorrectness of “pink.” It was as though I had pronounced a watermelon to be a kangaroo.

Undeterred, I summoned my son. Men see colors differently, I said; there are separate but equal truths.

Dan glanced at the shirt, looked back down at the book he was reading, and grumbled, “It’s salmon.”

The women agreed: He nailed it! I regarded my son with disappointment, gender traitor that he was.

(Illustration by Eric Shansby)


I had forgotten: The poor schmo worked in a paint store.

My point here is that women are ordinarily waaay more intelligent about colors than men are. It’s actually Darwinian: In the animal kingdom, the males generally have more elaborate plumage and coloring; in order to distinguish among prospective mates, the ladies need the better color wheel.

This all came into play the other day when my wife informed me that the interior of our home needed painting. I argued against this on the perfectly reasonable grounds that it already was painted. (Ten years ago, but still.) Grimly, the wife led me around the house to demonstrate what she assured me was a disgraceful overall dinginess, as well as some cracks and bubbles, and darkened patches on baseboards, which the dogs use as bath towels after walks in the rain.

With lavish drama, I permitted myself to give in, preserving the fiction that I actually had a vote in the matter.

To the best of my recollection, when I was a kid all rooms in all houses were white. When I first proposed this sensible color scheme many years ago, the wife rolled her eyes and asked if I’d be happy wearing the same color shirt every day for the rest of my life (Yes). She chose coats of many colors, anyway.

So this time, the wife and Scott the Painter walked through the house room by room, with a deck of color samples the thickness of a mature sow. (Pages of this deck are filled with rectangles labeled “Malted Milk” and “Wisp of Mauve” and “Misty Blush,” all of which I believe to be “brown.”) Decisions were made. Again, my opinion was formally solicited, but it felt perfunctory and a bit condescending, the way an infant in a high chair is asked “Does oo like strained peas and chicken? Yes, oo does like strained peas and chicken!”

I was fine with all this — grateful, in fact to be relieved of any responsibility in this ambit of my extreme incompetence. Then, disaster struck.

I work at home. My wife does not. And on the second day of painting, Scott approached me somewhat timidly, understanding all too well my anxiety in this matter. The painters were about to start on the master bedroom, but they had lost the Post-it sticker indicating which shade of tan had been agreed upon. It could be “Durango dust” or “Pale oats” or possibly something else entirely! The wife was indefinitely unreachable. The painters were on a tight schedule. The color had to be mixed and applied to the walls. A decision had to be made by the ... homeowner.

I think it was Hemingway who said that a man is defined not by the way he has lived his life, but by the decisions he makes at the apex of stress. We are the sum of our actions in one or two critical, character-testing moments.

Scott awaited his answer. Slowly, I lifted my head from the color wheel, and my eyes met his. My eyes were resolute.

“I officially authorize you to decide, ” I said.

He did.

Everyone agrees the bedroom walls look swell. They are brown.