In an effort to sustain my humility, I have put together a short list of my areas of incompetence. I have had a little help putting this list together.
Cooking. I have managed to specialize in my cooking skills: liquids, not including soups. So I generally make the coffee in the morning, open the wine, and mix the drinks when we are imbibing. I will transfer water from the faucet to the glass and then convey it to the breakfast or dinner table. I do have a couple of salad dressings I can sometimes make, and I carry milk to the breakfast table on mornings when I am “cooking” breakfast cereal. Otherwise, however, cooking falls within the scope of my incompetence. I generally make it a point to steer Kim away from friendships with couples where the man does a significant amount of cooking.
Dishes. We don’t use an automatic dishwasher because, with just the two of us, it takes too long to accumulate enough dirty dishes for a load, and for most meals we end up with a few items, antique or delicate or wooden, that don’t go in the dishwasher. Kim washes, I dry – unless Kim is too tired from taking care of me to wash. Now, my first real job was as a dishwasher at a summer camp in Vermont, so I am not without skills, but drying is my specialty, mainly because Kim is afraid I will leave something dirty or damage surfaces when I try to get them clean. But drying dishes has its potential for incompetence, largely because of the multitasking involved. Yes, multitasking, because I not only have to dry the dishes, I also have to put them away. Here’s the problem: Kim prefers that the dishes, silverware and pots and pans be put away in the same place every time! I understand that, but sometimes I prefer to put them away in the nearest empty space I can find – not including the oven or freezer. She might say a word or two to me when she is looking for, say, the spatula so she can turn over the eggs quickly frying on the stove. I figure that’s her problem as a chef, but she sees it as yet another area of my incompetence.
Making the Bed. We have this lovely thick comforter that we bought before moving Up North. For most guys this would mean Problem Solved. Pull it up over the sheets and blankets and the bed is made. Kim has a different conception of a well-made bed. She prefers sheets and blankets pulled up with no wrinkles, and she also wants the portions that you see on the side of the bed to be parallel to the floor – even though nobody sleeps on that part! We have worked out a solution: I am not to make the bed alone, and when we work together, I get the side away from to door that nobody can see.
Dressing Myself. “Are you going to wear that shirt?”
Laundry. You know how, as you get older and your spine compresses, you start to lose height? If this happened to you, and your cuffs start to drag on the ground, you might ask me to do your laundry. I have successfully shrunk several pairs of pants, mainly Kim’s, during the few weeks when Kim let me “help” by doing laundry.
Vacuuming. Kim believes that when I vacuum I deliberately fail to return the furniture to its proper place just to signal to her that I have, in fact, vacuumed. This is not true. I either have become distracted by the quality of my work, or I forgot where the chair was in the first place. My strategy is to vacuum when Kim is around and can hear me. Apparently the quality of my work is not a sufficient indication that I have actually vacuumed, so I have to resort to other audio-visual cues.
Plumbing. Years ago we had a dripping faucet that I attempted to fix with a large wrench. As the plumber was leaving, he told Kim, “Tell your husband to stay away from the plumbing.” I was insulted, but only momentarily. My incompetence has given me freedom. This week I confronted another dripping faucet. After staring at it intently did not stop the drips, I asked Scott, in town for a visit, for help. “Best to replace the whole unit,” he suggested. “Get a plumber.” I don’t know if he would have said that to everyone, but I was pleased by his advice.
Cleaning My Shower. There’s an old joke about how many men it takes to clean a bathroom: None, because it doesn’t really need it. (This is a sore point, so I’ll stop writing here.)
Anyone wishing to share his or her areas of incompetence, please let me know at email@example.com.
From John Perkins: "Pretty much matches my list, which I had never assembled. But I am competent on loading and unloading the dishwasher, and I'm also good at taking out the trash. I can also push a lawn mower, but the really hard part of that is moving the lawn mower from the garage down to the back yard over treacherous steps. It's actually hard work because I insisted we needed a "sturdy" lawn mower. Turns out sturdy also means heavy."