Which, as I point out to her, seems to work fine. This is the method I use to secure my own car against the force of gravity, and that reliable, American-made machine has gone nearly 130,000 miles without pitching itself off the edge of a cliff or careening wildly out of control down the sidewalk. "It says 'Park' right on it," I tell her. "That's what it's for."
These arguments do not persuade her. Often, when I am operating her car and she is in the passenger seat, I hear her yanking on the safety brake handle before I have even turned off the ignition. I am used to her assistance with vehicle controls—whenever we drive together the climate controls and the radio are hers alone to operate. I am left with only the gas and brake pedals, the steering wheel and the turn signals to use independently, and I do that only under the closest instruction, occasionally punctuated by a panicky scream of "We're all going to die!" when some traffic incident forces me to make a quick maneuver.
"We're both going to die," I correct her. This display of grammatical pedantry under fire never seems to soothe her, but I enjoy it.
Household tasks are treated the same way. "Did you put soap in the dishwasher?" she says, as that machine begins to cycle. Inquiries about whether lights are off or doors are locked follow me around the domicile, as she apparently thinks I would live in a chaotic whirlwind of blazing lights and unlocked doors if left to my own preferences. I let the dog out every morning, because she is a slugabed, whereas I always arise sparkling at first light, ready every day to begin working or drinking, whatever is on my schedule. My first chore is the dog one. Every morning I watch as he squats on the flagstone of the condo back yard and then sniffs the resulting product heartily. I long ago came to the conclusion that for my dog, a deep AM whiff of his own substance is the equivalent of that first cup of coffee for me, a bracing draught that puts his whole day in perspective.
I do this every single day. Nonetheless, when my girl's eyes finally flutter open, usually sometime before noon, her first question is to me is invariably "Did you poop the dog?"
The sanitary engineering around the house is my job too, naturally, as it is every man's. Hauling the bins to the street every week has been my task since our first date. This week it was more onerous than usual, since I had been out of town during the last recycle pickup, and the bin was groaning under the weight of numerous empties. I decided to take the bins out separately, and simultaneously stick a few items in the mailbox. I noticed that one of the letters didn't have a stamp on it and, remembering I had stamps in my car, which was parked a few hundred feet away, went to get one. I mailed the envelopes and went back for the regular trash bin.
The trouble was, I had only been cleared for taking out the trash. In my girl's mind a timetable had been set, as inexorable as an oxygen gauge on a diver's tank or a timer on a pipe bomb. For too long I had been out of contact, like an errant space probe. Communication had to be re-established.
"Richard, WHERE ARE YOU?" I heard her bellowing in the distance.
"Wandering around outside, doing irresponsible things," I yelled back. "It was wise of you to check up on me."
She didn't think that was funny, but all the neighbors did.