Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Southern Kept Man



While on a recent shopping trip to Wal-Mart, I found myself behind a woman who appeared to be in her late 50’s or early 60’s. When the cashier presented the shopper with her total, it became apparent that she had mistakenly left her wallet in her car and would need to retrieve it before finalizing the purchase. In a welcome spirit of accommodation, the cashier suspended her transaction and offered to ring me up in the interim. The walletless shopper reappeared just as I was being given my total and I noticed that she seemed to be staring at me with what appeared to be disbelief.

I pretended not to notice her unusual fascination and handed the cashier my coupons. This was apparently too much for the woman to bear and she said, “Excuse me, but are you grocery shopping for your wife?” I replied that I planned to eat some of the food as well but that I was indeed completing our household grocery trip. This admission was so unexpected she nearly dropped her recently reacquired wallet:


“You are kidding me! Is this just a one-time thing?”
“No, in fact I am usually the one that goes to the grocery.”
“That is something else. You know that I have been married for over thirty years and my husband hasn’t so much as picked up a loaf of bread on the way home for work! In fact, I fill up his truck with gas every single week. I doubt he even knows which side gas thing is on!”

Ill-equipped to respond to such an admission, I think I mumbled something like “good for him” and swiped my card as she continued to wrestle with her domestic epiphany. It was as if her entire world had been shattered with the discovery that it was possible for a married man to interact with a fuel pump. I couldn’t shake the feeling that my very presence that day had set into a motion a chain of events that could lead to the dissolution of a thirty-year marriage. I had a vision of this woman going home and confronting her recliner-bound spouse about all the other aspects of domestic life that she had been lied to about.

I shared this story with my father, who responded that the “southern kept man” was not as rare a creature as I had assumed. He recounted tales of an acquaintance who, upon walking into a buffet, would immediately be seated as his wife scurried off to prepare a plate and beverage for him. She would then present this culinary offering and upon indication of his approval, she was released to prepare a plate for herself. This behavior was so engrained in their relationship that the entire process was expected, assumed, and unspoken.

This was simply the tip of the iceberg. Further research revealed that my community was inundated by men unable to make their own telephone calls, retrieve their own prescriptions, or place their own refuse in a garbage can. I focus-grouped this reverse domestic chivalry with some married female friends to see how it would play it out in their lives and out of a sense decency I will refrain from reprinting their responses here. Let’s just say that they indicated strong disagreement with my Wal-Mart friend.

I realize that everyone’s idea of matrimonial tranquility is different and perhaps these women are perfectly content with this arrangement. Maybe their husbands cook and scrub the toilets in exchange for these services, but if you are too lazy to select your own entrée at a buffet it is unlikely that you can find the motivation to turn on a stove.

Furthermore, if these men are that helpless at full capacity what happens when they fall ill? A simple cold is likely to require sponge baths and a bedpan. I have always heard that older couples that had been together for a long time often die within a year of one another. I used to believe this was attributable to the profound emotional bond they shared between them but now I am starting to suspect that the wife simply goes first and the husband dies of starvation because the truck is out of gas and he cannot remember anyone’s number because he hasn’t dialed a phone since Nixon was in office.   

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