'How many bottles of shampoo or conditioner do we have at home?' she asked. 'I knew it was a trick question, and I tried to figure out what the catch was.'
If anyone asks where you feel the most comfortable, your answer is probably - at home. If you are asked what place you know best, the answer is also probably - home. Those, at least, were my answers to those questions. And I would fire off these answers without blinking, without thinking twice, without looking around to see if a certain someone named Einat happened to be watching me, listening to my answers and laughing. For as it happens, Einat believes that while her husband does show up at home every evening, and leaves home again every morning, and spends a good number of hours in this home, he really doesn't know the place very well or have a clue about what's happening there.
Last month, it seems, I made a few mistakes that did not escape my wife's attention, and provided her with enough material to build a solid theory on my lack of awareness about our home. She says that for a while now she has suspected that I'm completely oblivious to what goes on in our house, and that the recent episodes only convinced her that there are just two possibilities. The more optimistic one puts me in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease. The other, also incurable, is called "memory-itis," and incorporates the first as well. It's an affliction specific to males who don't know or remember anything.
The first misstep occurred because of my desire to play the role of the perfect father. Just before the summer vacation was about to end, I decided to take Omri and Alma to the pool. I packed us a bag with everything we'd need - snacks, bathing suits, goggles, towels, the pool membership cards and, of course, sunscreen. That's right, I didn't forget a thing. When we came home all happy, Einat was waiting for us. The kids told her how much fun it was, and I added that we decided to go to the pool and not the beach so as not to track sand in the house and ruin Mrs. Clean's perfectly swept floor. And for a moment, just for a moment, I thought I was really clever. But my 10 minutes in heaven were over before I knew it. Einat asked which bag we took, and I replied that I took the one that was sitting outside by the front door. Turns out that in my stupidity, the bag I chose to take to the pool was the very one that the dozens - or is it hundreds? - of cats that Einat feeds near the house had peed on last week.
Einat said she left it out there so the smell would dissipate and that she was planning to wash it the day we went to the pool. Between one angry outburst and another I gleaned that she was just stunned that I didn't remember her telling me all about what happened with the cat pee, or her explicit warning, which she had repeated numerous times, not to use that particular pool bag. I just don't get it, she said as she concluded her tirade with a look of despair. How could you have forgotten?
Remembering stuff has always been her forte, even if her memory is incredibly selective. The pool bag incident prompted her to recall several other episodes indicative of my utter obliviousness to what goes on in our little homestead. The review of my screw-ups began with an incident that occurred a week earlier. This time, I had taken the kids out for ice cream at the nearby mall and when we got back, she was waiting for us in the living room. Alma's shirt left no mystery as to what flavors she'd chosen, and I was sure this was the reason for Einat's stern expression.
"Tell me you took the coupons," she said. Coupons? What for? I asked. "See, you have no problem writing about your wife in that silly column, and making fun of her so-called addiction to coupons. But when your smart wife buys 50-percent-off coupons for the kids' favorite ice cream place, you have absolutely no idea." You heard right: She bought coupons. The house is filled with them and I didn't know the first thing about it. By the way, what chance did I have to know?
The second incident cited to make her case happened about a year ago. I was supposed to get both of the kids dressed for some cultural event, and because there wasn't much time to get ready, I apparently didn't pay as close attention as I should have. So Omri showed up for that performance wearing his sister's pants. When Einat met us at the entrance to the theater, she looked completely dumbfounded. When she snapped out of it, she pulled me aside.
"Tell me, are you out of your mind?! You want to destroy the kid in front of his friends? How the hell could you bring him in Alma's pants?!" I glanced at Omri disappearing in the distance with his friends, and I couldn't understand how I was supposed to notice this. The boy didn't complain that the pants didn't fit right, they matched his shirt, and even Alma, who is always very careful with her clothes, didn't say anything. As long as my wife doesn't go airing this dirty laundry in public, I thought, no harm will come of it.
And it almost did pass uneventfully. Omri didn't complain, none of his friends teased him and the evening seemed like a grand success. But on the way home in the car, Einat turned around and revealed to Omri and Alma the bitter truth. The little girl started wailing that her pants were contaminated, and Omri yelled that he would never let me dress him again now that I had embarrassed him in front of everyone. Einat, savoring her success in sticking a wedge between me and the offspring, hissed at me, "How could you do that?" I told her that I took the pants from Omri's closet so there was no reason to blame me. Whoever put the laundry away was at fault. Oops, another mistake. A big one, in fact. I just let myself in for a big speech about how not only do I not know which clothes belong to Omri and which to Alma, but I also never do anything around the house.
Like a skilled prosecutor, Einat built her line of questioning with the utmost slyness. After relating the stories of the pool bag, the coupons and the clothing, she tossed a seemingly innocent question at me: "Tell me, how many bottles of shampoo or conditioner would you say we have in the house?" I knew it was a trick question and I tried to figure out what the catch was. Why would she ask that of the only bald person in the house? Did I maybe use one of them as salad dressing recently, or as sunscreen for the pool? Is there a difference between Alma's shampoo and Omri's shampoo? Finally, unable to find the trap, I just threw out a number. Four, I think it was.
She asked me to accompany her to the bathroom cabinet. Just before she opened the door, she gave me another chance to change my answer. "Maybe three," I whispered. The maliciously gleeful smile on her face left no room for doubt. I'd screwed up. Big-time. The door opened and it took just a second for me to see why there's all this talk of a shampoo and conditioner shortage lately. Fifteen bottles of shampoo, 17 bottles of conditioner.
"You're just like your father and my father," she began her summation. "Once upon a time you were asked to buy something at the supermarket and since then you never stop. It's just like the Sorcerer's Apprentice." Witch, I wanted to say, but I held my tongue. I went to take a shower. And this time, for the first time in a long time, I felt liberated. No more austerity measures, no more anxieties. I lathered up with shampoo, I washed my hair twice, I pampered my chest hair with conditioner, I even washed my bathing suit from the pool with these magical liquids. Because in my home, I now know, we have a big supply of them.
Shlomi Barzel is sports editor of the Hebrew edition of Haaretz. His column appears in Hebrew in the Marker Week magazine.