This past weekend, my wife, Sue, suggested that I prepare a list to make the best use of our time in case we need to shelter in place. Being the dutiful husband, I retreated to the bedroom, fired up the Roku and reviewed all the Netflix and Amazon Prime shows our friends raved about, but we just could not find the time to watch.
Later that afternoon, I was eager to discuss my extensive research and found Sue lounging on the porch. She opened an eye, yawned and preempted my oral presentation with, “I couldn’t find you earlier, so I weeded, mowed, mulched and trimmed the backyard. I’m exhausted. What have you been up to?”
I had neglected our backyard ever since Sue and I took off in an RV on our trip around the country a year and half ago. My lone yard-improvement effort upon our return was to toss down some micro-clover seed in hopes that something green would grow in our washed-out dirt patch. Over the course of six months, the clover sprouted, took hold and resurrected our lawn. But, that transformation was largely due to the clover, not me, and it was nothing compared to what Sue had managed to do in just a few hours – the same hours I spent researching our future streaming activities.
“I, uh, put together a list,” I said, as I took in what could have been the work of an entire landscaping crew, what with five yard-debris bags of weeds pulled and 20 bags of mulch laid down.
“Great,” Sue said as she closed her eyes, “I’ll take a look at it when I wake up. We should get as much done around the house now that we are going to have some extra time.”
Perhaps a more experienced husband would have picked up on the subtleties of wife-speak and realized that Sue had been referring to my to-do list, which — despite her many strongly suggested additions — I had not mentally updated in the three and a half years since our wedding. Fortunately, I am well-trained in the improvisational arts. “Well, it’s not exactly written down,” I declared, prompting Sue’s eye to slowly reopen. “There’s too much prioritizing and re-prioritizing and modifying and codifying to commit anything to paper. That would be…”
“Logical?” Sue asked, with both eyes now open and brows arched.
“Confining,” I said, rather indignantly. “Remember when we had an issue with the RV on our trip? Caulking the roof seams had been near the bottom of my list for months. But, one little drop of water landed in your ear while we were sleeping, and it shot straight to the very top.”
“We ran out of pots to collect all the leaks. Our shower didn’t have that kind of water flow.” Sue’s improv skills obviously needed work. A stage actor is supposed to accept her partner’s contribution, then add to it to roll with a scene, not bring things up from the past that could not possibly have been avoided.
OK, in retrospect, it seems I had selected perhaps the poorest example of my list management skills — it took us days and nearly our entire stash of laundry quarters to dry our mattress and bedding from that downpour — all of which could have been prevented had I just applied the tube of roof caulk I bought prior to our trip.
“Still, it couldn’t have gone any higher than first on the list,” I boldly continued, as a professional does when stage-heckled by an uncooperative fellow cast member. “If it had been on a written list, I could have circled it, then underlined it, then crossed it off once the task had been completed and it still would have been near the bottom.”
Cold-stunned by reason, Sue closed her eyes, took any number of deep breaths, then somehow completely turned the conversation from my list of things for me to do to her list of things for me to do. This is perhaps her most-impressive talent, and one for which I am continually unprepared, despite the frequency by which it is employed.
“Is replacing our porch screens on your list?” Sue asked, going there.
“That was an act of God,” I explained for perhaps the 50th time. “And I am waiting on the townhome association to replace it. We own the inside, they own the outside.”
“It was an act of a hawk that flew in and destroyed every screen panel trying to get out,” Sue counter-explained, for perhaps the 51st time. “It happened five years ago and the townhome association is not going to fix it. So, you can put that on the top of your list, or I can call someone and we can pay them to take care of it.”
This interplay of pride and shame has reordered to-do lists since the dawn of time. “All right,” I relented. “I am putting it right near the very top of my list.”
Truth be told, it had been prominently on my list since I bought all the screening supplies the day after the hawk incident.
Then I said, “The backyard looks great. I’m more than impressed. Wanna watch some Netflix?”
“Sure,” said Sue, happy to move on. “Any suggestions?” “Oh, plenty,” I said, taking Sue’s hand and helping her to her feet.
Tom Werner is an island resident, former stand-up comic, and owner of Whatnot Services LLC, which provides basic handyman and mobile mechanic services, as well as crawlspace encapsulation. He takes his customers’ to-do lists far more seriously than his own. You can reach Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 843-729-1056.