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Aunt Erma's Cope Book
How To Get From Monday To Friday ... In 12 Days
By Erma Bombeck
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1979 Erma Bombeck
All rights reserved.
HOW DO I LIKE ME SO FAR?
All the way to Jill's cocktail party, I had that feeling of exhilaration ... like when your gelatin mold comes out in one piece or you grab the door of a pay booth in the rest room just before it slams shut.
For the first time in a long time, my life was coming together. And it felt good. I no longer anguished over what I looked like. I could pass a mirror without looking at my neck and being reminded I hadn't made homemade chicken soup in a while. I had come to grips with domesticity and no longer believed that unmade beds caused shortness of breath.
My husband's infatuation with Angie Dickinson had wound down and I noted the same ecstasy he used to reserve for her pictures now appeared in his face whenever his soup was hot.
All three kids were not only speaking to us, but our twenty-four-year-old daughter openly displayed a curiosity as to how to turn on the stove.
I was becoming more assertive, refusing to "honk when I loved Jesus." I no longer inhaled around my smoker friends.
The pressures of child raising were easing off. I stopped feeling guilty for my children's colds, their overbites, or for that matter allowing our daughter to be born without pompon hands.
I stopped eating chocolates in the closet, dedicating my life to putting toilet seats down, or pretending to feel sorry for women wearing industrial-strength bras.
In my awkward way, I was reentering the human race after twenty years of Edith Bunkering it.
My husband disliked parties. He called them the Varicose Olympics where people stood around all night talking about their dog's hysterectomies and eating bait off of little round crackers. If our social life were left up to him, the high spot of my week would have been watching the hot wax drip down on our car at the Car Wash.
My eyes fairly danced as we entered the room and I spotted my old friend Phyllis. I hadn't seen her in ages.
"Phyllis!" I shouted. "How long has it been? Do you still bowl with the League on Tuesdays?"
Phyllis set down her glass without smiling. "Bowl? That was only a transference of aggression to keep me from dealing with my realities head-on."
"C'mon," I laughed, "eighty-six wasn't that bad a score."
"You remember how I used to have anxiety attacks when I emptied the sweeper bag? Well, the bottom line was I was in a crisis situation I couldn't handle ... which is what you'd expect from a Gemini, right? So, I began to read self-help books to raise my consciousness level. Right now I'm reading Sensual Needlepoint by Candy Summers. She also wrote Erotic Leftovers and Kinky Lint."
"Sensual Needlepoint?" I said, gulping my drink.
"Believe me," she whispered. "You will never make another French knot for as long as you live. By the way, you belong to the Cope-of-the-Month-Club Guild, don't you?" I shook my head. "Every month you get a self-help book on how to improve yourself. Of course you've read Fear of Landing by Erika Wrong and Dr. Dryer's new book, I Hope the Sexual Revolution Doesn't End Before I'm Drafted?"
"Phyllis," I said, "what's happened to you? You used to be so shallow!"
She ignored my comment. "Incidentally, why are you paranoid about kissing people hello?"
"I am not paranoid."
"Yes, you are. When you approached me just now, you extended your hand. You really are inhibited."
"I'm not inhibited. I didn't kiss you because I've been eating Roquefort."
"When was the last time you told Erma how you felt about her?"
I looked over the crowd. "Erma who?"
"Erma YOU, that's who."
"You know I don't like to talk about me in front of myself. It's embarrassing."
"I knew you'd masquerade your true feelings behind cheap jokes. It's just like you to make light of something serious. But frankly, I don't know how much longer you can sit by and watch the rest of the world probe into their inner minds and understand the heights of man's nobility and the depths of his depravity."
"That's beautiful. Where did you read that?"
"In the National Enquirer in the express lane at the supermarket. Do you know what's wrong with you?" she asked, leaning closer. "Sex! It should be apparent to you that it's time you got in touch with your feelings. Get to know yourself. We're moving into the 1980s, sweetie, where sex dominates everything we do. You and your husband are probably just plain bored with one another. It happens in a lot of marriages. You just take one another for granted after a while."
"Phyllis, I do not believe we are having this conversation. You're the one who was too shy to tell anyone you were pregnant. You told everyone you had 'something in the oven.' You raised children who thought it took nine months to bake a pie!"
"Well, things are different now," said Phyllis. "I know that sex is something you have to work on in a marriage. You need Clarabelle Sweet."
"You mean the author of The Sub-Total Woman? I think I've heard of her."
"HEARD OF HER!" shouted Phyllis shrilly. "Are you serious? Women haven't been so excited about a book since Sex Causes Fatness came out. You know the one where the author said that making love burns up fewer calories than throwing a Frisbee? I tell you what. I'll loan you my copy if you promise to return it."
"I do not need help from The Sub-Total Woman."
"When was the last time you bathed with your husband?"
"When we washed the dog."
"Do you share your husband's interest in sports? Do you create a mood for romance? Have you ever made sheets out of Astroturf?"
Phyllis was whacko. No doubt about it. I eased away and observed my husband across the room. For a man going through his metallic age (silver hair, gold teeth, and lead bottom) he did cut quite a figure. I watched him as he was joined by a girl with solar hair who was so animated I thought her face would break. As I turned, I caught Phyllis looking at me. She smiled and yelled, "Trust me! The Sub-Total Woman will change your life!"CHAPTER 2
THE SUB-TOTAL WOMAN
Clarabelle sweet had been on all the shows touting her book, The Sub-Total Woman.
Clarabelle had long black hair and said things like "When a man's got cream in the refrigerator at home, he won't go out looking for two-percent butterfat."
She appeared on a sex-theme show with Merv Griffin, explained how 350 boxes of gelatin could change your life on Donahue, and made a three-bean salad on Dinah! (The garbanzo beans spelled out L-O-V-E.)
There was no doubt in my mind she had a Spanish doll nestled among the satin pillows on her bed. I figured that out after reading the Compatible Quiz.
At the beginning, it bothered me to know, without taking it, that I'd flunk. And somehow, after thirty years of marriage and three children, I didn't want to know that my husband and I had been incompatible.
But I couldn't resist it.
"Post Scripts to 'I DO'"
(Score yourself ten points for each correct answer)
You and your husband are alone in a cabin for the first time since your marriage. He is nibbling on your ear. Do you (a) nibble back or (b) tell him the toilet is running?
Your husband comes home unexpectedly in the middle of the afternoon. Do you (a) slip into something suggestive and make him an offer he can't refuse or (b) leave him there while you take the car and go to a food-processor demonstration?
Your husband invites you to go to a convention where you will share only your evenings together. Do you (a) get a babysitter and go or (b) regard it as a great time to stay at home and paint the bedroom?
Check your husband's driver's license. Under SEX does he list (a) male or (b) only during a full moon?
After a long, hard day your husband drags in feeling tired and listless. Do you (a) massage his feet with witch hazel or (b) tell him all he needs is a good laxative?
When you've had a bad day and need tenderness and understanding does your husband (a) wrap you in his arms and tell you he adores you or (b) read the paper and absent-mindedly scratch you behind your ear and call you the dog's name?
I didn't have to score myself. The results were rather obvious. I had become a woman who said "I do" but didn't from the day she got her first set of car keys.
I didn't pamper my husband and I didn't serve his needs. Maybe Phyllis was right. Maybe we had fallen into a rut at a time when we needed it most.
When I thought about it, the last time he put his arms around me in a movie, I had a miniature bus caught in my throat from a Cracker-Jack box.
I'd feel like a fool padding around after him. We weren't demonstrative people. Never had been. On the other hand, what if someday he developed a craving for 2-percent butterfat? If Clarabelle Sweet's husband called her from the office every day just to pant into the phone for a minute and a half maybe it was worth it.
The next morning my husband called from the bathroom, "What's this?"
On the mirror in lipstick, I had written "65 MILLION WOMEN WANT MY HUSBAND."
"It's just a reminder, dear, how lucky I am to have you."
He studied the mirror carefully and said, "Name names."
"Don't get testy. Clarabelle Sweet says if women treated their husbands better they wouldn't wander."
"Who is Clarabelle Sweet and where am I going?"
"She's going to save our marriage. Here is your shaver, your bath towel, your soap, and your shampoo."
"Where's my rubber duck?" he asked irritably.
"And your comb, your deodorant, your clean shirt, and your trousers. Here, let me put that lid down for you."
"GET OUT OF THE BATHROOM," he yelled through clenched teeth.
Looking back on it, I never knew how being subservient could be so unappreciated. When I tried to spoonfeed him his cereal, he stopped eating. When I measured out his dental floss, he left the bathroom. When I lit a match under his chin, he blew it out and snarled, "I don't smoke, remember?"
As I was standing in the driveway holding his attaché case, he said, "And lay off the vanilla."
"I'll call you at work," I said huskily. "Try to come home early."
When he was gone, I went back to The Sub-Total Woman for assurance. It appeared on page 110. "In a survey of 10,000 males," it read, "almost half of them said they cheated on their wives and most said they wanted or needed some physical display of affection.
"Given a list of qualities for a partner, they arranged them in the following order:
1. A woman with concern for my needs
7. Sense of humor."
It read more like a Boy Scout handbook.
Just after lunch, I went to the phone and dialed my husband's office. The wait seemed interminable. Finally, his secretary answered and said she would put me through.
"Hello," I said, trying to make my voice sound throaty. "Could you come home early?"
"Whatsa matter?" he asked. "Do you have a dental appointment?"
"Come home early and you can have your way with me."
"Hang on a second. Another call is coming through," he said, and PUT ME ON HOLD!
I hung up the phone and went back to Clarabelle's book. "Jar your husband out of his lethargy by meeting him at the door dressed in something outrageous like a cheerleader ... a bunny ... or a slave girl."
A costume. Was she serious? Even at Halloween I just put brown grocery bags over the kids' heads, cut two eyes in them, and told them to tell everyone their mother was having surgery. I wasn't good at costumes.
I went through all the closets and the only thing I could come up with was a pair of the boys' football pants, jersey, and helmet. I felt about as sensuous as a bride with a lip full of Novocain, but when you're trying to save a marriage you have to go for it.
When I heard the car in the driveway, I flung open the front door and yelled, "It's a scoreless game so far."
The washer repairman didn't say anything for a couple of minutes. His eyes never left mine. He just stared at the floor and mumbled, "It says here on the work sheet that your dryer won't heat up."
I cleared my throat. "Right, come in. The dryer is next to the washer behind the louvered doors." Neither of us spoke. The only sound was of my cleats clicking on the terrazzo tile. He worked in silence and I disappeared in the other side of the house.
As I wrote him a check, he took it, shook his head, and said, "I hope your team wins, lady."
I got out of the football uniform and into a dress. Who was I kidding? I wasn't ready for the Sub-Total Super Bowl and I knew it.
I couldn't even create the atmosphere for it. We ate dinner between Family Feud and Name That Tune. The kids fanned in and out like a revolving door. The only way you could get them to turn their stereos down was to tell them you could hear the words. There were clothes to fold, purchases to discuss, decisions to be made and, of course, the electronic sleeping pill—the parade of sports.
I never realized what a holding pattern we were in until I tried to massage my husband's neck and he said, "I'll save you time. My billfold's on the dresser."
I returned to folding domes when about eleven or so we both heard the smoke alarm go off in our bedroom.
We rushed back to see my sheer red nightgown smoking from the heat of the lightbulb on the lamp.
"Why is your nightgown draped over the lamp?" asked my husband evenly.
"I am creating a mood."
"For a disaster movie?"
"It was supposed to give the room a sexy, sensuous feeling."
"Open the window. If it gets any sexier in here, I'm going to pass out."
It was an hour or so before the smoke cleared and we could go to bed.
"Did you call me today or did I imagine it?" he asked.
"What did you want?"
"I wanted to tell you to come home early and you could have your way with me."
"You should have left a message." He yawned and crawled into bed.
I turned on the bathroom light. The mirror still reflected "65 MILLION WOMEN WANT MY HUSBAND." I took out a deodorant stick and wrote under it WHY?
The simple fact was we couldn't be something we had never been. We were too old to change.
Besides, according to experts we were going through the best phase of our lives. The children were grown and I didn't have to cope with rainbows over the crib and knotted shoestrings. The house carried a preinflation 9-percent mortgage. And I had Mayva. Mayva was my best friend, who never went on a diet when I was fat, never told me the truth when I begged for it, and when my husband bought me a vegetable slicer for my birthday never said something stupid like "At least he doesn't drink or play around like a lot of husbands."
When Mayva saw Clarabelle Sweet's book on the hall table she nearly flipped. "You're reading The Sub-Total Woman? You can't be serious. Don't you know that converting your Donny Osmond night light into a strobe isn't going to turn your life around? I know what's wrong with you. You're like a lot of married couples who are floundering around in a traditional marriage that doesn't exist any more. No one paddles around waiting on one another these days. Things should be equal between you. Each of you should have a sense of self. Do you know what I'm saying?"
"No more books, Mayva."
"Listen, Pam McMeal and Richard McMeal's book Is There a Draft in Your Open Marriage? really spells it out. Answer me this. When was the last time you and Bill took separate vacations?"
"When we left the kids with Mother."
"You should be at a time of your life when you have an open and an honest relationship. No one dominates and no one is submissive any more. You share. You grow. You leave behind the years of sitting under your children and develop an awareness of what is going on in the world. And heaven help you if you awake one morning to discover your husband has outgrown you."
Excerpted from Aunt Erma's Cope Book by Erma Bombeck. Copyright © 1979 Erma Bombeck. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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