During 30 years of marriage my wife has made dinner for me 6,700 times. This is just an estimate. I'm not some weirdo who keeps careful track of things like this, although it is interesting that I've cleared the table 6,692 times. Now, how many times has Mary Ellen made me lunch? Zero. Nada. Never. We do have our Thanksgiving meal around noon, but I refuse to call this Thanksgiving lunch because it makes it sound like we're already digging through the leftovers.
So last week Mary Ellen decided to take some vacation days and just bring home a few files to work on. Because I have a home office, I was willing to assist her with some basic needs. She asked if she could borrow my computer in the afternoons.
"Not a problem, Dear. Sharing is what marriage is all about."
"And the fax machine?"
"What's mine is yours."
"Oh, this will be so much fun. And we can finally have lunch together at home."
Suddenly, the blood drained out of my head. I started to perspire. A twitch developed in my right eye and I doubled over in pain. She was bound to know I was not happy with that suggestion.
How do you tell someone after 30 years that you really don't want to have lunch together? When you are a man and you've eaten that second meal of the day alone most of your entire married life, you develop a few habits that are hard to break. And my wife, who shares a significant DNA strain with Emily Post and Miss Manners, would never understand. This was a recipe for trouble.
That first day, Mary Ellen wanted to have lunch around noon. I usually sit down sometime between 10:30 and 4:15. Actually, I've never sat down for lunch at home in my life. I make something while standing at the fridge, then eat it on the way upstairs to watch CNN. By the time I reach the TV, I'm pretty much done eating. I just have to wipe the mustard off the banister.
Mary Ellen made it clear that a healthy meal includes a green vegetable. But you can't effectively walk up a flight of stairs eating spinach salad without a plate and a fork. Heaven knows, I've tried.
She also said she looked forward to having a conversation while we dined. I love my wife; I enjoy talking to her. But not on a Wednesday in broad daylight. And I'm sorry, but no real man has ever picked up the phone at home at 12:30 p.m. and said: "Can't talk now, Elliot, I'm dining."
Mary Ellen prepared a nutritious meal -- a sauteed chicken dish with fresh broccoli. Once we were seated, she said, "Bon appetit," which is considered an affectation even in France if it's said before six at night. Then she noticed what I was wearing.
"I can't believe you have on sweats and a dirty T-shirt. Please don't sit down for a meal with me looking like that."
I was hoping she would say that. I stood straight up, grabbed my plate and headed for the stairs. A few minutes later, I heard Mary Ellen scream for me. She wasn't angry. It was my turn to clear the table.