The other day, she called to me from the kitchen and I didn’t answer.
That night we had a quiet dinner. Quiet like dining in a cemetery quiet, where your wife never speaks above a whisper and refers to you in the past tense.
Over dessert, she accused me of not caring about her nearly being attacked by a spider the size of a pregnant schnauzer.
“That’s why I called you,” she said. “I know you heard me. You just didn’t care.”
“What?” I said. (I don’t care. I think it was a clever ad lib.)
“I even called you by name.”
When your wife —- in a whisper and using the past tense —- says that she called you by name, you have to be careful not to break the quiet by saying something you’ll regret.
Which, until now, was any combination of vowels and consonants. Fortunately, after two weeks intense googling, I found the safe response.
According to some very serious research reported in the very serious Wall Street Journal (SLOGAN: We Give You the Business), there is a rational explanation for what happened.
“Honey,” you can say, “I must have been channeling my inner cat.”
Do not be upset if there is more silence. View it as an opportunity to demonstrate your grasp of modern behavioral science.
Tell her, “According to a serious study at the University of Oregon, cats know when you’re calling them. Their response, however, is very subtle.”
“Subtle, like what?” your wife will probably say.
Explain how scientists took cats and played them recordings of four spoken nouns followed by the their names. (Nouns were used because cats, not unlike most college students, are verb-challenged.)
When cats heard their own names they twitched their ears.
I think it’s safe to say that you don’t get a more positive result in a scientific experiment since Alfred Nobel lit a match and said, “I wonder if this stuff burns?”
Probably the most important part of the study, certainly the one most worth citing, is that after hearing their names the cats didn’t move. The scientists in Oregon concluded that cats recognize when they’re being addressed and demonstrate their recognition by going back to sleep.
Your wife may find this hard to accept, but that’s normal. She probably comes from a world in which sentient beings respond to sounds with physical actions. (PROOF: Try sneaking up behind a stranger and yelling “This is a stick up.”)
If your wife doesn’t point out that a cold and uncaring response is what you get from a dead goldfish you’ve passed the first major hurdle. Remind her that the people who reached this conclusion —- that by not responding the cats demonstrated their total engagement —- were objective scientists.
Skip the point that they also admitted they were dedicated cat owners.
Also skip the part about how most cats’ names are nouns and it’s possible that the cats thought they were being told a joke —- five cats walk into a research lab —- and were politely waiting for the punch line before responding.
(SCIENTIFIC NOTE: Be careful with this explanation, because it assumes cats have social skills that, unlike Brigadoon, appear more often than once a century.)
“So you see,” you tell your wife, “what I don’t do is important as what I do do.” Try not to show surprise if she agrees.
It could be all your wife heard was “do-do.”
Also, hope your wife doesn’t ask you if this kind of scientific nonsense has anything to do with why people don’t believe in climate change.
If she does, urge her to substitute “government-funded research” in place of “nonsense.”
In my case, my wife was willing to accept the scientific explanation that my ignoring her was an indication that I cared.
Not that she said so out loud.
She’s more of a demonstrative person.
On the bright side, I’ve learned that making pasta is not as easy as it looks, even if you do it every night; that there are things living under the bed you’ll never see in a Disney nature film; and that it’s possible for me to write and do the dishes at the same time, although it takes a while for the paper towels to dry before I can edit them.
By the way, if the topic comes up, two cups of laundry bleach is too much. By a lot.
I also learned my wife is damn good at twitching her ear.
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