Recently, Jan had to go out of town to take care of a sister or somebody. She left carefully detailed instructions—an entire manual, in fact—in the desperate hope of having a functioning household and husband when she returned.
Her user-friendly guide was remarkably thorough:
- Take your pills. For those of you of tender years, something to swallow: There is nothing currently wrong with you that an expensive medication can’t prolong. As insurance companies have gone to war with surgeons, they have enlisted the Pharmaceutical Brotherhood as allies, and few of us will escape colorful piles of capsules and tablets as the starter course of every meal. (Proof of this is the disappearance of shag carpeting, the final resting place for many pills in the 80s.) Note: Meds often do not work when taken randomly, which is why the first volume of my directives concerned where to find, how to recognize and when and how to ingest my prescriptions in order to keep the multiple side effects operational.
- Let the dog in and out frequently. Above all, if you let him in N times, make sure you push him out N 1 times. When Jan is gone, our canine tends to panic and despondently search for her, as if he might perish from hunger or lack of baby talk at any moment.
- Forage for nourishment. Knowing full well I would find a reason to be gone over the lunch hour to obtain vitally needed farm supplies from a vendor next to Long John Silver’s or Panda Express, she concentrated her battle plan on breakfast and supper with several longish chapters.
- Breakfast is, as we all know, the most self-important meal of the day. Luckily, Jan and I have reduced it to an unvarying ritual that requires little thought. Heck, it doesn’t even require full consciousness. My repast: one glass of orange juice with more than none but less than lots of pulp; one container of one of three acceptable flavors of a particular brand of light yogurt (extreme caution must be taken to prevent cross contamination with Jan’s completely different varieties to avoid a repeat of the Coconut Cream near-poisoning I was once traumatized by); one cinnamon-raisin bagel toasted for approximately 45 minutes with enough butter to bake several dozen cookies; one cup of half-decaf coffee in my special mug made by my grandchildren. We have discovered even the tiniest variation in this regimen can call down the same dire consequences formerly attributed to chain-letter interruption.
- Supper will take some preparation. Several chapters were dedicated to identifying the ingredients or frozen consumables, revitalizing them to edibility, locating necessary tools while diverting my attention from those beyond my pay scale and restoring a semblance of hygiene and order to the crime scene (without resorting to shop tools). These proved enlightening as well as practical. I can now speak with authority about what ramekins, cruets and garlic presses have in common: They are all “Things I Must Not Touch.”
- Consume enough calories to function normally. The text was silent on where I was to eat and with what utensils, inasmuch as Jan has made her peace with my effective habit of converting all foodstuffs into sandwiches eaten over the sink. She also yields to my persistent use of the plastic plates with raised lips we have for our grandchildren. All in all, while it was a close call, I made it (by my standards).
- Secure the household at bedtime. Examples included turning off all TVs and as many lights as I could possibly manage, closing and possibly locking exterior doors, and most importantly, rooting out the dog from ingenious hiding places used to avoid expulsion.
Thanks to attention to detail and forward thinking, her absence was not the same fiasco we have unfortunately experienced on similar occasions. While I take no special credit, I did read and follow the instructions and, surprisingly, did not lose them.
I survived, but still, it was one of the longest days of my life.