Sunday, January 11, 2009


Seeing Housework Through Male Eyes

When designating duties, the most important thing to consider is not talent, or even experience. The most important criteria are all of the following:

1) The person you assign should not be pregnant.

During the first trimester of pregnancy, for example, my wife spent virtually all of her time sleeping, working and lying on the couch complaining of morning sickness. Things have changed for the second trimester, however, in that she now spends all of her time working, sleeping and lying on the couch complaining of back pain.

But pregnancy is a hard time for the husband too, and the worst part is not the financial responsibility that’s coming, nor the emotional responsibility that’s already arrived: It’s the housework.

From the moment my wife’s stomach turned against her – both inside and out – I noticed a particular tend every Friday, the first day of my weekend. On those days, at a time when so many budgets are now in the red, the currencies of dirty dishes, unwashed laundry and plastic bottles were turning surpluses. These situations couldn’t be addressed before Friday, because I always come home from work late and because my wife is to busy a) lying on the couch and b) groaning.

There are many duties to be performed on Fridays, when I’m home and she’s not, but what she always asks Thursday night is for me to vacuum the floor. It’s not that this is a more important task than the laundry or taking out the trash, it’s just the one I’m least likely to do without her asking.

Vacuuming has long been my least favorite chore, not because it’s the hardest, but because I find the least benefit in doing it. Some have attributed this to a condition called Male Eyes, in which men can’t see the individual specks of dirt on a carpet. This is a fallacy, however: Male Eyes doesn’t inhibit us from seeing them, but it does prevent us from seeing their significance. As far as we’re concerned, if we have no guests coming over, a few extra specks give the floor flavor.

In order for me to actually care about a foreign substance on the carpet, it would need to be a) a few inches in diameter and b) bright yellow or purple, in which case vacuuming would do no good.

Still, I do eventually manage to muster the energy required to overcome my apathy, and set the vacuum to work. After testing it to make sure it’s actually picking stuff up, I give every inch of the kitchen, bedroom and living room floor a thorough sweep, making sure to have picked up every visible shred of dirt, paper or plastic. After looking over my handiwork, I put the vacuum away, and only then do I unfailing notice some now clearly visible specks of foreign substance in an area I’m rather positive I vacuumed.

Apparently, these specks are utilizing some manner of high-tech cloaking device which they don’t turn off until I’ve put the vacuum away. I’d bring it back out again, but I feel their ingenuity should be rewarded.

Next comes taking out the trash. In Korea, recycling is more than a platitude everyone appreciates but most feel inconvenienced by. Here, it’s a law that everyone appreciates but most feel painfully inconvenienced by. In our home, there are three separate bins: One for paper products, of which there are a lot; one for cans, of which there are a few; and one for plastic things, of which there are so many that it more than compensates for any deficiency in cans.

My task is to carry all three boxes to the elevator, hope it isn’t crowded, go to the first floor and leave them in the appropriate bins. The three boxes are not large, but while carrying all three the plastic bottles, content in their present form and opposed to being recycled, have been known to attempt escape.

“How do just two people ever acquire so many bottles in one week?” I ponder aloud. Soon, the combined effort of lifting the garbage and such contemplation leaves me very thirsty. “I sure could go for a whitish liquid that’s high in calcium and has a convenient, unscrewable plastic top,” I state aloud.

No closer to answering my original query, I begin the laundry. Since Korean households regard drying machines a luxury nearly equivalent to owning one’s own MLB franchise, most of us hang our clothes on a rack to dry. The first part of this task – carrying whatever washed load has been sitting in the laundry machine (probably since last weekend) – is the hardest part.

After that, one need only put more of them (after separating by colors, if one feels particularly vigorous) in the machine and turn it on. Soon, you’re well on your way to having more clean clothes.

Well, maybe. Recently, my wife, while commending my efforts at washing, hanging and folding our garments, pointed out that many of them were now covered with tiny specks of tissue paper. This coincided with the Korean winter, which isn’t that cold compared to, say, Neptune, but does prompt a surge in the sales of pocket-sized tissue packets.

“Next time, can you search your pockets before you do laundry?” she asks. I suppose I should feel chastened, but I can only reflect on the times before my married life began, when I was always forgetting that my dirty pants had ink pens in them.

That, I suppose, is progress brought on by experience.

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