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When the wife is away, men bring disarray

December 10, 2008

I'm not proud of this situation, which occurs every time I'm left alone for a few days. You can say it's just a guy thing, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's something more.

I don't know whether women are aware of the phenomenon, although they may have their suspicions as well.

It goes like this: Female types leave the house for a couple days on business or to visit the parents and when they return the house is basically as they left it - maybe a little less tidy here and there, but essentially in livable condition.

What they don't see, is that up to 30 seconds before they walk through the door, the man is frantically scrambling to clean up the landfill-like conditions he has created in her absence.

He will be frantically doing a pile of dishes, fishing mountains of ick out of the catbox, vacuuming up pounds of Dorito crumbs, wiping an inch of cheese spread off the counter, racing pizza boxes out to the trash, jamming a mountain of floor-strewn clothes into the hamper, trying to figure out how to make a bed and shooing rats out of the kitchen with a broom to the calls of "Git, you rascal!"

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So when she arrives at the door, the house looks decent, when a half hour before it could have best been described as a Superfund site.

The problem we males - not counting a few stray male neatnicks - have is that we are not trying to make a mess. The mess just sprouts the moment her car leaves the driveway and continues to grow at a rate that's roughly equal to tropical bamboo.

This rate, I believe, is disproportional to our native slothfulness. Yes, we may be a pig, but not that much of a pig. This leads me to believe there are other forces at work. Maybe it can be expressed in some physics equation that's an offshoot of chaos theory. Maybe it's a parallel mess imported through a vortex from some other universe. Maybe there is some little known band of Slop Elves that visit male-occupied residences unbeckoned.

Whatever, I hate that frantic, last-minute cleanup I'm always left with, and this time I was determined not to let the situation recur. As Beth was taking off for Denver, I took some serious precautions.

I fed the dogs outside. I nailed down the corners of the bed and slept on top of the covers. I didn't eat for three days. I didn't even make coffee. I put the catbox in the dishwasher. I didn't change clothes. I covered the living room furniture with a tarp, much like those summer homes that people are leaving for the season. I stored the shower curtain in a vat of Clorox. For three days, I did not pick up a single newspaper or magazine or any other paper product that could be accidentally tossed in some out-of-place locale. I put plywood over the stove, a reminder not to even think about cooking anything.

In fact, I did everything except spend those three days in a hotel.

It didn't matter. Two minutes after we'd said goodbye and she had pulled onto the highway, the place was an absolute wreck.

How did this happen? I honestly have no idea. All the precautions were for nothing. That's why I suspect other forces are at work. It's as if the male aura is some kind of houseware magnet that pulls pots out of cupboards and afghans off of sofas. So I give up.

All I can do is hope that women everywhere will consider this as part of our charm.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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