THE DIVINE MRS. M. went with a friend to have something done to their feet the other day. It was a Saturday afternoon, about one o'clock, and I was downstairs reading the obituaries and watching our sons build things and destroy them. (I love the obits; they're like tiny biographies of regular people, and are frequently touching.) She stuck her head down the stairs and said, "Susie just called and asked if I wanted to get a pedicure. Can Paul bring the kids by, and the two of you can watch them all together? It'll be fun. Okay?"
I think this is what is commonly known in the political trade as plausible deniability. At some future congressional hearing, or in a court of law, or at The Hague, she can always say, "But I asked you first, honey. Remember?" (By the way, I have no idea where The Hague is, but since it's always capitalized, I assume it's a city, or a zone, or a nightclub; additionally, it can only be called sloppy thinking to have anything involved with international law rhyme with "vague.")
But every woman knows that springing something on her husband like this is akin to the school bully saying, "I'm going to take your lunch money now. Okay?" It's going to happen with or without your consent, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.
When it comes to quick decision-making around the house, married men can best be described as dullards, and this is charitable. To ask a fast, three-part question is over-taxing a weak machine. Susie called about this, and Paul's going to do that, and everything is fine, and you'll be very happy . . . What husband ever does more than turn slowly, breath heavily, smile like an opium-eater, and mumble, "Wh--what?" (With pathological optimism, every man translates whatever his wife says as, "If you go along with things, maybe later I'll let you touch me." This is generally ill-founded.)
In any case, it's axiomatic that 25 minutes later she was gone like the dinosaurs, and Paul and I were dumbly handing a mountain of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to a bunch of boys who had long since abandoned their desire for food in favor of a far more nourishing buffet: running and screaming. We trudged back upstairs, sat down, silently munched a poorly-made wad from the platters in front of us, and then turned to each other in mid-chew, saying, "What just happened?" Neither of us knew, so we returned to working the torn, lumpy bread and sighed, each man giddily imagining the endless horizon of custodial "fun" over which he was poised.
Three-or-so hours later, the Duchess and the Baroness strolled back in yakking, which was natural enough, since they had only finished a third of the non-stop conversation begun when they'd left. They came downstairs to check the kids, and immediately hit the ceiling, which I thought was unwarranted, given that a very solid 80 percent of them were still alive. That's a good stat, and I don't care where you're from.
OKAY, things were a little messy. The den looked like a combination potato chip, Lego, and pillow-stuffing factory, which, for all I know, it may actually be. Yes, there was some blood, but not a lot, and most of it was smeared on brown furniture, anyway. Paul and I had let the chariot reins slacken a little, and were in the bar (only one room removed) on our second beer. Well, his second, my fourth, whatever. The more important thing by far was that we hadn't made the move to whiskey. After all, that would be irresponsible.
The women looked at us, we looked at them, and several seconds passed silently, which, if you took away the fear and hate in the air, would normally make the start of a good Penthouse letter. But they had bigger fish to fry, or at least bigger feet, so to speak. They smiled broadly, bent a knee, and said, "Well? What do you think? Susie got the baby blue, and I got the candy-apple red."
It's difficult to know what to say at a moment like that. Actually, it's easy to know, it's just difficult to do, especially when one of you has made the move to whiskey. (See if you can guess which one.) What we should've said is, "Girls, you look great. I've never seen prettier feet in my life, and we're glad you went. We insist you do it every week."
But that's not what came out. Instead, when my wife said, "Do you love the colors?" I said, "On a '64 Mustang? What man wouldn't?"
THERE WAS ANOTHER PAUSE NOW, during which the ladies tried to decide whether I had actually said that, or if it could've been just an auditory hallucination. At the same time, Paul whipped his head around and whispered, "Please don't."
Ah, but the Count of Monte Sarcasm was out of the tower and off of the island, and would certainly have danced a jig around the room, had not all four of us been saved by the oddest thing.
Paul and I leaned forward, blinked in puzzlement, and said, "What's wrong with your eyebrows?"
And Schmeling is down! It's over, it's over, it's all over!
"Nothing," they mumbled, but we could see that there was, even through the naturally gloomy and oppressive lighting I insist on in The Nineteenth Hole. (The name I call our bar in the house; sometimes I call it The Eleventh Frame, sometimes The Eighteenth Amendment, or The Eleventh Commandment. You get the idea.) Yes, no question about it, there was something wrong with their eyebrows.
For one thing, they were gone.
NOW, I'm not one to quibble about my wife's grooming habits, because I love her, it's her face, and anything she wants to do is okay with me. Within reason. I know women like to try this and that, but the plain fact is, if I never say, "Gee, I think I'd rather you didn't," The Divine Mrs. M. has sometimes begun coming up with unsubtle ideas, which is fine if you're in the cast of Hairspray, but can be less desirable in someone you would eventually like to kiss. I would be mortified to tell you some of the things she's thought of, and not just for herself. She talked me into trying a salt massage in a hotel once. She booked me an hour in the health club with a muscular guy, and exactly one minute in, he said, "You feel a little tense. Anything in particular you want?" And I said, "Yeah. What's it cost me for you to stop now?" Ten seconds later and 20 beans lighter, I was showering off the salt and walking back to the room. Turns out I guess she was right, since I felt infinitely better.
But in addition to having a structural function on the face, I think a woman's eyebrows are pretty, and these two had shaved theirs off. In their place were four high, arched, dark, curved, colored . . . lines. My wife is a natural redhead with light, freckled skin, the kind usually called English or Irish skin depending, one assumes, on whether you're English or Irish. Susie is a blond, and they both have blue eyes.
However, the new brows not only gave them both an unchangeable expression of surprise, but made them look like the two toughest manicurists in Sicily in 1958.
"Okay," my wife said, "We made a mistake. It's not that bad, is it?"
Even the normally diplomatic Paul said, "Yeah, actually, it is." For once I kept my mouth shut, but only because I was glazed with horror. I must've looked like Ricky Ricardo when he walked in on Lucy's incorrectly-mixed biscuits yeasting themselves out of the oven.
"Don't worry," she said, "It's temporary and comes right off. It's a girlie thing, okay? They wash off in two days. A couple of showers."
A week later I was watching her bath one of the kids and suddenly looked closer through the curls of water. "Uh, honey, I don't think the eyebrows are giving up the fight."
"I know," she said, rolling her eyes in good cheer and sweetness. "I think they--Oh, honey, do me a favor, and hand me the washcloth?"
A WEEK AFTER THAT we were having a spirited chat about how my letting the oldest sneak out of bed to watch The Wild Bunch with me had just undermined her authority, when I said, "Wait a minute. Those eyebrows haven't budged. In fact, I think they're getting darker. What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she said, "It just takes a little bit, like I told you."
And it might have ended just like that. I might not have noticed a thing, except that she made a giant mistake that gave her clever little game away, something I knew she never would have done except in a moment of panic and desperation.
She kissed me. Then she said she thought she might have a drink, and did I want her to make one for me? Then she used this momentum to glide out of the room with a sweet smile.
She never does any of these things.
Oh, the fox! The coyote! The panther! I followed her downstairs, and she actually tried to walk around me by seven feet. A wide berth, even in a house covered with toys.
"Okay, what's wrong with your eyebrows?"
"It's going to take a few months, but it's not a big deal."
"You said two days."
"You didn't like them, and I didn't want you to get upset."
I thought about this next one for a second. "You lied."
"I didn't want you to get upset."
"So you said. Do I get to go out with an actress and lie about it, because I don't want you to get upset?"
"Don't be stupid, it's not the same thing."
"I know, I just like to bring it up every few years."
"Wives get to tell white lies sometimes, when they know it'll help the family."
I had another nifty wisecrack loaded, but she pressed the amber restorative into my hand, turned back into the bar and said, "Hey, feel like making a fire? Come on, we'll watch it from the couch."
Hmm. If this works out, she can tattoo them green next time.
Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.