The Dishwasher Incident

Image: Cover art for The Feral Chicken of Clayton (and other essays)

(Author’s Note: I am re-publishing all of my past writings here on the new This essay is several years old and refers to my very patient and forgiving ex-wife. Enjoy.)

I CLEARLY REMEMBER the first episode in my marriage that caused dissent between my wife and myself. It was in the spring, perhaps a month or two after our blessed union, that we were in the process of cleaning the kitchen after an evening meal. I was clearing and cleaning, my beloved was rinsing and loading. After a few minutes, I began to notice certain difficulties with my wife’s method of loading the dishwasher. It became apparent to me that the entirety of the night’s dishes would not be accommodated by the limited space afforded.

Somewhere, floating in the dark recesses of my mind, is a list. This list contains the many things that I find slightly annoying, mildly irritating, and extremely bothersome. I became suddenly aware that the inefficient loading of a dishwasher was on the ‘slightly annoying’ part of the list. Being the wise and thoughtful fellow that I am, I waited until my wife had completed her activities, then made my way over to the dishwasher, and calmly analyzed the situation.

“Hmmm. If I move the plates to the rear of the lower rack, and the sauté pan to the left, I could get the cheese grater in next to the mixing bowl.” I let my actions follow my thoughts, and by a limited amount of trial and error, I slowly began to get the few dishes that remained in the sink into the washer. I also noticed, in passing, that several of the items contained within the washer were not placed in an optimum position for cleaning. The up sides of the plates were not facing the area of water flow, etc. I corrected these deficiencies as I went.

What I had not noticed, unfortunately, was that I had fallen under the curious and watchful eye of my wife. She calmly observed my fluid movements. Although she seemed to grasp the nature of my actions, my motivations must have been unclear, for a line of inquiry sprang up quickly.

Wife: “What are you doing?”

Myself: “Hm?” (the sound of my concentration being broken) “Oh!” (realizing there was a question) “I’m just rearranging the dishwasher a bit. You didn’t get everything in.”

Wife: “I can see that. What’s wrong with the way I put the dishes in?”

Myself: “Well, you didn’t get all the dishes in.” (This seemed odd – didn’t I just say that?)

Wife: “Stop that.”

I had not ceased in my loading after the initial pause to make adjustments for reloading a dishwasher and carrying on a conversation. After being told to stop, however, I became suddenly more earnest in my efforts to finish. My wife, realizing quickly that I was not stopping, as she had requested, interjected more forcefully, as well as changing tactics slightly, to force me into losing concentration.

Wife: “So what you’re saying is, I can’t load a dishwasher?”

This slowed me, but I was determined not to halt in my progress, for I could see that victory was within my grasp. However, this proved unwise, as the taxation upon my faculties began to show in my judgment.

Myself: “Well, um, you could get all the dishes in, if you just play with it a little. It’s like a puzzle, see? Also, these plates were in backwards.”

My wife, wishing for clarity above all, reiterated her question, in the form of a statement.

Wife: “So what you’re saying is, I can’t load a dishwasher.”

Within every man’s brain, there is a system of alarms that are designed to go off in any situation that would place the man in danger. When you walk on railroad tracks, it tells you, “Get off the tracks.” When your neighbor’s pretty young wife locks herself out of her apartment in her underwear, and comes to your apartment, asking to use your phone, the alarm goes off, telling you, “This looks bad.” (you let her in, of course, because a bigger part of your brain says ‘This looks very good’) When my wife made the above statement, my alarm went off like a fire alarm. It said “You’re being very Stupid.” It said this in big red letters, and, if memory serves, had particular emphasis on the last word – STUUUPID!

I began immediate damage control, but I had little hope.

“No! (alarmed) You did a fine job! I just – I just wanted to – Um, I just wanted to – Save you from having to do the leftover dishes by hand!” I followed this with a weak smile, and an apologetic look, much like a dog who had erred grievously.

My wife then delivered upon me a fine and patient course of instruction on how insensitive it was to undo what she had done, and pointed out that in a reverse situation, how insulting it would be to have your efforts redone. Rather, she said, I should be accepting of her methods, different though they may be, for no one way of action was truly correct.

I do not know what demon was sitting on my shoulder at that moment. I know I meant to say, “You’re right. I’m sorry. ” But I did not. Instead, this devil whispered the worst possible thing I could have said into my ear, and I repeated it. I said:

“But I got all the dishes in.”

The ensuing scene is somewhat vague in my recollections, much as the memory of persons who have been in traumatic accidents. I recall that I finished cleaning the kitchen alone, but little else. A later evaluation of the Dishwasher Incident, as it became known, showed that no real harm was done, except for some slightly bruised egos. My wife went on to the further assessment that I wished to assume the title of Head Dishwasher Loader, though I do not believe that was my intent. Nevertheless, it is a duty that I take seriously, and to this day, one I fulfill in silent appreciation of the knowledge I gained that night.

~Joe Komenda

[Chapter 1 of The Feral Chicken of Clayton (and other essays)]

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