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Column: Girl talk

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"So, where's your husband tonight?" Thus did I innocently inquire of one of the ladies with whom I was serving on some committee. He was usually around. I didn't see him.

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In a voice dripping with disbelief, she replied: "He's home putting my stuff back into the bedroom closet." Hmmm. Gonna have to ask him to voluntarily resign from The Tribe of Guys at the next meeting, either that or it's a cigarette and a blindfold and we shoot him at dawn.

I must have looked puzzled, because she continued: "Can you believe it? I came home this morning from a shopping trip and he had emptied the closet."

Oh. Then it's the firing squad for certain, him cleaning like that. What was he thinking?

Shaking her head, she said: "Guess what he was doing? He said he was going to 'throw away all the stuff I didn't need anymore.'" She went back to what she had been doing, letting out little puffs and snorts. Puff. Snort. It was a crazy world, she was thinking, when a husband could up and willy nilly throw away her stuff.

Firing squad, heck. If she didn't shoot him, we were gonna have to give the guy a medal, a special one. It's called The Medal of Male Bravery with the additional Obviously Insane bar.

With a bit more prodding, she said that he said, after being caught in the act of downsizing not only her closet stuff but likely his matrimonial sleeping arrangements as well, "It was my Christmas present for you, getting rid of all this stuff you never use."

I couldn't help it. I smiled. It's taken me a long time; a long, long time, but evidently I've learned something about the weaker sex. I had immediately spotted behavior that was unacceptable to The Tribe of Girls. Slow, took me this long, but I spotted it.

"Does he drink?" I asked her, thinking this might explain his behavior.

He did not, she said, but if this continued, she was going to take it up.

"So," I asked, not able to quite put this behind me, "what's he getting you for Christmas?" Christmas is the one holiday where guys really show their stuff.

I was in the hardware store one day, several years ago, when a guy came in to return a special bathroom vanity lamp, one with the real daylight bulbs in it.

"What happened, didn't she like it?" I asked.

He seemed puzzled. "She was alright with it at first, but then when I said maybe it would help her put makeup on her wrinkles, she freaked out." Turned out that he thought, when she said the lightning in the bathroom was making her look old, he thought she was hinting for better light.

Fool! Women don't say what they mean, and they don't mean what they say. They mean what they don't say, even when they don't say it, which means that it doesn't mean what you think it should mean.

Women communicate in a code. What makes it even worse is it's a variable code, one that becomes exponentially more complex around holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.

Now that I know a little bit about it, it's scary. Simple comments become complicated messages to be deciphered. A simple statement, such as: "Have you seen the evening newspaper, dear?" can mean any one of several things. My best guess here would be to observe her carefully before you begin decoding. First, you should examine her hair carefully. She may have changed it somehow, either by arranging it differently that day, or by getting it cut in some new and hideous fashion. Even if you don't know which, compliment her hair. You might get lucky.

If she asks about the newspaper, or something equally benign and her hair seems the same as it was yesterday, then you need to examine carefully the other possibilities, such as: Is your underwear lying in the middle of the kitchen floor; or, did the neighbor's wife happen to mention to your wife your latest tractor or riding mower purchase. Let's think - newspaper, newspaper, newspaper -- there's a clue there, you have to find it -- let's see, papers come once a day, they usually have bad news, and pictures. PICTURES! EUREKA! You feel lucky. You say to her: Don't you think it's time we had a Christmas family picture taken?

She hugs you, calls you a genius. You buy yet another riding machine of some sort to celebrate.

Enjoy it while you can.

But leave her closet alone.

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