LOOKING FOR HELP
IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES

    "Letís have a fight," I said to my wife one morning over breakfast.
    "Okay," she replied. "When?"
    "How about a week from Saturday?"
    She took a sip of coffee. "Sounds good. Whom do you want to have over?"
    I shrugged. It didnít matter who we invited for a dinner party. It could be family, it could be business associates, or it could be friends we had known for 20 years. By the end of the night, my wife would be mad at me and we would have a fight.
   The problem, as I see it, is that I have no clue as to why she invariably finds fault with my performance as host. The problem, as she sees it, is that I have no clue.
    Our last dinner party, a couple of months ago, was a prime example. I was determined to avoid any hostilities, so I stood by most of the afternoon and watched her do most of the prep work that is apparently required to make a dinner party a rousing success.
    About every thirty seconds or so, I would politely and enthusiastically ask if there was anything I could do to help. Since she was setting the table, arranging flowers and making some weirdo salad (all tasks for which she had long ago labelled me as incompetent) I knew what her answer would be.
   But I was available, which I thought was important, and in fact she did send me to the store (twice) for the important role of obtaining items that she had somehow forgotten during her two tortuous hours of shopping that morning.
    As our guests arrived, I made sure everyone had drinks (thatís my job) and then happily started the barbecue and, in true Tom Sawyer tradition, found one of the guests who is a far better barbecuer than me to actually do the barbecuing (thatís my job).
   As always, the party was tons of fun and everyone went home with their tummies full of good food and their hearts brimming with good cheer. And as always, my wife was mad at me.
   Apparently, the stress level for throwing parties varies from person to person. For me, itís zero. For my wife, itís, shall we say, quite higher. While she has as good a time as anyone else, thereís something I donít understand bubbling right beneath the service.
    "I canít believe you just sat there while Jim and I cleared all the dishes," she muttered after the last guest left. "If you want to have a dinner party, youíve got to help more."
   Naturally, I jumped to my own defense. I had busted my butt asking her if there was anything I could do to help, and while I admit I never did end up doing much, at least my heart was in the right place.
   And I did do some things, like making certain the conversation didnít drag, and I laughed at a lot of not-that-funny lines, and I was solely responsible for finding a far superior barbecuer. But I guess that wasnít enough for Ms. Party Girl.
   So we had a little skirmish, and my wife vowed not to have any more dinner parties unless I was going to help more.
   Since sheís said this for the 25 years Iíve known her, I wasnít too worried. And sure enough, when I suggested this latest party, she readily agreed.
   "Do you think we can get through this one without you getting mad at me," I asked.
   "Will you try and be some help this time?" she replied.
   I gave it some thought. At the last party, I had asked her if she needed help about 327 times. She had said no about 323 times. Obviously, out of those 323, there were about three or four times when she said no, but she meant yes.
   I thought about my chances of guessing right on those three or four times, thereby turning her resentment into praise.
    "Iíll make you proud," I lied.
 

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