There's one very big part of being married that we baby boomers never got a chance to pick up from our fathers.

And I'm not talking here about sex, which is something most of our dad's never felt comfortable enough with to discuss either. No, today's epistle is a little more ticklish than all that. Because for many of us, it's quickly becoming a matter of marital survival. I'm referring here to the delicate matter of accompanying the wife to that latter half of the 20th century phenomena known as the Arts & Crafts Show. Of course the reason none of our dads ever got around to sharing talk about the windmill-winged birds and plastic flower-bed bees was mainly because in their less touchy feely generation they didn't have the damn things.

So, I'm about to impart something here that you never heard at home as a kid, and if you wanna save yourself a lot of trouble in your current place of residence and marital circumstance, you'll pick it up while I'm laying it down, fella. Firstly, never, ever let 'em see ya' look at your watch. In fact, I would seriously suggest that if you have a watch, it'd be a really good idea not to wear it on any venture into the Arts & Crafts environment. We're talkin' survival here men. Believe me, your life will go a whole lot smoother if you never give your significant other the slightest impression that you're obviously not interested in her mission to scare up the perfect fake, painted leaf, flower and shrub door garland.

Secondly, if and when you are asked how something looks, smells, tastes or fits, no matter how ridiculous, never, and I mean absolutely never, say the first thing that pops into your head. I know, you're just dying to break out in a fall-down laughing jag, but fight the urge. And, avoiding that, if you're like most of us, the next best choice will usually be something like ''OK'' or ''fine.'' But I implore you to put both of those minimal effort words completely out of reach for the duration. And for God's sake, never buy that old saw about ''Well, of course I want your honest opinion.'' I know they all say it. But when they do few if any of them are really being honest themselves. The real secret to successfully negotiating the Arts & Crafts/Flea Market/Antique minefield, is to put your psyche on automatic pilot. It's a matter of just blocking the whole thing out, not unlike when you're sitting at home with the remote control safely in place on your lap. It is wise, however, to maintain just the proper amount of consciousness in order to chime in with a timely ''yes dear,'' ''of course dear,'' or the always helpful, ''Now there's something you might like!''

Some of the more technically adept of our species have even taken to tape the above or phrases of equally meaningless drivel. I haven't tried it myself. I'm still trying to figure out programming my VCR. You will undoubtedly notice other members of your gender doing much the same thing as yourself at these affairs -- serving a stint in indentured servitude among the quaint, cute and charming.

A word here about the art of observation. Your wife may try and use some of the more docile of these examples to try and make you feel more at home in this hostile environment. But it is best that when casting an eye around the crowd looking for guys you can relate to, be very careful. First, completely disregard all those emasculated souls wearing matching denim shirts and pants, pushing baby strollers and dutifully walking a respectable two-steps to the rear of their obviously bossy wives. They are certainly much younger than we, with kids still small enough to be pushed in those non-motorized mini-vans. These are not men we aging baby boomers can carry on a conversation with, let alone relate to. You'll recognize your fellow inmates in this prison of printers' boxes and personalized door mats. As you pass, you'll notice a flash of something familiar in the other guy's badgered eyes. Just say to yourself, as he most likely is saying to himself, ''Another sucker who couldn't come up with a better excuse to stay home and watch that 400th cable replay of the sixth game of the 1975 World Series.''

The next time you're trying to slide between that woman in a sun dress meant to disguise her less-than-petite figure, perusing a display of miniature lighthouses and the anal retentive, professor-looking character trying to dicker for that portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower fashioned in colored kernels of grain, just take a good look around the crowd. There are brethren everywhere, baseball caps tipped back on their heads in quiet rebellion of the surroundings, healthy ponch protruding over their unstarched blue jeans and never daring to ake eye contact with any of the vendors as they walk aimlessly 10 to 15 feet in front of their wives anxiously looking for the exit. But don't say anything out loud. Just smile and nod, knowing that he too is coping with another of life's little hand-crafted and brightly painted speed bumps.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 30, 2000

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