I don’t always shut the garage door when I get home. I always have three TV sets going at the same time when we sit down to dinner. I leave an inch of milk in the container so I don’t have to throw the carton away. My wife says these are bad habits. How judgmental is that? Who’s to say what a good habit is and what a bad habit is? I don’t think you can trust the people you are actually annoying to be objective about this.
After 32 years of marriage, Mary Ellen told me the other day that my whistling was driving her crazy. “How long have you felt this way?” I asked.
“Oh, just the last two or three…decades,” she told me.
“Do I do it all the time?”
“You were doing it under your breath during the movie Les Miserables the other night, which is pretty amazing. I didn’t think a human being could cry and whistle at the same time.”
I denied this was a persistent problem and that it was really nothing more than an outward display of my always sunny disposition. But my wife was adamant. “You’ve whistled our entire marriage — when you are shaving, cleaning up in the basement, driving in the car. Most people don’t like to get up in the morning for their job. Name one other person who whistles on the way to work.”
“I can name seven. Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy… (Nuts, I couldn’t remember all seven.)
To prove my wife was wrong, I called my sister in New York to see if there was a history of whistling in my past. “Linda, do you have any recollection of this when we were growing up?”
“Well, my friends did call our mom Whistler’s Mother.”
I asked Mary Ellen if there were any other habits she had never mentioned.
“You always bounce your right leg. It started on our honeymoon. At first I thought it was some kind of mating ritual. It hasn’t stopped for 32 years. You shake your leg when you watch TV, when you have dinner, when you read the paper, and at restaurants. Sometimes I just want to go into the garage, get a sledge hammer and crush your knee.
“Wow, you’d do that to a guy while he was whistling?”
“You make this little moaning, guttural noise in the bottom of your throat. I used to think it was kind of romantic, but you even do it when you clean out the kitty litter.”
“You open the refrigerator door and stare inside. You don’t take anything out. You don’t put anything in. And then ten minutes later you come back and stare into it again. What are you waiting for?
“For you to go grocery shopping?”
“Dick, it would be great if you simply accepted your bad habits and worked to correct them. A few of them are probably grounds for divorce in many states, but I have come to accept them, you little leg-shaking, whistling, moaner, you. I even accept your slurping soup, drinking out of the milk carton, eating at the kitchen sink, and opening my mail.”
“Gee, if I’m that bad, why have you stayed married to me?”
“Heaven knows. You must be habit forming.”