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What to say -- then where to hide

This is the season when everybody overeats, even the terminally comatose.

As a result of repeated calorie surges, Christmas gifts of clothing, and celebratory social gatherings, men face an elevated risk of being asked the second-most dangerous question: "Do these pants make my butt look fat?" The first worst is "Honey, are you still awake? (Pause, two, three, four, silence) 'cuz I need to talk to you about your daughter.")

The following scenarios do not depict the speech or actions of any real person, living or dead, especially dead, because it would be really creepy if dead people talked at all. Nor, and I emphasize this both because it's true, and out of abject fear for my life, does this in any way reflect the disposition of my own spouse, who is kind, thoughtful, considerate, makes her own clothes, and sometimes even gets up while I'm asleep in the middle of the night to vacuum the rug in the adjacent room, knowing how much I dislike loud noises while I'm trying to watch TV.

No, this is all a quasi-humorous contrivance intended solely for the sake of amusement, subtly exaggerating common foibles which we all encounter and/or manifest during the course of a typical day of marital bliss.

When our wives speak to us out loud, which is almost always the way they speak, except when they're counting to ten under their breath, we dudes can often maintain the illusion of paying attention by waiting a few minutes until they pause to take a breath, then interjecting "Mm-hm" or "You got that right" or "Well, duh! What did she expect?"

Responding to a yes-or-no question can be more problematic, as you will either be required to lie (not that there's anything wrong with that), or to give an honest answer which could result in serious injury. To you, not to her. I'm talking injured body parts, not "feelings."

You might be able to pretend that the question was an open-ended inquiry, rather than a simple "yes" or "no" proposition. This allows some latitude to answer in a manner that best accommodates your wife's current mood, which typically ranges from feigned indifference or sneering disdain, to open hostility.

It can be hard to improvise, right on the spot, an acceptable answer to the dreaded question.

Smart guys will become familiar with a range of prefabricated answers that can be adapted to fit almost any fat-butt query.

* The pants have nothing to do with it.

* Not those pants, specifically.

* Define "fat."

* I'd rather not say.

* I'd rather not look.

* Please don't ask me that.

* Please don't make me answer that.

* Compared to what?

* Well, at least they cover it up.

* Those pants could make anybody look fat.

* Have you tried just lacing them up?

* Maybe you could just let them out a bit ...

* It's just the light.

* Well, they come in larger sizes, don't they?

* Hey, relax, nobody wants to look at your butt.

* Not exactly, but tides do form in the bathtub when you step in.

* Not as much as your dresses do, honey.

* No. Ha ha ha ha ha ha! OK, maybe a little.

* Not fat, exactly.

* It's OK, you're still the girl I married -- and then some.

* Not as fat as your mother's.

* Look, having a kid will do that to any woman.

* Just ignore it. Do you know how much liposuction costs?!

* It's nothing that would show in a dimly-lit barroom. Interested?

* I think you're beautiful no matter how large your butt gets.

* I'm not saying your butt is big, but it's being orbited by a cookie and two apples.

* It's not your fault, it's mostly the pants.

* Fat is just a state of mind.

* They make those pants with gaunt people in mind.

* It doesn't matter -- you still have a beautiful face.

* In some cultures, that would be considered a major asset. Get it? A major ass-et? Boo-yah!

* I've heard that bulbous is the new petite.

* Have you considered a mu-mu?

* Not compared to Rosie O'Donnell's.

* It would look great in IMAX.

At this point, you have several options:

* Stop, drop, and roll.

* Assume a fetal position and cover your groin with your hands.

* Duck. Dodge. Duck again.

* Quickly get down on all fours, bark like a puppy, and look up with doleful eyes.

* Feign a seizure.

* Lock yourself in the bathroom.

* Edge carefully toward the back door, avoiding eye-contact.

* Inconspicuously call 911 on your cellphone.

* Pray -- to all the gods you can remember, just to be safe.

* Crouch behind the couch.

* Develop a nosebleed.

* Look out the window and say "oh, look, your parents are here."

* Rapidly update your will.

Like many aspects of married life, awkward questions and inadequate replies can be managed successfully, "success" in this instance being defined as "surviving until tomorrow morning."

And don't forget, when you're fleeing on your bike at night, wear white.

Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family physician who grew up in Stockton and now lives outside Hays. hauxwell@ruraltel.net