Corrective bargaining

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''Thanks, Dad,'' said my 14-year-old son, beaming. ''I can sure use the extra money now that I'm in high school.'' I locked the cashbox containing emergency funds just as my wife entered the den. ''Did I hear you give your son an allowance increase?'' she asked, hanging a window shade she had painstakingly repaired.

''Yes,'' I replied, pocketing the cashbox key. ''He's promised to make his bed every morning and wash the car once a month. I felt such initiative deserved some financial consideration.''

''I'm glad to hear that,'' said my wife, retreating from the den. ''By the way, I fixed your typewriter table so it won't collapse on you anymore.''

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''There appears to be very little you can't do around here,'' I said, suddenly realizing I might have opened a can of worms.

A half hour later my wife and son entered the den. The ninth-grader was nattily attired, replete with red vest and his grandfather's gold watch and chain. His mother sat down on the couch to peel some apples.

''Dad,'' began my son, tucking his thumbs into his vest pockets, ''I've been hired by your wife to act as her agent in negotiating a new household budget contract and to . . . .''

''You're joking,'' I interrupted, picking up the cashbox. ''Your mother . . . my wife, receives adequate funds to run this household.''

''May I point out that my client has not received a single cost-of-living increase in the past five years,'' the red-vested agent reminded me, extending a forefinger in my face. ''Furthermore, her responsibilities have increased tenfold during this period without any appropriate compensation.''

I clenched the cashbox key in my pocket. ''Well, aside from the usual wifely duties, would you care to elaborate?''

''Certainly,'' agreed the straw-blond adviser, flipping pages of his note pad. ''Here's a list of some of this past summer's unwifely accomplishments: driveway repaved; rear of house sanded and painted; attic cleared out; cellar walls waterproofed; backyard trees pruned; basement stairs carpeted. . . .''

I raised my right hand. ''That's quite enough. What sort of increase does your client have in mind?''

''Well, on the basis that a housewife's labor is worth today about $7 an hour , and my client often puts in a 12- to 15-hour day . . . .''

''Get to the specifics, please,'' I demanded impatiently.

''All right. We're asking for a flat 10 percent increase over the next five years,'' the agent said, winking aside to the apple peeler.

''Unacceptable!'' I countered, hugging the cash reserve protectively. ''You inform your client that from now on I'll tackle all unwifely chores.''

My son leaned forward to whisper something to his aproned client. ''We'd like to caucus for a few minutes, Dad,'' my son requested, ceremoniously noting the hour on his scrolled, 18-carat timepiece.

''There will be no further concessions!'' I warned after their departure, unlocking the metal box to check whether it could accommodate a token gift for unwifely services rendered over the past five years.

Ten minutes later the negotiators returned. The agent cleared the typewriter table. ''I have drawn up a contract for you to sign, sir, which states that if you agree to remove all the wallpaper from the living-dining room area within 30 days, my client will forgo all cost-of-living budget increases for one year.''

I balked at grasping the proffered pen. ''Have you considered the IRS as a lifetime calling?''

My jubilant son handed the signed contract to his grateful client. ''Here you are, madam, signed, sealed, and delivered. When will my fee be ready?''

''In about 20 minutes,'' replied my victorious spouse, as the delicious aroma of a baking apple pie encircled the den.

I opened the cashbox. ''Do you think this $50 bill might buy me a piece of the action?''

''Maybe,'' she replied. ''Let me check with my agent. . . .''

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