In our family, my wife wears the tool belt

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I know zilch about mechanical things, but my wife has an affinity for the supposedly male realm of "do it yourself." But when we go to a hardware store or home-supply warehouse, it never fails: The guy behind the counter always tries to talk exclusively to me.

My wife will say, "I need some weather stripping...," and the clerk will nod, then swing toward me like a baby bird looking for dinner. "What do you need it for?" he'll ask. Since I didn't even realize we needed weather stripping, I can't contribute much. But he peers into my uncooperative eyes, waiting for an answer.

I've tried several strategies. The first seemed obvious. "I don't know anything about this stuff!" I'd say cheerfully. "You'll have to talk to her." Sometimes I'd even have to point directly at my spouse.

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"Ah," the guy would say, turning to her and repeating, "What do you need it for?" (Some, I swear, even say it a little more slowly.) "I want to seal my garage doors, to keep the rain out," my wife will answer. But like iron to magnet, sunflower to sun, he will turn again to me. "So we're talking weather stripping...."

We're back where we started.

So then I tried standing there without saying anything. But this was just too hard on the guys. As I waited out the awkward silence, they'd try to look at her, but their heads kept snapping back to me, as if their necks were rigged with big rubber bands. Sometimes I almost felt sorry for them - they acted confused, like a dog who sees another dog on TV.

At times I'd even start that old comedy bit, nodding my head in my wife's direction, rolling my eyes toward her, maybe pointing at her behind my other hand.

But no.

So my strategy evolved. I'd pretend to look at other things in the store - but then I seemed to be an expert checking out the merchandise, so I was still the one to address. For a while I'd walk up to the counter and turn my back once my wife began to speak. But, as she told me later, they kept looking desperately at the back of my head.

More than once I was ready to grab a shirt front and growl, "TALK - TO - HER!" Or yell, "Didn't anybody see Marisa Tomei in 'My Cousin Vinny'?" My wife fantasized about taking hold of the man's jaw and turning his face toward her - or chanting the kindergarten teacher's rhyme: "One, two, three - eyes on me!"

We gave up our little campaign for social change. Now when we walk into one of those places, she says to me - sometimes a bit curtly - "You just go look around!" But I don't mind.

So I idly inspect the hammers and drill bits, then wait for her near the cash registers. Last time there was another guy waiting, too.

"What dud you come for?" he asked.

Was he another Tim Allen fan? Or might he be a secret know-nothing like me?

I couldn't take that chance.

"Bit of weather stripping," I said in a knowing voice. "You know - seal those garage doors...."

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