Our shorthand of shared experience

We all have our standards of best and lousiest meals, vacations, movies, books, house plans, and so forth. For a married couple, these shared standards are the ultimate conversational shortcut.

My husband and I have conversed for days using just a fistful of words. A few key words or phrases, ripe with memory and meaning, easily convey our messages.

For example, while shopping years ago for a fixer-upper, the real estate agent showed us a seriously swaybacked house that was 10 minutes away from collapsing.

"Only problem is the little dipsy doodle in the roof," the agent said.

Today, when my husband grumbles about a little household chore or repair project, I remind him that it could be far worse. "Dipsy doodle," I say, and the four decaying bags of trash get lugged to the curb.

Our benchmark for "bad restaurant" was set the night I ordered a Mexican platter and everything melded into a cheesy collage, including a Band-Aid from a finger of the cook or waitress. I didn't launch a full investigation.

Now when we sample a new restaurant, we don't need a dictionary to describe the experience.

"Better than Band-Aid," one of us will say, which means we stay. "As bad as Band-Aid," also means we stay because we've already ordered, but we won't be coming back for seconds.

Our household standards are continually shifting, although some references are so rock-bottom bad that they linger for years. Our standard for a kid's laziness was set years ago when the youngest balked about taking a bath.

"The soap's too heavy," he whined.

Years later, those choice words efficiently make the point to lazy household members. "Soap too heavy?" I ask. Translation: Get off your lazy duff this minute and get movin'.

Our coldest-day standard was set years ago when we were living in a rental house with gaps between the windows and walls wide enough for a possum to sidle through. As usual, I left some half-full coffee cups littering the kitchen counters. It was so icy in that house that the coffee froze inside the cups.

The words "frozen coffee" remind me immediately of how grateful I am for a house with insulation and a large fuel bill.

Vacations inspire both worst and best standards - the worst traffic jam, sleaziest motel, best chocolate brownie, longest line, most expensive snack. The last was set in a swanky hotel when one of the kids snacked on a pencil-thin beef jerky from the room's mini fridge. The jerky, available for 99 cents atop any convenience store counter, cost $12.

The other night my spouse slumped over his checkbook to pay the Visa bill. "Beef jerky," he mumbled, and I knew immediately that it was an outrageous one.

"I bet that means we're not going out tonight for dinner," I said.

He scoffed. "It'd probably be worse than Band-Aid, anyway."

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