Like so many of the other successful guys here in our fabulous little dream town of West Palm Beach, I try to think positively, so when I arrived home from the ax factory one day, and MerryBelle—that pert and perky better half of mine, who’d always been about as comfy and malleable as an old shoe—announced that she had accepted the position of State Corrections Commissioner and that from then on I could stay home and do whatever it was she’d been doing for fourteen years—having a few gals over to wipe up prune juice spills with attractive floral-printed paper towels, or whatever—I just said to myself, Well, Chucky, after all, turnabout is fair play, and what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so I guess I’d just better di-rect my feet to the sunny side of the street and let on as though MerryBelle’s ukase (You can like it or lump it, was how she’d put it, giving me that fabulous little half-smile of hers I’ve always been so crazy about) was just the most sensational idea I’d ever heard, and she said, Of course it is, honey, and gave me a little nibble on the cheek, which I treasured like a delicious new Buick Skylark because it was the last nibble on the cheek that I got from MerryBelle for quite some time.

It wasn’t just that MerryBelle became absorbed in her challenging and vitally important new career though of course she did, reading lots of single-spaced memorandums and thickish reports, dictating replies, setting up a series of getacquainted coffee hours with the chain gang guards, plus all sorts of other “correcty" things which she once tried to explain but which a big silly old dumbhead like me naturally couldn’t make head nor tail of (though—color me lucky!—I nodded and let on as though I understood and acted real proud of MerryBelle, which I was, I was, who wouldn’t be proud of a little gal bringing home 37 gees and a stateowned Caddy to boot!), but after a while it dawned on me that something had . . . gone out of our marriage, that where once there had been sizzle now there was only fizzle, and the gal who had once called me Chucky her Big Barnyard Ducky had taken to addressing me as Mister Yucky! and that, to my way of thinking, was a danger sign I just couldn’t afford to ignore!

It must be my fault, I said right out loud one night after MerryBelle had called up and said she’d be a little late getting home because the Caddy had broken down, and then she showed up at 4:30 A.M. with breath like a brewery’s, and I said, “MerryBelle, baby, I’ve been worried sick, what happened to the car?" And she shrugged and gave me that little giggle of hers that usually knocks me out, and said, “Oh, yeah, the car, well it got all dried up and thirsty and needed a teeny-weeny little drinkywinky,” and I thought to myself, Holy smokes! Thai’s a likely story. So I decided I’d better figure out where I’ve gone wrong and then shape up in a hurry if I don’t want to wake up one day and walk in the door and discover that that snazzy-pizzazzy little hunk of commissioner I call mine has corrected herself right out the door for good.

Well, guys, the truth always hurts, but while I was waiting my turn in the barber shop later that day (I’d packed Jimmy. Timmy, and Juniper Jean off to Grandma’s place for an educational week in the swamps), I picked up a book entitled The Totally Well-rounded Stud and began to read, and I knew all of a sudden. I just knew where I had gone wrong, and believe you me. I was devastated, and I was also plenty burned up at myself for having been such a jerk, because everything was my fault, though now because of this fantastic book written bv a man who had been there and back, at least I knew exactly how to set things right, so I just slipped that book into the big front pocket of my coveralls and burned rubber zooming home without even getting my hair cut—which is why I had gone to the barber shop in the first place! Sometimes I can be such a scatterbrain!

Now, in a word, guys, what I found out from that fabulous tome was, I had begun to take my marriage for granted, and even worse than that (if you can imagine anything worse!), I had begun to take myself for granted, and if a lot of the magic had gone down the drain for both MerryBelle and me, it was mainly because I was no longer the hright-eyed ‘n’ bushy-tailed, up ‘n’ coming young exec with a penthouse office down at the ax factory and a milliondollar grin that sent the gals spinning head over heels into my arms whenever I said the word, the word of course being (bet ya don’t remember!), I admire your qualities, they remind me of the young Mamie Eisenhower.

That got me to thinking, and MerryBelle. I remembered, had shouted, Take me. I’m yours! after she’d caught her breath and gotten her speech back that night after a fabulous Miami moon when I slipped a sparkler the size of a six iron on her finger, though of course she didn’t mean sexually (pardon my French!), because she believed deeply that that came later (“Mom told me you never serve dessert before the fish course,” MerryBelle had said teasingly but sincerely on many occasions).

Anyway, guys, it had been many a Moon Over Miami since MerryBelle had shouted, Take me, I’m yours! and after I took the little quiz in The Totally Well-rounded Stud (C-minus—uhoh!) it hit me like a ton of bricks, so to speak, that Mister Stud had turned into Mister Dud. and it was high time I started working on what that fabulously wise book liked to call “The Four Ps,” which are Patience, Pandering, ‘Ppearance and Prayer, and by those the book means simply be Patient with her little “foibles” (like stuffing your new U.S. News & World Report into the diaper bucket and flying off to New Orleans for a long weekend), Pander to her lustful needs, which the Bible says is perfectly all right (surprised, guys?—you can bet your bippy I was!), maintain your ‘Ppearance the way you would if you were dating Raquel Welch, who, I think it is safe to say, does not set off her fireworks for a man with chicken brains splattered all over his coveralls, or spaces between his teeth (or toes), and I hardly need add that Prayer is something we can all use a lot more of, whether it is for United Nations Representative Moynihan, or for a can of more nearly symmetrical potato chips, or for a marriage with the kind of holy pizzazz we all enjoyed for the first three weeks with our gals before we guys let everything slide downhill into the ash can because we had started taking our wives for granted!

Now, when I got home on that fabulous red-letter day I just decided then and there to get off my duff, so the first thing I did was scrape the mold off the shelves in the Frigidaire and set some greasy light bulbs to soak, and then, with the household chores out of the way (instead of waiting till 5 P.M. and ending up all molds and greasy and perfectly exhausted when MerryBelle got home), I was free to scoot on up to the BR and scrub myself down real good with turpentine and spray myself all over with corn oil and goat sweat and Ban, and then I just picked up the phone and rang up MerryBelle and blurted right out, “When you get home I’m gonna let you have your way with me, I can hardly wait,” and then hung up.

Well, for the first time in almost fourteen years I glowed inside and out because, guvs, by making that little extra effort I found out that Chucky the Big Barnyard Ducky that MerryBelle had married in the first place was not a goner by a long shot, and in fact he was ready to quack again, and in so doing I had recovered ray self-respect, and I didn’t even stop there (you’d belter believe!), but I spit-polished my old penny loafers until I could see my reflection in them and took out a fish knife and scraped away a lot of that unpleasant muck that collects around kitchen cupboard hinges and hosed down the bathroom mirror, and then I made a spit curl and Scotch-taped it to my forehead and wrapped some red tissue paper around the lamp in the foyer, and when I heard the state Caddy pull up at 5:40 sharp I flung open the door wearing only my penny loafers and the spit curl (fasten your seat belts!) and said, “I’m gonna chew your heel right off!”

But omigosh it wasn’t even my MerryBelle standing there, it was Marabel Morgan, famous and lovely author of The Total Woman, and I was so mortified I could have just died, but Marabel Morgan just chuckled and winked and said she had come to offer the Corrections Commissioner some suggestions on prison reform because “us gals have to stick together,” but she would certainly be happy to return at a more convenient time, so I gulped and shut the door, and all of a sudden I noticed a note from my MerryBelle on the hall table, and the note said she wouldn’t be home for dinner (go ahead and howl!), that she was off to Addis Ababa for six weeks to advise the Ethiopian government on the rehabilitation of captured Eritrean separatists, and I have to admit that my first impulse was to act naggy and picky and criticize MerryBelle for what seemed at that instant to be thoughtlessness on her part, but instead I just laughed to myself and said right out loud, Women! and by then I’d recovered my wits and decided to get organized and started planning for MerryBelle’s return from . . . whatever that crazy place was (I was always such a stinker at geography!), and the first thing I did was march right out to the garage and scrub down the hogs, because a woman can never be “turned on” by a man who can’t even keep his own hogs clean.