'Honey!" I hate when she calls me that. No wife ever called her man "honey" in order to prepare him for something he wants to hear. And I guess the vice goes versa too. Honey I bashed the car, Honey I lost your wallet, Honey I made a dental appointment for you, Honey please defrost the fridge, Honey I shrunk the kids. There are Honeys of two different sorts: what she has done to me, and what she is about to have me do for her.
"Yes - dear."
She can't stand when I answer her like that. She realizes I understand and knows I think she wants me to understand without knowing for sure what she wants me to do, and that's the way marriage is. I also understand that I can ignore the first command because it will be repeated many more times.
"It was St. Valentine's Day yesterday." Now, why did she say that? She must have a reason, but the reason she has will have nothing to do with what she is saying, because that's the way women are. Or wives, at least. Well, my wife.
"Yeah, well I hope you had a happy St. Valentine's Day, sweetheart." I only called her that to confuse her. She threw it back in my face. "Thank you," she said; it was a bald declaration of war.
What was she getting at? I had to get in the next word or I was sunk. "You want tea?"
"No thanks, we don't have time for tea because it's the day after St. Valentine's Day when according to tradition you clean your closet."
So that was it. Pessah!
"Oh," I said nonchalantly, "is it Pessah already?"
I had always suspected that she only married me to have someone with whom to share a lifetime Pessah cleaning.
"But darling," I said (I have never won an argument that started with the word "But"), "could you answer me just one thing?"
"And then you'll do your closet and the balcony?"
"Just one thing I want to know. The Jews were freed from slavery, that's why we do Pessah, so why do we celebrate by working ourselves to death?"
"Because - "
"I'm not finished. And God gave us the Torah which we commemorate by commanding every Jew to suck lint out of his drawers with a rubber hose. Moses led his people to the Promised Land, so I symbolically scrub the barbecue. I know the Torah - I've seen the movie - and not once does Charlton Heston say we have to shake out the mattress."
" - And then after that the toilet, there's something growing in the corner."
"What, the Jews wandering through the desert were so clean? They had a separate shmatte for cleaning around the toilet bowl? They shook the dust out of their books page by page? What we celebrate here is the Black Plague, not Passover."
She wasn't listening. She was making a list.
THE ONLY way to get out of Pessah cleaning would be to convert. I wondered if the Christians clean for Easter. I wondered about it for a while. Then I wondered for a while longer if maybe she had forgotten about me.
"Honey!" She hadn't. "Look, I'll tell you what," she threatened affectionately, "you take care of the Pessah cleaning, do a good job, and I won't make you paint the house this year." I fetched the Sano.
I was certain I had not eaten a sandwich in the underthings drawer since last Pessah, but there it was, a clot of mayonnaise clinging to the inside moulding. It had to be mayonnaise because there was a piece of old tunafish jutting out of it, something the cat once regurgitated. It brought back memories. The vacuum gurgitated it.
I achieved some funny noises by getting a sweatsock stuck in the vacuum nozzle. I then tried something else: bouncing a rolled-up pair of socks off the bedroom wall and snaring it with the vacuum. I kept score. After I won 100-86, I thought maybe I could help my wife by vacuuming her pantyhose drawer, or, to be honest, just the pantyhose. It made some amazing rude noises, and then I put a marble in a pair with a run and found that if I let it get sucked in far enough it made the same sort of pinging sound that my car did before it had to get towed.
All right, so maybe I had been tricked into doing the job, but I was getting revenge: I was enjoying it.
Our hosiery was now kosher for Pessah.
This didn't sound good.
"What are you doing?"
"The sock drawer."
"All afternoon, and just the sock drawer?"
"I do a thorough job. But take a look, it's clean, clean, clean! I got the lox out of the sox, the kippers out of the slippers, the bonbons out of the longjohns, the Sloppy Joes out of the pantyhose, the liquors out of the knickers, the latkes out of the gatkes. It seems to me I've done my share for Pessah."
"Go to the den. Maybe you'll find a crouton in the futon."
I WAS getting a little tired of this rhyme-and-grime routine. I did her a big favor and waved the vacuum over it a couple of times.
Exhausted, I slipped into the TV room.
"What are you planning to do in there?"
She threw in a wet shmatte; I threw in the towel. This was turning out to be the worst day of my life.
But as I probed deeper into the layers of shmutz, beyond the dust drifts, I hit paydirt: a relic from the dawn of time, a life-form unknown to modern man, a priceless plastic Mister Baby milk bottle. What the scourges of time did to that once-fresh, previously white former liquid was like a scene from The Ooze, and what it was about to do to my stomach wasn't dissimilar.
What really cranked me was that there was still a large chunk of the year to go before the fershlugginer holiday, but already the TV room was sterile. This, my sanctuary of sloth. "Hon-ey, you're not taking food into the TV room, now, are you?"
"But motek, it's matza, that most Passoverish of foods, left over from last year."
"Dammit, dear, get that bloody matza outta that room, it's already cleaned for Pessah."
"But - "
And that's when she gave me the list.
MY OBJECTIONS to Pessah, as you would expect, are strictly theological. As I see it, Pessah puts cleanliness a tad above godliness, and that's improper. At least godliness you can do with your feet up.
The only religious angle I see to this process is that, after all the preparation, my wife places the ceremonial scrawny chicken-neck on the Seder plate next to the holy horseradish and ceremoniously says the Prayer For Finishing Pessah Cleaning: "Oy! Thank God Pessah is finally here."
And then we officially commence the holiday by crumbling matza throughout the house we've just spent months cleaning.
Pessah itself is nothing special, just a week of nursing my blisters before I have to get up off my caboose again to pack up the whole caboodle and pull the kitchen switcheroo, reboxing the Pessah stuff and unboxing the regular-season wares.
The holiday officially ends only later that night, when you force-feed the first harvest of the nearest bakery's post-Pessah bread binge.
According to tradition, the tears of joy you shed upon gnashing this beloved leavened delicacy recall the hysteria of the ancient Israelites eating a falafel for the first time after having nothing but manna for 40 years.
And you know what happens next? I come home with bread for the family, everyone gnashes, everyone groans and moans and kvetches from the stomach cramps, and then my wife says: "Only seven weeks to go."
"No, honey," she said sourly, "Shavuot. It's almost here and there's so much to do."
"What are you talking about? All you have to do for Shavuot is make a cheesecake. The only cleaning to do is after I've licked the mixing bowl."
"Yeah," she said negatively, "but you know how long it takes you to bake a cheesecake."
Even as I got out the eggs and flour, I smiled to myself. Cheesecake? No way. For my wife it would have to be honey cake.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We're proud to reprise this timeless column by the late Sam Orbaum.