One night in the spring of 1997, some unlucky teenage dope parked his car under a tree during a rainstorm. The next day, the kid, who had only had his driver license six months, realized the tree had dripped some goo onto the roof and hood of the car. The goo had hardened like wax and bonded to the surface.
It was a 1988 Chevy Celebrity, a model that had already been discontinued and had some wiring issue in which the fuse would blow nearly any time you honked the horn. The Chevy was white and the wax like substance attracted pollen and dirt and formed unsightly splatter marks all over the car. People who’d see it would think the car had been vandalized, but the fool explained the culprit was a tree.
That dope couldn’t get the substance off the car. He even took it to the car wash for one of only several times he professionally cleaned the car during the year he ended up owning it. One day, with the help of his high school buddy Dan Walsh, the fool decided to wash the car until the substance came off. Walsh, who like his friend was a senior in high school, finally had an idea after an hour of washing the car – Brillo pads.
The pads worked. They removed the hardened goo, dirt and buildup – in fact they worked so well that Dan and the other fool wondered why Brillo didn’t advertise itself as a car-cleaning product. Why was it, they asked, that everyone didn’t use Brillo pads to clean their cars, too? It wasn’t until the car dried that they realized Brillo takes away dirt but could also leave small steel-wool strokes in the finish of the car.
I’ve been thinking about the dumb things guys do lately, as my fiancée, Julie, continues to bar me from any decision-making as our Nov. 1 wedding approaches. Julie, too, had owned a Chevy Celebrity in high school, but unlike that guy I know she understood that cleaning a car with Brillo pads was a bad idea. Julie had one advantage over the unlucky teenager: She was a girl.
Women surpassed men in IQ testing for the first time in history in 2012, according to studies by James Flynn that had men everywhere puffing up defensively like peacocks and women shrugging and no doubt saying, “We already knew that.” Both sexes are scoring better, which Flynn attributed to the modern world forcing brain adaptability. But women may be pulling ahead thanks to their greater verbal ability, more structured approach to test-taking, dominance in college and postgraduate enrollments and increased opportunities in the workplace.
Michelle Obama mentioned the gender smarts divide at a recent U.S.-Africa summit where she and other panelists discussed how countries that oppress women often struggle financially.
“Change is needed,” she said, according to Time, adding with a laugh “and women are smarter than men.”
I asked my fiancée if she agreed with the first lady that women are smarter, and more specifically, if she herself thinks she’s smarter than me. We were chatting while I watched the Yankees game and Julie sat with two laptops open – one with an Excel document on the RSVP list for our wedding and the other with our total budgets, including amounts owed and amounts already paid.
Julie said she thought I was kind of smart, maybe just not organized enough to apply that brain power. She said my disorganization, not lack of intelligence, has led to her doing everything for the wedding.
“If I weren’t so organized, we would just have a band and show up with nothing else,” she said. That may be true, but what she left out is that it’s a really, really good band.
But if she doesn’t think I’m dumb and she does want help, then why did she recently reject my offer to help with the invitations? Julie, who is a creative director in e-commerce, designed our wedding invitations and put them together herself by hand.
“You just don’t have the attention to detail of the aesthetics of things,” she said. I was also barred from making any interior decorating decisions in our apartment – this included Julie’s not allowing me to hang my “Shaft in Africa” poster that has the catchphrase “The Brother Man in the Motherland.” These vetoes are not insults to my intelligence, she assured me, just to my decorative abilities.
I like to think outside of the wedding planning and decorative input I pull my own weight in the relationship – like when I put together that IKEA cabinet and when I put up the bookshelves in the living room. When I mentioned the shelves, Julie noted the difficulty I had in finding the studs and how I put a few extra holes in the wall while looking for them. (By a few I mean a half dozen.)
“I like that they’re up, but we both agree they’re messed up,” she said, except she used a phrase that was a little more R-rated than “messed up.”
Julie blamed my upbringing for some of these shortcomings. She said I was raised by a mother who took care of many things. To this day, when going to a birthday party, my mother buys a card at Hallmark for me to give to the person celebrating his or her birthday – in case I forgot to get one. In my mother’s office when I was a kid, she had a sign that said, “The best man for the job is usually a woman.”
I asked my mother if she ever felt that my father or any of her three sons were ever lagging behind her in intelligence. She kindly said no. Suspiciously, I asked her what the dumbest thing I had ever done growing up was and she quickly tried to change the topic.
I shook my head. “I have a story,” I said. “It’s about my old Chevy Celebrity and Brillo pads.”
Follow Mark Lungariello on Twitter, @marklungariello.