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The Negotiations <br> By Marc Porter Zasada <p> Here in the modern world, men and women can't take anything for granted. Each role we play must be renegotiated every day: what it means to be husband and what it means to be wife, who will load the dryer, who will call the cable company, who will cook the peas and scrub the pots, who will get up each morning to earn the daily bread, and who, come midnight, will find untroubled sleep. <p> Really, it's an exhausting effort, but I must say, modern women seem to handle it much better than modern men. Maybe that's because they've been taught from girlhood that they should re-think their contract with society on a regular basis; and by now, women seem quite happy that there's no clear definition of housewife, girlfriend or supermom. <p> But men often seem baffled by this endless need to re-think things. Apparently, we are much more traditional beings, strangely tied to certain quaint expectations and the hope that someday, somehow, we will encounter eternal verities. <p> Take my friend Tony. Okay, Tony's not his real name, but believe me, in most ways he's a primo negotiator, and works as a corporate sales guy, cutting deals in the conference rooms of glittering skyscrapers. He knows how to sip an apple martini in a VIP departure lounge with a serious player. <p> This afternoon, however, we're standing around the office, just us guys, when Tony reveals his total bewilderment with that other set of agreements, I mean the man/woman protocols. It's hot, the air conditioning is busted, and I notice Tony looking less handsome and Mediterranean than usual. All of a sudden, he says, ---Gentlemen, what happened to the cream?" <p> We look confused, so Tony spreads his palms in a Christlike fashion and says again: ---Where's the cream? You know, the cream in the coffee? The little perks of the working man. Tonight we'll be slaving until eight or ten, and when we get home, what will we find? Will our wives have hot dinners waiting for us? Will anyone bring us pipes and slippers?" <p> At this point, the rest of us offer embarrassed smiles. We say, ---No, Tony, those days are definitely over." <p> But Tony persists: ---What happened to the male in America? I'm the sole breadwinner and we have no kids, so you'd think my wife would maybe cook a pot roast from time to time. But no, she has a graduate degree, so of course it's beneath her, and usually when I come home, even from a long trip, I have to put together a sandwich. And if she does bother to make dinner," says Tony, ---she expects me to wash the dishes and complains when I don't feed the cat and walk the dog. I'm working 60 hour weeks, but come midnight, I'm doing my own laundry. How did that happen?" he asks in what seems to be honest puzzlement. ---How did I get in this position? What happened to the cream?" <p> Surely, like me, you have no sympathy for Tony. I mean, how could anyone live in the past like that? But when you think about it, his problem is not so much sexism as misunderstanding. He's assuming his home will provide some refuge from the world of economic give and take, that come evening he'll encounter some pre-existing assumption, some mutual expectation, some reference template into whose arms he can fall. <p> When actually, just like the deals he works in those lonely departure lounges, the modern world has put everything up for barter, even in his living room. He just needs to get used to it; like women, he should learn to celebrate it. And at last the Urban Man says, ---You know Tony, you should get in there and negotiate." <p> Unfortunately, he takes this advice as a mere effort to be funny. He gives me a wry laugh and a male shrug, and we all get back to work. <p> Copyright -- 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved. <br>
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