Everything you wanted to know about socks but were afraid to ask


(This Dave Barry column was originally published Feb. 16, 2003.)

I have here a shocking letter from a person named ''Julia,'' who openly admits to being a woman. It concerns laundry.

As you men know, laundry is a key area in which we have long enjoyed a tactical advantage over women, thanks to the fact that, through a combination of genetics, evolution, instinct and plain old good fortune, we are pigs.

A man can live happily in a confined space with a mass of unwashed garments so funky that his shirts wrap their sleeves around his ankles as he walks past, hoping he will drag them to a laundromat; and his undershorts, which have developed primitive bacterial feet, crawl around and arrange themselves on the floor to form the words FOR GOD'S SAKE WASH US. Every year, thousands of pedestrians collapse while walking past male-occupied college dormitories, overcome by sock fumes.

So in most relationships, women wind up doing the laundry. To compensate, we men assume full responsibility for more masculine, but equally necessary, household tasks, such as making sure that the TV channel is changed regularly.

Unfortunately, the traditional division of labor is now threatened by this avowed woman, Julia. In her letter, she reveals that she has developed a shocking tactic, a tactic that threatens to undermine the very fabric that underlies the foundation for the infrastructure of our way of life as we know it in terms of metaphors. This tactic is so disgusting that, to prevent young readers from being exposed to it, I am going to use a secret code to tell you how ''Julia'' gets her husband to do laundry:

She uses S-E-X.

''I tell him it gets me hot,'' she writes. ``Every time I need laundry done, I put my arms around him and tell him how excited I get just watching him. I tell him if he folds it and puts it away, I am beside myself. I make love to him right by the washing machine. I have found that he folds laundry better than I do.''

Men, we must ask ourselves: What if other women start using their wiles this way? Would it work? Are we, as a gender, so easily manipulated, so mindlessly lust-crazed?

We most certainly are. A man will do pretty much any idiot thing if he thinks it gives him a shot at a woman's wiles. I am not proud of this, but once, in my younger days, at a party, I leaped, fully clothed, from a house roof into a swimming pool that was not really all that close to the house, risking serious injury or death, because I truly believed that a specific woman at the party would be impressed and therefore want to bear my children.

Q. Did it work?

A. Of course not. No sane woman is going to knowingly perpetuate roof-jumping genes.

Q. Would you have done her laundry?

A. I would have drunk her fabric softener.

And that is my point, men. ''Julia'' has unleashed a nuclear device in the housework wars. If her tactic catches on, we could see a day when men are not only doing the laundry, but also performing other traditionally feminine household tasks, such as: remembering the children's birthdays; purging the refrigerator of Chinese food purchased during the Clinton administration; lighting big fat candles that make the house smell as though a fruit truck has crashed in the family room; remembering to flush all the toilets before company arrives; decorating the guest-room bed in such a way that guests are afraid to go near it; and remembering the children's names.

Yes, men, we could wind up like some of the more pathetic males in the animal kingdom, such as 1) the male praying mantis, who allows the female praying mantis, during the mating act, to bite off his head and 2) the male spotted whipfish, which consummates his courtship ritual with the female spotted whipfish by watching a video of ''The Sound of Music'' DURING THE SUPER BOWL.

Is that what we want, men? Are we willing to trade our independence -- and, yes, our dignity -- for a few seconds (let's be honest, men) of cheap physical gratification? Are we that weak, that pathetic, that STUPID?

Let's remember to hand-wash those delicates.

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