Wife’s a Bitch

Ottawa XPress, Shotgun, May 5, 2005

I was in the new Hartman’s grocery store in Centretown the other day and overheard some lady bark, “Check the expiry date!” to her man as he reached for the Heinz value pack of hotdog and hamburger condiments. And it got me thinking about bitchy wives and hamburger patties.

This season, I’m noticing that burger ads in print and on television are increasingly geared toward couples and helping them to reconnect. While a flailing woman screams at her man during a Wendy’s commercial, threatening to leave him, it’s the Value burger on the table that keeps her coming back for more of the food-and the relationship. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just all whip out a Harvey’s Angus burger every time we were about to get dumped?

I’ve got a value combo, ass. You’re not going anywhere.

But kidding aside, there is one commercial between a man and his wife that makes me sad – and very scared to get married. It’s an A&W commercial. The husband is innocently polishing his antique car in the garage when his wife pulls up into the driveway. He says proudly, “All finished.” She retorts, “Wow. That only took you what, three years?”

As she pushes past him, with little expression, he meekly asks her, “Wanna go for a ride?” She barely agrees. When they arrive at the A&W, the husband flashes his lights at the restaurant for a fairytale waitress on roller skates to bring the order. The wife mocks him: “Pwff. They don’t do that anymore.” But the husband must have arranged something, because here comes a waiter.

The wife doesn’t seem impressed at all.

So here’s a husband treating his wife to a 1950s-style drive-in date at the A&W in his vintage Mustang, complete with “Crimson and Clover” playing in the background, and all the thanks she can muster up is, “I still have to be home by 10 you know.” But the joke falls flat.

I don’t like her. The only message I get from that ad is when your wife is about to charbroil your ass because you’ve taken too much time on your hobby car, SUCK IT UP – and add to that a side order of onion rings and root beer floats. As the viewer, I never really know why the guy’s wife is so crusty. Either that script is in need of a rewrite or she needs to get laid. Either way, as Mother’s Day approaches, it makes me wonder how many poor husbands and kids are going to be steamrollered by machines like her when they hand over their cards and gifts. What grief!

In all fairness, maybe the A&W chick is ticked about getting a measly burger instead of the trolley ride and sunset cruise like that restaurant owner lady in the Expedia.ca commercial. Even the latter doesn’t pull as much attitude when her husband, as he’s planning their weekend getaway in San Francisco using the Internet, miscalculates their years of marriage. “Happy 12th anniversary,” he says. “Thirteenth,” she says factually. But at least she’s got a smile on. A little one.

My immediate suspicion is that bitchy wives around the world are dishing it out because their immature husbands are glued to fix-it projects in the garage while they’re left to look after the income, kids, house and bills. But men aren’t vacant tools with no sense of responsibility, are they? Maybe in the ’50s…but in 2005? And women certainly aren’t nags for the hell of it. They are allowed to express distress and communicate unhappiness, albeit with a pout on.

Seriously-is it the boring day-to-day routines and the feeling of being ignored that encourage the A&W and many Expedia.ca husbands to spice it up a bit? Or a gesture to make up for years of mutual laziness? Better to spice it up with Cajun curly fries and a spicy chicken burger than a take-out girl, I say!

During hard times, it was once suggested to me that reverting to our “instinctive selves” would solve many problems in a relationship; men hunt and women gather berries-it’s been a way of life for eons. Women pretty-up the house and themselves in exchange for bison burgers and emu stew. But as women and men become less like their caveman sisters and brothers, maybe women who aspire to be hunters and gatherers have days that can feel like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Maybe that’s the lady in the A&W commercial.

It seems to me the caveman system of relationships doesn’t keep balance, it just keeps each partner quiet, doesn’t it? But then sometimes, quiet is good. Like with burgers, getting the works is great but sometimes if it’s too stacked and complicated, it’ll fall apart all over your pants. And isn’t life a bitch when that happens.

Without the right combo of roles and shared responsibilities, you got no value pack. I think that is where relationship problems start-and where hiding out in the garage or trips to the drive-thru with depressed wives begins.

As summer approaches, I’m reminded of the vintage car shows that’ll be held in the Byward Market. I wonder if behind every ’69 Dodge or Chevy convertible is a disgruntled wife? Or a wife more than happy to go for a meal deal with her honey?

– Sylvie Hill