"Hah!" I say, thrusting a New York Times clipping between my wife's mouth and her morning cup of coffee. "Yet another example of how well our country makes great leaps forward."
"How many more leaps before we fall on our face?" she says. "What is it this time?"
"Hospitals," I say.
"Hospitals?" she says. "What are they up to now?"
"They're finally getting us over our Puritan fear of nakedness," I say. "That's all."
"And how are they doing that?" she says, filling in another blank in her puzzle.
"They're letting friends and relatives of the mother into the delivery room to watch babies being born," I say. "Is that a great leap or what?"
"Sounds a little sick to me," she says.
"Listen to this," I say, reading from a piece by Jodi Kantor in the Sep. 11 Times: "'Even the most traditional hospitals now allow multiple guests during labor, transforming birth from a private affair into one that requires a guest list. That's a pretty good leap forward, don't you think?"
"I think," she says, "you never had a baby."
"Hah?" I say.
"Believe me," she says. "It's not something you'd like to watch. You get queasy over flatulence. You'd pass out if you had to watch a baby being born."
"Naw," I say. "I used to watch our cat have kittens. It was fun."
"Not for the cat," she says. "Let me see that clipping."
My delicate feelings are, of course, hurt, but I hand her the clipping.
"Look here," she says, pointing to the first paragraph. "Sounds like a trouble maker. She says 'I didn't have my mom there when I was conceiving, so why should I have her when I'm delivering?' Makes sense to me."
"Well," I say, pointing to a later paragraph, "she just doesn’t know how much of a party time giving birth can be. Look at this: 'When a patient at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., recently went into early labor, she simply moved her baby showerguests, presents, cake and allto her delivery room.'"
"Yeah, right," she says, pointing to another paragraph. "Listen to this: 'Staff members at Bellevue Hospital in New York recently watched agape as two men argued in a delivery room, each asserting paternity of the child about to appear.' Wouldn't that be a nice way to introduce a baby into the world?"
"It's the 21st century," I say. "And the times they are a-changing."
"So why are you just now taking such an interest in watching babies being born?" she asks. "If I remember right, you were pretty scarce when our own three kids were born."
"I was in the hospital," I say. "I was in the waiting room waiting. My stomach was rolling around and I didn't want to barf in front of you."
The Truth, Mainly
"Awfully thoughtful of you," she says. "And I can see how turning a delivery room into a party room might accomplish one thing. It might let would-be teen-age parents see just how sloppy and painful childbirth can be. And just how messy newborn babies can be before they get cleaned up enough that the father won't have his delicate sensibilities offended by what he's just put his wife through. They should invite the whole junior high to watch."
"Don't be gross," I say.
"I'm gross?" she says. "How about you? You've always been partial to displays of nakednessincluding your own. I've heard your sister talk about when you were six years old coming out of the bathtub with just a towel around your private parts and cavorting around the house that way. So she grabbed the towel and ran outside."
"Yes," I say. "It was awful."
"But why," she says, "did you run outside after her? Stark nakedacross the street from the school at 8 o'clock in the morning, people driving by your house and honking their horns at you. What was that all about?"
"She had my towel," I say.
"And how about what happened when you were grown up and took me and our kids to an island in the middle of a lake in Canada?" she says.
"Pretty lake," I say. "Nice and clean and great for swimming."
"Yes," she says, "but why did you call yourself Sergeant Naked and jump into the lake without any clothes on?"
"Captain Naked," I say. "Not Sergeant Naked."
"So?" she says.
"Just remember," I say, "Adam and Eve didn't wear clothes until after their first disobedience when they ate the forbidden fruit. I think I must have been in my own prelapsarian condition at the time of both those incidents. I hardly ever go outside naked now."
She rolls her eyes and gives the back of my whitey-tighty underwear an upward jerk.
"Prelapsarian, like fun," she says.
"Ow," I say. "Ow."
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail