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By Jay Ruttenberg

Here’s one thing you probably never thought of: Let’s say you are walking down the street and notice your wife walking toward you. Even if you saw her as recently as that morning, you can’t just give a cursory head nod or a “how ya doing?” as you might if you encountered somebody from the office. You have to stop and chat. This holds true even when you run into each other near the apartment, or if you are late for an appointment.

Now and then, everybody forgets his or her spouse’s birthday. After such a blunder, it’s present time. But what to get? One gift to avoid is a Dalmatian that you pick up on your route home from work, particularly if you do not know whether or not your wife is an animal lover; moreover, if she is allergic to felines, it is a bad idea to buy a pet kitten for the Dalmatian, even if the dog seems lonely because your wife doesn’t play with it enough. Another present you’ll live to regret: A written pledge promising not to give European-style cheek-to-cheek kisses to everybody you meet at your wife’s office Christmas party.

Let’s look at Halloween. If your father-in-law succumbs to cancer in August, it is considered unbecoming to dress as his ghost, back from the grave and rearing to raise holy hell, come October 31. Furthermore, if you suddenly find yourself on the losing end of a shaving cream and egg showdown with local junior high school students, do not insist that your wife defend you by either staging a sneak attack or phoning the police and shrieking that her upstanding-citizen husband is being held the victim of a wanton hooligan assault.

There are good ways and bad ways to wake your spouse in the morning. Injudicious methods include loudly revisiting an argument you had the previous week because a witty retort came to you in a dream. Another unsuccessful way: Stomping around the bedroom chanting, “This is what democracy sounds like!” on the morning of a big protest march or mayoral primary. Smoother wake-ups include gently lifting your spouse’s pillow from underneath her head and saying, “Hey! You’re late!” or mimicking an alarm clock’s brrrrrnnng sound.

If your child-rearing plans predominantly consist of buying DVDs of The Cosby Show and “letting bill do the talking,” it is best to keep mum about them. If you do decide to reveal such plans, it is unwise to do so while your wife is in the bathroom waiting to view the results of a home pregnancy test that you declined to go to the drug store and purchase yourself because it would have been embarrassing, and The Daily Show was on.

If you decide to experiment with vegetarianism, it is inadvisable to sit next to your mother-in-law at a Labor Day barbeque and make “mooing” sounds as she eats a hamburger. Similarly, if you are in the formative stages of a religious conversion, do not insist on eulogizing your spouse’s great-aunt in a foreign tongue. This is especially no recommended if you have just started taking courses in the language a month prior to the funeral; if you were not specifically invited to participate in the ceremony; and if you never had the opportunity of meeting the great-aunt while she was alive.

When you are out walking with your wife and a passing homeless man makes a crass comment, do not flash him a knowing smile and chase him down with a dollar bill, even if he “has a point” about her rear end. Another tip regarding the destitute: While it is a nice gesture to give neighborhood vagabonds warm clothes for the winter months, try to avoid donating scarves that were knit and initialized for you by your wife’s ailing Nana Carol.

“If you decide to commit suicide by hanging yourself, make sure to leave behind a note. Otherwise, everybody will think you were masturbating.” That’s a good piece of advice–but not one to give your wife’s troubled nephew after being asked to speak with the teen at a family gathering where your mother-in-law is standing within earshot. On a related note, the fact that your mother-in-law angrily employs the f-word in a conversation does not give you a tacit green light to use the term “poontang” while chatting with her at a subsequent Sunday morning brunch.

Excerpted from Lowbrow Reader of Lowbrow Comedy

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