There has been a lot of talk about Family Values lately, although few people seem able to define the term aside from some vague notions about morality vis-a-vis hitting someone over the head with a broom handle.
At noon yesterday, I was so sick of hearing about Family Values that I stood on a busy street corner near my office asking passers-by if they had any idea what the term meant.
Unfortunately, these man-in-the-street interviews have become exceedingly difficult to conduct, for any number of reasons.
The first person I walked up to barked: "Look, I don't have any money, OK?!" and quickly darted into a nearby pizza joint where, presumably, he was prepared to pay for his purchase with beads and other small trinkets.
Another person cringed as I approached, which is a normal enough reaction, I guess, although one you never get used to.
A third person, a woman with a garishly painted face and incredibly high hairdo, said: "Is this gonna be on TV, hon?"
Then she started rummaging around in her purse for a brush, even though any sensible TV cameraman would have kept his lens trained at a point somewhere around her shoes, so that small children throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area would not become wide-eyed with terror during the 6 o'clock news.
The point is, it was hard finding anyone who could string three coherent sentences together, never mind come up with any sort of working definition of Family Values.
One woman -- not the one with the four-story-high hairdo -- said Family Values keep people from shooting dope into their veins and robbing and killing, which was good enough for me.
I had now been out on the sidewalk for roughly 10 minutes and the temperature was pushing 95 degrees.
Obviously that was enough research for the day, so I went back into the office and sat in the air conditioning with other members of the Eastern Media Elite who -- this probably goes without saying -- were plotting the overthrow of this country.
Personally, the Family Value I have tried to impart most to my family is: Somebody besides me could take out the garbage occasionally.
The garbage in my house could be stacked up to the ceiling, there could be old pizza boxes and coffee grinds pushing their way up through the kitchen sink, and no one else would even think about taking it outside.
My wife will not even look at the garbage, never mind do something with it. This is not a lazy woman we're talking about, either. I have seen her down two cups of strong coffee and launch into an absolute frenzy of cleaning, painting and wallpapering that consumes the better part of a morning. In between, she'll slap a new addition on your house, if you provide the materials and specifications.
So it's not laziness. It's just . . . she doesn't want to hear about taking out the garbage.
Needless to say, we have had many fights over this, huge fights, Ali-Frazier, Thrilla-in-Manila-type go-rounds.
One time we sat down calmly with a couple of glasses of wine and tried to work the whole thing out.
As gently as possible, I tried to get at the roots of this aversion of hers.
"Taking out the garbage is a man's job," she said at last.
Well. I . . . I just about stopped breathing. It was about the most sexist thing I had ever heard in my life.
Here I was under the impression (a mistaken one, apparently) that we were all equal under the eyes of God, that we'd gotten past gender-specific chores around the house, etc.
The thing is, I have talked to other men about this and most of them report the very same problem.
I'm not saying it's something men kick around over a few beers and get all weepy about, but it does bother them.
People talk about male empowerment, but I don't see the men's movement addressing this issue.
You have all these men going away on Wild Man weekends, hoping to discover their Inner Warrior by smearing paint on their faces, banging on drums, chanting, dancing under the moon.
Look, all that stuff is fine and dandy. But when they leave there and go home -- 400 bucks lighter in the wallet -- I bet the garbage is still sitting under the sink.
So I don't know what good it all did.