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PRIVATE LIVES

Hmmmm . . . the ideal traditional wife . . . part CEO, part human dynamo . . . solver of problems, smoother of life's bumpy road. Everyone needs one; it's just too bad for everyone that someone already has dibs on Karen.

It is said that everyone wants a wife. This is not a sexist remark as much as it is a fact.

The traditional wife boasts a domestic resume without peer. She's a whiz at multitasking, a superb team player, a manager of the highest order. With such credentials, it's perfectly clear why everyone _ male and female alike _ would want a wife of his or her own.

I don't claim to be the universal matchmaker, but I may have found the wife for all of us. Never mind about her age, her looks, even her marital status. I've never met Karen. But we've talked on the phone, she has made promises, and her word is good.

Karen came into my life recently when I called about my bottled water delivery. Ever since my doctor suggested that I switch to spring water, I've had gallons of it delivered every month. Just how many gallons is never clear. For years, my standing order has been two cases. What arrives each month is anything from one to four.

True, I could have switched to another company ages ago. But the recurrent error has had some perks: lots of free spring water. At that price, I can afford to be annoyed.

Enter Karen.

When I called to report last month's delivery snafu, I asked her please to check my record. As she went back into the files, she found a pattern of errors that set her into motion.

"It couldn't be that hard to deliver the proper amount of water," she observed. And so you would think.

Karen had a plan: She would speak to the driver who handles my route and to the district manager. She would make a change in the database. We would begin a series of monthly talks.

"We're going to stay together on this," she announced, "and we'll bond, and I'll take care of it."

I liked her vigor, even if the "bonding" seemed a bit much.

The next week rolled around, and sure enough, a message was waiting on my voice mail the morning of my delivery day. Just a reminder that Karen was on the case.

That afternoon, my water wasn't just delivered; the boxes _ two, to be exact _ were stacked neatly like a little fortress by the front door.

The phone rang at 5. It was Karen calling to confirm that all had gone as planned. I thanked her for a job well done, and we agreed to talk in a month.

It may not be clear why Karen is my candidate for the universal wife. But the evidence should speak for itself: She sees a problem and solves it. She's dutiful, efficient _ she gets the job done. While lesser talents at the firm have dabbled with my account for years, Karen eradicated the problem in one fell swoop.

In a more perfect world, she would be heading up some conglomerate, streamlining corporate waste. Instead, she has found her niche in customer service, which is often the daily lot of the traditional wife: She listens to endless complaints and solves endless problems.

Frankly, I wish I could hire Karen to deal with my roof and wiring problems, and sundry other troubles that linger unresolved. No doubt, she would whip things into shape in no time.

Joan Silverman is a writer who lives in Boston. Private Lives is edited by Mary Jane Park.

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