September 3, 2003
Christmas is officially over. Today I dragged the tree with its fifteen remaining needles out to the curb, tied the Christmas lights into one great big ball like I found them, and dumped the odd remains of two ham-a-ramas and a jalapeño cheese log into the cat’s dish, which caused him to immediately jump up onto the telephone stand and look up the address for the Humane Society’s self-admittance wing.
But it’s done. Kaput. Finé. The yuletide has ebbed. And not a moment too soon, because now it’s time for . . . Valentine’s Day. Not to worry though, because this year I’m ready.
Last February I was fooled by the pact my wife and I made that we weren’t going to bother with Valentine’s Day. What I thought she meant was that she didn’t expect a gift. What she really meant was that only a chump would think it was okay not to get his wife (who was put on this earth for no greater reason than to serve her husband’s every need, although said husband could count on serving certain needs himself until further notice) a gift.
And even though it was quite a bonding experience camping out in my backyard in February with my brother-in-law, who had wondered why everyone was buying flowers on Washington’s birthday, I think I’d rather spend the rainy season inside this year.
So I grabbed the garbage bag full of Christmas cards and wrapping paper to drop off at the local landfill and headed off to the Hallmark store, that magical place full of those beautiful poetic musings that women love.
I settled on a card with a romantic, soft-focus photograph of a young couple laughing and hugging in a wooded glen, taken no doubt just seconds before they realized they were standing waist deep in poison oak. Then I headed across the mall to the lingerie store.
The place was mobbed with guys all holding intimate apparel, trying to picture their wives in them. One guy was holding his selection upside down wondering, I suspect, why the thing had snaps at the neck.
I was about to explain when a saleslady approached wearing a button that said “All Our Bras Are Half Off.” She looked frazzled. Her hair was mussed. Her makeup was smeared, and she had bags under her eyes. “Let me guess,” she said. “Gift for the wife?” Before I could compliment her on such a quick assessment of the situation, she moved me to one side and yelled over my shoulder. “Please don’t mix the satin panties up with the silk ones.” Two guys, who were each holding a dozen pair of panties, smiled sheepishly, like they just got caught during a midnight raid at the female dorms.
“I hate Valentine’s Day,” she muttered. Then with a forced smile she asked, “So, what did you have in mind?” “I dunno. Something sexy, I guess.” “Novel idea. What’s her favorite color?” “Uhh . . . brown?” “Brown? Brown’s her favorite color?” “Green?” “You don’t know, do you?” “Well, our cat is gray and white and she likes him a lot.”
I thought briefly about the cat and wondered if he’d still be there when I got home. Meanwhile, the saleslady moved me to one side again. “Sir. Siiirrrr.” A large, bald man in a three-piece suit glanced up. “It’s Velcro,” she said. “As you have no doubt observed, it will make that same sound over and over.”
She shook her head, turned her attention back to me and was about to speak when a tall, thin guy approached us wearing a teddy over his T-shirt and boxer shorts. “Whaddya think?” he asked. I thought the red was a little too bright for his complexion and was about to say so when the saleslady jumped up onto a clearance counter and addressed the entire store.
“Okay. Here’s what we are going to do. I want every one of you to take out the amount of money you want to spend and step up to the counter. I will hand you an item that costs that amount of money. Do not worry about the color or size. Your wives will be in here to exchange your gifts tomorrow. Now, who’s first?” We all hesitated.
She held up her watch. “The mall closes in fifteen minutes, gentlemen, and they are predicting a particularly cold February this year.” I thought I caught a whiff of damp tent. Then I quickly took out my wallet and got in line.
Ernie Witham (c) 1996
From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul