When it comes to buying Christmas presents, I let my wife handle it. Oh she’ll come up to me sometimes and ask, “What do you think about this-and-that for so-and-so?” I’ll nod approvingly, or sometimes I’ll reply enthusiastically, “THAT WOULD BE PERFECT!” When in fact, I really don’t care. It’s not that I don’t want to give people presents, but I never have a clue what they want. I’m a writer. If I give one of my characters a glockenspiel, I know he is going to love it, because when he was eight he heard someone play one in Boston, and ever since then he has wanted one but never had the courage to buy one for himself. He will practice playing that glockenspiel until his wrists hurt and his fingers bleed. Someday he may even be good enough to play with the Boston Symphony—if I want him to. With real people it is different. You have to know their likes and dislikes, and as a writer I know that most people never tell you what they are really thinking. They may say, “Oh, I love that jacket,” when what they’re thinking is, “I hope you didn’t pay money for that.” So I let my wife handle the Christmas shopping. The only present I have to buy is for my wife.
When we first got married I thought Christmas shopping for her would be easy. She works in an office, and she usually wears clothes when she goes there. I ran down to a clothing store, slapped some cash down on the counter and got me a nice little gift certificate. When I got home, I put the certificate in a box, wrapped it up in Christmas wrapping and even put a nice red bow on one corner of the box. Christmas morning came. She unwrapped the box and pulled out the gift certificate. I’m sitting there all puckered up for the big thank you kiss, when what I get is the tell-me-again-why-I-married-you look (a look I’ve become very familiar with over the years.) “You didn’t put much thought into this did you?” she said. But I did. There were two clothing stores really close to our house, and I had to decide which one to go to. “I mean, you just walked into a store and got a gift certificate,” she said. “You didn’t even think about what colors I would like or what prints.”
“I wanted you to be able to pick out the exact thing that you wanted,” I said, doing my best to salvage the moment.
She gave out one of those little sighs that goes straight to your gut. “I just thought that you’d want to buy me something special that you’d like to see me wear,” she said and sighed again.
After that I tried for awhile to pick out some clothes for her. The problem is I have no fashion sense. The fashion jean does not exist in my DNA. I would like to say that I’m color blind, because at least then I would have an excuse, but I’m not. I know you think I’m joking. I’m not. I once bought my wife a lavender Velour jogging suit. I thought it looked good. My wife wore it a couple times to humor me, and then it hung in her closet for years, surviving three garage sales until she finally gave it to the Goodwill. The next day Goodwill came to our door and gave it back. I think she still has it packed in a box somewhere.
Then one day a few years ago, I’m at the checkout counter in a clothing store buying a nice three button pink blazer and green slacks for my wife’s Christmas present. The salesperson looked at me kind of funny and said, “If these don’t fit, your wife can exchange them.” And then it hit me, as if God himself were speaking to me. I took the medium blazer put it back on the rack and exchanged it for an extra large. The size seven slacks I put back and picked up a size two. The salesperson looked at me as if to say, “What sort of alien creature did you marry?” I ignored her, took the outfit home and wrapped it.
Christmas morning came and my wife unwrapped her gift. She fought to keep the grimace off her face when she saw the colors, and then she noticed the size. “This top is way too big for me,” she said, “and the slacks are too small. These won’t fit.”
“That’s okay,” I said grinning from ear-to-ear. “The salesperson said you can exchange them if they don’t fit, and if you see something you like better, feel free to get it instead.”
She smiled and gave me a kiss. What I had done was give her a cloth gift certificate. Since then I have refined the technique. I look for the last shirt, dress or slacks of a certain kind that the store has. That way she is forced to get something she wants, rather than trying to appease me by getting the same ugly stuff I picked out in the correct size. One word of caution to anyone who wants to try this: it is always better to get something too small than too big. And never, under any circumstances, get a small top and extra large slacks. You’d be better off just getting a gift certificate.