Presents Of Mind

Consider this an act of mercy, and survival.

Christmas sits about two weeks away, and many comprehensive surveys show that if you are a married male of the species, you probably won't realize until 5 p.m., Dec. 24 that some sort of shopping is generally considered necessary. In fact, you probably think that you can wait until Presidents' Day and still get credit.

That's fine for aunts, uncles, and assorted in-laws, but not for a wife. You have to start now, really, because it will take a long time. I know what I'm talking about. For 24 years, the same remarkable woman has graciously and occasionally overlooked my many faults and helped turn me into a better human being.

Among the lessons I've learned is that waiting until Dec. 26 to shop for Christmas usually entails the expenditure of large sums of money, something on the order of a Mercedes.

So I'm going to tell you how to buy a Christmas present for your wife.

But first, some guidance for wives on a gift for your spousal unit. Two words: "power," "tool." And if it says "commercial" or "professional" quality, you will have a man who's happiness can only be dimmed by required viewing of the Rose Parade.

If, however, your husband has ever shown a passing interest in magazines, books, articles, or greeting cards written by Martha Stewart, you might avoid power tools with sharp edges.

Always remember: No one can ever have too many cordless drills.

Also, a computer is a power tool. Men have a mysterious genetic disposition for computer stuff. My brilliant wife believes that at the exact moment that women, as a race, figured out that men, as a race, are slugs, computers were developed to make them feel necessary again. (Not the slugs. They in fact, already have a known function.)

But that's about as complicated as shopping for a husband gets.

For wives, the process is both simple and complicated. By now, we all know that you should never give a kitchen appliance - not even a Salad Shooter - as a present of any sort. Other items in the same category: stereo speakers, a portable air compressor for the car, a treadmill, one of those incredibly cool remote-controlled cars from Radio Shack with big fat tires that climb over all the empty boxes on the floor Christmas morning (go figure), satellite TV, power tools, any tools, and computers. Nothing with any functional justification for its existence in the human experience. It's not necessary to understand why, nor is it wise to try.

If you really want your wife to believe that there is some hope for the male species - and this is the highest achievement of any husband - you will buy something she'd buy for herself.

But you can't know how to do that. You lack the necessary emotional and mental components, and I'm speaking very knowledgeably, here. If you try to figure out what she would buy, you'll eventually drift over to Home Depot or Radio Shack.

Doing this right requires time, but the time is almost as important as the actual gift (emphasis, here, on almost). You must first muster the courage to say the three most horrific words in male lexicon: "Let's go shopping."

Oh yes. That is the only way.

Spend at least a day together gazing at store windows. Going into stores. Having lunch. Discussing what you saw. Going into more stores. Accurately gauging the response when you say "You go on ahead, hon'. I'm just going to duck into this stereo shop." Having tea. Looking at more stores. Agreeing with your wife when she admires something, even if it contains diamonds. And just generally being grateful that most malls do not have a Mercedes dealership on the premises.

Cover a lot of ground - clothing, jewelry, accessories, lingerie. And remember that most women prefer to shop at several stores that carry what appears, to the mere human eye, to be identical merchandise.

This way, your wife will actually tell you what she likes. Over and over. Then you go back and buy one of those things. It's as simple as that.

The beauty is that it doesn't have to be the thing that contains diamonds (unless of course, you delivered last year's present on Presidents' Day). The process is the present. She will be thrilled (make that "stunned") that:

1. You gave her something she likes.

2. You took the time to listen to her tell you what she likes.

3. You spent a day with her doing something she likes.

4. That you were able to say, "Let's go shopping."

And the knowledge that you didn't wait until Dec. 24 to start will suggest to her - and all of her friends and all of their friends and all of their friends in discussions that will continue long past Presidents' Day - that there is some hope for the rest of us.

So do us all a favor, bud. Get going.

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