A creature was stirring Essay

What do you give a woman who has everything?–with me to boot.

Which she does. Frequently. I keep thinking of a friend who tried toget out of Christmas shopping by giving his wife a pound box ofBrach’s miniatures and a paperback edition of How to Keep YourHusband Happy. She gave him an electric golf cart. This gave him suchguilt pangs that he risked life and limb in the gift-exchange mob theday after Christmas and blew $695, plus tax, to buy her a washer anddryer. Fortunately, we don’t need a washer and dryer. I married awasher and dryer.

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But to avoid my friend’s costly pitfall, I havebeen resorting to a little pre-Christmas strategy that, for want of abetter word (I do wish I could come up with a better word), we’llcall snooping. What it does is give me a chance to match–size-wise, atleast–gift for gift. And it has worked so well that you’d havethought someone smarter would think of it. Until last year, that is.

I even had last year in the bag, right until store-closing time onChristmas Eve. What happened then, I’d rather forget. But if youinsist.

.. Now, I am not the typical last-minute male shopper I used to be.There’s nothing like those last-minute, half-price bargains toarouse the competitive spirit in the human breast.

And when it comes tothe thrill of victory, nothing can top winning a tug of war over thelast size-36 sleeveless sweater on the counter. But I gave up Christmas Eve competition years ago. It’s sohard to convince some women that you didn’t know the sweateroriginally had sleeves. Or that the third sleeve on a blouse will makea dandy matching neckpiece. I had a worse time explaining how a jigsawpuzzle with seven border pieces missing offers an even more excitingchallenge. As for the exercise bike with the missing seat, which Ipatiently pointed out would take pounds off even faster becauseshe’d have to stand while pedaling, I got it in the end. And shemade me exchange the retarded parakeet for two goldfish and a tank. Formy money the fish are even dumber than the bird.

But as I was saying, I had last Christmas all wrapped up. I hadlocated her neatly wrapped cache of “To Maynard from Lois”packages and taken a guess at what they were. The 2″x7” box,surely a Cross pen, I balanced with one of those thermometers that let awoman know when her turkey is cooked. The 2×3-footer that I guessed tobe a shirt-tie combo I counteracted with a nightgown and a box ofmatching Kleenex. The square package that I concluded must be anelectric pencil sharpener I equalized with an electric can opener. Thefishing rod, with an umbrella. The dozen golf balls, with a dozen soapballs. But you get the idea.

So, with the score at least tied (or I might even have beenahead–the can opener also had a convenience for sharpening shears), Iwas cavorting about the living room, shouting encouragement to the houseplants, joking with the goldfish, occasionally splashing into their tanka bracer from the glass with which I was toasting my success. Then, as in pride goeth before a fall, Lois suddenly screamed thatthe cat had caught a fish. But the fish had escaped and was flappingtoward the bedroom. In trying to intercept it before I’d be calledupon to render mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, I found myself plunginginto the jungle of Lois’ closet deeper than I had ever plungedbefore. You guessed it. Behind the moth motel that had once served as afur coat was a “To Maynard from Lois” package four feet longby two feet wide.

I measured it. In retrospect, I should have torn thepaper, peeked and blamed it on the cat. But stores would be closing in30 minutes, and I still had to make the cat cough up the goldfish beforedashing out to grab up a 4×2-footer. Or better. Trying to avoid office-party celebrants weaving their way homeward,I had little time to concentrate on the kind of gift I would have tobeat. Maybe she’d gotten me one of those boards on casters thatwould let me roll under the car to check the valve compression, orwhatever it is other men roll under the car to do. Naw.

I couldn’ttell a valve compression from a piston replacement and Lois knows it. Agrandfather’s-clock kit? Not when she’s still waiting for meto figure out how to install the knob on the kitchen door. Too shortfor a toboggan, too long for a cribbage board, it hadn’t rattled,glugged, bent, jingled, jangled, snapped, crackled or popped. I’djust have to go by size and hope that, cost-wise, I wouldn’t be toofar off. By dint of a final, all-out sprint across the parking lot, Imanaged to beat closing time at the drugstore by a full five minutes.The manager, however, probably wanting to begin his own Christmasshopping, was letting people out but not in. “I left my grandson in the comic-book section!” Igasped, whipping past and heading for the turnstile.

I remember quite clearly flinging myself against the arm of theturnstile. But after that things get foggy. All I know is theturnstile failed to turn. I vaguely recall hitting the thing groin-highat about 15 miles per hour and being catapulted into a display ofChristmas-tree ornaments across the aisle. The manager, who heard the crash and came running to help me out ofthe merchandise, said I was lucky the ornaments had been reduced to halfprice. Even at that, the bill came to $18.45. The $20.

00 I had broughtwith me left but enough for a marked-down bottle of Maybe Tonightperfume. “And just why did you buy this, whatever it is?” Loisasked upon unwrapping the first sack of busted ornaments on Christmasmorning. “They’re to glue on your blue evening dress,” Isaid. “I thought it would look even prettier with a bunch ofsequins.” Before she could ask about the second sack, I said,”You’ve been wanting something to put under the glass top ofthe coffee table. There you are.

” And when she couldn’t talkat all after opening the third sack, I explained that the goldfish tankneeded a little brightening up. I said it would cheer up the fish thecat had intercepted. And for what had I sacrificed the serenity of my Christmas Eve, tosay nothing of risking internal organs on a wrong-way turnstile? Amirror! A lousy hall mirror! “I’ve been wanting a mirror in that hallway ever since wemoved here,” Lois said, as soon as she was able to talk. I still don’t know if I was out-gifted or just plain hustled.It’s not easy to believe that when a man and a woman have unitedtheir plights in the trough of holy wedlock, or however that goes, foras many years as we have, the woman would resort to out-and-outdeception, fraud, malfeasance or otherwise dirty pool at this season ofthe year. I’m taking no chances, however. What I’m doing this yearis wrapping an electric typewriter that I’ve wanted ever since wemoved here, labeling it “To Lois from Maynard” and hiding iton top of the bureau.

Maybe a couple of weeks before Christmas. Thatshould give her plenty of time to come up with a comparable gift for me.Provided she’s caught the spirit of this thing, of course. If she matches it with a portable sewing machine, I’ll havethe answer.

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