EXIT STRATEGY: Giving The Grift of Gab


    I’ll get the unpleasant part out of the way: admitting that I suck at giving gifts my wife likes.

    She hates that about me.

    Now for the really unpleasant part. I don’t know what to get for her this year to hate.

    It’s not like I don’t want to get her something that makes her squeal with delight when she opens that Nordstrom-looking box on Christmas morning. But I fail because of my disease. I’m frugal.

    OK. I’m a liar, because I’m actually cheap.

    I don’t want to be miserly. It’s congenital. I was raised the poor son of penny-pinching parents. They were not the kind of people who hoard money, we just didn’t have any. So anything that cost more than a buck or two was a lot of money. Anything more than $100 was a life-changing expense. I don’t mean to make it out like I lived in a holler and ate opossum pie for Thanksgiving. But Friday was payday, and we went to the grocery store for the week’s entertainment. As a family, we were not only poor, but kinda fat, too. Store brand canned rice pudding is not at the top of the list of best nutritional choices.

    For as long as I can remember, my culinary diary has been mapped out by Wednesday circulars, they still are. I horrify my daughter by always scouring the clearance racks and rooms. I treasure day-old donuts and mangled boxes of cereal for pennies on the dollar. Bag o’ nasty avocados for a buck? You betchya.
    “Wow. I didn’t think anybody actually bought this stuff,” one checkout clerk quipped one day, as I immediately drew looks of curiosity and then pity from the other customers. She winced when I pulled out the coupon for the damaged, sticky bottle of Pine Sol, but gave me the discount.

    It was cool.

    To this day, while my wife, Melody, and all my friends live in regular dread of having to shop for groceries, I still love it. Any food expenditure was and is justifiable. I have no problem paying $7.63 for enough farmed salmon for three meals — only when it’s on sale — but laying out that same amount on decent towels or sturdy laundry baskets? Sinful.

    “Why not just use old boxes for dirty laundry?” I asked recently. Melody seemed to think I was offering to move and obliged me. She has nice towels for her and our daughter. After I complained about the price of them, I’ve been relegated to using something most people would say no longer would suffice to wash the car. It sops up the water but leaves behind a cache of lint and threads in my hair. It’s bad karma, I’ve heard more than once.

    So I want to buy nice stuff for Christmas, I just get all weird when I see how much money it costs. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a tightwad, but I’m no hermit. We live in a kinda nice house. I ski a lot, like at least once a week, which is an issue. Once a year or so we’ll fly somewhere very far away and obscenely expensive — if we’d gone when normal people go. But I can tell you where the damaged goods and clearance racks are just about anywhere in Avignon, Mainz, Buenos Aires and weird American cities in a good many states.

    So it would seem like I would win the best husband prize when one year I announced I was giving Melody a trip to Iceland for Christmas.

    “Are you going, too?” she asked, making me feel sort of funny.

    “Well, yeah.”

    “Then it’s a vacation, not a Christmas gift.”

    Women seem to have a lot of rules about things like this. I, however, am unemcumbered.

    She’s difficult to please when it comes to birthday, anniversary and Christmas gifts. It’s not like I ever gave her a sweater that would win an ugly sweater contest. Well, there was one that I kind of wondered what I was thinking when she pulled it out of the box. She wondered that, too. I got it from the rack of doom.

    And it’s not like I’m the kind of cad who gives household appliances as gifts. Well, there was a vacuum, but she said she really wanted it. It wasn’t the one she wanted. It was a knock-off, and I got it on sale. But the thought was first-rate. And the toaster, well, it was supposed to be a joke, and it would have been a really good one if I’d remembered to get something else for Valentine’s Day. It’s not like it wasn’t a nice toaster. Just not a name brand, and it was a display model or a return or something.

    OK. I’m a loser. I go to Etsy.com and look at the stuff she talks about loving and think, “Seriously? $50 plus shipping for craft projects? I could make that for $2.”

    But then I run out of time, and it’s days or hours away from Christmas and, well, who wouldn’t want a knock-off IKEA shower curtain from Big Lots?

    And that brings me to Christmas this year. I’ve already been warned about gift cards, which are apparently a euphemism for not caring enough to actually find a gift. I, however, would love to be euphemised. Not Melody.

    And looking through the Harbor Freight Dollar Days circular for the gift that will save my marriage and my reputation, I’m outta here.