by Ben Small
My friend -- let's call him Mike -- came by yesterday. I thought maybe his dog had died, he looked so pained. I waved him inside and met him at the door.
"What's wrong?" I said. "Something happen to Bootsie?" That's the dog.
Mike gave me a far-away stare. He raised his hands, then dropped them again, took a deep breath. He shrugged. "I blew the birthday present...somehow."
Amy, his wife of fifteen years. Her birthday was yesterday. I posted her a greeting on Facebook.
"You didn't get her anything?" I waved Mike to a seat, half because I really wanted to hear this one, but also because he seemed wobbly on his feet.
He dropped like an anchor into the stuffed easy chair next to mine.
I groped for the clicker, pausing I Love Lucy. Yeah, I like that show. "So what happened?" I said, as Lucy stopped mid-wail. "I gotta hear this one."
"C'mon," Mike said. "This is serious."
"Okay," I said. I shot him a look. "So...tell me...what happened?"
Mike sat back. "You won't believe it. Hell, I don't understand it. I have no idea what I did wrong."
"Dammit, Mike," I said. "What did you do?" I held up a hand. "Sorry, want a beer? I should have asked first."
Mike shook his head. "See..." He took a breath. "I've asked Amy for three weeks what she wanted for a birthday present." A beat. "In the past when I've bought her stuff -- a Kindle, for instance -- she sent it back." He took a breath. "Frugal. Yeah, and... well... she's picky, you know."
I'll admit, I've noticed a certain anal-retentiveness in Amy from time to time, stuff like all the bathroom towels folded exactly the same; you know, as if someone measured the drop with a ruler. And if I opened a silverware drawer, I'd find the spoons...um...spooning, the knives all aligned -- fitted, and nary a stray fork. My goodness, Amy folded the lead sheet of toilet paper, in every bathroom, after every flush, by anybody. And not just that. Use the bathroom often, like during football game beer/pizza parties, and you'd hear the pitter-patter of her feet and just know where she was going. I tried to save her some steps and tell her I refolded, but she still had to check.
(Amy won't allow those football parties any more. Says she gets too tired. Now we have them at my house. Here, guys don't always use the facilities. There's a desert outside; human urine scares some predators, like skunks or bobcats and gives deer a fright below our fruit trees. I encourage spreading the... uh... wealth, so to speak. We consider our endeavors eco-friendly, especially in water scarce Arizona. I'd love to see Amy's water bill.)
I waved Mike to continue.
"Well, she wouldn't answer," he said, "at first, anyway. Then, the week before her birthday, she started saying she wanted a trip."
A trip. "Didn't you just get back from Las Vegas?" I said.
"Yeah. That's what I said."
"And weren't you two in Palm Springs a week or two before that?"
"Yeah. I said that too."
"And aren't you going to Europe in a few months for three or four weeks?"
"Yeah," he said. "I said that too." He rolled his palms, a WTF gesture.
"And wait a minute," I said, holding up a finger. "She went on a girls-only bike trip just a few months ago, too, didn't she?"
He nodded. "San Diego." Rolled his palms again.
I sat back. A toughie. "So where does she want to go and when?" Your whole family is coming in a week or two, right?
"Yes." A breath. "Hell if I know... We talked about driving to Tubac or maybe to the hardware store for some new plumbing fixtures she wanted, but I couldn't sleep the night before her birthday -- you know, terrified and all -- and when I got up around Noon, she'd already gone."
"Oh, brother," I said. "You're marred for life. This will haunt you for years. You're a dead man walking."
Mike slapped a thigh. "No kidding. Amy hasn't spoken to me since, except to yell about how I showed her how unimportant she is."
"Oh, man," I said again. I knew that pit of husband-doom. He'd need more than luck to climb from that quicksand.
"Did you get her anything? I said, hoping for some wiggle-room.
"Yeah," Mike said. "See, I worried about this three weeks ago, so I stopped at her favorite 4th Ave. store and grabbed a shawl-like thing she'd admired at the fair. And I was going to pick up a Mexican pottery thingee from her favorite pottery store, but we went there last week buying something for somebody else and she nixed pottery for a birthday present."
Mike was on a roll, so I didn't interrupt.
"Then, after she left on birthday morning, I went to the florist and got a gorgeous lily arrangement. Musta been thirty lilies in that thing, blue, purple, pink...you name it." Cost me 80 bucks. He took a breath. "Amy loves lilies."
"And a card?" I said.
"Of course a card. Do you think I'm stupid? I even wrote nice stuff on it."
"Well, you gave it a good shot," I said, hoping to bring him out of the doldrums. "I mean, not having a clue and all."
"That's what I thought," Mike said. "But she threw the flowers into the trash and the shawl-like thing onto the garage floor."
My jaw dropped.
"Yeah," he said. "Then she started yelling and when I ran like hell, she started nasty-gramming me, hateful handscribbled notes, emails calling me awful names, calling you names, threatening to cancel our kids' trip here."
"Me?" I said with a jolt. "What do I have to do with this?"
"Hell, I don't know," the poor man said. "I don't know what I did wrong. How would I know what you did?"
My turn to roll the palms.
"Women!" we said, almost in unison.
"Mike," I said after a moment. "I'm gettin' you a beer." I rose, started walking and then turned back. "And Mike...?"
"You know that Geico Abe Lincoln commercial?" He looked a bit fuzzy. "The one that poses 'Was Abe Lincoln honest?' as Mary Todd Lincoln asks the biggie?"
"Oh... You mean, 'Does this make me look fat?'"
"Yeah." A beat, and then I smiled. "A piece of advice, hard-learned..."
"Do not laugh at that commercial."