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A creature was stirring.

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 to get out of Christmas shopping by giving his wife a pound box of Brach's miniatures and a paperback edition of How to Keep Your Husband Happy. She gave him an electric golf cart. This gave him such guilt pangs that he risked life and limb in the gift-exchange mob the day after Christmas and blew $695, plus tax, to buy her a washer and dryer.

Fortunately, we don't need a washer and dryer. I married a washer and dryer. But to avoid my friend's costly pitfall, I have been resorting to a little pre-Christmas strategy that, for want of a better word (I do wish I could come up with a better word), we'll call snooping. What it does is give me a chance to match--size-wise, at least--gift for gift. And it has worked so well that you'd have thought someone smarter would think of it. Until last year, that is.

I even had last year in the bag, right until store-closing time on Christmas Eve. What happened then, I'd rather forget. But if you insist...

Now, I am not the typical last-minute male shopper I used to be. There's nothing like those last-minute, half-price bargains to arouse the competitive spirit in the human breast. And when it comes to the thrill of victory, nothing can top winning a tug of war over the last size-36 sleeveless sweater on the counter.

But I gave up Christmas Eve competition years ago. It's so hard to convince some women that you didn't know the sweater originally had sleeves. Or that the third sleeve on a blouse will make a dandy matching neckpiece. I had a worse time explaining how a jigsaw puzzle with seven border pieces missing offers an even more exciting challenge. As for the exercise bike with the missing seat, which I patiently pointed out would take pounds off even faster because she'd have to stand while pedaling, I got it in the end. And she made me exchange the retarded parakeet for two goldfish and a tank. For my money the fish are even dumber than the bird.

But as I was saying, I had last Christmas all wrapped up. I had located 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 a woman know when her turkey is cooked. The 2x3-footer that I guessed to be a shirt-tie combo I counteracted with a nightgown and a box of matching Kleenex. The square package that I concluded must be an electric pencil sharpener I equalized with an electric can opener. The fishing rod, with an umbrella. The dozen golf balls, with a dozen soap balls. But you get the idea.

So, with the score at least tied (or I might even have been ahead--the can opener also had a convenience for sharpening shears), I was cavorting about the living room, shouting encouragement to the house plants, joking with the goldfish, occasionally splashing into their tank a bracer from the glass with which I was toasting my success.

Then, as in pride goeth before a fall, Lois suddenly screamed that the cat had caught a fish. But the fish had escaped and was flapping toward the bedroom. In trying to intercept it before I'd be called upon to render mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, I found myself plunging into the jungle of Lois' closet deeper than I had ever plunged before.

You guessed it. Behind the moth motel that had once served as a fur coat was a "To Maynard from Lois" package four feet long by two feet wide. I measured it. In retrospect, I should have torn the paper, peeked and blamed it on the cat. But stores would be closing in 30 minutes, and I still had to make the cat cough up the goldfish before dashing out to grab up a 4x2-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 to beat. Maybe she'd gotten me one of those boards on casters that would let me roll under the car to check the valve compression, or whatever it is other men roll under the car to do. Naw. I couldn't tell a valve compression from a piston replacement and Lois knows it. A grandfather's-clock kit? Not when she's still waiting for me to figure out how to install the knob on the kitchen door. Too short for a toboggan, too long for a cribbage board, it hadn't rattled, glugged, bent, jingled, jangled, snapped, crackled or popped. I'd just have to go by size and hope that, cost-wise, I wouldn't be too far off.

By dint of a final, all-out sprint across the parking lot, I managed to beat closing time at the drugstore by a full five minutes. The manager, however, probably wanting to begin his own Christmas shopping, was letting people out but not in.

"I left my grandson in the comic-book section!" I gasped, whipping past and heading for the turnstile.

I remember quite clearly flinging myself against the arm of the turnstile. But after that things get foggy. All I know is the turnstile failed to turn. I vaguely recall hitting the thing groin-high at about 15 miles per hour and being catapulted into a display of Christmas-tree ornaments across the aisle.

The manager, who heard the crash and came running to help me out of the merchandise, said I was lucky the ornaments had been reduced to half price. Even at that, the bill came to $18.45. The $20.00 I had brought with me left but enough for a marked-down bottle of Maybe Tonight perfume.

"And just why did you buy this, whatever it is?" Lois asked upon unwrapping the first sack of busted ornaments on Christmas morning.

"They're to glue on your blue evening dress," I said. "I thought it would look even prettier with a bunch of sequins."

Before she could ask about the second sack, I said, "You've been wanting something to put under the glass top of the coffee table. There you are." And when she couldn't talk at all after opening the third sack, I explained that the goldfish tank needed a little brightening up. I said it would cheer up the fish the cat had intercepted.

And for what had I sacrificed the serenity of my Christmas Eve, to say nothing of risking internal organs on a wrong-way turnstile? A mirror! A lousy hall mirror!

"I've been wanting a mirror in that hallway ever since we moved 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 united their plights in the trough of holy wedlock, or however that goes, for as many years as we have, the woman would resort to out-and-out deception, fraud, malfeasance or otherwise dirty pool at this season of the year.

I'm taking no chances, however. What I'm doing this year is wrapping an electric typewriter that I've wanted ever since we moved here, labeling it "To Lois from Maynard" and hiding it on top of the bureau. Maybe a couple of weeks before Christmas. That should 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 have the answer.
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Title Annotation:Christmas satire
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1984
Previous Article:Christmas on the Island.
Next Article:The Christmas story.

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