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Paying the price of practical purchasing

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 13, 2002

Sometimes movies that you might find otherwise unremarkable burn at least one unforgettable image into your mind.

I'm having to get over one of those before I do my Christmas shopping.

In 1990 Susan Sarandon and James Spader played in White Palace, which wasn't treated kindly by all of the critics, but which made a permanent impression on me.

The movie is about a young, widowed advertising executive who meets a waitress, several years his senior, at a bar. They fall in love.

The waitress, played by Sarandon, is kind of disorganized, not exactly neat. The scene I don't think I will ever forget is the one where Spader gives her a hand-held vacuum cleaner as a gift.

She goes for his throat and, jerking him by the neck to punctuate her statement, says something like, "You . . . do . . . not . . . give . . . a . . . woman . . . a . . . vacuum . . . cleaner . . . as . . . a . . . gift."

I was traumatized.

In fact I was so traumatized that I refused to believe my then-wife when she said she really wanted a vacuum cleaner for Christmas.

"It's a trick," I said, hands edging protectively toward my throat, "isn't it?"

She swore it wasn't, but it was still three years before I finally bought the much-needed appliance. Even then, I stayed out of leaping distance when she unwrapped it.

It turned out she actually wanted it.

But the scars remain.

Because of the phobia I acquired from the movie, a lot of dishwashers, carpet sweepers and other appliances have gone unpurchased over the years.

I think many wives have a real or imaginary list of floral offerings appropriate to ameliorate specific transgressions. The list begins with such things as daisies and gladioluses for coming home late, and you can work your way up to to dozens of roses for things such as using an old girlfriend's name at an intimate moment."

When you get to the top of the floral list, I am pretty sure there is a notation that reads, "See list, jewelry."

Reassurances to the contrary, I still think straying toward the practical on holiday and sentimental occasions is very risky.

Bottom line, you are probably better off with a $45 stickpin than with a new washer and dryer.

This isn't a sexist observance. Most men would be thrilled with a Sears gift certificate for the tool department or a new set of tires; most women would not.

(To demonstrate that stereotypes don't always fit, I am not allowed in the tool department of Sears for fear I will hurt myself trying to remove ear wax with an electric drill or use a power wrench as an ice pick. I prefer gifts of entertainment.)

But my current wife is of a practical bent, most of the time, and assures me that she will be perfectly satisfied with computer parts as a gift. We have acquired an old laptop for home use, but it needs a few things, my computer-literate co-workers tell me, such as a disk drive, mouse and printer.

My geek guru, in fact, has offered to go shopping with me so that everything is of the right vintage and fit. I think she is afraid I will go to a pet store looking for the mouse.

Assurances to the contrary, the look on Susan Sarandon's face in White Palace will be very much on my mind as she unwraps the disk drive, whatever the heck that is, and if it looks like she is about to lunge, I will immediately go to Plan II: a prewrapped piece of costume jewelry hidden within reach. I can proffer it and say, "Ha ha, you really bought that? You thought I would give you computer stuff for Christmas? Me?"

I may have gotten only a little wiser, but I have gotten a lot older, and I know that I am not able to break a choke hold as quickly as I once was.

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