Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Puzzling socks, weird toys, and other perils of being generous

     Sunday morning, kitchen. The husband making coffee. The wife sorting a stack of mail into two piles, pitch and pay. She mentions Northbrook has a program where anyone over age 55 gets $5 off a cab ride.
     I make a face. Is that really intended for us? Are we not above that?
     “Every five dollars counts!” she decrees, briskly moving to the next letter.
     Do I want to give to Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism?
     “No.” (The “Let-them-nuzzle-the-Tribune’s-ass-on-somebody-else’s-dime” is unvoiced.)
     The Anti-Cruelty Society?
     “Are we forgiving them for Vronsky?” I ask. A beloved cat we rescued from their clutches. “They wanted to kill him.”
     “I give every year,” she says. Asking my opinion is, apparently, more symbolic than functional.
     As I’m escaping upstairs she calls after me.
     “And do that Santa, presents-for-kids program this year without grumbling.”
     I freeze, wounded.
     “I always grumble. It’s a holiday tradition.”
     ”No need to put on a curmudgeon act.”
     “It’s not an act.”
     “You’re sweetness itself ...”
     No sane husband is going to argue with that. OK. Fine. When stacks of children’s letters appear in the lobby of the Sun-Times, I do something unprecedented: march over and grab the first letter off the pile. None of the usual careful sifting, trying to ID the tot requesting easy-to-find, inexpensive presents. I will bring joy to ... a 6-year-old boy.
     His letter begins:

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  1. Hmm, I think you may have exceeded the suggested dollar amount...

    1. Yes, big time... I only noticed the rules AFTER I had done my shopping. "Should we take some stuff back?" I suggested to my wife, who replied "HE HAS NO SOCKS!!!!" Just kidding. No, the paper took the figure out, to try to avoid confusion.

  2. This assignment is obviously not as much fun for you (a mid-50's man with grown children) as it was for me (a mid-30's single, childless man with only one spoiled nephew who lived 3 states away) the first year our company had a gift tree with lists made by (for?) local kids. The tree had only 3 lists left for girls between 6 and 9 when I went to pick, but I didn't care because I was looking forward to buying toys and books for kids (it must be a primal urge) even if I wouldn't get to see the recipient.
    I was surprised that clothing requests were part of the list, but happily shopped for and bought the requested items, erring, like your wife, on the high side, adding items that I thought might be needed but unmentioned, or that I thought just looked cool.
    A couple of years later, I was reminded of this shopping spree while I was packing my car trunk for a trip with my current girlfriend. Taking unnecessary items out of my trunk to make room, I grabbed a plastic bag that had slipped between the trunk floor and the spare tire space, and pulled out a package of 3 panties for an 8-year old girl. Is there anything creepier that could come out of a single man's car trunk? I quickly explained their presence to my girlfriend, struggling to laugh it off.
    I wasn't until much later that I remembered the child's list I had taken, and thought about how hard it must be to have to ask a stranger to buy you new underwear.

  3. Gosh, I loved your column today. I laughed out loud when every time you grumbled you’re wife said, “He has no socks!” And her reference to your being a curmudgeon gave me a tickle, too. That’s because this could’ve been a scene at my house. My husband also puts on the “curmudgeon act” from time to time when, in fact, he can be a real softy! You two sound like a match made in heaven just like us! Thanks for inspiring me to donate this year.


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