"You ready for Christmas?"
The man beside me at the counter was tall and hook-nosed and appeared to be at least my age. He was waiting for his supper and I had ordered a to-go plate.
"I guess so," I said. "I'm ready for my presents."
"My wife does our shopping," he said.
"Yeah, mine too," I agreed. "She's our purchasing agent."
"We've got the kids, a bunch of grandkids and all those in-laws," the man continued. "My wife said she and I didn't need to exchange gifts this year because of all the others we have to buy for.
"So that leaves me in the lurch," he said. "I already bought hers. It's a no-win for me."
"How's that?" I wondered.
"See, if I take her present back, then come Christmas she'll surprise me with a gift and I'll be empty-handed. If I go ahead and give it to her, she'll say, 'I told you we weren't exchanging gifts this year. You never listen to anything I say.' "
"Yeah, you're right," I said. "No way you can win."
"My wife, though, loves to shop," the man went on. "You know the old saying, 'Shoot first and ask questions later'? For her it's 'Buy now and balance the checkbook later.' Except I'm the one doing the balancing."
"Me, too," I said. "My wife buys groceries after our Social Security checks go in, pays with the debit card and asks for cash back so she'll have money to spend the next week."
The man's plate came and he unfolded his napkin to take out his silverware. "That's understandable," he said.
"But the next week, if she has to go buy something, she uses the debit card again," I said. "I ask her why she used the debit card when she's got cash in her purse. 'Because I might need that money,' she says."
The man and I both rolled our eyes as he took a forkful of fried squash.
"My wife loves to shop just like yours," I continued. "We can go to a grocery store to buy one or two items and you know what she does as soon as we walk in?"
"I think I know, but go on," the man said.
"She grabs a grocery cart," I exclaimed. "I'll ask her, 'Why do you need a grocery cart for just a can of beans and a loaf of bread?' And she says, 'I might see something else I need.' "
The man's head went up and down in recognition. "Yeah, that's how they play."
"We went into a home improvement store to buy a can of that ceiling spray," I said. "I'm looking straight ahead and her head's going back and forth.'Quit looking at stuff,' I told her. 'But we might need something, like that yard rake or some more air filters,' she replied."
"My wife's the same way," said the man as he took a gulp of his sweet tea. "She can't get out of a store within 30 minutes. Her record is 32 minutes and 45 seconds. And that was during a snowstorm and the roads were turnin’ white."
"One other thing," I said. "Any time we walk into a home improvement store, I know there'll be a job for me when we get back home."
"Oh, yeah," the man said. "Ain't nothin' in one of those places that when you take it home doesn't require assembly, installation, application or nailing onto something."
About that time the waitress brought my take-out. I paid for it and grabbed the bag.
"You have a merry Christmas," the man said.
"You, too. Good luck with your wife's present."
"I'll need it," he said as he took a bite of cornbread. "But that's alright. She knows I'm clueless."
Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, firstname.lastname@example.org.