The first step in preparing for a shopping trip with women is to make sure your survival equipment is in working order. Here’s a list of essentials:
Hand-held GPS device preprogrammed with the locations of every decent bar within 100 square miles.
Cell phone turned off, so you can’t be summoned from the bar to offer an opinion (that will be ignored) on which of eight indistinguishable tablecloths most closely aligns with your sister-in-law’s taste in dining-room accessories.
Flask of good bourbon, in case you can’t escape to a bar.
A book for passing the time outside dressing rooms, restrooms and boutiques scented with enough potpourri to gag a skunk. Appropriate titles: “The End of Time” by Julian Barbour, “The Long Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler, “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett and “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende.
Nourishment in the form of chips, dips, candy bars, cheese-infused crackers, assorted nuts, a variety of jerky and an ample supply of amphetamines. Don’t mix the amphetamines with the bourbon. Unless things get really desperate.
I realize that in preparing the preceding list, I’m guilty of stereotyping women as ditzy nincompoops incapable of making timely decisions about even the most mundane of matters. But if there wasn’t some validity to that stereotype, it wouldn’t have endured through the last 25,000 years, since the first female Cro-Magnon was confronted with the first choice in footwear (“These sandals come in both saber-tooth and wooly mammoth”). Anthropologists are still waiting for her to make up her mind.
Over the centuries, men have learned a few things about how women shop. The first of these is that they don’t. As I understand the term “shop,” it involves buying something, taking it home and putting it to its intended use, such as drinking it during football games.
According to many scientific studies (which I haven’t bothered to read), women don’t engage in any of these practices while allegedly shopping. Instead, they compare all available items – such as tablecloths suitable for a Christmas gift for her sister – for price, quality, style, color and chemical toxicity. This can take many months, during which time no woman even considers actually purchasing anything. Eventually, though, necessity or boredom sets in. A tablecloth is selected, taken home, spread out and examined closely. Opinions on its appropriateness are sought from anyone unfortunate enough to be acquainted with the purchaser in any fashion, including pilots of aircraft flying over her house.
Finally, a consensus is reached.
The tablecloth must be returned to the store. The search must begin anew.
There’s no danger of the sister being upset when her Christmas gift doesn’t arrive on time. That’s because the place mats she’s been thinking of buying for your wife for the last six months are still in a warehouse in Beijing, awaiting a decision on which pattern is the perfect complement to the napkins she almost gave her in 1996.
In the meantime, men have completed their holiday shopping for everyone on their list, while also picking up some beer, bourbon and jerky (oh, wait, beer, bourbon and jerky are the holiday shopping) in just under half an hour. It would have been less, but the store was offering free samples of the jerky.
This isn’t to say that when it comes to buying things, men are always right and women always wrong. I discovered this recently when I needed cough medicine. My wife, knowing my aversion to shopping, offered to go in the store while I waited in the car. That was tempting, but it was Thursday, and I wanted to be home (a mile away) by Sunday to watch the Patriots game. So, to save time, I set forth on my own.
I walked to the pharmacy aisle, spotted a shelf of cough suppressants and grabbed the first bottle. It had a big sticker on the front that said “Real Grape Flavor.”
What more did I need?
I returned to the car and proudly displayed by purchase.
“That’s for children under 4,” said my wife. “You just grabbed the first bottle you saw.”
I slunk back into the store, and bought the first bottle I saw of adult cough medicine. It didn’t have “Real Grape Flavor.” It tasted like, well, cough medicine. Even after I mixed it with bourbon.
Even so, the male approach to shopping is vastly superior to the female method. For instance, a man can take care of his annual wardrobe needs in mere seconds.
“Hello, customer service? Do you have a record of what I bought last year?”
“Yes, we do.”
“Good, send me that again.”
In contrast, my wife can stand in front of a display of 2,000 identical cans of tomato soup for longer than it takes to complete the NBA playoffs, thoughtfully considering each one.
And emerge from the store without having bought any of them.
Which is why she was once described by another woman as “being able to shop for half an hour in a gas station.”
It was a compliment.
Finally, in the interest of fairness, I should include a few words about how a woman can survive a shopping trip with a man.
Go without me.
Al Diamon writes the weekly column “Politics & Other Mistakes.” He’s also the media critic for Down East magazine’s website. He once went into Bed Bath & Beyond and asked a sales clerk where they kept the space shuttles.