I think I’m a pretty good guy, as husbands go (especially considering that it’s “go” the bad ones increasingly do). I feel I’m a seasoned practitioner of the art of husbandry, having been married for almost 27 years now. My wife may not always agree, but she can’t deny that I’m trying, in at least two senses of the word.
Take this weekend, for example. On Friday, I accompanied Beth to the doctor, for treatment of her sprained back. Saturday, when she was feeling slightly better, we enjoyed a pleasant morning together, sampling baked goods on the patio of a nearby bakery. I spent most of my day Sunday cleaning the house, balancing the checkbook and – check this out, ladies – doing my own laundry. Can you imagine such a thing? A married man taking some responsibility for the maintenance his own environment? Where do I pick up my award?
It was the previous Saturday, however, when I think I truly went above and beyond. Beth has recently taken up the hobby of knitting. While I have no similar pastime that goes to quite that extreme on the feminine/masculine spectrum (I had to give up weekend bullfighting when my shoulder went out a few years ago), I have been fully supportive of this pursuit, especially since it resulted in a cozy pair of slippers for me. So when she needed a few extra skeins of yard and the local crafts store was having a sale, I cheerfully agreed to ride along.
When we arrived at Michaels, I learned that I was to be an accessory in more ways than one. There was a coupon online that entitled the bearer to one-half off the price of any knitting supply, but the deal was only one-per-customer, and my wife needed to purchase two skeins to finish her current project (it’s either a scarf or a bandolier, I forget which). My assignment was to pretend I was going to be purchasing one of the yarns for by own personal reasons, though God only knows what those might be.
For readers who aren’t familiar (men), the Michaels chain is the nation’s largest retailer of art and crafts materials, “helping crafters of all ages express their imaginations with skill and originality,” according to their website. Operating in 49 states and Canada, they offer a large selection of arts, crafts, framing, floral, wall décor and seasonal merchandise. The thousand-plus stores currently in business carry 37,000 basic items in warehouse-sized stores averaging close to 20,000 square feet of selling space.
When we walked into the Rock Hill store, I felt totally overwhelmed by a world I didn’t even know existed. This must be, I thought, what the first explorers of the ocean floor felt like, except with more air and fewer pounds-per-square-inch of water pressure. To the right of the entrance was an entire section devoted to ribbons, with displays that suggested incorporating them into everything from flip-flops to clipboards to lanterns to baby sleeping pillows. Just ahead was a sign-up station for an upcoming family event, in which participants would “create a summer fun tote bag.” To the left was a sign pointing to “pens, pencils, brushes and canvas.” What the hell, I wondered, is a “canva”?
I could see other department signs hanging from the ceiling in the distance. There was an entire area specifically for “doll and bear supplies” (what could these two subjects possibly have in common, except perhaps for Sarah Palin?) Another sign showed the way to “fashion crafting,” while a third and fourth that were only vaguely readable through the artificial ferns promoted “mosaic supplies” and “glue and adhesives.” They even had a department of foam, which I had believed was only available by pouring Pepsi on your ice cream.
Finally, I saw a sign that pointed to something familiar, the rest rooms. Faced with the staggering array of options that lay before me, it seemed like an excellent time to wash my hands. I told Beth to go ahead and pick out the yarn ball I would be buying, and I’d meet her near the cash registers in five minutes.
Fortunately, there were no crafting opportunities available in the bathroom, though I had little doubt that the ladies’ facilities across the way contained gaily decorated commode handles and small statues created out of discarded toilet paper cores. But it did have one feature that would be as little-used as everything else in the store. Jutting out from the wall was one of those baby-changing stations that you see more and more these days in enlightened men’s rooms. Included next to the instructions on how to open the device and strap your baby therein was the raised print of Braille.
Into this improbable world of concepts I never knew existed, here came another: the idea that any man at all would even enter this store, that he would need to use a restroom, that he would have a baby with him, that the baby would need to be changed, that he’d be willing to do it and that, on top of everything else, he’d be blind. And I thought scrapbooking was unlikely.
I finished my business and met Beth near the checkout. I was extremely nervous about the caper we were about to pull. I’ve been involved in very little legally banned activity in my life, and was reluctant to have a career of crime begin with something as unprofitable as buying a ball of yarn that I had no intention of using. If I’m going to risk prison time, at least allow me the thrill of sticking up a liquor store. I am not about to explain to my fellow inmates that I’m in for coupon fraud at the crafts shop.
There were two registers in operation as we approached. I had insisted on going first so that it would technically be my wife who was involved in the criminal enterprise rather than me (as I noted earlier, such a good husband). Just as I stepped forward, my cashier picked up her cash drawer and walked away. Beth had already begun her transaction at the other station, so I was left with no choice but to step in line behind her.
My face felt hot and the back of my neck tingled. While friendly chatter was going on between the Michaels employee and my wife, all I could hear was the throbbing of my heart. We were both purchasing exactly the same item, right down to the dye lot number, whatever that is. There was no way the store would see this as a random coincidence, considering we had 36,999 other articles to choose from. My turn came and I gamely stepped up; the coupon trembled so much in my hand I was surprised the cashier could grab it.
“Oh, I know what you’re doing,” she said. “You’re both using the coupons.”
I was tempted to run but a bank of artificial flowers blocked my escape. I think they were flowers – artificial something, anyway.
“Don’t worry about it. I see nothing,” she laughed in a Sergeant Schultz accent.
I was flooded with relief and managed a slight chuckle. With the ruse exposed, we finished the transaction and I handed the yarn over to Beth, ready to get out of this place as soon as possible.
How fortunate for me and my continued freedom that the cashier was vision-impaired. If she needs a spot to change her baby’s diaper, I know exactly the place.