Shopping. You’d think by this point in my life I would have it down pat. Six decades into living and I still don’t know what I’m doing. Don’t get me wrong, I know how to shop for myself – that’s easy – I walk into a store, find what I need, pay for it and leave. No muss and no fuss, as they used to say. No problem there. The problems start when I have to shop for anyone other than myself. That’s when it gets complicated.
My wife has long ago learned never to send me to the store for anything more involved than milk or bread. Any item that has more than one syllable in its name requires that she write it down on a shopping list for me. And even then it can be iffy. You can’t just get a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup anymore because there are at least half a dozen different kinds of the thing. There is condensed, there is low sodium, there is chunky, there is Home-style, there is reduced calorie, there is tomato and bacon (or is it bean and bacon? Or tomato and bean?) And don’t get me started on coffee brands, coffee flavors, and coffee strengths.
Drug store items such as toothpaste, cough drops, and pain or cold medications are particularly troublesome since every brand comes in a dizzying array of iterations. Take pain relievers, for example. There is aspirin, but then we have ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Which one do you want? But it doesn’t stop there, oh no. Do you want the mild or the migraine strength? Do you want instant relief or long acting? Regular or nighttime? Caplets, capsules, or tablets? Coated or non-coated?
Cold medications will drive you nuts as you stand in the aisle perusing the dozens and dozens of products, trying to match the symptoms they list on the boxes with the symptoms you need relief with. Unless you have a degree in chemistry you’re out of luck. Cough drops should be easy, right? If you said “right” then you haven’t been paying attention, I suggest you go back to the top of my column and read it again from the beginning.
Now we come to the holiday season which is really the gift giving season. Yes, it’s the merriest time of the year, as Andy Williams used to sing. Oh sure, what did Andy care? He probably had a professional shopper on his staff that would go out and do his entire gift buying for him. All Andy had to do was choose a sweater and scarf to wear for his Christmas show (or did his shopper take care of that too?)
It isn’t that I don’t enjoy the idea of gift giving, I do. I like the concept of giving someone something and watching their little face light up with joy and happiness when they unwrap it and see that “perfect gift.” Ah, there’s the rub! It’s honing in on the “perfect gift” that stumps me. If I could just get people things that they would really appreciate then it would be great, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Many times it’s either the wrong size or the wrong color or the wrong style or, well, just plain wrong.
There is nothing quite as deflating to a gift giver than watching a person open the gift you bought them only to see their expression morph through three distinct changes. First, as they are opening it, their face is in gleeful anticipation; then once they focus on what the thing is, their face scrunches into bewildered disappointment; and finally (and very quickly so that hopefully no one will notice) the face takes on a pretend happy-smiley-face. “OH! Thank youuu! This is….great. Really.”
I should hasten to add that the one who was given the gift is not to blame. After all, it’s not their fault that the gift is wrong. They certainly WANTED to like it. The fault lies with the giver not with the givee. I should have learned by now that the only way to get that “perfect gift” is to go shopping with a shopping list, preferably one that the intended gift-getter has written out for me. With everything spelled correctly.
Forget the surprise gift. It never works. It will only bring you the dreaded three expression morph (see two paragraphs back). Just buy them what they have put on their list and be done with it. Either that or get them a can of tomato soup.