Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wife Rule #40: I'm a Drag

My feet feel like anvils, unnatural extensions of my hopelessly weary legs, weighing down every staggering step. I barely have the strength to stay upright. The incessant brightness shines down in my bleary eyes, and my lead arm struggles to raise my hand to sheild them from the intrusive light. I stumble, nearly going down; to finish this task will be an epoch battle of wills.

I have climbed to the top of 12,000 foot mountains; I have hauled a pack into remote wilderness basins; I have trudged across desert wastes, when water supplies have dwindled; I have forged rivers and battled driftwood seas. Those challenges--each an exhilirating reminder of my mortality, each a beast to be conquered through brute strength--are nothing, NOTHING compared the test of endurance that I face now.

I am in a department store, shopping with my wife.

Physiologically, I can't explain exactly why it is that the moment we step over the threshold of the store that my eyes immediately go droopy and my mind starts to shut down. Maybe it's sensory overload from the hundreds of brightly colored "Sale" signs marking the endless rows of discounted merchandise. Maybe it's the bland gray carpet, which pads our feet and mutes the noise of my ever-heavier plodding along. Perhaps it's the siren lullaby of elevator music, piped from mysterious locations overhead, that shuts me down, flipping each circut in my mental breaker off, methodically, one at a time: flip, flip, flip, Shadow, flip, flip, flip, Dimmer, flip, flip, flip, Utter Darkness, flippety-flip, Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I can't explain why this happens; all I know is that the effect is real. Whatever the magic ingredients are, they form a toxic, subconscious coctail that acts as if a powerful, fast-acting, sleeping drug was injected directly into my brain.

This phenomenon can be observed in virtually any department store you go to: take a moment to look around, and you will see some woman dragging her half-conscious man behind her through some bewilderingly boring section of the store, such as Ladies' Hosiery. This effect--we'll call it the Drag Effect--is a little-understood, though well-documented, shopping phenomenon that has been affecting men for millions of years. Cave paintings depict Prehistoric Man, unconscious and drooling, being dragged along by his copious chest hair as Prehistoric Woman browses through endless racks of identical-looking, mammoth-skin fashion apparel. Sometimes these paintings go on for miles. Yawn.

Maybe it's a genetic deficiency. Perhaps the gene responsible for coping with department store shopping is contained in that big section that's completely missing from the Y chromosome. That large hole in male DNA is undoubtedly also the same reason why males don't seem to understand the inherent disadvantages of continually hitting each other ("Ha, ha, ha" (PUNCH) "OW! Ha, ha, that'll leave a bruise." (WHACK) "Ow! Ha ha ha...").

My personal theory behind the Drag Effect is that it stems from a man's obsessive-compulsive desire to have a concrete goal when shopping (call us silly). See, when he goes shopping in an environment of virtually infinite purchasing choices such as a department store, his natural tendency is to panic, grab the first object in sight, thrust a wad of bills at the cashier, and bolt out the door before he erupts into full-fledged screaming. For this reason, you will often see men in the parking lots of department stores, in the cabs of their trucks, curled up in the fetal position and clutching a PEZ dispenser. Give them a break; it's the best they can do under the circumstances.

But pair the man with his woman in the same situation, and his natural machismo prevents him from screaming or curling up into the fetal position. Thus, fully feeling the weight of his sentence to spend maybe a full twenty or thirty minutes in such a hostile environment, his natural tendency is to dull his senses by becoming instantly drowsy. It all makes sense, see.

As a further illustration, consider again our prehistoric friends, "shopping" for dinner. To the man, the goal is simple and clear: kill a hunk of meat and eat it. Naturally, he will throw his spear at the first hunk of meat that he happens to come across, which is usually some type of hoofed animal with antlers. A woman, if she were shopping for a hunk of meat to eat, might first want to browse a catalog of what other women are saying is "in fashion" to eat, and then visit several different hunting locations, capturing and tying up several animals at each, but not committing to a kill. Then, after hours of dragging her man around, she MIGHT go back to one of the tied-up animals and ask her man to throw a spear at it. But it's just as likely that she will decide to go home without any meat at all, and serve tofu instead. Why? "I just didn't like any of the antlers on the animals we found today. Besides, tofu is lower in saturated fat."

You can obviously see the problem here. Thus, it shouldn't be surprising that the next time they go shopping together, he gives up immediately and goes to sleep. "Just wake me when I throw the spear, honey," he says through a stifled yawn.

But whatever the cause, one thing is certain: it's not my fault. Just ask my dad. He doesn't wait until he gets into the store to fall asleep; he gets drowsy just thinking about shopping. He has optimized the shopping trip to the point that he never has to leave the house.

Or consider my friend at work, with whom I was recently discussing the Drag Effect. He doesn't have a chance to get tired; he gets an immediate headache whenever he detects that they are shopping together. Really--I'm not kidding. "It's like an instant migraine," he told me. "I have to leave the store and lay down in the car with my eyes covered." I nodded sympathetically, and our male bonding strengthened as a flash of unspoken understanding passed between us. It's a guy thing.

Of course, there are exceptions. Each man has his love, his "Shopping Muse," as it were. For some, it's electronics. For others, it's auto parts. Mine happens to be food. My wife knows that if she sends me out to buy a bunch of bananas and a head of lettuce that I am likely to return an hour later with a car packed full of cold cereal, milk, steak, and cheese. "I forgot the lettuce, but I got some other stuff so we don't have to visit any more stores for a long time," I report proudly.

Sure, there's no fiber to be found, but she didn't have to drag me anywhere, and I don't have to worry about tofu for dinner. At least not this time.


Lindsay said...

I'm a freak of nature--a woman who hates to shop. I feel just about like you do. And don't even get me started about trying clothes on. Agony and torture! Unfortunately I don't even like grocery shopping. What is wrong with me?

Amy said...

The only thing I like about shopping is saving money on groceries. I'm especially pleased when I can look at my receipt and I've paid 1/3 of what they say the food is worth. That, or have them pay me to bring food home. That's happened once.

LuckyMatt said...

Hmmm, and now one of the engineers I work with tells me that his wife hates to shop and he enjoys it. Maybe I've got this all backwards...

Naw, Nope, I don't think so.