Tom West: A consummate consumer capitulates
About three years ago, out of the blue, the secretary of health and human services at our house turned to me and said, "You could really use a new winter jacket."...
About three years ago, out of the blue, the secretary of health and human services at our house turned to me and said, "You could really use a new winter jacket."
We were slowly moving through the crowd on our way out of the movie theater at the time. I immediately looked down to see if I had spilled butter from the popcorn down my front. I checked the sleeves to see if I had dragged them through the ketchup at the restaurant we had stopped at on the way to the theater. The light tan jacket was a little grimy -- it was March after all -- but nothing was wrong with it that the annual dry cleaning wouldn't solve.
The problem was in the way I phrased my response. Instead of saying, "There's nothing wrong with it," I said, "What's wrong with it?"
"It's out of style," she said.
"How could your basic tan parka ever be out of style?" I thought. I didn't even say it out loud, but she seemed to hear me anyway. She said, "You need something flashier."
In front of us was a kid with a purple and gold Vikings jacket. I nodded at the kid, raised an eyebrow and said, "I'm not a kid anymore."
Undaunted, she said, "Look at his dad."
Next to the kid in the Viking jacket was a guy in a green Packers jacket. "I hate the Packers," I said. "I'm from Minnesota, remember? It's in my genes."
She said, "You're missing my point."
I wasn't missing it. I was trying to avoid it at all costs -- or at least at the cost of a new jacket.
The secretary and I have been playing this game as long as we've known each other. According to her, until she came along I was practically naked and unashamed. In the pure state of bachelorhood, I didn't buy clothes because they were in style, but because they were comfortable, didn't cost much and covered the body parts I wanted covered at the time.
When I shop for clothes, I'm straightforward. I know what I want before I go. I go. I buy. I go home. If I'm lucky, the ball game is still on TV when I get back. Buying clothes does not require a degree in nuclear physics.
However, the secretary thinks that the outcome will more likely be positive if she comes along. I could go to the store to buy a shirt, for example, and she will then say, "Why don't you get a tie to match."
The reason I don't want to get a tie to match is because I already have 30 ties in my closet, four or five of which will match any dress shirt on the planet. And besides, if being in style is an issue, from what I've seen the necktie is rapidly headed in the direction of the homburg.
It doesn't end there, however. If I buy the necktie, then she says, "Oh look, the sport coats are on sale. You could really use one, believe me." Suddenly, a simple $30 shopping errand becomes a $350 shopping spree.
Ten days ago, the secretary said that winter coats were on sale at the mall. "Let's go," she said cheerfully.
Coming after three years of resistance, the battle of attrition was beginning to wear on me. The coat was still as good as new, but I was tired of defending it. After all, it was just a coat. But I had to save face, so I squelched her. "Just let me go by myself," I said. "I can get the job done on my own."
And in half the time, I
Nor did I add that her birthday was coming up in a few days, and this was the only time I had to buy her a gift.
But then she gave me this hurt look and said something like, "I'm only trying to help. They rearranged the store, and I know right where they're at."
So then my heart melted, and once again I allowed the consummate shopper to accompany me to the mall.
We arrived at the mall, and, true to her word, she took me right to the jackets. Unfortunately, she had forgotten once again another problem that I have when buying clothes -- when God was giving out body parts, some of mine were at the bottom of the barrel. That's another way of saying that nobody would think that my body shape came off a cookie cutter assembly line.
The world's tailors have been sending me that message for years. I almost always have to have my pants altered. I have to special order shoes. And jackets have to be in a tall size, or they look dorky.
Unfortunately, this store had only one jacket that fit, and it didn't have any of the flashy new colors that are in style today. No, it was just plain brown.
It looked fine to me. It was just like the brown winter jacket that I had back in the '80s before I got the tan jacket. But because the secretary was along, I didn't get it. It wasn't in style.
So this week, I was watching the thrilling conclusion of the Vikings' game, and no sooner did it end than the secretary said, "I found some winter coats in tall sizes."
I had been trying for 31 months to keep from buying a new jacket when I had a perfectly good one at home. However, the poor woman had become so obsessed with properly clothing me -- in style -- that she had scouted out every clothing store in town looking for an extra large tall jacket. I finally relented.
I had to try on three jackets, when trying on one would have done the trick. It's only marginally in style according to the secretary because the colors are not flashy -- dark green and black.
But I like it. It fits. It's warm. And it doesn't say "Packers" on the back.
Plus, when it wears out, I'll still have a perfectly good back-up in the closet.
Tom West is the executive editor of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .