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The Spouse Store 

When hubby won't shop

I was in the Christmas store at Broadway At The Beach when I remembered this strange notion I used to have. BATB is that collection of stores in Myrtle Beach that reminds me of the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ, except that those shops actually are at the beach, while the Broadway ones, in the contemporary habit of deceiving advertising, only say they are.

Despite the lack of salt air and shopping Muzak provided by the waves, I like BATB because it includes an all-time favorite haunt, the big Christmas store, with its elaborate displays of every piece of Dept. 56 in existence. In case you avoid knowledge of such things as if they were the carriers of a fag-producing plague, like my husband does, Dept. 56 is a line of miniature lighted villages. It started as a Christmas thing but has exploded to include Halloween, despite what I assume is a big customer base among fundamentalist Christians, whose literalism seems to go hand-in-hand with a love of doohickeys.

My son and I have a tradition of picking out a new Dept. 56 item every year, so we were thrilled to discover a place that holds all the pieces of the little towns, including ones we'd only seen in catalogs. My husband, however, won't even cross the threshold of the Christmas store.

At the sight of its beckoning windows he snorts, "Oh Christ!" and glues himself to a bench in front of one of the big fountains BATB is dotted with to help make up for that big lie about being at the beach. I think hubby suspects that just walking through the store's door past its life-sized Santa sentry and into its twinkling environs would permanently mar his manhood.

So my son and I go in by ourselves and drool at the miniature worlds set up at eye level, but I always peek wistfully at the occasional men in there ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the doodads. They can't all be gay, I think, and this year I had proof because of an amazing conversation I overheard between a husband and wife.

As they crept down the Dept.56 aisle, the wife pointed to individual pieces and asked over and over again, "Do I have that?" and each and every time her husband answered yes or no, in a voice as patient as what you'd imagine God's is. I was astonished. This husband knew by heart, better even than his wife did, every little village item that she owned, while mine won't even walk through the dining room when our town is set up in there, as if to better deny its irritating existence.

My dropped-jaw reaction to hearing the couple's exchange was, where do you get a husband like that? And it was at that moment that I recalled my peculiar conviction in childhood that my mother had picked out my father from a department store. That's it!, I realized -- there should be a store for spouses, arranged according to the departments that really matter, not the ones the women's magazines tell you are important.

All those articles on finding a husband tell you to make a list of the qualities that are essential in a future mate, and when I thought I was mature enough (wrong), and knew myself well enough (wronger -- that could be a word) to figure out what I wanted, I made my list. I still have it, and it's full of all the predictable things, like responsibility and dependability and intelligence, that you think are so important until you're actually married. It's one of life's twisted ironies that you don't know what really matters in a marriage until -- ta-da! -- you're hunkered down in the trenches of one.

So the spouse store would have departments for vital traits like "will walk into a Christmas store with you," with "will actually pay attention to your Department 56 collection" available as an add-on. There'd be also be departments for "likes the sheets tucked in," "replaces the toilet paper," "will sit in a movie theater somewhere besides the first or last row," and "will like it when you hum."

While we're still trying to snare the rock, we women are known to spout such lies as, "I love sitting in the last row!" As for sheets, I don't know what the gender quirk is, but I've never shared a bed with a man who liked them tucked in, while I've always found this central to my psychological well-being. Regarding the toilet paper roll, I'll quote an inebriated woman I overheard in a restaurant ladies' room one time: "My husband thinks the toilet paper fairy replaces it."

So, I may not be married to a man who'll help set up our Christmas village while joining me in a rousing round of carols-humming, but at least I'm raising one, and he's going to make a fantastic find in the spouse store one day.

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