Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tooth or consequences

This whole grandparent thing I've been experiencing has reminded me of some of the stuff I used to be sort of good at once upon a time. I've remembered how to play catch with kids who are still struggling to wield a glove without getting bonked on the head every time you toss a pop-up their way. I've regained my ability to threaten, bribe and cajole in equal measures regarding bedtimes, sweets and certain green vegetables, and I've recalled the childhood struggles of bikes without training wheels, shoes that will not stay tied, and toys and sports equipment that go missing every time you turn your back on them.
Heck, I even remembered how to change diapers back when my youngest grandsons were babies.
But the one childhood rite of passage that caught me kind of by surpise is now upon us.
Loose tooth season.
In a way, it's not unlike autumn, when things suddenly begin to fall all around us. But instead of brightly colored leaves of red and gold, deciduous incisors, canines and molars are the seasonal prize.  Usually, the sudden shedding of teeth begins around age five or so, which means both kids, who are five and seven, are becoming gleeful participants in the celebration of missing "baby" teeth and the cash prizes they expect to receive from the tooth fairy, who--based on the massive amounts of money handed out nowadays--apparently sells them on the black market to supplant the precious ivory elephant and walrus tusks that are now thankfully illegal to harvest.
Actually, it's really surprising that I had put the entire bloody little process in the far reaches of the back of my mind. After all, my own sons were sort of legendary tooth-losers, on a local level, at least. First, there was our older son, Colin, who after weeks and weeks of talking about his loose tooth, endless wiggling and jiggling of said bicuspid, and greedy anticipation of his first experience with the tooth fairy, managed to swallow that first lost tooth while crunching down a breaded shrimp in a crowded restaurant, causing me to attempt to declare the child-fairy agreement null and void until his mother stepped in and set the record and rules straight. A couple of years later, son Patrick made local headlines when he answered a Christmastime question posed to kindergartners by the local Galva newspaper with this highly sensible reply:
All I want for Christmas is..."my two front teeth and a thousand dollars."
Later on, Paddy would thrill and revile the staff at our dentist's office when one of his baby teeth had to be professionally extracted due to a root system so long, extensive and downright gnarly that it became known as "the dinosaur tooth" in family lore from that day forward.
Of course, obstinate old geek that I am, it has not been enough for me to simply sit back enjoy my grandkids' loose teeth and the innocent, childish excitement that goes along with losing them. Instead, I've been compelled to educate them, their parents, and the grandma-lady with exciting facts via our friends at Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, about tooth-losing customs around the world, never dreaming for a minute that I might also be boring the bejeebers out of them.
But the fact is, various cultures have their own customs relating to the loss of deciduous teeth. While the tooth fairy tradition rules in many English-speaking countries, other folks look at things a little differently and replace her (him?) with mice or other rodents because of their sharp, everlasting teeth. Countries like Spain, Italy and Venezuela all feature visits by mice who swap money for teeth, while parts of lowland Scotland go a step further and replace the mouse with a WHITE FAIRY RAT! who purchases the teeth with coins.
In Turkey, Cyprus, Mexico, and Greece, children traditionally throw their fallen "milk teeth" onto the roof of their house while making a wish. Similarly, in some Asian countries, such as Nepal, India, Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, when a child loses a tooth, the usual custom is that he or she should throw it onto the roof if it came from the lower jaw, or into the space beneath the floor if it came from the upper jaw. While doing this, the child shouts a request for the tooth to be replaced with the tooth of a mouse, again because of the fact that the teeth of mice grow for their entire lives. The Sri Lankan tradition is to throw the milk teeth onto the roof or a tree in the presence of a squirrel . The child then tells the squirrel to take the old tooth in return for a new one.
This is just a sampling of the interesting tooth-lore I gathered, but enough, I imagine, to amaze and startle you, especially the parts about the white rat-fairy and the tooth-gathering squirrel.
Anyway, back to the grandsons.
Young Cyrus, the seven-year-old, has been dropping teeth at a rate so rapid that his smile now resembles something you'd see sitting on a porch on Halloween night. He's an active little chap, and thoroughly enjoys and participates in the oh-so-attractive wiggling, twisting, turning procedure that finally, thankfully results in an successfully extracted kid-fang. In an effort to hasten the process a bit and spare us all the sight of his tongue and fingers constantly at play, I've suggested alternate means to get those pesky things out of his mouth. I've offered to tie a string to his tooth, then connect the other end to a doorknob, a roaring freight train, or even something really fast and powerful, like the back bumper of his grandma's car.
He, of course, has steadfastly declined, while displaying a new modicum of caution when wiggling and waggling a tooth within my personal sphere of influence. Young John, who is five and often defers to his big brother regarding his approach to life's little occasions and challenges, recently announced that he, too, had a loose tooth.
"Really?" I said. "Let's see."
I fully expected him to keep his distance, remembering my reckless advice to his brother regarding strings, doors, trains and speeding grandma-cars. But, instead, he stepped close and opened his mouth wide.
"Here, grandpa," he said. "Wiggle it."
And so I did, amazed and gratified by the fact that despite all my kidding about fast ways to pull teeth, the little guy really, really trusts his dear old grandfather.
Of course, the real question is this:
Should he?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Another turtle tale

Regular readers of this column may have noticed an unexpected emphasis on youngsters besides the grandsons who were the driving force behind our part-time relocation to the sunny beaches of North Carolina.
I'm talking about turtles.
I'm talking about the behemoth loggerheads who, after years at sea, return to the beaches where they were born to dig nests and lay a hundred eggs or more. And, of course, I'm talking about the improbably tiny baby hatchlings who, some sixty or so days later, pour from those nests and make their wobbling way to the ocean that will become their home for the rest of their lives..
Yes, I'm talking--one last time--about turtle season on Topsail Island, an ongoing, spring-to-fall event that has become so important to my spouse that I swear I heard an audible "click" as I moved down to the number three (I hope) position in her heart and mind beneath both the grandkids and the sea-going reptiles.
I don't think I've been exactly jealous of her fascination with sea turtles and their progeny.  After all, while we share a lot of time and interests, we've both always been able to do our own things, as well.  Her things often involve interesting, active pursuits that include learning and interaction, while mine generally lean towards my own self-styled Zen-like attraction to short walks, long naps and food products that feature chocolate chips. In truth, her dedication to the turtle-trail seemed fair enough to me, but I confess that I wondered just what the real attraction was. Not the early morning walks that occur every day in search of new nests, as there are no coffee pots, newspapers or fresh-baked muffins on the beach, thus eliminating my ability to make the scene most days. Nor have I been overwhelmed with a desire to sit in the dark while staring at a piece of sand that might or might not yield a bevy of newborn turtle-babies.
Moreover, I confess that since a majority of the turtle walkers and watchers on this island seem to be of the female persuasion, I tend to get a mite restless sitting around as they chit-chat about lazy husbands, quantum physics and the other topics that trip their collective triggers.
So mainly, she goes and I stay.
But it all changed when we both agreed to "sit a nest" that was due to hatch with a turtle-watching pal named Jane, who tends to believe that it's not a bad idea to have a guy on hand while on the beach late at night.  I, of course, am flattered that someone would think I could provide adequate defense from predators like the foxes, bobcats and tipsy surf fishermen who sometimes roam the nighttime shore, so I have been happy to join her and my ever-present spouse when it's time to sit around and wait for something exciting to happen. The  actual turtle hatching process is a big part of what attracts so many dedicated volunteers to programs like the Topsail Island project.  There's a lot of walking and waiting involved, which is sometimes joyfully rewarded by the sight of what looks like a gazillion little turtles boiling out of the sand before resolutely marching towards the ocean.
It was an event I had never experienced, mainly due to a disinclination to get off my duff and do it. Waiting for Jane's nest was entirely unrewarding for the first week, with the dark quiet nights alternating with a couple of really wet, soggy ones, including one that found me trying to cuddle and comfort a miserable five-year-old who insisted he was neither wet nor cold until deciding that he was most definitely both. The weather turned a little wild later that night, with high winds and driving rain. The next morning, beach walkers spied a hole in the nest, which is often a sign that the turtles have hatched and headed for the water. The tell-tale tracks that usually exist would have been washed away by the rain, so there was no way to tell for sure. Jane, Megan and I were sorry we missed it, but glad the waiting was over. All that was left was the nest analysis, when the hatched nest is dug up, and egg shells, unhatched eggs and other evidence is examined to see how many baby turtles made it out of the nest and across the sand to their new lives in the sea. There was another nest that had to be checked that night, so it was nearly dark when we started to dig out Jane's nest. Donna, the turtle-lady in charge of the excavation, dug carefully, as none of us were really sure if the nest had fully hatched. Protocol states that if it wasn't, any viable, unhatched eggs or partially hatched babies should quickly be re-covered with sand and nature allowed to take its course.
Suddenly, she found something.
It was a baby turtle.
She turned to me. I knew what she was wondering.
Should we put the hatchling back in the nest? Should we cover up this wiggling, vibrant bit of life with wet, cold sand and walk away?
She hesitated. And suddenly, nature took charge.
Suddenly, the nest was filled with baby turtles, all moving up and out and onto the sand.
The march of the turtles had begun.
Our presence at the nest had attracted a large group of tourists who were quickly pressed into service. They lined the "ramp," the long, man-made path used to guide the hatchlings to the surf, while one visitor smoothed it out for the struggling babies. Another ran to the houses on the dune overlooking the nest and asked the residents to turn off their lights so that the tiny newborns would not be attracted to them and fail to reach the water.  Everyone knelt, knowing that a misstep in the dark would crush the life out of a newborn hatchling.
We watched. We waited. We gave the little bits of help that we are allowed to give.
When it was over, 138 turtles made it to the water in a cooperative effort between our two species.
Donna, the head turtle-lady called it "imperfect order out of chaos."
Others called it wonderful.
But the best comment came from an eight-year-old boy who was lucky enough to see it all.
"This was the best day of my life."
And me?
I know how he feels.

You can see video of this crazy turtle hatch at
I'm the guy with the red headlamp to the right of the nest.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Like the summer of 1964

Folks who read what I write on a semi-regular basis know how much I love time machines. You know, the places and things that exist all around us that transport us to another time and another era. They might take the form of an old-fashioned drive-in restaurant, or a vintage car, a small-town square, or an out-of-the way tourist attraction. The only real requirement is that they be authentic, unassuming and on my path as I travel some of the two-lane highways, blacktops and backroads that still abound in this country if you're only willing to abandon the interstate highway system for a brief drive through a kinder, gentler, cooler time.
It was my sharp-eyed spouse, also known as the grandma-lady, who spied it one day when we were visiting Topsail Beach,  the tiny, old-fashioned beach town that lies at the very southern tip of the North Carolina island where we spend a sizable portion of our lives.
"Stop the car," she exclaimed.
Now, some husbands might find this kind of front-seat driving a little off-putting, and I admit, I'm sometimes a little startled when she suddenly shouts out directions while I'm aimlessly puttering along. But she's usually right to call my attention to the things she sees, as she has a keen eye and a deep appreciation for the kinds of unusual sights and attractions that trip my trigger.
So I stopped.
I looked.
"What?" I said. "It's just a post office."
"No," she replied. "Up there!"
She gestured, not to heaven nor even the top of the nearest tree, but to the upper floor of the low-slung, cinderblock building that houses the local post office.
There it was.
The Topsail Beach Roller Skating Rink.
Now, you might say that roller rinks are nothing really rare or special, even. While they may be past their heyday, skate centers still exist in plenty of burgs, usually featuring huge skating surfaces made of composite materials or even hard, smooth carpeting; a wall or two of clanging video games; party rooms for birthday celebrations; and an ear-busting cacophony of shrieking pre-teen girls, loud-loutish adolescent boys and the inexplicable music they all love.
But not the Topsail Beach Roller Skating Rink.
Walk up the outdoor staircase and into the the place, and you get the feeling that the owners built it and decorated it, then looked around and said, "good enough," and left it just exactly that way for the next 49 years.
In fact, that's pretty much what happened. If you don't believe it, you can ask the nice lady named Doris who often mans the cash register when the place opens for business every night from seven until ten. After all, she and her husband are the ones who built the roller rink back in 1964. They imported the wooden floor from Japan, and bought their rental skates from the Chicago Roller Skate Company, which was the only game in town back then. They hung black, cardboard cut-outs of women and men in skates on the walls. They bought a record player and speakers,  and--over the years--gathered a massive collection of stackable 45 rpm records that included hits from artists like Michael Jackson, Elvis, the Bee Gees, the Rolling Stones, and Neil Diamond, along with the ultimate skating rink tune, "Brand New Key, by Melanie.

"Well, I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key
I think that we should get together and try them out you see
I been looking around awhile
You got something for me
Oh! I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key"

And then they added a finishing touch that still remains a highlight of every evening skating session--a smallish silver disco ball suspended from the high ceiling overhead.  Over 30 windows line the upstairs hall where the rink is located, with a box fan in each to cool the warm Carolina evenings.
Nope, no air conditioning, either.  And not a video game in sight.
From first glance, we knew we had to bring our grandsons to this iconic 60s monument and mecca.  And so, we did.
The grandma-lady and their dad, our son Patrick, laced on skates to join the young lads on the floor, while yours truly--the old grumpa--paid homage to a pair of rusty knees and stayed back on the benches where skaters put on their skates, then rest and recover after a few dozen hectic laps around the scarred old board floor.
Young Cyrus, who combines an indomitable spirit with an absolute refusal to consider the possibility that there might be something he can't do on the first try, stepped right out on the floor and promptly sprawled into a bone-jarring heap. He got up again. He fell again. And again and again and again.
The other adults around the rink were beginning to look concerned as poor Cyrus gamely fought his way through one cataclysmic fall after another.
"Gee," I muttered to the grandma-lady, "We're gonna get arrested for child endangerment it he doesn't get the hang of it pretty soon."
Our younger grandson, John Patrick, exhibited the essential difference between him and his big brother by proceeding with more caution. He hung around the benches with me, and tried his skate-legs in a small railed-off area intended for that purpose. A pretty little blond-haired girl was also in attendance, which gave him ample reason to stick around the beginners' pool while big brother took his lumps on the big rink. Eventually, though, she moved on, and he, too, took the big step onto the main floor under the hen-like protection and tutelage of the grandma-lady, who had been blithely displaying the skating skills she had honed as a girl on the mean streets and big-city rinks of south suburban Chicago Heights.
He clung to the outside railing and shuffled around the floor, while Cyrus, who had finally been beaten into some kind of compliant submission by his continuous contact with the floor, grudgingly accepted some help and instruction from his dad, and finally began to get the hang of the whole skating thing.
I knew something was about to happen when Doris, who is a spring chicken at 75, stepped out from behind the counter and onto the floor, displaying a pair of white skates with red wheels and a sleek, well-muscled pair of legs that would be the envy of a Parisian runway model.
The needle dropped.
The strains of "Brand New Key" filled the air.
The lights went out and the disco ball began to spin, casting a dazzling display of light and color throughout the cavernous room.
John Patrick slowly released the railing and rolled towards the grandma-lady.
He took her hand.
"Come on, grandma," he said. "Let's skate."
And so they did.
Just like 1964.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I think it's too deep

Once upon a time there was a little boy. He had a mom and  a dad, and a big brother, too. He had a fun, happy life playing with them, and visiting the grandma-lady and the old grumpa at their house by the sea.
Everything was just fine.
Then, one day, he got some bad, scary news.
"Tomorrow you start swimming lessons," said the grandma-lady. "Won't that be fun?"
The little boy tried to smile and nod his head, but deep, deep in his heart, he was afraid.
"I think it's too deep," he said to his brother.
"I think it's too deep," he said to his mother.
"I think it's too deep," he whispered to Buddy the Bear, long after the lights were out and the house was quiet.
But nobody listened, not even Buddy. Nobody listened because they could not believe that the little boy would be afraid to swim in a swimming pool. After all, he went in the big ocean almost every day, and he was not afraid.
But that was different, he thought.
The big ocean had a beach and a beginning of the water that was very, very shallow to start with. You could wade right in and not go any deeper than you wanted to go. With a pool, it was all or nothing. You stood on the edge, then jumped in.
It was deep, he thought. Much too deep.
The day of the first swimming lesson came. He got in the car with the grandma-lady and the old grumpa. All the way there, they talked about all the fun he was going to have swimming in the pool.
"I think it's too deep," he said to his car seat.
"I think it's too deep," he said to a smiling dog running along the road.
"I think it's too deep," he whispered to Buddy the Bear, who had come along for the ride.
Quietly he began to cry. Big tears rolled down his cheeks.
"What's this?" sputtered the old grumpa.
"Oh, honey," cried the grandma-lady.
They had not understood how afraid he was. They felt very, very bad.
The swimming pool was full of water. It was full of kids, too. Laughing kids. Splashing kids. Kids who were learning how to swim.
He told himself he could do it.
He told himself he would do it.
He would do it for the grandma-lady, who was smiling at the side of the pool.
But he just couldn't. He couldn't make himself jump in that pool.
"I think it's too deep," he whispered to no one at all, as he stood in the bright, warm North Carolina sunshine.
All the moms and dads and kids at the pool felt bad for the little boy, because they knew he wasn't being difficult or stubborn or spoiled.
They knew he was just afraid. And he could not make himself jump into the pool.
One of them was helicopter-mom.
Now, helicopter-mom was not called that because she hovered over her three children. She was called helicopter-mom, because that was her job before she had kids of her own. She was a helicopter pilot for the U.S. Marine Corps.
Wow. Go helicopter-mom, go.
But besides knowing all about flying combat missions and all the other things that helicopter pilots know, helicopter-mom knew about little boys. And about being afraid.  And all about getting over it.
"Hey," said helicopter-mom in a bright cheery voice. "Why don't you come over to our house after swimming lessons?!"
"Yeah," said helicopter-mom's little boy. "Let's go mess around in the pool!"
Yes, helicopter-mom and her kids lived in a place with a pool. But it wasn't a pool for swimming lessons.  It wasn't a pool where moms and dads and grandma-ladies and old grumpas waited and watched for you to do something you didn't want to do.
It was just a pool.
It was just a pool for fun.
Before he knew it, the little boy was splashing and playing in that pool. He and the other little boy pretended they knew how to swim and raced across the shallow end and laughed.
The grandma-lady and helicopter-mom watched and smiled. The kids played and played.
The next day, the little boy went to swimming lessons with the grandma-lady and the old grumpa. He smiled quietly at Buddy as they sat together in the back seat.
When they got to the pool, he walked to the side. He looked at the water. He took a deep breath.
He jumped in.
All the moms and dads and the grandma-lady and the old grumpa laughed and clapped their hands.
"It's not too deep," he said proudly.
Not too deep at all.
And they all lived happily ever after. Even Buddy.
The end.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Beach baby, beach baby

It's August, people.  Do you know where you should be?
For some folks, the most hot and sultry part of the year signals a time to hunker down in air conditioned splendor and absolutely avoid any unnecessary contact with the great outdoors. Others only dare to brave the heat via cautious visits to shady porches, cool pools and deep-woodsy grottos.
But for me, there's only one place to be when the temperature tops 90 and the humidity's not far behind, especially when the kids in our lives are about to be cast into the white-hot torment of school in August.
The beach.
My dedicated, long-term beach-bum outlook might seem a little surprising, given my landlocked upbringing amidst the cornfields of west central Illinois. Yes, there were places around that featured both water and sand of a sort. But the net effect of brown, tepid lake water and the rocky sand that had been trucked in from some distant quarry was a lot like paddling around in one of the big puddles that formed in my parents' gravel driveway after a summer shower, just on a slightly larger scale.  But I was happy enough with my experiences with farm ponds and man-made mudholes, and the occasional trip to the slippery banks of the Mississippi River until the first time my family stumbled on one of the deep, cold glacial lakes that dot parts of Wisconsin. Our periodic forays to the Cheesehead State were in search of a quiet lake where my dad could fish, us kids could swim, and my mom could work like a galley slave in an attempt to cobble together three meals a day in the antiquated kitchen of a housekeeping cottage. Often, the bodies of water we discovered were as flawed as their Illinois brethren, and were either silty, mossy, grassy or muck-filled, like the murky puddle we sarcastically named "Oatmeal Lake." Eventually, though, my dad's persistent quest for the right kind of spot for both fish and family paid off, as they discovered more-pristine spots like Lake Geneva and Door County.
I still remember wading into those icy waters for the first time. I shivered under the gentle Wisconsin sun, then glanced down at the water. Beneath me, I saw two pale, mysterious shapes resting on the lake bottom.
For a moment, I wondered what it was that I was seeing. Then, slowly, it dawned on me.
It was my feet.
Yes, at long last I had experienced a body of water other than a swimming pool that was actually clear enough to see in. Thus started a love affair with sparkling water and broad, sandy beaches that continues, unabated, to this day.  My affection for those places was strengthened a few years later when my parents took us to visit my mom's brothers in Washington, DC. On that journey, we saw the fantastic array of national monuments and acclaimed architecture our nation's capitol has to offer. We visited Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard, the Smithsonian for a look at the Wright Brothers' first plane, and the halls of congress to witness the debate on the eventual statehood of Alaska and Hawaii. But for me, the best, most halcyon day on that visit was a trip to Ocean City, Maryland, and my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. My mother, who was a patient soul, had allowed me to crowd the car all the way from Illinois with Farfel, an inflated dog-shaped swimming ring who I had--with unceasing imagination--named after the puppet spokesdog for NestlĂ©'s Quik.  Like me, his water experience had been limited to small lakes and pools. We were both excited. The endless vista and the miles and miles of soft white sand and open water were simply amazing to me. In between wading in the waves, I dug holes, built sand castles and baked in the summertime sun. Meanwhile, Farfel waited patiently at water's edge.
Then, disaster struck.
I had decided it was time for another round of splashing in the surf. But where was Farfel? Frantically, I searched up and down the beach.
"Where's Farfel?" I moaned.
Soon, my whole family, plus aunts, uncles, cousins and various unrelated onlookers were scouring the beach, looking for my beloved faux-dog.
"Look," cried my brother. "Out there!"
Out there, indeed.
Far beyond the surf, sandbar and breakers was a tiny dot. A closer look revealed the valiant Farfel, bobbing and weaving his way towards parts unknown, though I know he always said he wanted to see Paris.
The years passed, and my love for the beach continued, despite the cataclysmic loss that had marked and marred my tiny soul.  My sister, who more than shared my desire for all things wet and sandy, moved to a cabin on the shores of mighty Lake Superior when she was married. She lives there still, over 45 years later, and never misses a sunny beach day or a golden sunset. My wife and I have visited beaches, lakes, rivers and seas across this great country, never missing a chance to dabble our toes in some new pool of cool, clear water. A few years ago, our youngest son began a career and a family not too far from the Eastern Carolina beaches and barrier islands. Once my wife retired from her career as an elementary school teacher, we resolved to spend time on those sunny shores, enjoying our grandsons and sharing our love for the water and waves.
So we did.
For the past three years, we have spent significant parts of time in a shabby-chic beach place on a little barrier island called Topsail. Every morning, we look out our window at towering sand dunes and glistening water and wonder just how we got so lucky. We walk and play and swim and splash with our young grandsons and marvel in the fact that every day is a beach day, and even a bad day at the beach is probably better than a good day anywhere else. Almost every night, we walk again, and greet the moon and stars and the nighttime roar of the ocean.
Sometimes, though, I just sit.
I sit and gaze out at a watery, sun-kissed world of incredible beauty.
I think. I wonder. I remember.
And often, my eyes are drawn beyond the surf, the sandbars and the breakers, far out onto the open sea.
I'm looking, of course. And watching and waiting.
Waiting for Farfel to finally come home.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A gentlemen's guide to the fine art of shopping

That's right. Shopping.
Now, anybody who has taken a close look at me and my renowned, earth-toned wardrobe knows that shopping is not my game.  After all, I'm a guy. Ergo, I do not shop. Heck, I barely buy except when cajoled by a combination of threats, bribes and her own special version of the Jedi Mind Trick. And when circumstances do force me to purchase an item of clothing for myself without direct supervision, it is generally without regard to style, fashion, color, fabric or cut.
But that doesn't mean I don't know anything about shopping.
Quite the contrary.
As a husband with over four decades of experience, I have taken part in any number of shopping expeditions in support of the woman I love. Having said that, I now feel obliged to share some of my hard-earned knowledge with my younger brethren, as well as those older dudes who were too inattentive, too stubborn or too dumb to learn it in the first place.
So listen. Listen and learn.
• Make a plan, Man. So here's the deal. You both have goals. She wants to find a dazzling bit of fashionista magic that will make her look five years younger and ten pounds lighter. You, on the other hand, want to get home in time for the last three innings of the Cubs game.  Unlikely as it seems, you can both get what you want. It just takes a little planning on your part to speed the process along a little.
• Be a sport, Mort.  First of all, don't pout just because you're being dragged along on a shopping trip. After all, if your marriage is typical of most, she does just about everything for you except chew your food. So you owe her one. Act like you like it. Besides, if you behave, she might let you stop for ice cream on the way home.
• Take it slow, Joe.  Here's something you need to understand right off the bat: she is never, never, never going to purchase the first thing she sees, even if it exactly what she's looking for, fits her perfectly, and is free.
Instead, she is going to shop.
Attempting to hurry her will not make things go faster.  Quite the contrary, in fact, because if she senses that you are push-push-pushing her through her finely honed shopping routine, she will automatically begin to switch into a highly potent slowdown mode that definitively proves and demonstrates Newton's Third Law of Motion: "To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction."
Or you can think of it this way. Have you ever tried to herd cats? How about pushing a rope? Same deal.
• Grab a seat, Pete. In a smart, considerate move that rivals the introduction of something besides old copies of "The Ladies' Home Journal" in a few select doctor and dentist offices, there are sometimes chairs located near the dressing rooms in the women's department of some stores. They are, I assume, for the use of poor, abused, embarrassed husbands who would otherwise shuffle and stand uneasily, struggling to avoid eye contact with the mannequin that's displaying the latest in lingerie.
So have a seat.
It will make you look cool and unhurried. It will make you look relaxed. It might even make you look calmly intelligent and ready to help her make a wise decision on just what item of clothing she should buy.
This is all bunk, of course, but if she takes enough stuff into the dressing room with her, you might be able to catch a nap.
• Close the deal, Neal.
Since you're there anyway, she might even ask your opinion. Sometimes it might be a simple "What do you think?" Other times, things might get downright dangerous, as in, "Does this make me look fat?" The thing is, this is the time when you really need to play it cool. Obviously, everything looks nice. And nothing, repeat nothing makes her look fat, even if it has the word "Goodyear" printed on the side. But here's the kicker: Never ever say you absolutely love the item she has picked out and that she should buy it and become the instant belle of the ball.  She will smell a rat, right off. And she's right of course, since she probably knows you would say she looked good in one of those black plastic 55-gallon leaf bags if it would get you back to your recliner a little sooner. So stick with positive, quietly encouraging opinions that seem to indicate you really are paying attention.
"That color looks good on you"
"It reminds me of when I first met you."
and the absolute kicker:
"Have you lost some weight?"
If all else fails, you might try a highly refined desperation play and indicate that one of her selections isn't your absolute favorite among the twenty-four zillion items she's tried on. Chances are, she'll sprain an ankle rushing to buy it.
• Best of luck, Chuck.
Despite all my vainglorious utterance as to my knowledge and experience in this matter, you might as well know now that nothing is really going to work the way you hope it will. Fact is, husbands have been giving the wrong answers regarding wardrobe choices ever since Eve asked Adam if he liked her new outfit,  So try to relax. Try to make the best of an unavoidable situation. And look at the bright side.
Chances are, the Cubs are losing, anyway.