A Horse! A Horse! My Burrito for a Horse!

In my last blog, I recounted the events leading up to my eldest daughter’s I.E.A. Hunt Seat National Finals equestrian competition in Lexington, Virginia. (I’ve been told that I.E.A stands for “Interscholastic Equestrian Association,” but I think it really means “Incredibly Expensive Activity.”) While in Virginia, we had already experienced history to its fullest with a day-trip to Thomas Jefferson’s beloved Monticello, which featured a special private room that allowed him to retreat from his family so he could write constitutions and watch SportsCenter in peace.

When the morning for my daughter’s competition finally arrived, we entered the vast coliseum at the Virginia Horse Center, and I was amazed at the pristine condition of the facility. The dozens of horse show venues I had visited before this one had all been festooned with manure and other horse by-products. This time, though, the only smell I could detect was from the little café near the arena that was preparing breakfast burritos.

Unable to resist the chance to do something other than sit and pluck my nose hairs while waiting for my daughter’s forty-five second ride that wouldn’t take place for several hours, I took my other two daughters to the café. The breakfast burrito I ordered was roughly the size of a MINI Cooper, and it was bursting with eggs, sausage, and peppers.  (Speaking of bursting, my wife, kids, and the other spectators at the show sitting within a fifty yard radius of me probably wish I had stuck with Cheerios.)

On our stroll from the café back to the coliseum, it began to rain, and I discovered why there was no sign (or smell) of horse droppings in the actual arena. The horses were apparently trained to relieve themselves just outside along the shortcut we were taking–and in intervals that made them practically impossible to avoid. As a result, we had to sprint through the downpour dodging puddles and piles of horse briquettes like a bunch of drunk lemurs playing hopscotch. (Yes, I’ve been to the zoo far too many times­–and I think I’ve actually witnessed this.)  When we arrived back at the coliseum, we all looked (and smelled) like we had just escaped from Shawshank Prison through the plumbing, and there were no towels of any kind to be found in the facility.  Luckily, the Virginia Horse Center was willing to put us on a financing plan to reimburse them for exhausting their entire stockpile of toilet paper.

When it finally came time for my daughter to ride, I assumed my usual position in my seat with my head between my knees trying to avoid a reunion with my burrito. It’s not necessarily the likelihood that she’ll be bucked off and ruin her expensive orthodontic work, or that she might not win, that makes me nervous.  What I really fear is that she’ll be disappointed or upset with her performance, and for me, trying to comfort my eldest (and most dramatic) daughter when she is heartbroken is like watching all of the parental Disney character death scenes simultaneously and on a constant loop.  When she’s upset after a ride, I always try to cheer her up by suggesting that the horse might have had gas (possibly from an enormous breakfast burrito) or stayed up too late watching cat videos on YouTube, which usually only serves to prove that she can sob and roll her eyes simultaneously.

Luckily, her ride at the finals went well, and her team finished in fourth place nationally, which pretty much dashed my hopes that she might turn in her reins and take up scrapbooking.

To celebrate, we took her and her teammates to the local Dover Saddlery, which is conveniently located next door to the Horse Center. In case you aren’t aware, Dover Saddlery is Mecca for horse people, and my eldest daughter considers it compulsory that when we visit one, we purchase some kind of overpriced horse-related merchandise. From sweat scrapers to sheath cleaners (don’t ask), Dover Saddlery has everything for the horse lover in your life who wants to ruin your finances.  They even have special underwear for horseback riding! (I still haven’t figured out where the tail goes.)

With this once-in-a-lifetime (I hoped) experience at the National Finals behind us, we headed to Washington, D.C. for the final leg (I hoped) of our adventure. It was a chance to spend a few hours in our nation’s capital before our flight home, and my family was determined to make the most of it, even if getting there meant riding together for over three hours in an enclosed vehicle with me and my breakfast burrito.

Nationals

 

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not . . . . Never mind.

These days, I find myself regularly traveling to exotic destinations like Krum, Texas, and Haughton, Louisiana, to watch my eldest and most expensive daughter compete in equestrian competitions. How she developed her mania for horses is a mystery to my wife and me. Neither of us have a background in rural livestock, and my past experience with horses mainly involved riding the coin-operated carousel at the entrance to Walmart–and that was a full month ago.

Horse shows are typically all-weekend affairs during which my daughter actually sits atop a horse for approximately forty-five seconds. The other 8 to16 hours of my time is usually spent trying to find something to eat and locating the men’s room.  If I’m lucky, I might also find an old phone book to read.

Recently, we had to travel to Bucyrus, Kansas, for one of these events, which took us from East Texas up along the Indian Nation Turnpike through Oklahoma. We drove past towns like Hoot Owl, Big Cabin, Bushy Head, and Big Tussle.  (Obviously, these communities are named after professional wrestlers.)  For some reason, I imagined that I might see evidence of Native American culture throughout our journey.  Instead, the most interesting sight I witnessed, other than a couple of bored-looking llamas, was a pontoon boat covered in mildew and being pulled by a John Deere tractor.  Besides being disappointed that I didn’t see a single Native American on the Turnpike, I also found myself paying a toll every one-hundred feet, apparently to help Oklahoma buy more llamas–and tollbooths.

We did experience some excitement at a roadside gas station in the Creek Nation. Upon entering the bathroom, I noticed a warning sign indicating that any damage to the restroom would be considered a federal crime.  Although I knew those convenience store egg rolls I had in Hugo could cause me trouble later, I had no idea that they might put me at risk of federal prosecution!

When we finally arrived at the horse show in Kansas, I naturally headed for the bathroom and immediately recognized the main feature of the Kansas landscape–wind, and since we were at a horse show full of animals that aren’t housebroken, it was as if the entire state needed a massive dose of Gas-X. Like all horse shows, this one featured a small selection of portable toilets (two, to be precise) for about 900 people, and the one I chose appeared to have hosted a mud wrestling match earlier in the day. Despite their filth, these were fairly modern porta potties, and after about my third visit, I discovered that the sink was actually a urinal!

During one of these pit stops, gale force winds began jostling the potty from side to side, and I turned my attention from the architectural advances of outdoor commodes to avoiding a swan dive into the blue water. This was no small feat as I was attempting to maintain my balance while clenching some new Thinsulate gloves in my armpits. (In case you wondered, each horse show is intentionally scheduled to coincide with the next polar vortex.)  Although I did manage to stay dry, my armpits proved less coordinated than I had hoped, and the unthinkable happened to one of my gloves.  I then did the unthinkable and pretended I was retrieving the One Ring from the lava in Mt. Doom.  Of course, I spent the rest of the horse show proudly wearing my toxic glove and threatening to touch my wife with it. (Hey, I wiped it off a little, first!)

After surviving Hurricane Johnny, I managed to find a seat in the one area of the horse show venue that didn’t include a foot of manure, and as a bonus, it was near the snack area. I was hungry, and I was hoping to sink my teeth into a burger, hot dog, or something else to get my mind off of the smell.  Imagine my shock when I approached the counter and realized that the snack bar special of the day was pasta salad!  Really?  Was the intention of the show organizers to starve all of the dads into submission so that they would resign themselves to spending a fortune every other weekend on an activity specifically designed for teenage girls to live beyond their parents’ means?  Unable to bring myself to face a paper plate full of disappointment, I bought a king size bag of Cheetos and went, dejectedly, back to my seat.  It was only after eating the entire bag and sticking my finger in my mouth to lick off the magical Cheeto dust that I realized I had forgotten to take off the glove.

In the end, the horse show was a rousing success for my daughter and her teammates. They won reserve champion, and I couldn’t have been prouder.  It was in the midst of my rejoicing that my wife reminded me that the victory meant the team would advance to yet another competition in the next couple of weeks.  As she patted me on the back, she promised to pack me some Cheetos, pasta salad, and my favorite phone book.

Ally

Pass the Rice-a-Roni

Recently, I had the opportunity to take a grant-funded trip to an educator’s conference in San Francisco, California. Usually when I attend a teacher’s conference, I’m lucky if I make it to a locale where dipping snuff and pecan logs aren’t the bedrocks of the local economy. But this time, I’d be visiting the home of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and, most importantly, Rice-a-Roni!

My initial impression of San Francisco, though, didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Upon arrival, I wasn’t greeted by a single 49er cheerleader offering me a heaping bowl of “The San Francisco Treat.” Instead, I was astonished at the vast numbers of apparently homeless people I saw shuffling up and down the sidewalks. Many were hunched over with expressions of despair and hopelessness, and some of them were clearly mentally ill. When I asked the Uber driver about these folks, he assured me that they were just other teachers headed to the conference.

The conference hotel was immense, and the entire population of the city seemed to be in line to check in. It was worse than the checkout at Walmart on Christmas Eve – or a Monday. A hotel porter was rewarding our patience by force-feeding us squares of Ghirardelli’s chocolate while we waited. Apparently, Ghirardelli’s is the only candy allowed in the city limits. (In times of drought, I think they melt it down and use it for tap water.) I didn’t have the heart to tell the porter that I’d just as soon have a Snickers, but that’s what happens to your tastes when you constantly raid your kids’ six-month-old Halloween treats and blame it on your wife.

Speaking of eating, I have to say that the most disappointing aspect of my visit were my restaurant choices. Every meal I had in San Francisco was in a perfect geometric shape, was garnished with lawn clippings and could be eaten in one bite. It was like being served a miniature sculpture in the postmodern style. Now don’t get me wrong; I like art as much as the next victim of starvation, but it’s hard to dip the Mona Lisa in hot sauce (and I was almost as thrilled about it as she looks). No wonder everyone in California looks like they’re either training for a triathlon or preparing to audition for the starring role in the remake of “Gandhi.” Most restaurants did serve complimentary sourdough bread and butter, but what they call bread at these establishments could double for small shot put filled with rubber. As a result, I usually only managed to eat three baskets, or so. At one point I grew desperate enough to ask the hotel concierge for directions to the nearest catfish buffet. (I’m hoping that the Hilton Corporation will eventually lift the restraining order.)

The highlight of the trip was a short post-conference ferry cruise on San Francisco Bay to see the famous Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island-because who doesn’t long to enjoy relaxing views of sites associated with numerous suicides and brutal incarcerations? On the way out of Pier 39, we passed a massive colony of sea lions sunning themselves on docks. They looked fat and happy, and I wondered where they had found something decent to eat. Out on the water, the views of the city and the famous landmarks were impressive. I only wish that the frigid temperatures combined with the winds weren’t making my face and lips feel like I had just made out with a belt sander. For some reason, I had the idea that “sunny California” was full of blonde girls on the beach in bikinis. With the weather in San Francisco, though, the closest I came to seeing this was a particularly svelte sea lion in the process of molting.

Overall, I must admit that I truly appreciated experiencing a new city and gaining some valuable professional development. The time spent embarrassing my colleagues and challenging my culinary boundaries was enriching and fun. I’m still disappointed that I didn’t see a single grain of Rice-a-Roni on my trip, but I know that every time I have a serving back home in East Texas, I’ll be enjoying memories of “The City by the Bay,” even if I do have a pecan log for dessert.

San Fran

 

Doo the Zoo

During Spring Break, it’s traditional that along with sleeping through at least two mealtimes per day (my revolutionary dieting strategy), our family takes our yearly trip to the Exotic Animal Poo Encounter, otherwise known as the local Zoo. (I’m sure by now we’ve paid enough zoo admission at this place to purchase a family of rhinos, or at least pay the salary of the guy who hoses out their pen.) This year was no different, despite my suggestion to our three daughters that it would be just as much fun to go see the aquarium fish at Walmart-and some of them might actually be alive this time.

When we visit the zoo, I always insist that we arrive right when they open in order to avoid the onslaught of daycare centers and families consisting of at least twelve unruly children. The chorus of urchins screaming out animal noises and bludgeoning each other with rolled up zoo maps is almost unbearable (and that’s just my own family.)

This year, our zoo trip took place in the midst of our yearly East Texas spring cold snap, meaning it was below 96 degrees, so many of the animals were still indoors wrapped up in their Snuggies and watching reruns of Family Feud.  In fact, when we reached the elephant enclosure, we were greeted with a sign that indicated they only come outside when it’s over 50 degrees. (A similar sign now hangs on my bedroom door.)  Because I take advantage of educational opportunities like this, I explained to my kids that elephants are cold-blooded, like turtles and politicians, and that if they get too chilly, they won’t be able to fly with their ears.

Our next stop was my daughters’ favorite zoo exhibit, which is basically a giant chicken coop full of parakeets that were expelled from the pet store for completely ignoring all human beings, even the ones that repeatedly tap on the cage and shout, “Polly want a cracker?” at the tops of their lungs. Everyone knows that parakeets don’t eat crackers, except the ones topped with sour cream spinach dip. (I never was able to get one of my pet parakeets to live more than a couple of weeks, for some reason.)

Once you enter the bird zone, you are offered the opportunity to purchase five grains of bird seed stuck to a popsicle stick with Elmer’s Glue. This allows you to spend the next two hours standing with your stick up in the air like a cigarette lighter at a Journey concert during an endless rendition of “Open Arms.”  The goal is to tempt a parakeet to perch on your stick while you frantically yell at your wife to hurry up and take a photo before he finishes.  Typically, though, most of the parakeets sit just out of reach waiting for the perfect moment to fly overhead en masse and make you wish you had kept your mouth closed.

After rejecting my proposal that we should now go home and let the animals rest, my daughters were ready for the reptile house, a carpeted building where the lights are kept very dim to allow you a better view of the fingerprints and toddler smears on the protective glass. Other than squinting and straining to catch a glimpse of the rare and poisonous spot-bellied three-toed spitting dragon newt, which was apparently taking an extended smoking break in his hollow log, we spent most of our time waiting in line.  We were lucky enough to line up behind an extended family whose sixty-five children were all too short to see the animals without being lifted, one at a time, by their elderly grandmother–while the other six adults in their group leaned against the wall experimenting with Snapchat filters.  Thank goodness Granny had her walker and oxygen tank!

The grand finale of our zoo trip was a visit to the gift shop. Unfortunately, the only gifting that goes on in this place is exchanging my hard earned cash for some plastic junk and plush animals (because we only have enough of those to open our own outlet mall).  I always encourage my daughters to choose a souvenir to remind them of some of the animals they’ve seen, like note cards depicting parakeets, exotic reptiles, or bored teenagers with terrible posture.  Instead, our purchases this time included a pair of plastic binoculars, a bag of marbles, and a small box of painted rocks.  Oh, well, at least they only cost a month’s salary.

On our way to the exit, I stopped at my favorite zoo exhibit, the men’s room, which, ironically, was the best smelling part of the zoo I had experienced up to that point. While I was washing my hands and listening to the walkie-talkie of the zoo employee in a nearby stall bellow out something about a four-alarm pooper scooper emergency in the black bear enclosure, I thought about how much my daughters had grown since we first pushed them through the zoo in strollers. Someday I hope to continue this tradition as I watch my grandchildren gaze in wonderment at all of God’s marvelous creatures at the zoo, and I’ll be sure to bring my walker and oxygen tank.

When Mommy’s Gone

As my wife’s career continues to flourish and make me look even more dispensable, I often find myself at home with the kids while she’s travelling to exciting cosmopolitan locations on out-of-state business trips. If I travel for business, it’s almost always to a city within a 10 mile radius of a Buc-ee’s. (At least I know I can get to some jerky and a clean men’s room-usually in that order.)

When I’m left to care for the children for a few nights on my own, I’m always reminded of how little I contribute to the operation of the household while my wife is there.  Who knew kids needed to eat more than a couple of times a week and that Pop-Tarts didn’t cover their nutritional requirements?  I mean, I buy the kind with fruit filling!

On her most recent trip, I knew I was in trouble on our first morning without her.  When I wandered through the darkness of the living room on my way to wake the children and livestock, I discovered that our cat had tried to make me feel more needed by barfing on the carpet during the night.  Even worse, she had strategically placed her offering directly in my walking path.  On the bright side, there’s nothing like cold feline vomit between your toes at 6:00 AM to bring you fully awake.

My next act involved agreeing to let my youngest daughter have a Diet Dr. Pepper with her Pop-Tart for breakfast. (Don’t judge! Both of these products are made in the USA! America First!)  I had actually intended to offer her some yogurt, but on my recent trip to the Walmart Neighborhood Market (which is like a regular Walmart, but without the fertilizer and toilet seats), I purchased the strawberry cheesecake-flavor, instead of the cherry cheesecake-flavor.  How thoughtless of me!  Where do they come up with these flavors, anyway?  When I was a kid, yogurt came in one flavor-vanilla blech.

I was considerate enough to provide my daughter with an old plastic Olive Garden kid’s cup with a lid so her drink wouldn’t spill.  Unfortunately, the lid I chose was from an old plastic On the Border kid’s cup that didn’t fit the Olive Garden cup because, apparently, part of the strategic plan of these two franchises is to make my life difficult.  When I tried to force the wrong lid on the wrong cup, the dog enjoyed lapping up the Diet Dr. Pepper off the floor. (We’re hoping her fur returns to its natural color soon.)

The fun continued when I asked my eldest daughter to use the Keurig machine to fix my daily mug of hot tea. (No, I don’t drink coffee.  To me it tastes like stagnant water out of an old tire.  Don’t ask how I know.)  While she was hypnotically watching the tea pouring into the mug she was holding, I reached across her to get a bowl from the cabinet for my Cap’n Crunch and managed to push her arm just enough to shift the mug from under the stream of piping hot tea.  She then began hypnotically watching the hot tea pour onto the cabinet and then onto my bare foot, freshly sanitized from the pet sputum fiasco.  At that point, I lost it.  In an act of manly strength, I shoved the mug and the Keurig into the sink, breaking one of our few surviving drinking glasses actually made of glass in the process. Naturally, I blamed the entire incident on the children.

I then prepared the girls’ lunches in stoic silence, with only the maniacal laughter of SpongeBob SquarePants echoing through the kitchen (because I believe in starting the school day with educational television programming).  The lunches included mini-sandwiches made with King’s Hawaiian Rolls, that miraculous bread created by removing all of the nutritious ingredients and leaving only the delicious ones.  I was also feeling guilty for my tantrum, so I threw in a few miniature York Peppermint Patties-the only candy in the pantry that I don’t like.  As I lovingly handed the girls their lunch bags, they timidly informed me that they were having pizza at school that day.

Once I had finished sobbing over the lunches, we had piled into the car, and I had gone back in and out of the house two or three times for things I forgot (my keys, my wallet, my phone, and at least one child), I told the girls I was sorry for acting like their mother and throwing a fit.  Of course, they reminded me that “Mommy never acts that way-only you, Daddy,” and they told me it was ok-they understood how hard it was for me without an adult in the house to take care of us.  This made me feel even guiltier, so I suggested we say a prayer as we drove to the school.

As I prayed that everyone would have a good day and that the Lord would allow my kids to stop spilling stuff, my middle daughter interrupted to remind me to drive with my eyes opened.  She assured me that God wouldn’t mind if I didn’t kill us all.  I just hope He also understands that the next time my wife leaves for a business trip, we’re going with her-and bringing our Pop-Tarts with us.

Breaking the Mice

As spring approaches and my nightmares turn to yard work, I’m reminded of the time when my wife and I would start dusting off the bird feeders so that we could enjoy a few of God’s creatures that don’t poop on our floor when we welcome them to our home.  In the past, I would hang a feeder right outside our kitchen window so that we could see the beautiful variety of East Texas birds up close as they pecked at the bird seed and occasionally crashed into the window glass.  It was kind of like watching NASCAR-where you pretend to like the race itself but are really just waiting for a good wreck. 

The last time we displayed a feeder, I had just purchased an elaborate bird feeder gazebo.  It was a Trump Tower for birds, but without the barricades, film crews, or Kanye West.  The night after I had proudly installed the feeder, I was up late polishing off an entire sleeve of Girl Scout Cookies (because I’m all about supporting the community), and I happened to glance toward the kitchen window to see the new feeder gently swaying from side to side.  At first I assumed the wind was blowing, but then I noticed that something alive was actually on the feeder.  I excitedly thought it might be a kindred spirit of the bird world who stays up late raiding the pantry in his underwear.   Unfortunately, what I saw when I reached the window made the hair on my back stand on end.  The feeder was squirming with about six hundred mice.  It was like Black Friday when they open the doors at Wal-Mart and the crowds rush in for incredible sales on televisions and aerosol cheese product.

This could not stand!  I wasn’t about to let a gang of greedy rodents loot my bird feeder while I stood by and ate half a box of my kids’ favorite snacks.  Therefore, once I finished my milk and cookies, I sprang into action and devised a brilliant plan.  The first step of my strategy involved creeping undetected up to the feeder with a large trash bag to open and raise up from underneath, enclosing both the feeder and the mice in the bag.  The plan worked perfectly. I had the mice and the feeder in the bag, and I had only screamed like a little girl with an unusually high voice twice. 

Unfortunately, that was also the last step in my plan.  I didn’t want to throw out my bird feeder, so I had to figure out a way to separate the mice from the feeder and remove the feeder from the bag without the mice escaping justice.  Naturally, I headed for the garage to get a hammer from my tool box.  I had never actually used the hammer on a nail, or anything else (I think it was still in the package), but my dad would be proud that I was finally using one of the many tools he had purchased for me out of pity. 

The plan at this point was to shake the mice off of the feeder down into a corner of the bag and then put the hammer to good use.  Once I had a lump of mice bulging in the corner of the bag, I suddenly realized that in my mouse-squashing mania, I had forgotten to put on pants and was standing in my open garage in nothing but my boxer briefs, holding a hammer and trash bag, and sweating profusely.  (For some reason, Chippendales still hasn’t called.) 

To avoid scandalizing the neighborhood and possibly being arrested, I shut the garage doors.  I then knelt down with my hammer, closed my eyes, prayed that the Lord would have mercy on their little vermin souls, and swung away.  This is the point when I realized that the “extra-strength” designation on household trash bags does not cover pulverizing a wad of mice with a claw hammer.  To my horror, on my first blow (which missed my target entirely), a massive hole opened up in the bag, and a stream of mice began leaping out into the garage.  At least two used me as a flabby aircraft escape slide as they scurried up my arm and down my back on their way to freedom.  Throwing caution (and suitable attire) to the wind, I raised the garage door and spent the next hour frantically running around half-nude between our cars herding out mice with an old broom.  If I weren’t in East Texas, this might have seemed really weird and embarrassing. 

These days, my prized bird feeder sits dusty and unused (along with my hammer) in my storage building, and I’m sure I’ve become the butt of jokes in mouse communities all over the Ark-La-Tex.  I’m actually kind of glad they all got away to live their lives in the splendor of nature-to be eaten by savage predators.  I just hope the birds understand that that the next time I’m tempted to hang a feeder, I think I’ll sit down for a NASCAR race and some aerosol cheese product, instead.

 

Victoria’s Worst-Kept Secret

As Valentine’s Day approached this year, I was at a loss regarding how to surprise my eternally patient and positive wife of twenty-six  years with a gift that would truly show my love and appreciation to her for not smothering me in my sleep or encouraging me to overdose on chips and salsa long ago.  My daughters had presented their Valentine’s wish lists (yes, wish lists) shortly after Christmas, so I had already financed their gifts. But my wife (who never asks for anything other than that I avoid playing with that app on my phone that makes 500 different bodily noises-in church) was a harder nut to crack-an ironic metaphor coming from me, I know.

Then the clouds parted when I checked the mail recently to find, addressed to me, a special offer from Victoria’s Secret. Aha! I had done a little online shopping with this establishment before, and now my creepiness was being rewarded with a coupon for free underwear.  When I first heard about Victoria’s Secret, I assumed the business was named after the legendary 19th-century English monarch, but once I realized what they sold, I knew I was wrong.  Based on the historic images of Queen Victoria I’ve seen, she would  have more likely done her shopping for the royal unmentionables at Sears-in the hardware section.  Whoever this Victoria was, I owed her one for keeping her secret between us as I did my online shopping in the semi-privacy my own bathroom (semi-privacy because I rarely manage to get the door shut and locked without interference from at least one child or pet.)

My internal rejoicing over my coupon was suddenly interrupted, however, when I read the horrifying phrase in fine print, “In-store only.”  I didn’t even think men were allowed in that place.  In fact, whenever I go the mall, I risk contact with the mall kiosk salespeople selling bespangled phone cases, Turkish beauty cream, and Dippin’ Dots as I veer away and avert my eyes from the Victoria’s Secret entrance, festooned with mannequins who forgot to put on their pants.  This time, though, I was determined I wouldn’t let my self-respect keep me from making a romantic gesture at a discount.

As I entered the store, my mind was racing with “what if’s.” What if one of my college students sees me?  What will they think, and how will it affect my instructor evaluations? “Well, Mr. Graves teaches a great lesson on Cavalier poetry, even if he is a creepy weirdo who snoops around in the clearance bras.”  Worse yet, what if someone from church sees me?  Would it endanger my third-grade Sunday School teaching position?  Would I be relegated to boy’s bathroom monitor or parking lot duty in the senior adult area?

Pushing these thoughts aside, I pressed on to find the items pictured on my coupon.  Apparently, underwear at Victoria’s Secret is categorized according to how much of it is missing.  At any moment, I expected to see a table display with nothing but spools of thread.  When I finally found something I could identify as human garments, I then had to find the correct size, which involved rifling though storage bins below the display table and constantly looking over my shoulder like some kind of maniac to see if anyone was watching.  Sure enough, it didn’t take long for a sales associate (wearing all black-presumably for my funeral) to show up and ask, “May I help you, sir?” just loudly enough for mall security to hear.   I had no choice but to be completely honest, so I told her I was looking for house slippers and socks, to which she replied at full volume, “You’re in the wrong drawer.  Those are the cheekies.”

Once I had finally made my selections with the help of the panty police and was making my way to check out, I did notice a few other men in the store with their wives.  One appeared to be examining a hairline seam in the wallpaper while his wife browsed through the hiphuggers, and another was counting ceiling tiles while his wife demanded that he smell the glittered body sprays with her.  One man who was there with his teenage daughters glanced at me with a defeated look of solidarity in his eyes, and I could have sworn he mouthed the words, “Please, help me!”

Unfortunately, I could offer no help to these fellow sufferers as my main goal at that point was to escape without further humiliation.  Those hopes were dashed, though, when I saw the enormous checkout line.  Of course, I was the only male in line, and I was determined to salvage what little masculinity I had left, which isn’t easy when you’ve got a handful of lingerie.  I tried to be nonchalant and held them in my fist like a baseball, and not very convincingly since my little league baseball career mainly involved chewing on my glove in the outfield.  While I stood there in disgrace, a woman behind me in line actually leaned forward to say, “Your wife certainly is lucky you shop for her here.  My husband would never do that.”  Of course he wouldn’t, I thought,  it’s called dignity.  She was probably just trying to convince herself that I wasn’t preparing for elective surgery so I could use my choice of bathrooms at Target.

The experience didn’t improve when I reached the cashier.  I tried to conceal my embarrassment by making jokes.  “Do you have a dressing room?  Do these match my eyes?”  The cashier just raised her eyebrows and avoided making eye contact.  She was probably reaching for a panic button under the counter.  Her response to my humor was to hand me my merchandise in a ridiculously scorching-pink bag that was specifically designed to humiliate me as I walked through the mall and out to my car.  This bag of shame, which was billowing with fuchsia tissue,  made me look like I was on my way to a baby shower for Lady Gaga.

As I sat in my car to recover with “We are the Champions” playing on the radio, I felt a wave of satisfaction come over me.  I had swallowed my pride (and a heavily-iced slice of Great American Cookie Company cookie cake), saved some money, and purchased something special for my wife for Valentine’s Day.  In fact, I’m already planning next year’s Valentine’s gift.  I wonder what she would think of some Turkish beauty cream and a Dippin’ Dots gift card?