I gave her a present without actually buying her anything

I gave her a present without actually buying her anything

Earlier this month, my wife celebrated another birthday.

Well, perhaps “celebrated” isn’t the proper verb, because she barely acknowledged her supposed big day.

“Marked” isn’t right either, nor is “observed,” since both imply at least a modicum of interest on her part.

Let’s go with “tolerated.”

That pretty much captures her genuine indifference.

There are reasons for this dose of reality, none of which are entirely germane to our purposes today.

Suffice it to say that, as her spouse of almost a dozen years and her partner for more than 30, I found myself in the unique position of wanting to give her a present without actually buying her anything.

It was an O. Henry-esque dilemma, for sure, with traces of “Gift of the Magi” echoing all around it.

I thought about washing her car, but that felt a little too Ozzie Nelson, and I considered vacuuming the whole house, but that notion seemed like too much work to me, the anti-Ward Cleaver.

Quite honestly, the whole ordeal was exhausting – trying on one idea, then another, only to reject them all – and I was on the verge of chucking the entire enterprise when I looked in the mirror.


There, staring back at me, was the perfect solution to my problem.

I would shave off my beard.

It wouldn’t be overstating the truth to say that my wife hates it.

There was a time when I’d stop shaving the day after the World Series ended in late October and resume again when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in early March.

I liked the seasonal aspect of the rotation and the fact that it coincided rather nicely with all those bleak Ohio winters.

Since we relocated to Coastal Carolina at the turn of the century, though, that serendipitous bit of Mikey-logic has become harder and harder to sell; I mean, even February can be shorts weather.

And, two or three years ago, I decided to keep the beard year round.

I suppose it had something to do with turning the corner on 60 and all the soul-searching that involved. And it might have been related to the fact that I thought it looked good, that silver against my tan.

But let’s cut the crap.

I stopped shaving because I’m basically lazy.


I said it.

Oh, there was a bit of maintenance required – a weekly trim, a monthly landscaping – but on the whole, I simply abandoned being a slave to the blade.

A single can of shaving cream lasted nearly a year.

But my wife was not thrilled with my frugality.

“But you look so nice without it,” she’d say, “and everyone says it makes you look a lot older.”

I didn’t bother to debate her choice of the word “everyone,” since we’re pretty much a world of two, encased in our own balloon as we watch the rest of reality from our safe, cocooned distance.

And I had to admit that my beard didn’t exactly make me a candidate for the Least Changed Award at my class reunion.

But occasionally, I’d recall the first time I grew one and how that series of unfortunate events resulted in a look that no one expected.

It was the Bicentennial Summer and I was working for the Parks and Recreation Department in my little town, doing my bit to spruce things up as the whole country turned red, white and blue.

As the Fourth of July got closer and the pressure to finish the patriotic facelift increased, I was tasked with repainting the welcome sign that stood at the entrance to one of our nicer parks.

It was a Friday afternoon, just before quitting time, and I thought I’d save a few minutes by moving the ladder – with a can of red paint on its top level – without first taking the bucket off and placing it safely on the grass.

Faithful readers will recall the chaos that ensued when – in a “Carrie”-like nightmare that I’ve written about many times – the can tipped over and struck the top of my skull, leaving me looking like a survivor of a zombie apocalypse or a chainsaw massacre.

I decided to abandon my work station and, rather than wait for my ride back to the maintenance building and face all that humiliation, I staggered into Town Creek and slogged my way home.

Owing to the secluded terrain, I was able to remain hidden for the first two miles or so, but then I was forced to present myself to public view for the final leg and the reactions I got varied between shock and amusement.

Once back at the house, I crept into the basement, removing all my red-splashed clothes (including my socks) and cowered in the darkness near the furnace, trying to figure my next move

And, of course, that’s where my father found me, his first-born son, home from his junior year at college, painted red and naked.

“There you are,” he said, pulling the string that illuminated a single light bulb in the ceiling. “Some of your friends from work are upstairs in the kitchen. They seem a little worried about you.”

A few cold ones and a turpentine cleansing later, I was feeling better, but it was clear that most of my hair, which was well past shoulder-length, would have go.

And so, to compensate, I starting raising a scraggily beard which I wore back to campus for my senior year at Notre Dame.

Flash forward from 1976 to 2019. That’s me in the bathroom off the master bedroom, shaving off the last of a beard I’d been wearing since Trump got himself elected, getting ready to surprise my wife with her birthday present.

As I stood in the kitchen, waiting for her reaction to my new look, she simply smiled and said, “Hello,” and walked right on by. Moments later, of course, it all registered and she shrieked with happiness, giving me a big hug and a nice kiss.

“You look so much better,” she said. “Thank you.”

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