I realized that my wife truly loved me when she threatened to kill me. We were still living in sin at the time, we were poor, and I had a pretty sharp eye for a bargain. As we sailed down the grocery aisle one day, my wife said, “Look, root beer.” She said it like she might have said, “Look, white whale,” if she’d had one leg and looked like Gregory Peck. She hove to and cut a small bottle out of the pod.

I objected right away. It’s not that I didn’t want her to have root beer, but I didn’t understand why she was buying a small bottle. Root beer in the small bottle cost 4 cents per ounce. Root beer in the giant bottle cost 3.8 cents per ounce. No economic logic could justify it. She might overpay by as much as twelve or even thirteen cents. I presented my position in detail and with determination. At last she grabbed the giant bottle and said, “Fine. But when this root beer goes flat I’m going to pour the whole bottle down your throat,” which would have soon resulted in my death from acute root beer poisoning. At that moment I knew it was real love and that she was the girl for me.

I said all that in order to say this: I’m still a pretty sharp shopper, but my wife taught me there’s more to shopping than price. So when I saw the words “50% OFF” this morning, I did not snatch the item like a snot-stained toddler full of Froot Loops and jam. Instead, I eased my 14 liters of Diet Coke out of the aisle and pondered this opportunity. These were candy bars. Fate was offering me half-price candy. Where I come from, turning down half-price candy is like poking your finger in God’s eye. Life will not offer you anything better that day, unless you stumble across Liv Tyler in a chocolate Ferrari full of cocaine.

As I reached for the candy bar, trembling when I realized it was a giant-sized, two-piece bar, I scanned the wrapper for any promises of extra nuts or a prize inside. What I saw astounded me more than if this candy had been Bluetooth enabled. The wrapper said that this candy contained “4 GRAMS of PROTEIN”. “PER PIECE”. That’s 8 GRAMS of PROTEIN. TOTAL.

I am not kidding.

That was a lot to comprehend. I tried to imagine why someone thought a “high protein” label would make people desire this candy even more. It’s already candy. If candy had directions for use, those directions would say, “Remove wrapper. Place candy in rusty spoon and melt over open flame. Inject candy directly into vein. Repeat until dead.” No person on Earth can be convinced that this is healthy candy just because it has 4 grams of protein in it. What brains came up with this sales tactic?

Then I realized that I can answer this one. During my patchwork of vocational adventures, I have sat in meeting rooms where people thought up ways to sell stuff. Based on my experiences, I imagine that the conversation at the candy company went about like this:

BOSS: Only half the people in the country buy our candy. How do we make the other half buy it too? Let’s brainstorm here, people.

LACKEY: We could make it taste better.

BOSS: I said brainstorm, not throw out crazy ideas! Go get me some coffee.

TOADY: Hey, we put ‘em on sale! Instead of ninety cents each, we sell ‘em three for $2.80.

LICKSPITTLE: That’s horrible. People would be paying more for three than for one at a time.

TOADY: That’s the great part. Most of the morons can’t divide by three.

BOSS: It’s not a bad idea, but we need to reach the cheap bastards who don’t already buy our candy.

LACKEY: Here’s your coffee. Maybe we can just toss candy bars over everyone’s back fence and then charge them for the candy on their utility bill. Nobody ever looks at their utility bill. They just pay it.

LICKSPITTLE: That will never work. It’s fraud. We’ll all get put in jail.

BOSS: Maybe… put it on the parking lot and I’ll run it by legal. What else?

TOADY: We slap a “Made in the USA” tag on every wrapper! A red, white and blue one!

LACKEY: Do we make them in the USA?


BOSS: Probably.

LICKSPITTLE: The wrapper’s made in China.

BOSS: Shit!

LACKEY: So what do these cheap bastards who don’t buy our candy have in common?

BOSS: They’re not fat.

TOADY: Perfect! We use the time-tested marketing strategy—fear! They’re afraid of getting fat and dying, so they’re always on diets, right?

LICKSPITTLE: Um… I guess. I’m always on a diet.

BOSS: I see where you’re going with this. What’s the popular diet right now?


LICKSPITTLE: Low carb/high protein. If my wife puts another chicken breast on the table, I’m going to shoot myself.

TOADY: Okay! We just plaster the grams of protein on the wrapper in big-ass text like it’s a huge amount of protein, and people on diets will buy like crazy.

BOSS: I see. Yes, they want candy anyway, so this is just giving them permission.

LICKSPITTLE: Wait. How many grams of protein are in our candy?

TOADY: Who gives a shit? The fewer the grams, the bigger we’ll make the letters!

BOSS: Perfect! That settles it. Great job, everyone. Pass me a donut.

I’m sure that’s how it happened. As a point of interest, if you were on a high protein diet and got all your protein by eating these candy bars, you’d consume 100,000 calories a day. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but it would be enough calories to force you into your fat jeans by the end of the week.

That sales technique did not snare me, I’m proud to say. I owe that to my lovely wife, who expanded my consumer consciousness beyond questions of mere price. I can see past claims about protein, new and improved flavors, and contests I couldn’t win if I had the powers of a Greek god. I stand immune.

Of course I bought the candy. It’s half-price candy. I’m not stupid.


My wife could be getting a remodeled bathroom with heated tile floors for Christmas. Or she could be getting a cruise down the Danube with a personal chef and her own burly Teutonic masseur. Maybe a puppy that will grow into a huge, destructive dog, or maybe a freezer and a “Tasty Animal of the Month” membership. But my sweetie will not be getting any of those things because the universe is unfair, and it requires me to pay for everything I want to give someone. Therefore, my wife will receive a squatty wooden chair on Christmas morning.

Presents were a big deal in my family, and I guess they still are. We didn’t have much money when I was a kid, but we didn’t care about spending a lot on gifts. We wanted to give a gift that was so perfectly suited to the recipient that he would go into convulsions from pure joy. It was a modest goal. Occasionally we found the perfect gift at a reasonable cost. Usually we couldn’t afford it even if we sold all the grandparents for medical experiments. So we’d buy the most nearly perfect gift we could afford without actually weeping blood from the expense.

I’ve carried this pathology with me into adulthood. My preferred gift shopping strategy is to walk into an interesting store and stride up each aisle. My goal is to shop for some loved ones whose lives I want to make ideal for one shimmering, eternally-remembered moment. So of course I don’t think about any of those people at all. I just absorb the merchandise’s aura in a consumer-zen fashion, and when my intuition smacks me in the forehead about some item I buy it. When I get home I’ll figure out who it’s perfect for. Or as close to perfect as I can afford.

Over the years, that strategy did not drip insanity, no matter how it sounds. I always employed a critical safety measure. I only went into stores that I could afford that year. If my income made it a Woolworths Five and Dime year, I did not walk into Aberdeen’s Custom Jewelry and Furs Worth Going to Hell For. I could set limits. I indulged my neurotic gift giving compulsion and still remained fiscally responsible. The universe made sense, at least through the skewed lens of my childhood.

Then came the internet.

The internet blew away my safety interlocks faster than a reckless starship captain in a David Hasselhoff movie. Suddenly the world was one big store, with nose hair clippers on one aisle and matching Ferraris on the next aisle over. My strategy would lead only to wailing frustration, immediate bankruptcy, or catatonia induced by irreconcilable psychic and moral conflict. In other words, bad strategy.

I turned to my wife for guidance. She has always adopted a more reflective approach than I to gift giving. She follows the, “Give them something nice and move the hell on,” philosophy. She doesn’t give crappy gifts. She doesn’t shop at the gas station for presents. I’ve never received from her a 5 Hour Energy Drink and a Zagnut Bar in a used Arby’s sack for my birthday. She even dares to ask people what they’d like to get as a gift, which I kind of consider to be cheating. If they don’t tell her what they want, then she gives them something modest and charming, and if they don’t like it then it’s their own damned fault for not telling her what they wanted. It all seems like insanity to me, but I don’t see my wife obsessively scratching furrows into the back of her hand because her brother wanted the blue jacket instead of the brown one she gave him.

So under my wife’s tutelage I’ve developed a new strategy. First I ask people what they want. If they want something too lavish, I just ignore whatever they said. Then I count up the rest of the money I can spend and divide it by the remaining gift recipients. Hopefully it comes out to at least seven dollars per person. If not, I decide which family members and friends I want to offend and maybe never speak to again. Then I find something that I can give to everyone, making sure it’s the nicest thing I can buy for seven dollars. I buy the gifts, bestow them as appropriate, and drink some Christmas tequila to smother my sense of having violated some natural law. Simple.    

My wife's current squatty wooden chair, complete with bungee cord structural support

This is how I know that my wife will receive a squatty wooden chair for Christmas. She got me started on my new strategy by flat out telling me what she wants. She wants this chair so she can sit on it while she applies makeup. She had a nice chair for that purpose, but I crushed it when I sat down to talk to her about weather stripping the front door. She coaxed the chair back into cohesion using a bungee cord and some profanity, so she can sit on it for now if she doesn’t mind risking permanent spinal injury whenever she applies blush. So, she wants a chair, I understand why she wants it, and I even feel responsible for her needing it. I will buy her the best squatty wooden chair I can find.

I wonder if they come inlaid with sapphires and ivory from extinct animals?