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A Full Day of Shopping and Phobias

July 17, 2002|Chris Erskine

I spend much of the morning with her at the fireplace store looking at mantels. She browses. I follow her around like a mountain lion, 20 paces back.

"Is there a special section here," I ask the fireplace guy, "for really picky wives?"

He laughs a little. The fireplace guy seems to understand wives and the men who follow them around.

"As you can tell, I pretty much pamper her," I tell him.

"I can tell," the fireplace guy says.

As we leave, he gives me a barbecue scraper. Redwood handle. Brass brush. The works.

"See, it pays to treat people nice," I tell my wife.

"Know who's nice?" she asks.


"Chuck's wife," she says. "I was talking to her at last night's game." After the fireplace store, we head to the granite yard. There is a protocol to buying granite. Much like heroin. "I think it's down this street," my wife says as we cruise through North Hollywood. Guard dogs smile at us through the chain link.

The first granite yard, we don't like at all. The second one is more promising, though I expect to be frisked at any moment. There's a protocol to buying granite. I'm pretty sure the salesman is armed.

"I like that gray slab," I tell her.

"That's green," she says.

This is the running argument of our marriage--that I'm colorblind and she's not. It's her, of course. But I play along.

"How about the tan one?" I ask.

"That's blue," she says with a sigh.

Back on the freeway, we spot a new Porsche. The 101 Freeway is L.A.'s Porsche corridor. You can't drive it without spotting at least six. "Hey, that's Matthew Perry," my wife says as a purple Boxster zooms pass.

"Don't joke," I say.

"I think it is," she says.

Everyone has little things that spook them. John Madden fears flying. Billy Bob Thornton has an inordinate fear of antiques.

For me, it's running into Matthew Perry somewhere--anywhere--and hearing him spout his standard "Could it be any hotter in here?" Unlike many phobias, mine seems perfectly reasonable.

"That's him," my wife says.

"No, it isn't."

"You passed our exit," she says.

By now, it's late Saturday morning. I have a Radio Disney headache and a cup of Starbucks perched by my knee. Radio Disney. It's programmed into every button.

As I leave the Starbucks, an employee behind the counter screams, "Hey, does that cup say Anthony on it?" I know right then it's going to be a special day.

"No," I say, holding up my cup as proof.

"You're not Anthony," she says.

"Right," I say.

I guess I look like one of two things: Either the kind of guy who steals coffee or someone who can't read his own name.

"I'm sure," I holler back.

So we flee Starbucks and continue out across Los Angeles, my wife and I, this time looking for a bathroom vanity. It's for this renovation we started seven years ago. In seven more years, we should be nearly finished.

"I've never seen lilies that color," my wife says as we enter the humongous do-it-yourself store.

"They're doing great things with flowers," I say.

We alternate between really expensive stores we can't afford and bargain-basement warehouses with so much merchandise that they spill out into the parking lots. Wheelbarrows. Hammocks. Lilies.

At the humongous do-it-yourself store, the return-merchandise line snakes out the door. Children play on the chrome turnstiles, blocking customers from entering or leaving. Kids. Last I checked, the world had enough.

"I hate kids," I say.

"You love kids," my wife says.

"That was yesterday."

Near the front door, there's a young woman dressed like a Hooters girl. She's serving hot dogs to middle-aged guys buying peat moss and garden hose.

"And you, sir, a hot dog?" she asks.

"This way," my wife says and leads me into the store.

"You sir, a hot dog?" the Hooters girl asks someone else.

We're looking for one item in a store with a million items, spread out over an area roughly the size of France.

This is what shopping in this country has become. A thousand-mile trek. In America, there are no small stores left.

Fortunately, the do-it-yourself store has big signs over each aisle to guide us:

Aisle 1: Nothing you want.

Aisle 2: Nothing you need.

Aisle 3: Nothing that works.

"This is our kind of place," I tell my wife.

"The vanities are over here," she says.

For some reason, there are only a few vanities. Some are in boxes half-open and apparently gnawed upon by squirrels.

"That's how they keep the prices so low," I explain.

"Let's go to that other store," she says. So we drive to yet another store, which is much quieter and far too expensive.

"Could it be any hotter in here?" I ask.

"I love this place," says my wife.

Basically, this store is a huge living room, where the sales associates speak to you in hushed tones, muffled by carpets thick as Kentucky bluegrass. Nice.

"We're looking for landscape lighting," my wife explains.

"We are?" I say.

"This way," the sales associate whispers.

And for a while, we're falling in love again. Stores like this inspire togetherness--even among married couples--till weeks later when the bill arrives and the husband and wife blame each other for overspending again. Till then, it's paradise.

As we walk toward the landscape lighting, we spot a woman giving a deep shoulder rub to a man studying carpet samples. Maybe that's why the prices are so high. With every sale, you get foreplay.

"Look, foreplay," I tell my wife.

"Huh?" she says, like she's never heard the term.

"Foreplay," I tell her.

"Those lights are over here," she says.

Chris Erskine's column is published Wednesdays. He can be reached at

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