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Sunday Punch
Guess Again
How my Christmas gift-buying story turned into a soap opera
Illustration After being married to the Truly Unpleasant Mrs. Johnston for two centuries, I have to admit that I have run out of ideas on what to buy her for Christmas.

When we were first married in the last century, it wasn't very hard to buy her stuff. One Christmas I could get her jewelry and the next Christmas I could get her a nice 16-speed blender. That way I would learn that Mrs. Johnston didn't consider a kitchen appliance an appropriate Christmas gift. So the next Christmas I would get her a sweater made from the hand-spun wool of yaks, which she liked, so I figured I was safe in buying her clothing.

But the next Christmas I would give her a red teddy nightgown with white nylon fur, which she didn't like even though it could be loosely called "clothing." I was back to guessing again.

By the end of this past century, I had pretty well moved my gift-buying through every room in the house. I had eliminated most items for the kitchen as gifts, unless they were absolutely worthless and cost a lot, and items for the bedroom were not received well, especially if there was a chance I might enjoy them more than Mrs. Johnston.

There was a time I completely lost my mind and went to Costco to buy a 50-gallon barrel of laundry detergent, and I learned that most women don't see the good intentions behind such a gift. Some don't even see the good-natured humor behind a barrel of detergent.

(I must digress here. Over the years, Mrs. Johnston has lost her sense of humor altogether when it comes to gift-buying. When we were first married, she described most things I bought as "cute." Then, as the years wore on, she started calling them "barely tolerable." I think in the last few years "justifiable homicide" has been her favorite thing to mutter when she unwraps a gift.

(In any case, the whole arrangement has me completely mystified. It's so different from the way we men operate. If there is something I really want, I do what most guys do: I buy it. After all, if you need a drill, you probably need it RIGHT NOW! So you buy it and drill the holes. But if you can wait several months for Christmas to get it, then you probably don't really need it all that bad and you can wait for the sale to buy it. When I told Mrs. Johnston about my philosophy on gift-buying, she said I was an idiot and she hopes her next husband doesn't think that way. I am through digressing now.)

As we have moved into the second century of our marriage, I've found myself dreading Christmas. Besides the fact it costs a lot of money and seems to put Mrs. Johnston on edge, it also hurts my head thinking about it.

For example, when I ask Mrs. Johnston what she would like for Christmas these days, she tells me to "surprise" her. That can mean anything, and over the past two centuries, I have found that when I really do "surprise" her, Mrs. Johnston is more disgusted than delighted.

And if I told Mrs. Johnston to "surprise" me for Christmas, I would have to sleep with one eye open just in case she thought a big surprise would involve creeping up on me with a baseball bat while I was napping.

But I think I've come up with a fabulous surprise gift for Mrs. Johnston: I will get one of those 50-gallon barrels of laundry detergent, but this time I'll stuff a package of thong underwear in the middle of it.

Mrs. Johnston will first be disappointed that I bought her the same gift (laundry detergent) as I did a few years ago, but then she will be absolutely knocked out of her socks when she comes across the thong underwear around July.

I expect her to have a big surprise for me, too. I just hope it doesn't involve a baseball bat.

Steve Johnston is a retired Seattle Times reporter. His e-mail address is Paul Schmid is a Seattle Times news artist.

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