Too Many Choices
Last week I took my life companion, my lover, my wife, out to lunch. She deserved it—it was her 60th birthday.
Now that was a laudable enterprise. Lunch (a cheaper option than dinner parsimonious husbands take note) is an annual birthday gift to my deserving wife of 35 years . . .but . . . I know this woman. We were going to Fatty Pattys, where only the name was objectionable—the cuisine was terrific.
Every year, I choose a modest, but tasty option but aways—always!—a place that is miles away from a Ross, TJMaxx, or Marshalls. I assiduously avoid these snake pits on ordinary days, but, with my natural, judicious caution engendered by my wife’s uncharacteristic élan connected with a birthday celebration ardor burning brightly, this day above all others demanded that I demonstrate scrupulous vigilance.
In fact, I deliberately chose the most circuitous route that I could. I knew it would take me away from what must be Dante’s 8 level of Hell. For I know, no matter what our time frame is, no matter what our priorities, no matter what the urgency of our task is, Karen cannot resist a “quick” stop at one of these commercial enterprises.
11:50 A.M. We will easily make it to lunch by 12 Noon.
As fate would have it, the gods did not smile on me this day. Or my Garmin lady hates me. My Garmin (which hasn’t been updated since George W. Bush was president) malevolently, as if to neglect the old Garmin girl with her sexy voice was a cardinal sin, took me past a Ross Dress For Less Department Store.
Quickly I spied the abominable temptation before my birthday girl saw it.
“Sweetie, what is that bird I see in the sky! Look quick! No, look in the sky! Is it a hawk?” I forlornly pleaded.
But it was too late. The dastardly deed had been done. That Garmin hussy!
“Jim, stop! I just need to buy one thing.”
Like Hannibal when he entered the Po Valley after languishing in the Alps, like Caleb and Joshua when they looked out over the Promised Land, Karen’s beautiful brown eyes glowed at the prospect of purchasing all those “bargains.”
A “bargain” to Karen, my inveterate shopper, is a 80% discounted price tag. Her desire for good bargains was a genuine addiction, an obsession. Like a cocaine addict, once she tasted a 40% discount, she had to have a 60% discount or more. Much more. And her sympathy for those poor souls who paid full price approached epic proportions. She is blessed, and she knew it, with an eye for bargains and wondered how any day in the year could be better than the day after Christmas.
At first the internet discombobulated my apple blossom. She held her bargains in her hand, like gold, and examined them as closely as if she was buying a head of lettuce in the grocery story. Bargains were there to find, to touch, and their penultimate value first had to be ascertained, and that only by the “touch.” She could not do that on the internet, so, she purposed never to buy on the internet— she staged a one woman rebellion of sorts against that type buying. And let me tell you from experience, my friends, do not underestimate my wife. Google.com watch out!
But, never, have I seen my sagacious Karen buy a piece of clothing at full price.
I remember once I nobly bought a full price item of clothing for her at Dillard for her Christmas present and she acted like I had bought Twinkies home from the grocery story. Or as if I had shopped at an Adult store or something.
But, weary reader, my Godly, beautiful, now a year older, life companion, sweetheart was crossing the Jordan. Ross Dress of Less loomed over the horizon. The unpretentious blue white sign urging my princess onward toward her Shangri La.
I on the other hand was starring down on the Promised Land like old Moses sat on Mount Pisgah except that while Moses very much wanted to enter the Promised Land I would rather eat dirt than shop at Ross Dress for Less Department Store, even with my wife.
With one final plea, with one forlorn cry, I, the dedicated taciturn wimp, “Honey, dear, I will buy you a wonderful seafood lunch at Pattys.”
Karen did not bite the bait.
A sidebar. In Karen’s defense, she laconically has pointed out to me that she does not particularly enjoy shopping either. That is the only lie I can remember my wife ever telling! She reminds me that I have never bought a stitch of clothes for myself in my entire life (which is true) and if she doesn’t do it no one will (since my mother is dead). So I am appropriately grateful on occasion. Sort of.
“You don’t have to join me in the store, “ Karen sweetly offered.
Which she really meant, but would never say, “Listen dope. It is my birthday. Turn off Rush Limbaugh and join me in women’s lingerie.”
I am reminded of Milton’s timeless words, “The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.” So, with only an once of prompting by the Holy Spirit (Jim, honor your dear wife) and a ton of conscience prompting (Jim, you must do this thing or Karen will kill you!) with intrepid boldness I entered Ross Dress for Less Department Store only a few paces behind my wife.
Rest at ease, dear readers. This valedictorian address is almost over!
Well, of course Karen found exactly what she wanted at Ross. But, of course, we can never be sure that it won’t be cheaper at T J Maxx, another den of iniquity.
So we went there.
That is one of the problems with living in the 21st century. We have too many choices. Social psychologists Sheena Iyengar, PhD, a management professor at Columbia University Business School, and Mark Lepper, PhD, a psychology professor at Stanford University, demonstrate the downside of excessive choice. In a 2000 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the team showed that when shoppers are given the option of choosing among smaller and larger assortments of jam, they show more interest in the larger assortment. But when it comes time to pick just one, they’re 10 times more likely to make a purchase if they choose among six rather than among 24 flavors of jam.
Which is exactly the point I made to Karen: just buy the darn thing at Ross and let’s go to lunch.
12:30 and we are farther away from Fatty Pattys than ever.
To accelerate the narrative, however, I will summarize. T. J. Maxx did have the same blouse at a cheaper price but it was the wrong size. Marshall # 1 had the same blouse but with long sleeves. Marshall #2 had the same blouse but with no sleeves. Ross # 2 (yes, they actually have these things within 5 miles of each other!) we found a different blouse but the same color and at a cheaper price. This brought renewed optimism and ardor in my lovely shopper. We were heading to a Chico Outlet, not a first string, preferred shopping destination, but Karen heard that they were having a huge sale. She was wrong.
3:30 and I was ready to eat at Burger King or anywhere else and it appeared we had exhausted our resources. But, as I said, do not underestimate my wife.
You know, parenthetically, relationships may partly depend on looking for things we never find. That might be the best thing in life. I remember that my dad and I looked for blue birds all his life until he died. We never found them but enjoyed the looking. I now have a couple of families of blue birds living in my Pennsylvania farm backyard.
We never found the white blouse we wanted—by the time we returned to Ross Dress for Less #1 it was gone. By the time we got to Fatty Pattys it was time for supper. And Fatty Pattys does not serve supper.
So we ate at an expensive Thai restaurant. But Karen is worth it.
Then we stopped at Walmart on the way home and shopped some more.