If at first you don’t succeed, I’ll meet you in Customer Service

image It was 10 years ago this week I found myself standing in line with approximately 800 other husbands (conservative estimate) who, like me, had been sent to return the Christmas gift they had gotten their wives.

I should probably point out that I’m not still waiting in that line and have since re-married. I don’t think that is a coincidence.

However, I can distinctly remember the experience for a number of reasons. First, because it’s rare to see so many men standing in line for something that isn’t leading to a sporting event, urinal or more beer.

Not necessarily in that order.

Secondly, I remember it because the loudspeaker, which was positioned directly over my head, played the same Christmas song 16 times. This was over the course of an hour, by the end of which I was making up lyrics I can’t print here.

What I can tell you is that my son will never, EVER be allowed to have a drum.

The main reason I remember this so well is due to sheer coincidence, i.e., coincidently, every man standing in line with me was returning an Epilady Shaver. Each conversation with the customer service person went something like this:

“Can I help you?”
“I’d like to return this.”
“Is there something wrong with it?”
“Yes, my wife can’t use it without throwing it at me.”
“It looks like it’s been damaged. Is this the way it came?”
“No, that happened when it landed in the driveway. My wife has a good arm but not much aim.”
(Uncomfortable pause.)
“I’m serious. She chased me. Naked. I don’t think I’d be alive if she hadn’t slipped on the linoleum. I’m just glad the dog was there to break her fall.”
“Sir, unfortunately I can’t give you a refund because of the damage. All I can do is give you a store credit, which you can use to get her something else.”
“…oh God…”

This is the typical male reaction when it comes to gift buying for their wives, particularly in this case, when the stakes have been raised exponentially by the “make-up gift” factor. For example, let’s say a man gives his wife a robe that is too big. Exponentially speaking, we’re talking about a factor of one because, in spite of the sizing error, his wife had been made to feel petite. Therefore, he can simply exchange the robe for a smaller one. Looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, let’s say the robe in question is too small. Exponentially speaking, we’re talking about a factor of 50, which is the number of times he will be rat-tail whipped with his wife’s robe before she has exhausted herself enough for him to yank it away.

As I stood in line that day, it was obvious that every man was attempting to calculate the exponential “make-up” factor for a gift that had come from the heart and left through the bathroom window. It was also obvious that most of us had forgotten every mathematical equation we’d learned since the seventh grade, which could explain why several men broke from the line and disappeared into the business supply section.

I, however, was not one of those men.

I’d like to say it was because I managed to calculate the “make-up” factor in my head and, through my mathematical prowess, determined the exponential number to be…

Well, a big one.

Possibly involving something algebraic.

But, no. The reason I didn’t race for a calculating device is because, by that time, my brain had been lulled into submission by a drum-beat pattern. When I got to the customer service counter, our conversation went something like this:

“How can I help you, sir?”
“Are you returning that Epilady?”
“Sir, it looks damaged. All I can give you is an in-store credit. Is that OK?”
“Rum-ba-ba…oh God…”

So men, as you return that special gift this week, remember the “make-up” factor and exchange your wife’s gift accordingly.

It probably wouldn’t hurt to bring a calculator.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be released this December from Port Hole Publications. You can write to him at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

Published by

Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

71 thoughts on “If at first you don’t succeed, I’ll meet you in Customer Service”

  1. See, this is why I write a very specific list. And by very specific, I mean I list the item, the store, the shelf, the placement of said shelf in store, the color, the size, and any other pertinent details I can think of to make things easier. In order to still keep some element of surprise for Christmas morning, I list about 25 things just this way. It’s a system designed just for husbands, i.e., Idiot Proof. But God help us all if he decides to forego the list and wing it! It’s a good thing I was taught to smile, say “Thank you, Dear,” and exchange the gift later for something I really want. And which probably costs more. (There has to be SOME element of punishment, right?)

    And btw, Ned. Santa says I was so good this year, I get to keep shopping for the rest of this week. I want to order a copy of Humor At The Speed of Life. I’ve heard a really funny guy wrote it, and I want to see for myself. I also saw that signed copies are available upon request. What I couldn’t find was HOW to request one, because, well…it’s YOU. And I want to retire to an island in the Pacific someday on the proceeds I’ll no doubt be able to make on a signed copy of your book. So…clue me in on how to go about making an official request. Please???

    Your Fan In Florida,

    1. You are a very smart woman whose wisdom should be available for the sake of all husbands. I’m thinking of creating a “gift menu” for men, sort of like the menu at IHOP, with pictures that husbands can use. I’m hoping to sell the idea as an app. Maybe even with a GPS locator for each item. It could be a big seller! You could be the spokesperson! Think about it, Marcia…

      As for the book, you can order a copy at http://www.portholepublications.com and I will make sure you get a signed copy. I am supposed to go over and sign a bunch today or tomorrow, and I’ll make sure to out a special one aside for you 😉 One of the benefits of living near the publishing house!

      Happy Holidays and my best wishes to you for the New Year!

      By the way, it’s nice to know I have “a fan” in the entire state of Florida…

      1. Oh, it’s not just me down here, Ned. Oh, no, no, no, my witty and verbose friend. There’s that guy up in the panhandle, too! 😀

        I’m very intrigued with your Menu With Pictures idea, and how clever of you to think of making it an app. However, men of a “certain age” might prefer a printed version, so keep them in mind, as well. I believe you are right. This could be the biggest thing since chia pets and twerking. Or chia pets who ARE twerking. (Eeep.) And I’d be a great spokesperson. I’m really good at speaking. I do it all the time. Ask my husband. 😀

        Heading off to Porthole to order my copy of HATSOL right now, before my husband realizes that the 12 Days of Christmas is more than just a song! I’ll be eagerly awaiting my signed copy, believe me, and I plan to review it several places. Be afraid, Ned Hickson. Be very afraid! 😯

            1. Yay! I just placed my order and can’t wait to get your book. It is going right on top of my towering To Be Read pile. I meant to order it last night, but I fell asleep. 🙂 I’m OOOLLLD, you know. Well, that plus I was up late the night before, watching my chia pets twerk. The most exciting thing that’s happened in this household since about 1986, when Mark tried out…well, nevermind. No need to erase your frightening images of the twerking alfalfa sprouts with one even more disturbing. 😀

    1. That’s a very good point! I was brave (intoxicated?) and ordered my wife a pair of boots for Christmas and was sweating because, as far as I know, they don’t make a one-size-fits-all leather boot. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when she put them on and they actually fit. It was Miracle on Oak Street at our house…

    1. Oh, amen to that! I think God gave them ears to hold up their glasses, because I know they sure don’t use them to listen to US. 😀 But, hey. They do have a few redeeming qualities, so I reckon I’m going to keep mine, anyway. 😀

    1. I have to say, as much as I jest in this post, I have become a good listener when it comes to my wife. Mostly because I love her and what she has to say. We both know what it feels like not to be heard, and make sure that feeling doesn’t happen again.

      Except when it’s time to take out the trash… 😉

  2. Hold on a second, there are women out there that make their husbands return the gift they received? What lunacy is this? If I ever get something I don’t want and can return it I go myself, that way I end up with something I do want. Who are these women sending their husbands? Someone needs to sit them down to have a chat.

  3. Happiness is finding a thousand different ways to send your wife to the spa for a massage, pelting with hot stones, mud-slinging, or whatever…continues to work long after my separation.

  4. So much wisdom in so few words! I learned that the Dept. Store gift return line is all the evidence you need of an impending divorce. I learned that Dept. Store music is designed to melt a perfectly good brain. I learned that Dept. Stores are basically an evil place and are not designed with men in mind at all…which is why I gave my Queen a lovely hand written card with 10 crisp $100 bills in it. A little impersonal perhaps but I’m tellin’ ya, that’s the sound of peace right there, my friend. Thanks for the laughs this year, mate, lookin’ forward to reading along in 2014. Cheers REDdog

    1. You know, the teacher is only as good as the student 😉 It sounds like you two have it all figured out, REDdog. I’m happy for you both, and particularly happy that we’ve happened upon each other in the blogosphere.

      Cheers to you as well, my friend!

      1. Figured out? I’ve landed on something all men should know, methinks…there’s no getting that thou outta her hands I assure you! All the best Rd

  5. lol… it only took my dad 30 years but he finally got my mom a gift she loved… me and my hubby have only been married for 2.5 but together for 4 and I finally got him a good gift this year… the sucky part is his b-day is Jan 4… and I’m like really… it took me all year to figure out a Christmas gift and now I have 9 days to figure out a better b-day gift… so not cool… but I always feel so bad because from our first Christmas when we had only been dating a month he has always gotten be the greatest gifts I have ever had… freakin dude actually listens to me… and he still gives me crap for the birthday I got him a spatula… he had said he wanted one though… 😀

    1. You know, RG, it’s not about the gifts but about the sentiment and intentions behind…

      Who am I KIDDING! A SPATULA?!!

      OK, being a chef I can actually appreciate that. Besides, the fact that it sounds like you both listen to each other is the best gift of all. It’s been five years for my wife and I, and it’s something we both appreciate 😉

      Cheers to you both, now and in the New Year!

      1. lol… it is a good spatula… and umm I can’t claim to listen… see the problem is he likes to talk to me when I’m watching TV… which means I heard none of it… ha! but he’s a good sport…

        but I know what you mean… it’s not all about the gifts necessarily but the thought put into them… my first husband always just bought me stuff he wanted… and then he took it all when it was over… it’s cool… I took all his blu-rays and sold them… I’m petty… I know… 😀

        HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

        1. I am familiar with that gift-giving trait from my first marriage as well, and so is my wife. I look at those 15 years of my first marriage as a learning experience that taught me to never take for granted the blessings I now have in my life. Although I think 3 to 5 years would’ve sufficed. Like a prison term… 😉

          Happy New Year to You and your husband as well, RG 🙂

    1. Wow, thanks Lucy! If I get a book tour, I will start in Florida and meet all my fans. After that 20 minutes, though, I’ll have to figure out where to go next… 😉

      1. Hey, Lucy! *waving from Sanford* We should start a fan club! You can be President…You take a better picture than I, and you look young enough to stay awake while presiding over our meetings. 😀 We can let that guy in the Panhandle be secretary. He knows how to keep a low profile when taking notes. I’ll be treasurer. I’m good at spending money.

        Okay, Ned, we’re all set in the Sunshine State. You’re on your own everywhere else. Good luck!

      1. good god, ned. you amaze me with your powers of deduction, you were meant to be a detective. yes, there were pieces of crushed garlic in the garlic press, though she was arguing that it was ‘unused.’ if you say something enough, maybe you and others will believe it, approach?

        1. I use those same powers of deduction for things like tracking down which of my children didn’t wash their dishes.

          Me: “Hey, who left their dirty dish in the sink!”
          Child one: “Not me!”
          Me: *deducing that our other three children aren’t home* “I’m stumped…”

  6. This is something my husband knows nothing about. He is a great gift buyer for me and always has my gifts ready long before I have his. I wish I could say he was that spot-on with everything, but I’d be lying… But he definitely has the gift thing down!

    Thanks for visiting my site. I appreciate it.

    1. I’m such a technology dunce, I thought I was already following you and just assumed you didn’t post very often. I have a lot of catching up to do — Not a bad thing to look forward to 😉

      Happy New Year!

  7. Made me laugh. Should say the calculator is right…first years of marriage think he’s wonderful factor is there and as a woman, I accepted graciously the cow looking coat that he loved and I hated I wore for a bit and I later threw it out without trying to hurt his feeling too badly. Moving forward about 20 years, I politely gave a list that by that time he understood he needed as well as I told the kids exactly how to direct him to the gifts I’d shown them earlier on shopping trips. Moving ahead into the 30 plus years of marriage…still has a list; no kids to direct him. I buy what I want and accept his gifts and being a good woman, I return them myself. The calculator is now at 50 years marriage…we don’t buy gifts at all for each other and buy our own whenever through the year. Makes Christmas so much for enjoyable. However, your post makes me wonder what gifts I’ve given my grown kids that they open politely and groan silently and then have their wives return.

    Love your post. 🙂

  8. Sound like my brother when he had to return the 400 dollar vacuum cleaner he bought his wife for Christmas. I thought I was smarter by buying shoes and jewelry for my wife. She got me nothing for Christmas that year as I recall. However, the following Easter, I received a summons to divorce court…

    1. And see? Your life was resurrected! My ex-wife waited for my 40th birthday to surprise me with a divorce. At least she waited until after the cake and ice cream…

  9. You saw my Christmas gift, right?
    I’m still grinning like an idiot AND all of my extremities and no animals or small children have been injured (thus far).
    Obviously, I have a smart hubby. He knew that if I didn’t like it, he’d keep it and use it himself.
    In fact, I had to hide it and tell him to go buy his own.

No one is watching, I swear...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s