The first time out, I caressed the instrument, pointing it high and low, pulling the trigger and hitting target after target. The second time, it was mostly Marty who did the shooting, aiming left, aiming right, and firing, firing, firing.
No, we weren't moonlighting as postal clerks or nerve-wracked day traders. We did not go around shooting squirrels out of trees in a nearby park. If we had I'd be writing this from a holding cell, and I'm not. The guns we wielded were handed to us by staff members at reputable retail establishments. They were ray guns, to be more precise, and on those two Friday nights we pointed them at bar codes, causing them to emit a red laser beam. Like magic, our various material wants were arranged in a tidy list accessible to all who might decide they want to buy us stuff.
Getting registered: It's the nifty way for betrothed folk to ensure that on their big day they don't receive several copies of Yanni's Live at the Acropolis video box set. It's your best insurance against already-delicate bridal nerves getting pushed over the edge by the arrival of poop-brown throw pillows, and the best guarantee that at long last you will have kitchen knives that actually agree to cut things.
For about 15 years now, I'd wondered what this would feel like, this "getting registered." Would I romp about like a high-strung stallion in a field full of mares? Would it be akin to reaching the highest levels of The Price is Right? Would it feel like winning the lottery? That's what I envisioned--and more: sheer, crazy, white-hot glee, ping-ponging off the insides of my head, making me see stars and hear Tweety birds.
Instead, though, the process dunked Marty and I into a strange swirl of emotions--euphoria and guilt, confusion and anxiety, nausea and flight response. And then euphoria again. After both outings, cold compresses and plenty of liquids were required.
First was Pottery Barn. After talking about it idly for months, Marty and I decided to make an evening of it--to go get registered, then go to dinner and a late movie. A perfect date. But, like dragging my dad to the mall when it became necessary at Christmastime, I knew shopping with Marty involved a lot of strategy. The drill was the same: Get the man in the store, scamper around to get reams of shopping done at time-lapse-photography speed, then get back on the street before the man shorts out, crackling sounds and sparks shooting from his head.
Marty dropped me off out front of the store as he sought parking in the bustling city neighborhood. I bounced into Pottery Barn wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, approaching the first sales mistress I spied.
"Hi! I'm here to get registered! You know, bridal registry? Getting-married kind of thing. Gifts! Oh, ha ha ha ha."
The bitch hacked my buzz off at the knees.
"You can't get registered tonight," she seethed, like a dragon spitting fire from high on a cliff. "It's too late. The store's only open another half hour."
My insides went hollow. I stood there silent, not knowing what to do, what to say. Desperation and instinct suggested some nonverbal communication. I shot that she-wolf a look of terror and devastation, one that clearly stated, "I know you know what a feat it is to get a man to enter a store like this and stay for more than 11 minutes. After weeks, I've got him here. Please show mercy! I beg of you! Please!"
Apparently the message got through. "Oh well, OK. We can get you started tonight, but you'll have to come back and finish later." I just about fell to my knees in gratitude.
Five minutes later she was handing me a thick gray ray gun and explaining how to use it. Basically, you just point it at what you want and type in the quantity if you desire more than one. Ooooh, what a gas this promised to be!
As I loped coltlike over to the everyday wear, I spotted Marty skulking up the stairs. His posture said "guilt."
"I don't want people to feel obligated to buy us all this stuff," he'd opined a few weeks earlier.
"They won't!" I'd insisted. "This is just a guide for folks who want to send a wedding present. Nobody's getting forced into anything. Nobody has to buy us any of this."
Truth be told, I felt a twinge of the same kind of guilt. But I kept telling myself that since we weren't registering for expensive, stuffy, old lady-looking china, it was OK. I could justify suggesting a relative shell out $59 for a food processor--after all, people were going to be casting about for gift ideas, and married couples need to pulverize vegetables. But I couldn't abide urging guests to drop $155 on one nice plate plus a few smaller plates to sit near it. Damn it all to hell, I just wasn't going to be the china-pattern type of bride. China reminded me of uncomfortable holiday dinners at my grandmother's house. The second we arrived, I wanted to leave. The place reeked of mothballs and was decorated with dusty things from the Orient. My back hurt from sitting up straight. Somebody always dropped a quivering piece of fatty death on my scary off-white plate with the gold trim. And my uncle upset me by pinning me to the carpet and tickling me way too much. I'm never going to do any of that to my relatives, so why would I need fine china?
Thus Marty and I found ourselves pointing the ray gun at funky purple, amber, sage, and midnight plates in the everyday-wear section at Pottery Barn. Each cost about $18, and we zapped two of each color. Mix and match. In my psyche, that guaranteed relaxed communal dinners infused with genuine merriment.
About this point Marty, the man who's missing the shopping gene, turned giddy. He aimed his gun high and low, at plates and cups and saucers. I was pleased to witness his mirth scaling up a notch as we made our way over to the stainless-steel cocktail-shaker sets. He was downright trigger-happy by the time we selected a set of cobalt-blue acrylic plates for dining in the garden we don't yet have and can't even really picture.
Marty's exuberance was contagious. We ecstatically put our mark on a sassy set of polka-dot glasses and a big wicker bed tray. In flatware, we chose a design that was Space Age and conical yet warm and inviting. In linens, we swooned at the massive white towels, deciding we needed four to start our marriage off properly. When we turned our gun to bedding, though, I became blocked, overwhelmed, chagrined. Oh god, we can't have a periwinkle duvet, can we? And periwinkle curtains--that's overkill, isn't it? Isn't it? I need to think. I need to breathe. I need some space. I want to go home. I want dinner. I want a drink.
That's when Marty slipped the gun out of my hand. He surrendered it to customer service and we hobbled out of the store, the sparks and crackling coming from my head, not his. All that decision-making and exhilaration had been too much, I guess.
A few weeks later, after we'd replenished our electrolytes, we headed to Macy's bridal registry before dinner one night. But things there were not quite so slaphappy and idyllic. At Macy's, we came to learn, brides and grooms can't get their paws on the coveted ray gun until they make it past the great promotions ogre at the gate. In our case, the ogre was an imposing figure with a gray white-lady 'fro. She was known as "Maude."
It wasn't Maude's stature that frightened me, it was her demeanor. It was clear she had been dealing with pesky nubile types like Marty and me for eons, and she had developed a sort of restrained loathing for us. One could feel it in her every memorized word. "As a registered Macy's bride, you're invited to take 10 percent off all of your bridal party dresses," she droned like a drugged game-show host.
I knew better than to tell Maude there would be no bridesmaids, and that I myself would be donning something of a bridesmaid-style dress. She might have hurt me, or short-circuited at the very notion of such matrimonial heresy. So I kept quiet.
For 15 to 20 minutes, Maude regaled us with endless promotional effluvia--not in a conversational way but monologue-style, complete with pauses no doubt designed to be filled with enthusiastic responses, perhaps a bark and a seal clap. After about minute six, my head started spinning and I felt sick. I looked at Marty. He was pale. To get us out of the Maude Zone, I tried mind control. I looked her dead in the eye. Just give us the gun, Maude. Hand over the gun, Maude.
But the siege continued "I'm delighted to inform you that Macy's will send out cards to each of your guests to inform them you're registered with us."
I started to redden and sweat. I wanted to tell Maude that we wouldn't dream of doing such a thing. But then, thankfully, Maude got sidetracked, stopping to respond to a prompt from her computer. I got up to pace. I'm going to lose Marty, I thought. He looked ill too; I was afraid he might bolt from the store. I tried talking about things that I knew would make him happy. "Well, yeah, so we're not registering for china!"
This stopped Maude in her tracks. She turned slowly to fix her glare on me, like a cougar that just spotted a wounded baby zebra 15 yards away. Her eyes narrowed.
"I said we're not getting china." I tried to act bold, but I was no match for her. We both knew that. "We don't need china."
"How can you say that?" Maude sounded appalled, aghast, like I had insulted her mother's virtue. "What are you going to do at Thanksgiving if you don't have china, hmm? What?"
Well, we're going to serve the kin on cute and flirty everyday plates that we've already registered for at Pottery Barn, that's what. And we won't tickle-torture any of our guests, got that? That's what I was thinking. But I didn't say it. I couldn't say it.
Maude's phone rang, thank all the great gods in the skies, and I was off the hook. I looked at Marty. He seemed OK. As Maude chatted with Tina in stemware, I gave the mind control another shot. Please lady, shut up and give us the gun.
This time it worked. By the time Maude hung up she'd forgotten the china debacle, or at least was pretending to. At long last, she slid us the big, hulking weapon and cut us loose. Already weary and psychologically spent, we managed to stand and take a deep breath. We went deep. Deep into housewares-- amid Calphalon pots that shamed us with their $199 price tags and made us wonder how we could ask our friends and family to pay that much for a marital pan; among stockpots that were only $19 and looked like the bottoms would be burned out of them before our first child arrived. As we searched for a happy medium, someone saw our gun and clipboard and asked us if the Emeril omelet pan was on sale.
Meandering through the aisles of cookware, we stopped to admire a rack of sleek black ladles and potato peelers. Does one get registered for things that only cost $8? Thinking some of my nieces and nephews might feel empowered getting on the Web and buying us a whisk, we registered for one. Someone sidled up to us to ask where the electric blankets were.
We waded through the coffee makers to lurk near the toaster ovens. Marty already has one, but the inside is dusted with a thick layer of crumbs, and I want a fresh start. Then I picked out an iron because Marty doesn't have one and mine has carpet remnants burned into it. Next we hovered by the food processors, which were on sale for $89. Regular price: $149. Jesus! I don't want any of my loved ones paying that for a glorified blender. But I do want one. I found myself hoping my people buy stuff that's on sale.
On our way to gawk at George Foreman grills, we paused by bread machines, but only to poke fun at them. Then we got a good guffaw at the fry-daddies and rice cookers and juicers. What a hoot. We floated into linens, where once again I started to feel that that constricted sensation in my chest, coupled with a sense of disorientation. Why? Some long-hidden mental block? A repressed memory pushing through? Do I fear coverlets, bed skirts, room spray?
Then I realized it: I felt like a young Buddhist monk who is offered an open door to gleaming Nirvana--but, sadly, must back away because he hasn't done nearly enough meditation. To me, the bedroom is the nexus of life, a place of deep relaxation, untold passions, future spawning ground and place to watch The Sopranos. It is a temple where all elements coalesce in sublime harmony. How dare I consider besmirching this golden opportunity by carelessly outfitting our bedroom? It was an outrage. I backed away.
My head spun. As I backed past china, I felt a weird little itch. It was a totally new sensation. Clearly, something had changed in my brain chemistry. Suddenly, I was being drawn into the china department, then pulled like a magnet to one particular Wedgewood pattern that I'd admired for five minutes a few years ago.
I approached it. I gazed upon it, feeling a reverence for its modern, architectural, subtle and slightly masculine allure. I felt a twinge of desire. Then I went dizzy. Was this Maude exerting her blend of mind control on me? Or had I unwittingly tapped into the bridal-brain section of the collective unconscious? I listened and heard myself saying foreign things: "Well, yeah. You know, why not? Otherwise, what am I going to do at Easter?
Just in time, the voice of reason came through and coughed up visions of tickling uncles on shag carpet and the stench of mothballs, and the spell ended. Marty swooped in and got me out of there. I could tell he wanted to say things that would sooth me, like "dapple-gray quarter horses" and "chicken curry" and "shiatsu massage." But he didn't. Instead, he quietly escorted me to L&N Seafood
Later, at dinner, we vowed to return to Macy's armed with seven or eight PowerBars to keep our blood sugar steady and our real personalities intact. Maybe Maude would like one too.
Exit Stage Fright (2/26/2003)
Editor's note: With this installment we bid adieu to Germ Bag.
Cabin Pressure (2/12/2003)
Escape -- you might think it's what you desire. Until you've actually run somewhere.
New Traditionalists (1/8/2003)
It was Christmas Eve morning on Harvard Street. Marty and I sat on the hardwood floor near our...
812 Park Ave.
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