May 7, 2007

Mother’s Day: My Gift is a Loaded Question
Question Mark Briefcase

If you’ve seen this bag, let me know. My wife will love it, especially if it will hold a few bottles of wine!

As I sit by the subway door each morning on my commute to work I am rewarded with “first look rights” of people and their possessions as they enter the train. You never know what treasures you will find (objects or their owners). This morning I spied this wonderful Question Mark attaché the minute it came on board. “Wow,” I thought, “that would be a perfect Mother’s Day gift for my wife. Perfect. Just her style.” I mean, you could look for years before finding THE PEFECT GIFT for someone (you know I am always on that quest). No doubts, she would love it.

I stared at it for two stops before I got up the courage to ask its owner where she had gotten it. The train was crowded. She stood just out of my whispering zone and talking to her would require I either lean over the person sitting next to me or, worse yet, make myself completely vulnerable by standing up to engage her for all to see and hear. My wife thinks I’m an extrovert: that it’s easy for me to just waft in and out of conversations with total strangers. Yes, I can make it look easy under certain conditions (I think of myself as an introvert with extrovert tendencies). But I firmly believe commuting time should be quiet time. Yet the nature of this potential gold mine demanded I rise above my basic instincts and public policies.

Staying seated, I raised my voice just enough so she would know I was directing my unsolicited chatter towards her. I rose above my own Cone of Silence and chose my words carefully, giving priority to both their clarity and economy. I certainly didn’t want her to ask me to repeat myself. Once would be enough.

“Excuse me, could you tell me where you got your briefcase?” I didn’t think it was a purse but I wanted to use the more gender-neutral term just in case. My fellow commuters could too easily misconstrue a man asking where a woman got her handbag. “That would make a great present for my wife,” I added for insurance.

“I got this twenty years ago,” she replied. “I don’t even remember the store.”

Disappointed, but proud I hadn’t let the opportunity to query pass, I would have to continue my Mother’s Day quest elsewhere. I asked if she would pose for a photo to show my wife. If I couldn’t possess the ideal present, I could at least document it.

Luckily, I found just the thing later today to honor the mother of my children who also doubles as an aspiring sommelier. (Don’t worry, Susie’s too good —and too busy— a mother to be spending time reading my online musings. It will still be a great surprise.)

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