Ah, Christmas is such a touchy, feely time of year. At least that's what my wife keeps trying to tell me.

Anyway, this last holiday season Linda, who resides 240 miles from here in a home we own near Bloomington, Ill., informs me that we’re going to use Christmas 2001 to ''bond,'' as she puts it, with a little communal shopping trip.

Now, let me make one thing perfectly clear -- Mrs. Stiles (my mother, that is) did not raise any sons who lived and were into conspicuous consuming. I do not, and I trust my brother doesn't either, go wandering from store to store looking for only God knows what until I happen upon it, tucked away in the back corner of a place that smells more like one of those perfume counters at Wal-Mart.

And I certainly don't bond.

Well, let me take that back. I'm sure that I have bonded with other men, but only of my own ilk. And I certainly never set aside a time and place for said purpose, calling those I was supposed to go through the process with and warning them of same.

I'll bet I never once caught myself calling another guy and spouting -- ''Hey, Bud, wanna’ go down to Mac's Bar & Grill for a little male bonding?'' And if I ever heard myself uttering such a phrase, I'd promptly rip out my tongue by its roots, toss it on the floor and stomp on the damn thing. As you can probably gather, I do not take well to the touchy-feely side of life.

Now, I know that a guy needs to spend some so-called ''quality time'' with the wife now and then. But I've a very strong feeling that the experience should never be the result of a previously agreed upon set of circumstances. It should be a completely spontaneous encounter, a lot like the sex the wife is always saying we should try.

Or was that ''romantic?'' I can never keep those two concepts straight. I mean, who among us, us guys that is, could get fired up for a little ''husband and wife bonding?''

Especially, over a few tedious hours trapped in a store crammed with about three times as many idiots as the place was designed for. However, in the interest of marital harmony, which is owing to the fact that this is my fourth marriage and I'm not going through all this again, I decided to loosen up and give the wife's approach an honest try. Well, as honest as I get these days.

Much to my surprise our first stop on the road to bonding bliss is the golf shop at one of the Bloomington malls.

Now, a guy could get used to this kind of thing. So, I'm thinking that all this might not be so bad after all. The second stop is someplace called Pier a hundred and fifty or something like that.

In case you've never been in one of these joints, it's a lot like one of those nightmares you used to have as a kid, where you're strapped into the dentist's chair and see a big pair of pliers coming straight for your wide open mouth.

It's either that or the feeling you might get as the nurse at the proctologist's office tells you to strip down and put on one of those backless examination gowns, ''the doctor will be in in a minute.'' I have never, in my 55 years on this planet, ever seen so many uses for scrap bits of metal, wood and plastic.

Did you know they have little pyramid tin birds that serve no other purpose than to sit on the living room table and take up space? Space I might add better suited to placing my feet on a football, Sunday afternoon.

Well, three hours and about 4,000 pained sighs later, the wife finally chucks her experiment and we go to Chili's for dinner. After a couple of Margaritas and two or three refills of tortilla chips and salsa, and some chicken fajitas, I'm finally back to normal and ready to go home for a little spontaneous sex.

So, all in all, I'd say this wasn't all that bad an experience after all. You take out the couple of hours spent in funny smelling stores and it's a lot more fun than I'd thought it would be. Happy belated Valentine's Day dear.

Did I mention I'd been married four times?

Uploaded to The Zephyr website March 6, 2002

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