By JOHN GLADDEN, Staff Columnist
I am worried about my wife. More so than usual, I mean. Let me tell you, spending a few cold nights on the couch gives a guy plenty of time to think. It's during those times I've learned many valuable lessons about life. For example, never, ever discuss your wife's hairstyle, cooking, driving or housekeeping in the newspaper.
Sure, it may seem hilarious at the time, but in the end, telling several thousand readers about the time the pizza exploded on the kitchen ceiling can be very bad for your back. Just a little hard-earned advice for those of you considering starting a newspaper column of your own.
But this time, it's a matter so serious I can remain silent no longer. I think she may be involved in a cult. The clues are everywhere. Late at night, when I'm lying half awake in bed and our children are snuffling softly in their dreams down the hall, I can hear her downstairs, engaged in some sort of peculiar ritual.
"THUMP! Tap, tap, tap. THUMP!" Over and over. I slip out of the covers and creep to the top of the stairs,
expertly avoiding the squeaky floorboards that comprise our home security system. I used to do this when I was little, I think to myself, as I sprawlon my belly on the landing and peer through the balusters. This is how I used to watch "Saturday Night Live" when I was 10. And I see her, hunched over her desk in the parlor of our old house.
The room is dark, except for the blazing desk lamp. She takes a little block of wood in one hand, taps it on some sort of ink pad, and thumps it down on a piece of paper.
"THUMP! Tap, tap, tap. THUMP!" Then she holds up the paper, looks at it with an expression of satisfaction,
and pulls out a device I can only call a "chooker." She takes the paper, which is folded like a greeting card, slides it into the chooker and squeezes hard. "Chooka, chooka, chooka." When she removes the card from the jaws of the chooker, it leaves behind strange and intricate symbols. I told you this was weird. But wait. There's more. On some evenings and Saturday mornings, she's been going off to what she eagerly refers to as "Stamp Parties." She marks them on the calendar far in advance.
As near as I can figure, "stamp" stands for "Spending Time And money prodigiously." She comes back all aglow -- and it's not from the anticipation of arriving home to the waiting arms of her one true love (that would be me) and her cherubic little children. No, no, no. She comes waltzing into the house, flush with excitement, a stack of greeting cards in her ink-stained hands and a yellow order form for about $50 in new stamping merchandise.
"These are beautiful, dear," I say, sincerely, as she shows me the cards. "But you are aware we can buy greeting cards at the store for about $2.95 each, $5.49 in Canada?" She looks at me sweetly but amusingly, the way she looks at our 4-year-old when he dribbles purple Kool-Aid down his chin. Near as I can tell, the members of the group -- which seems to be comprised exclusively of women -- keep in close contact through an ingenious network of postcards. These are mailed out every couple of weeks, apprising each stamper of the time, date and location of the next gathering. They take turns assembling in one another's homes, where they first listen to some kind of stamping message. There is a great deal of praise, testimony and evangelizing. Excitement builds. A sacred book, dog-eared with study and hard use, is passed around the room. They are mesmerized by its glossy pages.
When the fervor has reached its climax, the leader takes up the collection. Credit cards, cash and checkbooks are whipped out with a fury that would make any man tremble in fear. Afterward, they linger a while, chatting over cookies and coffee - so they could very well be Methodists. I'm not sure. Always, they discuss how to reach potential new members with the message of stamping.
Sure, there have been other groups that have tempted my wife over the years -- the Scrapbookers, the Kitchen Gadgeteers, the Basketites and the Candleans -- but nothing like this.
We go visit friends under the pretense of having dinner and spending time together. As soon as the children run off to play and the men get engrossed
in a conversation about "The Simpsons" or the benefits of double-insulated windows, the woman of the house turns to my wife and says, "I have your stamp order for you!" They exchange knowing smiles and slip quietly out of the room. This "order" will become part of the steady array of hardware my wife keeps hauling home and storing in the laundry room. She knows I never set foot in there. Though some of it I've seen on her desk when I'm rifling through it for coffee money in the morning before work. I've seen sparkly stuff. Cutters, rollers, punches. For the love of heaven, a heat gun! I plan to keep this under investigation, for the good of my wife and family. And I'm thinking from my vantage point on the couch tonight, I should be able to get a really clear view of the chooker in action. I'll let you know.