IN THE NEWSPAPER the other day was a disturbing letter that underscores the deteriorating relationship between men and women in this country.
The letter appeared in Dear Abby. This is the syndicated advice column written by Abigail Van Buren, who, while not quite as famous as Ann Landers, enjoys the same impressive helmet of kiln-hardened hair as her twin sister, judging by their pictures.
Anyway, the letter read as follows:
"Dear Abby: What does a wife do when she gets a really ugly (my emphasis) gift from her husband? For example, an item of clothing -- does she just grin and wear it?
"What if it's an expensive piece of jewelry that is especially hideous? I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I hate to see him spend his hard-earned money on something I have to force just to please him. Also, it's very difficult for me to pretend I'm thrilled with something when I'm not. What do other women do? Please help me, as my birthday is coming up soon.
"Grinning and Wearing It"
Well. I am hardly in the business of giving advice. Nevertheless, it seems to me that a sensible person (perhaps one whose hair was not quite so constrictive) would reply:
"Dear Grinning: What's the big deal? Humor the poor sap. Even if you don't like what he buys you, give him a big kiss and tell him it's the greatest thing in the world. Wear it a couple of times and then toss it in the back of your closet and forget it.
"Now quit bugging me. I've got hundreds of weepy-eyed women asking if they should take an ax to their abusive husbands, and you're bothering me with this stuff? Please. Don't make me fly out there and smack you."
Unfortunately, Dear Abby did not -- off such an inspired reply.
Perhaps there were unusually high levels of hair spray lingering in the air above Ms. Van Buren's word processor that day, tiny particles which seeped into her cerebral cortex and caused a grogginess and subsequent shutdown of billions of tiny neurons.
Whatever the reason, Abby dispensed the following advice:
"Dear Grinning: Level with your husband and offer to go along and 'help' him select the gift! (This will eliminate the agonizing and speculating most men go through when shopping for a gift for the wife or girlfriend.)"
With two ill-thought-out sentences, Dear Abby seemed determined to cause a nasty row between this woman and her poor husband, a man who (although his gender's track record on this is shaky) might have put a good deal of thought and effort into his wife's present.
This is just what men need to hear, of course -- that in addition to being loutish, insensitive, hairy-faced oppressors responsible for most of the evil in the world, we are not worth a rat's behind when it comes to picking out a gift.
I can imagine how that poor husband feels when his wife finally unwraps that nifty rooster stickpin he bought her and, instead of beaming with joy, gets in his face and shrieks: "WHY YOU LITTLE WORM! WE'RE BRINGING THIS PIECE OF JUNK BACK AND GETTING SOMETHING I CAN ACTUALLY WEAR IN PUBLIC!"
Abby, Abby, Abby . . . yes, that will certainly help the marriage along.
As to the inevitable charge from overly sensitive wives and girlfriends that a stickpin depicting a barnyard animal might not be the most appropriate gift for a woman (or anyone else for that matter), let me say this: It's the thought that counts.
If the best that pea-brained husband could do was a rooster stickpin for his wife's birthday, well, the wife might simply have to accept that her husband is mentally deficient and get on with her life.
Besides, I know a man who once bought his wife a set of EasyRider heavy-duty shock absorbers for her birthday.
The woman unwrapped the gift in the presence of 20 or so family members and friends, too. Fortunately, she had the good sense to smile graciously instead of lunging with the fireplace poker at her husband's throat.
Now to me, a set of shocks makes that rooster stickpin look like the Hope Diamond.