(Editor's note: If you are a 35-year-old Baltimore woman who has been dating a guy for about three months, and you really, really like surprises, maybe you shouldn't read any further.)
He's in Lakein's Jewelers on Harford Road when it opens at 9: 30 a.m. on the penultimate day of the Christmas shopping season, so he's not the last-minute, last-minute shopper, just a guy who found out the day before that he has a little more money than he expected at year's end.
He had two choices: A large-screen television or a small diamond.
He's in a jewelry store, not an appliance store, so you know what won. If someone asks to see his large-screen TV in the new year, he'll just point to his girlfriend's finger.
"You're the man, Warren, you're the man," he says to the man on the other side of the counter, Warren Lakein, the third-generation of Lakeins to sell jewelry to Baltimoreans and not the last -- his daughter, Marcia, works alongside him in the store, as does his wife, Marilynn, and his mother, Gertrude. "It's like this ring was made for her."
"Let me tell you something: She'll say it's gorgeous," Warren Lakein assures him.
"Make this one lucky, OK, Warren?" the customer asks. As it happens, this is the third engagement ring he has purchased at Lakein's, and he's hoping this marriage works out better than the first two. "Make this one lucky."
Lakein is doing his best. He has already -- gently, ever so gently -- eased his customer off his first choice, a heart-shaped diamond, telling him that the round, half-carat solitaire will probably go over better. They can always do hearts on the wedding band.
Now he's wrapping the velvet-boxed ring in the store's trademark gold paper, topped off with a red ribbon.
"I need presentation and a half," the customer says. He plans to give her the ring at midnight, as Christmas Eve slips into Christmas. His first choice had been to propose at the Ravens game, figuring no one could say "No" if it's on a Jumbotron.
But his boss gave the tickets to a client, so he's here.
(OK, let's say, for example, your name is Cindi and you've been dating a guy named John. You should stop reading RIGHT NOW. He swears you won't have time to read the paper today, but who knows?)
They met Labor Day weekend, when he agreed to help friends move. He hates helping people move, so he figures she was his reward.
"It was a fix-up thing," he says. "Oh, yeah. They kept telling me she's got a really great personality and I said, `Oh, so she's ugly, huh?' As soon as I laid eyes on her, I knew she was the one."
She knows she's getting a ring for Christmas, because he had to check her size, but she doesn't know it will be an engagement ring.
Lakein has worked 37 years in the family business, and he has heard at least one story like this every Christmas for the last 37 years. Christmas is a good time for engagement rings, just six months from June. Some couples come in, pick it out together. Some women come in, write down the inventory numbers for the rings they like, and send their boyfriends back to make the final choice.
But some men do it by themselves, like this customer. "I'm a sucker for this love stuff," he says. "I thought I was in love and I checked my shoe, and I didn't find anything on it, so I guess I am in love."
And, no, we don't have a clue what this means.
(Did we say his name was John? That was a red herring. His name is John, but most people call him Jack. He works as a medical services technician, puts in 12-14 hour days. Cindi works as an administrative assistant at a local hospital. This is absolutely your last warning.)
What does a woman want? Lakein has pondered that question as often as Freud, and he's not sure he has any answers, but he is sure of this -- whatever a woman wants, she should just tell her guy, not make him guess. Or come in, make a few choices and write down the inventory numbers.
John "Jack" Stadelmeier, 42, has thought about women's desires, too, given his matrimonial history. He really wants to get it right this time. What has he learned so far? "That marriage takes a lot of work."
Jim Dauses, another customer, just passing through, offers: "Marriage is an institution, and I don't want to be in an institution." But he has his own complex romantic history: He's dating his ex-wife. Another story, for another day.
Will Stadelmeier go down on one knee at midnight, when he hands her the package? He's not sure. "That never worked the first two times. Maybe I'll go down on both knees and beg her not to leave me like the others."
Cindi Huber, if you're still reading this -- Merry Christmas, and try to look surprised.
Pub Date: 12/24/99