Did you notice my new belt?

I wore a new belt to the RDH Under One Roof conference in Costa Mesa, Calif., last March. The change in my wardrobe almost didn't happen.

By Mark Hartley

I wore a new belt to the RDH Under One Roof conference in Costa Mesa, Calif., last March. The change in my wardrobe almost didn't happen. On the morning of my flight to California, I spent a moment studying an old belt, which was of indeterminable age. It had frayed near the buckle. So I peeled the black leather covering off from end to end. Underneath was sort of a scaly, black rubber. I examined it and thought, "This doesn't look so bad. I'll just wear this." I mentioned the idea to my wife. She looked at me with great disdain. "Go to the store," she said, real slowly, "and buy yourself another belt."

There are no English words to describe the mournful sigh that I offered in response to her admonition. But I walked down to a nearby department store and bought the belt I'm wearing right this very second.

The shame behind this lies in the fact that I seriously thought that the only way anyone would notice the stripped belt would be if he or she bent over and placed his or her eyeballs within an inch or two of that scaly, black rubber. It doesn't matter that I can't think of anyone who has performed such an examination of any belt that I have worn in the past. My wife shamed me into shopping. The department store that I visited is not part of the largest shopping mall in Tulsa, which is several football fields away from my house. The belt was purchased in a store safely across the street from the mall.

You can count with five fingers the number of times I've set foot inside the mall since I moved into my current residence eight years ago. I tend to avoid it. For all I know, I probably could have gotten a better deal on a belt at the mall. My philosophy about searching for the best deal is that the anguish of going to multiple stores is spared by going directly to the first source of a product that you can see and buying the very first item you lay your eyes on. Now that's a deal!

I kind of dislike shopping.

The reason we're discussing shopping here is because Anne Guignon and Cappy Snider talk about shopping in this issue. Well, sort of. Guignon very nicely identifies all of the criteria for selecting a magnification device used in a hygiene operatory. The headline for Snider's article is, "Smart Shopping," but the topic would be better described as "inventory management."

Both articles, though, are close enough to the feared topic of shopping to cause my hair to stand up.

My marriage of 23 years has come to mean that my wife and I watch TV in different rooms. She watches the QVC network. Shopping on television appeals to her because it allows her to relax in an leisurely way after a busy day on the job. Shopping on television, though, is not on my list of the top 10 improvements to the American way of life during the past 50 years. The VCR and the DVD player, though, are on my list. I watch a lot of shows where people get killed (drama) or maimed (sports). There's no middle ground in our viewing tastes.

What really gets me about QVC is that there's a number at the bottom of the screen that tells you how many people have ordered the product being discussed. It just amazes me how quickly that number escalates — thousands per minute, it seems like.

Have you ever seen one of those signs that show how many babies are being born each minute? Earth is getting to be a very populated place. I think they should put that number right beside the QVC order amounts.

The QVC sign will climb upwards and upwards, somewhat crazily as viewers buy jewelry, carpet cleaners, or shoes, for example. And the other sign about the birth rate doesn't budge. The last digit of that number appears stuck on six. Wait a minute! It's moving now! The last digit is inching up to seven. It's barely moving, but there it goes! The birth rate in the United States has increased by one. There must be some guy in Idaho who disconnected the cable from his wife's TV.

Yes, I have been married for 23 years, and we have three older children. This naturally means that I am an important source for ideas the first or second week of May each year. The kids are old enough to buy their own gifts now.

The kids ask, "What do I get Mother for Mother's Day?" As if I would know.

Our wedding anniversary follows Mother's Day by approximately two weeks each year. During the month of May, I give new meaning to the phrase "a deer frozen in the headlights."

So I guess I'll be seeing you at the mall.

Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at markh@pennwell.com.

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