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Susie in the Mall with Diamonds

posted at 5:54 pm
on Oct. 26, 2003

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Did I ever tell you about the time Susie and I went shopping for an engagement ring?

I was about 23, Susie was 22.  We looked like our combined age was about 30.

We were IN LOVE, and thus perhaps not the clearest thinkers in the world.  We were trying to convince ourselves and those around us that we were responsible and mature enough to know what the hell we were doing getting married.

Well, until that point, there had been only two places either of us had gone to make major purchases: Costco, and the mall.

Even to us, it was obvious that buying an engagement ring at a warehouse store was not wise, and besides, everyone always ends up leaving Costco with a gross of macaroni dinners and two pounds of beef jerky, and a stomach ache from eating too much of their cheap pizza.  OK, fine, I leave Costco that way, but that’s all irrelevant, because we decided the best place to buy diamonds was the Galleria Mall in Glendale, CA.

The Galleria had a number of advantages. It was nearby. It had good parking, and a number of jewelry stores, so we could compare prices and pretend to be “savvy diamond buyers” IN LOVE.

We walked into the air conditioning on a Saturday afternoon, hyper and thrilled and a little daunted by the thought of spending a great big pile of money, which always gets the blood pumping.

Well, one of us, I can’t think who, had the idea that we needed a little food in our stomachs before we faced the sales counter, so we headed to the food fair.  The first, and best-smelling, booth was Cinnabon cinnamon buns. (Overheard: “Would you like icing sugar in your milk?”) Perfect!

We took our order and sat at a little formica table, vibrating like twin krypton-86 atoms from the glucose and anticipation.  And Susie, bless her, wisely thought it would a good idea to talk about how much we might be wanting to spend, you know, so that we wouldn’t have that conversation in front of the well-coiffed saleswoman.  Susie was having a hard time broaching the subject.  Her hesitation, I think, was because this was a gift from me to her, and she didn’t think it was her place to be demanding. Also, maybe she was a little worried about what the answer would be.

Well, I’d been putting some thought into it as well.  I had just started full-time work in the Los Angeles Times online department, and even though I was fresh out of university, I was making a good salary, far better than the $9.65 an hour I had been making as part-time tech support on campus, and also better than many of my print reporter friends’ starting wages.  And I wanted to give Susie the best I could afford.

On the other hand, the most expensive things I’d bought up to that point myself were my rockin’ stereo (plays 3 CDs!), an orthodontic retainer I’d lost and had to replace, and my beloved Apple computer (on a 5-year student loan plan).

So my experience was limited to buying items that, while expensive, technically were not jewelry.

Susie was coming from a different perspective.  She’d worked in a jewelry store, and had bought jewelry, and while she hadn’t done this before, she technically knew what the hell she was talking about.

Susie, nervously: “Do you think we should talk about how much you want to spend on the ring, Travis, before we get to the stores?”

Me, IN LOVE: “Sure! I was thinking I’d spend at least a couple hundred dollars.”

I had thought this was pretty generous. To her credit, Susie held it together and did not blind me with icing.

Susie, gently: “Oh, uh, really?  Well, I don’t want you to feel like you have to do this, but the usual guideline for an engagement ring is two months’ salary.”

Travis, shocked: “What? You’re kidding! Susie, do you know how much I make?!”

There followed a moment of silence, Susie wondering exactly what the next fifty years of her life were really going to be like and me wondering how many people lived in cars while paying off their engagement rings.

Susie diplomatically suggested we go take a look at some rings, and off we went.

Epilogue: Turns out that diamonds are expensive.



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A New Beginning

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