BEWARE OF WISE MEN 
BEARING GIFTS

    There is no such thing as a free lunch. I am reminded of this old and wise saying every time my wife and I are invited to a dinner party, as we were the other evening.
   "We have to stop and get a bottle of wine," she said as we pulled out of our driveway, already late because of the usual last-minute clothes and jewelry crisis.
   I sighed, knowing I had no chance of winning the battle, but I tried anyway. "I'll get one from the house," I said.
    "Are you kidding?" she cried, as usual. "I want to get them a NICE bottle of wine."
   I like our wine. It works for me. But apparently it's not good enough to give as a gift when we're INVITED AS THE GUESTS!
   The whole system is flawed. What knucklehead created this fiasco of bringing a bottle of wine, or two, when someone has a party? I'm all for reciprocity. And I'm perfectly willing to have no one bring anything when they're invited back to our house.
   But it doesn't work that way. Show up with nothing and risk being labeled a freeloader, even though when we asked what we could bring, the inevitable answer is "nothing." If only they meant it.
   So we stopped at the store and my wife ran in to buy some wine. She came out with two bottles. "How much?" I asked.
   "I don't know. Around fifty dollars."
   "FIFTY DOLLARS!" I cried. "We could buy our own dinner for less than that! We're running a deficit with these invitations!"
    She wasn't interested in my whining. She was busy placing the wine in a fancy bag that she had brought from home. I guess you can't just hand it over without some presentation.
   Now that the deed was done, and the fifty dollars was spent, my attention turned to making sure our hosts knew that we were the deliverers of this prestigious gift. If I was to be a part of this stupid custom, I wanted credit.
   Sure enough, my worst fears were realized when we arrived at the house, late, and the party (it was a large one) was in full swing. The front door was open and there was no one to greet us. We walked in and the hosts were nowhere in sight.
   "Oh, great," I pouted. "We're just going to put the wine on the counter and they'll never even know it was our gift. What a waste."
    My wife didn't seem to care about the problem nearly as much as I did. She went off to talk with someone she knew, and I was left holding the bag. And I wasn't letting go until I found the hosts.
    But I had a quandary. You look pretty stupid walking past the kitchen with bottles of wine in your hand. And I had made it into the kitchen without seeing the hosts. I couldn't go any further.
   Thoroughly depressed, I started to put the bottles on the counter, knowing I would never receive the credit and adulation that was due. Then, miraculously, the hostess turned the corner and greeted me.
   I quickly pulled the bottles back into my arms and graciously offered them to our hostess.
    "Oh, you shouldn't have," she exclaimed, grabbing the wine.
    Damn right I shouldn't have. You invited me and I just spent $50 for the privilege.
    But I didn't say that. I'm not a Neanderthal, despite what my wife thinks. I just let her know the cost of each bottle and that I expected at least the same quality when we invited them back to our house sometime in the future.
    I didn't say that, either, but I sure wanted to. I just shrugged and thanked her for having us to her beautiful home. And then the wine was forgotten and we joined the party.
    When dinner was served, I eagerly looked for our wine but it was nowhere in sight. It was clear they were saving it for a romantic dinner. On me.
    I didn't mind. I ate their food and drank their wine and probably, in the end, came out ahead.
    Besides, we'll have them over soon. And I'll be watching.
 

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