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Scan Til You Drop

by Andrea Elovson

Whether you're on your first date or your fiftieth, there's a place you can go to learn everything there is know about that special someone: the bridal registry at Macy's.

The mere suggestion of visiting this department can supply you with all the necessary information. If, for example, he or she laughs and gets as far as the cosmetic counter, there's potential. A look of extreme panic could suggest a crippling lack of spontaneity that could become an issue later on.

And if you've managed to say yes in all the right places and find yourself engaged ... how do you score that electric bagel slicer or those Ralph Lauren candlesticks?

Ask for them?
Shame on you.
Scan for them.

Here's how it works.

After fortifying ourselves with three cups of coffee, my future hubby and I made our way to the gazebo-like registry department. There, we encountered our first Bridal Consultant. We gave her our vitals (name, wedding date, shipping address); she whipped out a nifty device resembling a large calculator on a stick. The scanner. Simply press a button and a red laser reads the bar code of the desired item. A non-judgmental beep assures you that the platinum cake server has been securely tucked away in the scanner's memory.

That's it! There are no limits beyond your conscience and your ability to go without food and water. Strangely, there's no maximum to the number of gifts you can have on your list, but there is a minimum (four). Three doesn't cut it, no matter how expensive they are.

My guy had "our" scanner tucked in his holster before I could say "Breadman-Ultra." Like a hyper Han Solo, he began firing his ray gun at every sheet set, gravy boat and espresso maker he could find . When it's that easy, you will wonder how you ever got by without the tobacco leaf frame, the chain link napkin rings or that porcelain statuette of two kids on a swing.

And for once, price is no object. As liberating as it might seem, it took me a while to adjust to the concept of scanning/spending other people's money. Growing up with a mother of the Depression, my body initially rejected anything that wasn't on sale. Luckily, this passed and I was able to re-channel my nervous energy into locating the elusive bar codes. Scan it, punch in the quantity, and Voila! A set of pots and pans whose price (rather than size) could feed a medium-sized village.

Seven hundred dollar cookware aside, it's a good idea to have a range of differently priced items on your registry. No need to make your actor friend feel worse then he already does because he can't afford to buy you a fork.

But remember this isn't just about collecting things; it's about gathering crucial information about the one you're with: a reconnaissance mission cloaked in soft lighting and a muzac.

Let's begin with your honey's initial reaction to spending a sunny afternoon in a department store. Does he or she stand frozen at the revolving doors? Could hint at an irrational fear of commitment. (Or, to be fair, of crowds.) If s/he grabs your hand and part the sea of frenzied shoppers like a modern Moses, you can safely assume s/he is dedicated to you and your future houseware.

Nothing less than his/her grasp on reality can be determined by your partner's will: finish the registry in one day, or divide it up over a few visits? A deep-seated need to scan for twelve straight hours hints at a destructive sense of grandiosity (or, well, greed).

Similarly, what s/he selects can serve as a one-way mirror into his/her soul. If your Significant Scanner has no qualms about $250 bath towels or signature sports mugs, you might want to re-examine your relationship. The use of the words "want" and "need" -- not interchangeable -- should also be duly noted.

Not to say there isn't room for compromise. Take, for example, the flatware: I loved; he hated. Where I saw the knife as rivaling Rodin, he thought it threatened his manhood. But after a few cleansing breaths, he finally agreed to scan it in because he could see how much I wanted (never said "needed") it. An hour later, I didn't have a leg to stand on when he insisted on a three hundred-dollar salt and pepper set shaped like the Oscar award.

But let's assume that you share the same aesthetic sensibilities--that your individual choices make up the Ying and Yang of the perfect registry. Another crucial component of a good mate is his/her ability to be vulnerable and to shrug off socially imposed sex roles. For example, if you notice a man getting genuinely excited about choosing the perfect china, it's likely he will teach his sons the importance of embracing their feminine side. Likewise, if your future Missus can't stop talking about that 52" television with picture in picture, you can bet your bottom dollar your girls will be down in the dirt with the best of them.

After four hours, we trudged back to the Gazebo exhausted, but with a newfound respect for compulsive shoppers and interior designers. After assuring our Bridal Consultant that we had the time of our lives, we handed her our piping hot scanner. She hooked it up to her printer and handed us a hard copy of or registry.

A final hint: Pry open your eyes long enough to notice what happens once you're given a copy of your list. Is it quickly folded into fours and shoved into his or her back pocket? Does your yum yum hand it to you and head for the door? If s/he is worth spending the rest of your life with (or even the remainder of the afternoon) the answer is a resounding "no." His;/her love for you should propel him/her through a thorough proofreading of the list. Like super-heroes s/he should break through the mist to recheck colors and quantities and to help the consultant manually input the dozen or so items that had unreadable barcodes.

So: how'd my man fare? Let's put it this way. He spent upwards of forty-five minutes looking for the perfect eyelet sheets that I have always wanted (not "needed"). And he held my hand on the way out.

(The bridal registry department at Macy's East in Herald Square, NYC (212-494-3800) is open Mon.-Sat. 11-8:30 and Sunday 11-7. Most (but not all) locations have bridal registries. Call the store nearest you for hours and appointments.)

Andrea Elovson is a documentary filmmaker with a thing for white towels.

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