EVEN BEFORE he calmly studied the chocolate body paint and sniffed the Kama Sutra Gift Tin without blushing and fingered the Italian chemise while asking "Is this a Cosabella?" I knew we were dealing with a unique individual.
Most men enter a lingerie store with fear in their eyes and a thin sheen of perspiration on their foreheads as they traverse this forbidding land of bras and panties, nighties and camisoles, bustiers and garter belts.
Most men spend, oh, six seconds studying all the possibilities before they snatch something - anything - off a rack, pay for it and hustle out the door.
But here was Ken Gillman at Bare Necessities at Greenspring Station on Falls Road, looking about as rattled as a man sitting on a beach as he shopped for a Valentine's Day gift for his wife, Rachel.
"No, I'm not uncomfortable at all," he said. "I don't know why. I'm just not."
Gillman, it turned out, is 45, lives in Lutherville with his wife and two children and owns a packaging and design company.
He had recently returned from a trip to the Super Bowl with some friends. And because Rachel had been so supportive of his need to be in Tampa, screaming his lungs out for that improbable Ravens championship - "the event of a lifetime," he called it - he wanted to get her something especially nice.
He had no idea what that might be. "Something frilly," he said.
And the game was on. Agreeing to be tailed by a columnist and photographer - hey, who doesn't buy lingerie with the media in tow? - he set off on his mission.
Lynn Fram, one of the owners, began by showing Gillman some pink, white and flower-print chemises. Two were of the tasteful but va-va-voom variety - "sheer, but not like you're completely naked," Fram explained. All came with matching thongs, which Gillman was invited to examine.
"Oh, we love matching thongs!" Gillman said.
At this point, the room started to get very warm, at least for me. Which is when Gillman floored me with that "Is this a Cosabella?" question.
His wife, it turned out, had a Cosabella nightgown hanging in her closet back home. Most men, their wives could have a Shetland pony in the closet and they wouldn't notice.
Next, Fram showed Gillman a Verena cotton nightgown with a heart-shaped lace applique, then pink Nick & Nora pajamas with little cherry hearts. Compared to the chemises, this was something the Amish might wear.
It was at this point that Fram betrayed the first hint of solidarity with all the other mopes who try to buy lingerie for the women in their lives.
"Do you know your wife's measurements?" I asked.
"Uh, no," Gillman said. But then he pointed out that Rachel had shopped in the store before, and Lynn Fram knew all her measurements.