THE FUNNY part is, I think it was just a box of chips.
I'm not sure, because I didn't want to stare too hard and give the impression I was eavesdropping. Even though I was, in fact, eavesdropping. But even from a distance, I'm reasonably sure it was a 60-count box of chips, like you'd buy in a warehouse store.
Which, as it happens, we were in.
My son and I, that is. We were out shopping when we passed this couple in the aisle. The guy was holding up the box, apparently explaining to his wife why they should buy enough chips to provision a Scout troop. To which she replied: "If you want it, buy it."
Her tone was vaguely disapproving, like that time you told your mother you wanted to spend two weeks' allowance on X-Ray glasses and she said, "Sure, if you think that's a good idea." You could tell she thought it was the dumbest idea since New Coke, but wanted you to come to that conclusion on your own.
The man must have heard this in wife's voice, because he made the case twice more, each time sounding a little more desperate for her approval. And, each time sounding a little more exasperated by her husband, she kept saying the same thing: "If you want it, buy it."
I figured the fellow for somewhere in his middle 30s. Had you seen him on the street, you'd have said to yourself, "Self, there goes a fully mature, grown-up man."
But standing there in the warehouse, unable to take yes for an answer, you'd have sworn he was a child. His wife's child, to be exact.
At this point, my son, who is 17, turned to me and said, "Is that what happens when you get married?"
What? I thought. That you become infantilized, a boy in man's clothing? No longer able to pick out your own shirts, decide to buy a DVD or recognize a good deal on a box of chips without your wife's approval? How outrageous. How ridiculous. Are we not captains of our own vessels? Are we not architects of our own destiny? Are we not men?
"Yes," I answered.
My son was incredulous. "I'd have thought, if I had a job, if I made the money, I could buy whatever I wanted."
Yes, you'd think that, wouldn't you?
My wife would want me to tell you at this juncture that she has never once required me to seek her permission to buy something I coveted. And that's true enough. Yet for some mysterious reason, unknown to me, I always do.
Oh, I phrase it as a statement of intent: "I'm going out to Circuit City to buy a new amplifier." But what that really means is, "Is it OK if I go out and to Circuit City to buy a new amplifier?"
I brace for objections and hear none. This, of course, makes matters worse.
"The old one is on its last legs," I explain.
"Probably cost more than it's worth to fix it," I add. "Besides, there's a sale."
Still not a word of dissent.
"Did I mention that the old one was in terrible shape?"
Finally she says, "Probably not worth it to get it fixed, then."
"Yeah, that's what I was thinking," I say. I'm already halfway to the car, pitifully grateful for this crumb of validation.
They tell me the modern marriage is a partnership, a concept with which I have no disagreement. What I struggle to understand is why, where the family purse is concerned, my partner's vote carries so much more weight with me than my own. Am I really so much more likely to be seduced by useless gadgetry? Lose my mind at the promise of more watts per channel? Fall in love with a pretty faceplate?
Don't answer that.
"When I get married," my son announced, "I'm going to say, 'Look, baby, I'll buy whatever I want to buy.'"
"No you won't," I told him.
And my cocky son, who never believes anything I say, who thinks I know nothing about anything, considered that with a rueful smile.
"Yeah," he said, "I know."
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. He may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by calling toll-free at 1-888-251-4407.