FOR A Valentine's Day gift, most men know you can't go wrong with roses, assuming you've recently stuck up a bank and can afford the heavy mark-up at this time of year.
Still, selecting the right roses for that special someone can also be intimidating for guys, as this is not something that involves a big-screen TV or power tools.
For some tips on buying roses, I stopped at Flowers by Chris, the upscale florist on Cathedral Street owned by Chris Psoras.
The first thing I wanted to know was: What's with the PRICE of these things? Why do I always feel like someone's holding a gun to my chest when I buy roses?
Ron Poust, the store's manager and designer, said growers gear flowers to "hit" for Valentine's Day so they can command a higher price. It's a simple matter of supply and demand.
"We pay wholesale about twice what we pay during a regular time of the year," he said.
Anyway, if you're going to spring for roses, Psoras and Poust said, don't be a cheapskate. Think quality, not price.
Sure, they said, you can pick up roses for $6.99 at Wal-Mart or your neighborhood supermarket.
"But that's like going to McDonald's for a hamburger for 99 cents, or going to the Prime Rib and paying $10.99 for a hamburger," Psoras said.
As far as buying roses off a street vendor, Psoras seems to recommend this only in the event of imminent nuclear annihilation.
"They'll be two- to three-week-old roses that'll be dead the next day," she sniffed.
In any event, Flowers by Chris will never be mistaken for one of those places where you pull off to the side of the road and buy flowers from the fat kid with the headphones sitting in the lawn chair.
"We're considered the Neiman Marcus or Saks of the business," Psoras said. "We're the Harbor Court Hotel, not the Days Inn."
When a man comes in looking to buy roses for Valentine's Day, Poust says his first question is: "What kind of impression do you want to make on this lady? Do you want to knock her socks off?"
If the answer is yes, Poust might recommend something like the Sweetheart Vase for $124.99, which consists of a dozen roses with white orchid sprays in a crystal vase heavy enough to chalk the wheels on a concrete mixer.
A man less intent on knocking off his lover's socks - let's say he just wants to lower them a bit - might choose the Blooming Chocolate display, a dozen dark red roses along with a big chocolate rose for $69.95.
From there, the prices range on down to $24.95 for a single rose in a nice vase, which looked classy, but also looked ... well, LONELY, even surrounded by limonium, bear grass and tree fern.
As a general rule, the longer the stem, the more expensive the rose. But Poust thinks it's crass to bring price into the conversation, which is why he never comes right out and says: "OK, pal, how much do you want to spend?"
"Well, you could ask: 'How much do you love her?'" Psoras laughed. "Or: 'How much did you screw up last night?'"
For those who have screwed up big-time - or are simply well-heeled - Flowers by Chris has a special offer for this Valentine's Day: For 150 bucks, you can have flowers and gourmet chocolate delivered to your lover by a guy in a top hat, who will also sing to her.
The man who will do the singing is the store's courier, Joe Reppert, and he has a very good voice.
I know this because he was in the store when I was there. And when I asked to hear him sing, he belted out a little of "My Funny Valentine" before suddenly stopping and saying: "It's hard to sing that to a guy."
Well, maybe, I said. But I was kind of getting into it.
Anyway, Psoras said she already has five or six commitments for Reppert to deliver roses and sing on Valentine's Day. I keep hearing the economy's in the toilet. But even with our tanks ready to rumble into Baghdad, there are people who keep spending money as fast as they make it.
One final note on roses: As hard as this is to believe, it apparently is possible for a woman to receive too many roses.
Poust told me a story about one of his customers who sent a dozen roses every day for two weeks to the home of a woman, who must have been his girlfriend or paramour or whatever.
Finally, the woman got on the phone to Flowers by Chris and said something to this effect: Look, enough with the roses, OK? If this lunatic orders any more, don't send 'em over here.
So the store didn't.
Poust, ever the gentleman, did not inquire as to why the man was sending all these roses, whether this was simply an over-the-top form of courtship or an atonement for some horrible misdeed that would cost him for the rest of his life.
I tend toward Door No. 2.
But Poust said simply: "I didn't want to pry."