White canopies winding around the parking lot of a shopping strip in Carefree mean the annual Christmas spectacular is underway. It's not unlike what I see at Tucson's Fourth Avenue Street Fair (and the same weekend, coincidentally): handmade jewelry, scented candles, sweets, government agencies doing some goodwill, a satellite TV dealer... and the “Big Skinny” wallet salesman.
A lone man with silver hair peddles a device that promises to slim your pocket device down by at least 50 percent, easier on the pockets even though I have none at the moment. I'm wearing my golden "Earl Of Suffolk" mid-18th Century outfit -- long weskit, skirted coat, knee breeches, white stockings, lace jabot, gold-trimmed tricorn, and no working pockets anywhere. My friend Madame Noire is clutching my right hand, dressed in her candy-striped 18th Century dress.
We've just come from the English Rose Tea Room, where I celebrated an early birthday lunch with soup and scones and a Christmas tea blend. When I ordered lemon cake for dessert, Madame arranged it so our servers carried it out to me with a lit candle and a song. I knew what she was up to, yet I didn't expect the involuntary blush response.
“Your face turned bright red,” she said with a warm smile. I marveled at how she could see it by the light of a single candle.
Now we were walking off all those hearty calories among the Christmas peddlers, occasionally walking into a few shops along the way. The owner of the local Tommy Bahama store insisted on snapping photos of our anachronistic presence. A lady at a salon invited us in for sparkling cider while she styled a gray-haired lady rolled up in curlers. I was content to just bask in the atmosphere until I met the wallet man.
I show him my aging tri-folded money receptacle. “Velcro,” he scoffs, unleashing his orneriness. “That easily adds to the bulk of your wallet.” He spots all the tears in the black canvas fabric. “And this,” he says, pointing to the plastic slip over my ATM card, “is no good.”
“I think you need a new wallet,” Madame remarks.
Wallet Guy recommends a four-panel model with enough pockets to hold all my charge plates along with the business cards I've absorbed over the past few months. He lets me try it out, and immediately I run into trouble as I start moving things over. The business cards don't want to fit into the pockets.
“Try putting them in corner first,” he advises. I do and they still don't slide in without a fight. I turn it over to the salesman and let him have a go.
“First, you oughta put those back here if you're going to collect them,” he says about the business cards, scolding me like a father scolding his offspring about the pitfalls of life. He stuffs them in the same pocket as the cash, and with a little work, all the credit cards are tightly shoved into the four panels of the wallet. It looks tighter but not necessarily thinner. I start folding it up into fours and the nearly gives birth to a heifer.
“No, no, no, this way!” he corrects, showing me how it folds into half. I'm not sure if it will fit into my pocket when I get one back.
“I think I'm gonna need a bigger boat,” I observe and motion to another, slightly larger model. I move my money and cards over for a second time when I notice I don't have any room left for coins. I pour a handful of change into the bill slot.
Wallet Guy gives me another hairy eyeball. “You're putting your coins in there?”
“They have to go somewhere,” I point out stiffly, reaching my limit. I'm purchasing a wallet, not curmudgeonly advice on what to put in it.
Before I walk away and spare him my wrath, Madame makes the save. “Here, try this one.” She shows me another style with an outside pouch for coins and numerous wider pockets. I slide the cards and money from one wallet to another yet again while Madame talks up our fashion statements.
“We love history, and he's a historical re-enactor,” she says. “He does Revolutionary War and Civil War, and he takes me out to dance.” She can't help but tell him how much she likes gentlemen who love elegant historical things like she does.
Wallet Guy shares some insight on his relationships, muttering that his women have “always wanted more” as I finish up arranging the bank plates in their generously spacious slots.
“Are you two married?” the man asks.
“No,” she answers.
The question catches us both in an awkward moment. We could've fooled a lot of people, walking about arm in arm like a married couple, her gushing over me like I'm her dear husband, me discreetly kissing her hand every so often. We stand there speechless until an explanation dribbles out of our mouths.
“I don't think he wants to be married,” she says.
“I'm not ready yet,” I add sheepishly.
Of all the people to ask that question, it comes from a person who chides me for poor wallet habits. I pay for my early birthday present to myself, and Madame and I continue on our merry way, greeting and occasionally bowing to the people who pause to notice our festive fashions.
We stay as long as we can, enjoying each other's company and a cup of coffee away from the crowd until the sun sets behind the mountains surrounding Carefree. We don't discuss the future or our future together.
“I enjoy spending time with you,” she says. I kiss her hand again.