But I'm not here to plan a party. I have my mission. The showrooms are hardly chaos, but each proffered bribe for a rush delivery is met with chuckles. The HD sections feel like a cross between Glengarry Glen Ross and The 40-Year-Old Virgin; screens pump eye-popping images of football and war movies and busty women. All my salesmen—a codger, a slacker and a gallant Nigerian—smile sadly at my ignorance and bury me in a sermon of jargon: liquid crystal display versus plasma, 1,080p versus 720, Blu-ray versus HD DVD. I nod like a novitiate. I'm not alone. Clutches of men wander about fingering the cabinets, speaking in hushed tones. Six teens stare at a 65-inch behemoth showing a pirate flick. I feel like waving a saber—you know, in solidarity.
"Yeah, the guys come and hang out here," says my new Nigerian friend, "but then the wife comes in to make the decision."
This stuns me. Are we not men? A tubby guy in a Patriots hat nearly restores my faith when he elbows me aside, lunging for a 47-inch HD. He has a 32-incher already, he says, but needs another to set up next to it. When I ask if he's married, though, he cracks a grin. "Oh, no," he says.
That's when I decide: Here I make my stand. I will call no wife. I will ask no approval. I don't snivel when the cable company says it can't install the HD system by the weekend. I cowboy up. I subway crosstown in a snowstorm for the HD receiver. I decide—alone—on a 26-inch, flat-panel, LCD HDTV with built-in DVD, pay $1,025.75 without blinking. I drag the box through the front door like an 18-point buck.
"You're making ESPN money now?" my wife says. "We can't afford that."
I grab tools. I shove furniture, twist cables, drill holes. I hoist the set up, feel the wall quiver, place pillows on the floor for the inevitable crash. For three days I keep glancing at the receipt and ponder the alternatives: tuition, groceries, that long overdue tuneup. But then Sunday comes, and I see football at home like never before, dazzling and so clear. And at the right moment, when the Chargers intercept Tom Brady late in the third quarter, I dial my big brother.
"You watching this?" I ask.
But he isn't. He's driving from work, so I pity him back and yell some play-by-play like he'd done for me. Real men? We look out for each other like that.
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