I hit the 101 to San Jose, alcohol oozing from my pores, my breath smelling like a family of gnomes crawled into my mouth and died. Around Mountain View it dawned on me that I hadn't bought a present for the gift exchange. This was to be my 17th annual luncheon – my first as a Lady instead of an underage helper. I had been cocky enough to think that all my years of Ladies Luncheon observation would allow me to choose the perfect gift at the last minute, so I'd slacked on it until that morning, convinced I could walk into any "tasteful" boutique and pluck a winner from the shelves. I pulled off the freeway and sped into some mini-mall where I tried to assess which would be more appropriate: the dry cleaners or the travel agency. Shit! Maybe a gift certificate to the tanning salon?
I saw a florist across the street and made a run for it. There was a display of enormous wreaths. They were alpine fir – the usual – but then I saw one made from dried chili peppers. The whole Southwest thing was really in with suburban decorators that year. This would be perfect! I wrenched it from the wall and put down my credit card, not noticing that I just spent $63 I didn't have. My hands were starting to shake, I was so dehydrated. I got back on the freeway and sped until I saw my exit, pausing only to dash into a drug store to buy wrapping paper. Incredibly, I pulled up to Kathy's house only 15 minutes late, but then blew it by spending another 10 in the bed of my pickup, wrestling with the wreath until it succumbed to an entire roll of tape. It didn't help that I could feel some of the Ladies staring out at me through the picture window.