What every man has to remember, just for reference, is that to women, all gray suits look exactly alike.

This is the real reason behind a lot of those presents under the tree. Because all gray suits look alike, men must not be very picky about things, so any old Christmas present will do.

Let's take an easy one: ties. What on earth could be easier than picking out a tasteful tie to go with one of those 28 identical gray suits? Apparently, for many women, performing brain surgery in the back of a pickup bouncing along a goat track at 73 mph would be easier, at least judging from a lot of ties hanging in the back of a lot of racks.

Somewhere there's an algebraic formula that shows -- in painfully graphic detail -- just how much worse the female gift-buying instinct becomes as the price, specificity and desirability of the item go up. For example, let's say you want a set of Ping graphite irons. For something like this -- and you've got to admit, this is a pretty nifty gift -- you can't afford to drop hints. You have to take the bull by the horns and spell things out. "Honey, you know how I've always wanted a set of Ping graphite irons?"

"Uh huh."

"Well, over at Gomer's Great Golf Garage they're on sale."

Then, not wanting to take any chances, you write it all down. Exactly what you want, where to buy it, how much it costs, how to get there and what time the place is open.

Then on Christmas morning, there's an unmistakable bulk wrapped under the tree.

Imagine your surprise when, upon opening it, there's a rusted set of used golf clubs, and not even a complete set.

You indelicately hide your surprise and glee.

First off, consider yourself lucky. You could have wound up right then and there with an iron, ironing board or a bunch of pig iron ("But that's what you said you wanted -- Pig irons!"). As it was, what she did was to go to a garage sale and buy the first golf clubs she could find.

Let's examine where you went wrong. Go back to where she said "Uh huh." See, the "Uh huh" was your first clue that she wasn't paying attention in the least, and right then and there you should have changed the subject and told her how much you like those ties she always gets you. You're still wondering what happened to the note you wrote, aren't you? Simple enough: It's buried in the purse with grocery receipts from 1983.

But we all hold out hope. Until, of course, you get up one Christmas morning, open your presents under the tree, and find nothing you recognize. Not only didn't you ever ask for these things, but you have no idea what they are or how you can use or wear them.

That's because you can't. They're for her. "I didn't know what you wanted, and what you want is always boring and the same, and I didn't want to waste money on something you wouldn't like, so I got something for me. Is that okay?"

Of course it is.

Because, having learned your lesson, you bought the Ping graphite irons last month and hid them in the garage.