The Pack Mule Experience

pack mule

The stereotype goes that women adore shopping and men abhor shopping. Obviously exceptions to the rule exist, but I’ve known women who could happily spend a whole weekend fighting the crowds at the mall, and I’ve known men who would rather spend a whole weekend fighting the flu — and losing — than to join their wife’s brief afternoon shopping excursion.

Meanwhile, some of my friends and I love shopping with our wives. Why do we love what so many men loathe? It’s really quite simple.

A man who despises shopping with his wife is a Pack Mule whereas a man who desires shopping with his wife is a Husband. And believe it or not, he doesn’t get to pick his role; it is placed on him by his wife.

The Difference

So what’s the difference?

Both the Pack Mule and the Husband possess the ability to carry bags, and both should be using that ability. In a sense, they’re both pack mules, but only one is the Pack Mule.

However, the Husband also possesses the ability to form an opinion. A Pack Mule only possesses the ability to form the opinion’s slow-witted cousin with a lazy eye: the second opinion. And often, the Pack Mule doesn’t even possess that.

It goes like this…

The Pack Mule Experience

A Pack Mule only possesses the ability to form the opinion’s slow-witted cousin with a lazy eye: the second opinion.

The Pack Mule hauls his freight into yet another store, following his master through narrow aisles with his bulky burden and trying not to clothesline small children with a shoebox as he passes by.

While attempting to navigate his plastic-bagged breadth between racks of clothes, he tries to recall if this store has a TV in the waiting area or if he’ll be left to entertain himself by playing the latest Angry Birds (Lego Marvel Star Wars Back to the Future Edition) on his phone. He’s pretty sure this one doesn’t have a TV. Not that there’d be anything good on it, but it would at least pass time.

The Pack Mule barely notices as his master hands him an armload of attire, hanger by hanger, because he’s dimly daydreaming about her stopping by the lingerie store next. Wouldn’t that be nice? For a moment, a dumb and wistful smile turns up the corners of his mouth.

Finally, the master relieves him of this newest burden and she heads into the dressing room. Now, the Pack Mule is permitted to rest in the Chair of Penultimate Awkwardness (the only more awkward chair is a man’s “hot seat” in a Hello Kitty obsession intervention) amid a pile of bags he tries to keep close enough to him to stay out of other people’s way — which never works.

If he’s lucky, a fellow Pack Mule will be tied off nearby, and they can share a nod of morose acknowledgement and mutual pity. If so, he might even have a few seconds of trivial conversation with a peer of this lower caste, but the wooden gravitas of their common condition gives their words about the weather or the game they’re missing a hollow bearing that feels so forced that they soon both embrace the silence. So, soon, it’s as if he’s the only guy there.

If he’s unlucky, he’s the third guy there and the silence has already been embraced by the other two. Since there are never more than two chairs in these waiting areas, the third Pack Mule gets the dubious honor of standing around outside the women’s dressing room and trying to look casual by glancing through the two garments hung up within reach.

The other Pack Mules watch this custom take place in sympathy as he quickly exhausts his “look like you’re supposed to be here” repertoire and surrenders to the inevitability of what he’s doing: standing outside a women’s dressing room like a degenerate creep.

He quickly realizes that this store doesn’t have a TV, but he also quickly realizes he zapped his phone’s battery dry mobile-binging that Breaking Bad series he’s just now getting around to watching in the last store. So much for entertainment. He vaguely wonders what’s going on in that dressing room, but he knows that’s none of his business. He’s only a Pack Mule.

Bored eyes wander about uncomfortably as the Pack Mule absentmindedly pokes holes in the plastic bags surrounding him, and he continually meets the eyes of women coming out of the dressing up as he looks up to see if it’s his master. Each time, the woman’s eyes seem to narrow warily.

He wants to say, “No, I’m not watching you, I promise. Seriously, I’m waiting for my wife! I’m not just some creep hanging out outside a women’s dressing room, I swear!”

He wants to say that, but he doesn’t. Even a Pack Mule is smart enough to know a vehement denial of an unspoken accusation sounds like an admission of guilt. So he endures the women’s accusing glare with the best impression of an oblivious dunce he can muster.

Now, he hears his master calling him. He uneasily approaches her door and receives a garment. “I need this one size bigger,” she instructs. And so begins the most painful experience he has in each store…

The Pack Mule wanders through the store, alone, among all these suspicious women who’d just caught this pervert watching them moments before. Sure he knows he’s got a harmless reason for wandering the aisles of dresses alone, but all these women see is a pervert looking for something in his size. Again he endures — what choice does a Pack Mule have? Eventually, he finds and returns with the properly-sized garment and resumes his vigil.

When she comes out, one of two scenarios plays out.

Most likely, she tosses a mountain of clothing on a rack — including both sizes of the one he’d just been hunting for — and keeps one or two small things as she leads her Pack Mule to the checkout line. Which, by the way, will contain none of the distrustful women he’d seen before. No, they’re long gone, so none would now witness that he’s really here with a woman.

But maybe the Pack Mule’s master is nicer than that. Instead, she’ll come out wearing an outfit from the pile, asking, “What do you think?”

Now, she’s not really looking for input; she’s just throwing him a bone to make him feel valuable. A little pat on the back. His answer is only a second opinion — she already made her decision back in the dressing room, and his opinion held no real bearing or else his opinion would have been counseled before. She’s just being polite.

Despite the unintentional debasement all this entails, the Pack Mule dutifully praises his master, only repeating what she already knew: this outfit looks good on her. She wouldn’t have worn it out if it didn’t.

She goes back into the dressing room, changes back into her own clothes, and then they go check out.

Then, it’s off to the next store.

Which, of course, is not the lingerie store.

It does, however, have a dressing room full of women who’ll certainly recognize him following them. What a pervert.

Not the Only Option

This isn’t the only way, though! There’s a better way, one that’s highly enjoyable for the man and perhaps uplifting for the woman. It involves leaving the Pack Mule at home and instead bringing the Husband. I’ll expand on that next time.

Series NavigationThe Husband Experience >>

Originally posted 2016-06-13 08:00:52.

About Phil (251 Articles)
Philip Osgood is a Christian husband, father, and writer who considers himself a passable video game player, fiction reader, camping and hiking enthusiast, welder, computer guy, and fitness aficionado, though real experts in each field might just die of laughter to hear him claim it. He has been called snarky, cynical, intelligent, eccentric, creative, logical, and Steve for some reason. Phil and his beautiful wife Clara live in Texas with their children in a house with a dog but no white picket fence. He does own a titanium spork from ThinkGeek, though, so he must be alright.