It seemed harmless enough, this pre-Christmas proposition I made to my wife. “Give me clues,” I said. “I want to choose a present for you that will make sense and which you heartily deserve. I need enough options to give me cover so I can create some suspense for you when we unwrap our toys.” My wife adopted a stance of sweet coyness, which I could have predicted. At all costs, she said, I shouldn’t be throwing money away and it was the gesture, the love after all, that counted most. “But how sweet of you,” she said. “Any good book would do, or maybe a lighter weight shovel for me on days when you’re waiting for the snowplows.” My wife plays this game better than I do. I guessed that what she really needed was an upgrade in her electronic gadgetry. Compared with my own ploddings in the digital age, my wife practically swims in gygabytes. And I happen to know that as part of some organizational work she’s doing to uplift women in the poor countries, she could probably use one of the latest in iPads. I know this because now and then I’d find copies of trade magazines lying on the kitchen table practically falling into my chair and open to a page advertising a certain iPad 2, Wi-Fi 16GB. It’s a cinch you know somebody who understands this 21st Century alphabet better than I do. But I headed for the appropriate outlet in one of the city’s shopping centers. There were going to be crowds. I have to tell you that I always feel alien walking into one of these sanctuaries of digital America. Mainly it’s the language barrier. I can’t talk digital talk. So I worked out a strategy. I was not going to be intimidated. Because shopping time was getting short and the crowds were multiplying. I was going to walk right in, show the sales person a picture of the magical iPad2, pull out my credit card, bag the iPad and walk out of there a freed man. I got to the shop a few minutes before the sales opening. Cleverly I lined up at the entrance to beat the crowds. It was open and teeming with red-shirted sales people. It turned out they were not yet open for sales and were taking applications for temporary employees to handle the holiday crush. “Are you applying?” one of the red shirts asked. “No,” I said, “I’m just a customer. I can wait.” I congratulated myself on this deft jab of irony, and explained. “I’m looking for an iPad. I have all of the specifications here, provided by my wife. I know the model she wants and with time getting short I almost have to pick it up today.” “Great choice,” she said. “But you can’t get it here today. We don’t have any in stock. You can probably find one at our shop ten miles from here. I’m sure they’ll be happy to take care of you.” The first pangs of panic stirred in my throat. It was now becoming a Process. In these conditions I always like to go on the attack with Plan B. I would call the company’s customer services and place an order to pick up at the other shop. I walked down the corridor to a nearby women’s shop and searched my pockets for my cell phone. Strike one. I’d left my cell phone at home. I asked a woman in the perfume department if they had a Minneapolis area telephone book. She rummaged around and smiled apologetically. “Try handbags,” she said. They didn’t have a phone book in handbags or lingerie, either. So I drove home without a whole lot of enthusiasm for making a call from there because I hate battling robots in customer services. I end up arguing with them because I always feel I’m going to be subjected to some kind of endless electronic filibuster. But I called. A voice answered and I dug in my heels. Do you remember one of the all-time films of decades ago, called “2001: A Space Odyssey”? It was the forerunner to all of the space epics to follow. It began with the immense chords of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” and featured the comforting but faintly lunar voice of H.A.L., or Hal, who was a kind of invisible host in space. I introduced myself and explained why I was calling. I need to tell you this robot was different. “I am an automated system,” he said. “I can handle complete sentences. So tell me how I can help you today.” That’s what he said. I gave him my name and described my problem. I needed a particular iPad and this was going to be my last gasp in the shopping mall wilderness. I told the robot: “I understand the iPad I need is sitting there, at the company’s outlet in the last mall available. I had been told the product would be available for certain, today, at his company’s outlet in a shopping mall in a southern suburb.” I waited, sweating, because that was more than one sentence. At the very least it was a compound sentence. Hal offered no argument. Smoothly he absorbed all of my dangling participles. He asked one question about color –definitely black, I said. I told Hal that if it wasn’t black I might be facing divorce court. I can’t tell you if Hal has a sense of humor. He was calm and reassuring. I could almost hear Strauss’ opening music. “It will be available at the store, just as you requested,” he said. “Have a good day.” I drove to the mall, sweating. And there it was. If Hal had a business card, I’d send it to you. About Jim Klobuchar: In 45 years of daily journalism, Jim Klobuchar’s coverage ranged from presidential campaigns to a trash collector’s ball. He has written from the floor of a tent in the middle of Alaska, from helicopters, from the Alps and from the edge of a sand trap. He was invited to lunch by royalty and to a fist fight by the late Minnesota Viking football coach, Norm Van Brocklin. He wrote a popular column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 30 years and has authored 23 books. Retiring as a columnist in 1996, he contributes to Ecumen’s “Changing Aging” blog, MinnPost.com and the Christian Science Monitor. He also leads trips around the world and an annual bike trip across Northern Minnesota. He’s climbed the Matterhorn in the Alps 8 times and has ridden his bike around Lake Superior. He’s also the proud father of two daughters, including Minnesota's senior U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.