Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Whatever

Nothing makes me long more for a sweeping plague than Christmas shopping.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have written much recently about discovering that I actually like people. I do. But they are simultaneously the most fascinating and frustrating creatures on this planet. Christmas, I believe, brings out their very worst.

I will not comment about the scads of shoppers all fighting for a parking space, since I was one of them. Nor will I comment on how much money they’re spending, since this reckless spending is, “they” insist, good for the economy. What I will decry, however, is their overall demeanor.

Christmas shoppers (or perhaps I should use the more politically correct term “Holiday Consumers”) are either extremely nice, or extremely NOT nice. There appears to be no middle ground. The same applies to the employees bravely facing crowds of irate, impatient buyers who give up, throw their selections on the nearest shelf, and storm out when the line exceeds one minute. They’re either nice, or downright mean.

I make a point of being courteous when I’m out in public, not because I am attempting to impress anybody, but because it’s the right thing to do. I hold open doors, smile, say you’re welcome, and fire off a sincere thank you when people are similarly kind to me.

Yet a number eye me suspiciously. Who is this tall guy who opens doors? Why is he doing this? Is he going to ask for my number next? Follow me to the car and demand that I give him the keys and then lock me in the trunk? How dare he hold open a door. What’s his underlying motive? Out of my way, and merry freaking Christmas. I smile despite their glares.

But this is rather insignificant. What is more frustrating is that most Holiday Consumers seem oblivious to the fact that there are other people in the stores. They unwittingly block aisles, walk directly in front of you when you’re strolling through the store, and abandon their carts in the most obstructive location they can find – directly in front of me. I politely say excuse me and try to wiggle by, but am usually met with more glaring.

“What? I can’t sign out an item on layaway that I didn’t put INTO layway?” She sighs dramatically and stalks off. The folks behind the counter snigger, as do I.

The best are long distant conversations spoken over a dozen other shoppers. “Nadine…. NADINE!” A lady I presume is Nadine looks up.

“Does little Timmy have one of these?” He waves an obscure toy in the air.

“He did, but he done broke it in one week.”

“What about this one?”

“Those little pieces get caught in the vents. He might choke on one and die – or WORST!”

Two “free-range” kids throw balls at each other in the corner and knock singing toys off the shelves. A cacophony. I run away.

In the clothes section a lady reaches high for a pair of gloves. Dissatisfied with the discover they’re size small, she knocks several pairs off the hook and keeps digging for something else. The hook says they’re ALL small. She wanders off, changing her mind from gloves to men’s underwear – abruptly. I guess the search was too tiring.

For shoppers, they all look decidedly lost – like a shopping list is a foreign concept and they’re just browsing all the aisles looking for something neat.

“He welds things sometimes. Maybe he needs gloves.”

“No, it’s a blowtorch.”

“Does he need gloves for that”

I think a tie would be a better idea. With a blowtorch on it.

Children, free from supervision as their parents mill about confused, wander off and start browsing their own way. Pull it off, look at it, perhaps taste it, drop it, and walk away. They frequently leave the sidewalk and run into traffic. I’m terrified I’ll hit one, so I drive at a snail’s pace, stop for every pedestrian, and piss off everybody behind me.

A lady, having I presume lost her car, walks along the edge of the road, stopping periodically to peer across to the parking lot. I stop each time, assume she will cross the street. She gives up and keeps walking. A hundred yards later, she suddenly dashes in front of me. Sees me slamming on the brakes, stops directly ahead of me, then starts again when I wave her forward. She’s blocking my travel. What else am I supposed to do?

“Somebody sold a gun to a lady and didn’t take the gun lock off of it” a manager stews. “Who did it?”

“He did it.”

“I did NOT!” he retorts. “Why do you always blame ME?” I stand waiting at the counter, still. They both wander off.

“Can I put a book on layway?”

“No, sir. Layaway items must total more than 100 dollars.” He wanders off, presumably to find more stuff he can’t afford.

At a coffee shop (shut up), there’s a girl peering into the men’s bathroom, door cracked, head stuck in, just standing there. I desperately need to go in there. “Is everything alright in there?” She turns around.

“I don’t know. My bother’s been in there for a long time.” Now I’m afraid to go in at all. I flee to another store, repeating the scrutiny of getting through the door, holding it open for others, and then getting caught in knots of people in every aisle catching up from years of separation. I think they only time they see each other is Christmas Wandering.

I dash between cars that don’t stop on the way back to the car. As I start up to leave, a guy pulls up, ready to take my space. But I can’t get out because he’s in the way. Some gestures later and he moves.

I get caught in traffic, turn around and take the long way around. The drivers seem lost, too. I’m doing ten over the limit and still get passed. By cops.

But I’m done shopping – or close enough that I can put off the rest for another day, or year.

You may pray for world peace, but I will pray for a plague – one that only takes rude people and compulsive nose pickers. Well, and the people that display inflatable lawn Santas. And the people who have motorized lawn ornaments. And the people that hang pineapple flags at the ends of their driveways. And people that don’t signal when they turn. And terrorists. And people who wear sweaters with little lights on them. Or bells. Or send musical cards. Or chew with their mouths open. Or whitewash old tires and plant flowers in them. And definitely the people that say Happy Holidays because they’re afraid I might blow a gasket if they dare say Christmas.

Unapologetically, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and while I’m at it, happy Valentine’s day. That merchandise will be up before this year is even over. When I buy red, heart-shaped crap for Valentine’s day, I will wish the employees Happy Easter and see if they get offended. Or happy pagan celebration. Maybe Happy Egg-laying Bunny. That’s fairly innocuous and certainly celebrates the consumer spirit.

Forget it… Merry Shopping Season. If the plague comes sometime soon, I’ll send myself a Christmas card. Nobody else will be around to do so.

Copyright © 2008, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Pretty accurate description of Christmas shopping. I am particularly fond of "free range children."

    Happy Kwaanza!

  2. Happy Ramadan!

    Consumers disturb me. That is why I am a producer. I produce three things: CO2, music, and organic lip balm from beeswax and jojobe oil. Ok, I do consume a little, but not much.

    So I guess you know what one of three things you'll be getting from me for Christmas this year.

  3. OK Elizabeth. I give up. What goes into Jojobe oil? Sounds like something you might get from rendering La Cucaraches.

  4. Oh Ben, you have experienced a miserable day of Christmas shopping!
    Next time when you feel like you are getting sucked into a very unmerry Christmas outing try this: slip a 20.00 bill to someone who is working very hard at their job. This is especially interesting in restaurants and airports.
    It makes Christmas more meaningful and their reaction to your gesture is priceless.