Tuesday, December 04, 2001

A Descent into Hell

Christmas time is here, by golly!
Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don't say "when"!

Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens.
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again!

-- Tom Lehrer

Everyone has their own vision of Hell. Mine is a shopping mall the week before Christmas. I have to by gifts for a whole bunch of people whom I barely know. Family members I don't see often, business collogues, friends met briefly at social events. Each gift must be a unique expression of that person's individuality, while staying within the bounds of their taste and my budget. Everybody else at this mall has a different idea. Their purpose is to run around like human bumper cars, using baby strollers as weapons. Parents are yelling at kids, kids are crying, salespeople are either twitching maniacs or sullen zombies (defense mechanisms, I'm sure.) Over this, the sound system is stuck repeating a syrupy mixture of Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

What's that, you say? This sounds like a normal mall? Not my own private visit with Satan Himself (Satan is wearing red long johns with white fake fur trim and is surrounded by hundreds of whiny, sticky children)?

A time of peace, generosity, and brotherhood? Bag that. Save it for the Christmas sermon, on the one day each year that most "churchgoers" actually make it inside a church. More like rudeness and greed, with a side order of aggression.

The surest sign of Christmas is not the mall decorations. Those go up before Halloween. No, it's the sudden, drastic increase of road pushiness. Last year about this time, I got a crease in the fender of my brand new car from somebody in a Ford Godzilla SUV who just had to cut in front of me in a construction zone. Hurt him worse than it did me -- I think he hit the Jersey barrier. A couple of days ago on a normally quiet run up to the local Home Depot I saw two people pull out into traffic from sidestreets without warning, or a hole in traffic. Fortunately, I was not one of the ones who had to take severe evasive action to avoid running into them. Must be Christmas.

I have a big advantage in Christmas shopping. I don't mind walking. Most places really do have enough parking if you're willing to walk a bit. The Christmas road mania extends to parking lots, with cars following shoppers on the way back to their cars, ready to lunge. For a Good Time, walk down a row of cars, and then cut between cars over to the next row. If you want to see a real example of Parking Lot Rage, just put your packages into the car trunk and go back to the mall. In both cases, the people following you feel that you have cheated them out of their birthright of a Parking Place and are furious about it; in the first case, you're out of the way and they don't know where your car is.

Selecting gifts? After five minutes in the mall, everything I see looks like trash and I can barely remember the names on the shopping list, let alone their personalities. I want to take an ax and start chopping up tacky decorations, yelling parents, screaming children, and anybody else within reach. Including myself (Note to self: Don't take ax to mall.)

I don't do well with shopping, anyway. I have trouble buying things for myself; I'm totally clueless as to what other people need/like/want/won't throw up at the sight of.

Oh, well, the lights are nice.

Somebody wake me up the first week in January.

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