Dec 13


Christmas Eve: when legends are made.  You are one of three people left.  You’ve completed all of your shopping and can eat Chinese food with impunity, you are looking for supplemental gifts because you’re paranoid, or you’ve just started, taking advantage of zero hour sales and betting that the mall traffic won’t run you down on your way to the entrance.

I sincerely applaud you if you’re cruising for last minute deals.  I, too, like to live dangerously.  I went to Best Buy the other day to pick up a computer for a family member – a favor if ever I granted one.  Best Buy the week before Christmas is a hall of sorrow, with half of humanity stomping about wondering where they can buy the deal they saw in the flyer.  I stood in line behind an older gentleman who asked what the purpose of each port was in a Dell that was on sale.  The answer is plug in your keyboard and pay up for Norton, because you’re going to ruin it within three weeks anyway.

Sure, Best Buy was crowded, but it’s nothing compared to the real heavyweight of retail: Walmart.  I met a cousin for Christmas Eve lunch when I received this dreaded text message from my wife:

“Are you going to Walmart while you’re out?”

No, and I would never casually go to Walmart without heavy medication and Kevlar armor, neither of which I had for my luncheon at Ruby Tuesday.  Then the list arrived: Rolos, one can of cat food (one? are we donating to the homeless cat shelter, or do we just feel bad for one cat in particular, but only bad enough for one meal?), a jar of pickled red peppers, one lemon, and fuzzy socks.  The fuzzy socks bit made me think I was the butt of some joke, perhaps testing the limits of sanity and matrimonial vows, but my cousin was down for it and off we went to the land of the living traffic jam, Walmart.

Five weeks ago I had to brave Saturday mall traffic on another coincidental errand.  Here’s how I fall into these situations: I leave to do my one errand and, when I’m about 98.9% done with the one thing I have to do, receive a text message asking for a “small favor,” which usually involves finding Waldo somewhere in New England.  With plenty of shopping days left until Christmas, the mall crawled with filth wearing Volcom hoodies, while mere hours away from disappointing family and friends, the sloths of Walmart wore sweatpants and frowns.  I’m not sure which I prefer.

At this particular Walmart, a violinist playing Christmas carols accompanied the standard bell ringer, making for a festive white trash atmosphere.  The violinist’s friend / relative / number one fan stood next to her and cheered her on, which really ruined the tempo of O Christmas Tree.  Several people blocked the main entrance to gape at this foreign stringed instrument of heaven.

“Quickly!” I said to my cousin.  “While they’re distracted!”  And we dashed by, through the carriage return, and into retail desolation.

Things Walmart has truckloads of: bras, underwear, regular socks.  Things Walmart has zero inventory of: fuzzy socks.  I think my wife called the store before she sent me off and played twenty questions with the operator: “Hey, what’re you out of?  Duck Dynasty DVDs?  Fuzzy socks?”  I became further suspicious when I found only one jar of pickled red peppers, on a high shelf behind jarred olives.  Walmart was even out of lemons – we had to rip open a multipack and screw someone else out of a lemon.  But, as the saying goes, it’s Christmas.

Along with fuzzy socks, entire displays had been picked naked.  Even the things people didn’t want, like bento box Tupperware and direct to DVD rollbacks, found their way into shopping carts as desperation mounted.  A certain economy arises when you are faced with such a situation: the product in question increasingly fits the solution the fewer there are to choose from.  Toaster ovens become great gifts in the absence of waffle makers.

On our way to the checkout, I had to pilot my cart across an aisle strewn with empty cardboard displays.  Another man with a cart wanted to be where I was standing, and of course, he was where I wanted to be.  After the initial game of chicken, revving the carts to where we both thought we can make it and realizing at the same time that this could only end in disaster, we stood across the aisle, waving at each other to pass through.  This continued until next Christmas when I finally told him to drag his cart to my side.

“Come on over,” I said.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, Merry Christmas to you.”  He skated on by and that was that.  If only gifting was that easy.  The exchange of thanks without insular commercialism: a Christmas miracle, much like making it out of Walmart alive on Christmas Eve.  We used the self-checkout, a system designed by angry billy goats, got caught up in the jam around the violinist, froggered through traffic, and drove away at warp speed.  To all the people I cut off in traffic: a Merry Christmas to you and yours.  I want to go where you’re going, but it’s hard to communicate through all that noise.

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