Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.

In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it "Christmas" and went to church; the Jews called it "Hanukka" and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say "Merry Christmas!" or "Happy Hanukka!" or (to the atheists) "Look out for the wall!"

These days, people say "Season's Greetings," which, when you think about it, means nothing. It's like walking up to somebody and saying "Appropriate Remark" in a loud, cheerful voice. But "Season's Greetings" is safer, because it does not refer to any actual religion. Some day, I imagine, even "Season's Greetings" will be considered too religious, and we'll celebrate the Holiday Season by saying "Have a nice day."

Some of you may be unhappy with this dereligionizing of the Holiday Season, and you may have decided that, this year, you're going to celebrate it the old-fashioned way, with your family sitting around stringing cranberries and exchanging humble, handmade gifts, like on The Waltons. Well, you can forget it. If everybody pulled that kind of subversive stunt, the economy would collapse overnight. The government would have to intervene: It would form a cabinet-level Department of Holiday Gift-Giving, which would spend billions and billions of tax dollars to buy Barbie dolls and electronic games, which it would drop on the populace from Air Force jets, killing and maiming thousands. So, for the good of the nation, you should go along with the Holiday Program. This means you should get a large sum of money and go to a mall.

Unless you live in Indonesia, there should be several malls within five miles of your home. It makes no difference whatsoever which one you go to: Under federal law, all malls in the United States must have the same 42 chain stores. You have your chain bookstores, your chain clothing stores, your chain shoe stores, your chain restrooms, your chain electronic-game arcades.

The basic idea behind malls is that they are more convenient than cities. Cities contain streets, which are dangerous and crowded and difficult to park in. Malls, on the other hand, have parking lots, which are also dangerous and crowded and difficult to park in, but - here is the big difference - in mall parking lots, THERE ARE NO RULES. You're allowed to do anything. You can drive as fast as you want in any direction you want. I was once driving in a mall parking lot when my car was struck by a pickup truck being driven backward by a squat man with a tattoo that said "Charlie" on his forearm, who got out and explained to me, in great detail, why the accident was my fault, his reasoning being that he was violent and muscular, whereas I was neither. This kind of reasoning is legally valid in mall parking lots.

So when you get to the mall for your holiday shopping, the first thing to remember is that you should not park in the parking lot and walk to the mall buildings, because you will probably get killed. Instead, drive your car right up to and, if possible, right into, the mall building. This is perfectly legal; people do it all the time. In almost every mall I've ever been to, the corridors were littered with cars, recreational vehicles, snowmobiles and motorboats left by smart parkers.

Once you're safely in the mall, you should tie your children to you with ropes so the other shoppers won't try to buy them. Holiday shoppers have been whipped into a frenzy by months of holiday advertisements, and they will buy anything small enough to stuff into a shopping bag. If your children object to being tied, threaten to take them to see Santa Claus; that ought to shut them up.

Now you're ready for the actual shopping. Your goal should be to get it over with as quickly as possible, because the longer you stay in the mall, the longer your children will have to listen to holiday songs on the mall public-address system, and many of these songs can damage children emotionally. For example: Frosty the Snowman is about a snowman who befriends some children, plays with them until they learn to love him, then melts. And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is about a young reindeer who, because of a physical deformity, is treated as an outcast by the other reindeer. Then along comes good, old Santa. Does he ignore the deformity? Does he look past Rudolph's nose and respect Rudolph for the sensitive reindeer he is underneath? No. Santa asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh, as if Rudolph were nothing more than some kind of headlight with legs and a tail. So unless you want your children exposed to this kind of insensitivity, you should shop quickly.

Here is a very efficient shopping method: Divide the amount of money you have by the number of people on your gift list to get an average dollar amount per person. So if you have $160, and you want to buy gifts for 10 people, your average is $16 per person. Now find something that costs $16, and buy 10 of whatever it is. You'll find many useful gifts in this price range; for example, you could get 10 family-sized bottles of vitamin B. Everyone, young and old alike, can use vitamin B, and your children are sure to shriek with delight when they find it under the tree.

If you want to buy gifts that are a little more personal, you should follow these guidelines:

Gifts for Men

Men are amused by almost any idiot thing - that is why professional ice hockey is so popular - so buying gifts for them is easy. But you should never buy them clothes. Men believe they already have all the clothes they will ever need, and new ones make them nervous. For example, your average man has 84 ties, but he wears, at most, only three of them. He has learned, through humiliating trial and error, that if he wears any of the other 81 ties, his wife will probably laugh at him ("You're not going to wear THAT tie with that suit, are you?"). So he has narrowed it down to three safe ties, and has gone several years without being laughed at. If you give him a new tie, he will pretend to like it, but deep inside he will hate you.

If you want to give a man something practical, consider tires. More than once, I would have gladly traded all the gifts I got for a new set of tires.

Gifts for Women

Again, you should avoid buying clothes, but not because women don't like clothes. The problem is sizes. First of all, women's clothing sizes don't mean anything. Suppose you're looking at a dress, and the tag says it's a size 14. You could measure that dress with every known measuring instrument, checking for every known unit of measurement, and you would never find any dimension that was 14 anythings long. Not only that, but you would never find any dimension that corresponded to the same dimension on any other size-14 dress. Not only that, but chances are you would never find any woman in the entire world who would admit to being a size 14.

Another problem is color. Women do not see color the way men do. Suppose several women are in a paint store, looking at a sample of orange paint. The paint-can label may say "orange," and the paint may appear obviously orange to a male, but the women will never use the word "orange" to describe it. They will say things like: "It has a lot of blue" or "It's much too gray." Don't ask me to explain it. All I know is, if a woman tells a man she'd like a green scarf for Christmas, he'll go out and buy a scarf that he believes to be green, based on his concept of "green," which he got from crayons in the second grade. She will look at the scarf as if it were covered with maggots, then show it to her friends and say: "I asked Harold for a green scarf, and just look at what he got me." They'll all have a good laugh, and she'll return it.

So the safest gifts for women are e pensive little bottles of colorless liquids, which are sold at cosmetic counters under names such as "Eau de Water" and "Endless Night of Heavy Petting."

Gifts for Children

This is easy. You never have to figure out what to get for children, because they will tell you exactly what they want. They spend months and months researching these kinds of things by watching Saturday-morning cartoon-show advertisements. Make sure you get your children exactly what they ask for, even if you disapprove of their choices. If your child thinks he wants Murderous Bob, the Doll with the Face You Can Rip Right Off, you'd better get it. You may be worried that it might help to encourage your child's antisocial tendencies, but believe me, you have not seen antisocial tendencies until you've seen a child who is convinced that he or she did not get the right gift.


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