DAILY LOCAL NEWS
SHOPPING: A SURVIVOR'S GUIDE
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
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
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.
© "WAY back" by Dave Barry.
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