Archive for December, 2004

Christmas Shopping

Thursday, December 9th, 2004

Christmas Shopping

I haven�t been seen or heard lately, partly because I�ve got this weird thing going on where in my mind, the election is over and it�s time to get on with holidays. Of course I�m following the news, but everything that�s going on is receiving comment by folks who are much more up to the task for now than I am.

That includes, oh, where to begin? The racist jokes from Democrats and liberals over the nomination of Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State; more of the same over possibly elevating Clarence Thomas to the position of Chief Justice; politically correct control freaks smacking around the Boy Scouts, and Christmas itself; the Oil for Food scandal. The list goes on.

But while Christmas shopping I can�t help but notice something gradually changing culturally, which I�m sure is much more pronounced for me than it is for others since I hardly ever go shopping. Things are changing. As usual, everybody is in a hurry and they don�t know where they want to go. People seem to get in each other�s way, much more often than they have to. Know what I mean?

The gentleman across from the cinnamon bun shop is engrossed in the camera shop. I could walk to his left, between him and the cinnamon bun shop, and not get in his way right? Of course I could. He�s all about cameras. So I pass him, and, whoops, he has to get a cinnamon bun. I�m in his way. Pardon me all to hell buddy.

Yes, it�s small potatoes but bear in mind this is going on every five seconds�or four�or three. It is what walking through a shopping mall is all about. Twenty times a minute you�re in some insane contest with someone oncoming, to claim right-of-way. The world won�t end if you lose the right-of-way, but if you lose every single challenge that comes along you could be there a LONG time. So it gets cutthroat. It gets that way quickly, and it stays that way for the entire time you�re there.

And there are people who feed off of this and feel energized by it, believe it or not.

The first wave of Christmas shopping was the right-of-way of the oblivious. You�re on a collision course with somebody, and historically the right of way goes to whoever is not looking where he is going. This just makes sense, right? You can�t slow down or weave around somebody else if you�re not looking where you�re going. But if you can see a collision is imminent, and the dumb cluck is refitting the lid on his mocha caramel latte, it�s up to you to avoid the collision right? So shopping malls are full of people talking to each other, �noticing� store displays, or � my favorite � studying the tile work in the ceilings or the skylights. Hey, that way you can walk in a straight line. It�s up to everyone else to make room.

Everyone has to do this at some time, because if you don�t you can get to the mall right after work and still be there at ten o�clock, trying to find just one stinking item. I�m a ceiling-scholar. Studying cracks in the sidewalk is equally effective but it gives off the illusion of low self-esteem. People are much more primitive than they think. They pick up these signals like sharks or wolves, after they notice one among them is weak. Encroach on and cannibalize the weakest among us? You�re goddamned right we do it all the time. We�re programmed to. No setting brings us closer to our most primitive nature than a shopping mall.

And then came the second wave. Oh, boy! Here come the baby carriages. No more studying cracks in the sidewalk or ceiling tiles. Step in back of a baby carriage, and slice through that crowd like a hot knife through butter. Who can possibly cut in front of a baby carriage? Not only do you look lower than a snake�s belly, even in the social strata of a shopping mall, as an added bonus you risk getting hurt. As the years have gone by, notice children ensconced in baby carriages have gotten older and older. They look like they should be out delivering newspapers instead of riding in carriages.

Now we call them �strollers�. Strollers aren�t like baby carriages any more. They weigh a ton. You didn�t think that was all about protecting the child, did you?

This year we have the third wave: Cell phones. Believe it or not, we�re still at the stage of novelty that cell phones give people a natural high. Ooh, look at me, I�m talking on a cell phone. It seems silly, with cell phones having been around for awhile by now. Getting prestige and an adrenaline rush from talking on a cell phone seems like doing the same by using a microwave oven.

You should see this one guy who cut me off at Sears last night talking on his cell phone. I thought I was charging ahead, loaded for bear, four or five feet between my paces. I was a man desperate to charge in, buy the thing, and get the hell out of there. But this guy cut me off like I was standing still. Zoom. Worst part was, he had a buddy who was trying to keep up, running half the time to do it. Good luck pal, your alpha male cohort is talking on his cell phone. And not even in English.

It�s a triple threat. You�re a shaker and a mover in the world or you think you are�you are making noise so the other party can�t claim to not know you�re coming�and you�re oblivious. The crowd parts like the Red Sea before Moses, and in you go.

It�s like paper-scissors-rock. The two-ton toddler-stroller has the right of way over the oblivious old man guzzling his caramel-latte; the cell phone guy has the right of way over the baby-stroller.

I hate shopping. You know most of the problem with the crowds, is that at any given moment in time some 80% or 90% of us are a good distance away from where we want to be, because we misunderstood where something was. Could the malls be designed better to keep that from happening? I�m sure there�s lots of room for improvement, but what would be the point? Hardly anyone gets hurt from shopping in a mall, and if someone does, somehow, it�s not worth making a fuss over. Nobody ever wants to admit to it, whether they like shopping or not.

Being offended by someone calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree? Oh, we�ve got people who will bellow over that all day long. Being run over by a toddler-stroller that could disable a bulldozer? It�s like the guy getting beaten up by his wife; it must never happen, because it�s so seldom reported.

And a good chunk of the purchases in shopping malls are impulse purchases. Probably all of them save but a tiny fraction. Who in their right mind would design a shopping mall, so that you could drive up to the right store, and shop like a man? Park, dash in, pick up, cash out, exit, check the stopwatch. No way, Jose, they want you rambling around, brain-dead, lurching zombie-like from one corner of the foundation to the other and back again.

I�d start ranting about the trivial conversations I overhear being muttered into the cell phones, but I�m getting off topic. That�s a subject for another day.