Despite the fact that this is my fourth December in Los Angeles, this year was my first doing any appreciable Christmas shopping here. I’m usually headed back home to Colorado - and not wanting to check baggage full of presents, I do my last-minute shopping there, where it’s never much of a problem. But this year, I’m sticking around, enjoying the weather and avoiding the hassle of travel. To my horror, however, I realized far too late that last-minute holiday shopping in L.A. was going to be different, to save losing what little faith I had left in my fellow man and to rip what little Christmas spirit I had violently away from me just a few days before the big holiday.
I’m not quite certain what it is about holiday shopping that generates this almost apocalyptic self-absorbed mania. I don’t know if it’s that the apparently rising waters of desperate consumerism brings out the worst people or simply the worst in people. All I know is that if you’re looking for evidence of social decay, or a descent into anarchy and madness, there is no better (or worse) place to be than a shopping mall in December. As we drifted slowly towards the penultimate holiday, I was beginning to feel the swell of universal forgiveness, a compulsion for charity and the bliss of a belief in the goodness of man. But in one trip to the Glendale Galleria, all that was dashed. I found new reasons to hate strangers, a resurgent belief that our collective intelligence is sinking to unthinkable lows, and a conviction that we have leveraged the freedoms and privileges of living in the world’s greatest nation at its finest hour to become perhaps its most bloated, ignorant and disgusting society. Merry freaking Christmas.
Unfortunately, amidst the din of manufactured winter mirth, contrived yuletide cheer and affected holiday bliss, you were likely want to hear the death throes of my Christmas wishes and goodwill towards men; so I thought I’d take a moment to write them down:
Children of the Scorn
A note to parents: the sight of your children waiting in line to see Santa or looking around wide-eyed at the elaborate holiday displays are immeasurably cute and the sort of thing that reminds us all that the holidays are really all about the kids. However, the sight of your children running around unchecked on rage-infused sugar benders screaming at the top of their lungs, throwing unthinkable tantrums and otherwise acting with all the behavioral control of a pack of rabid hyenas is the sort of thing that reminds us all that parenting is the only major responsibility that doesn’t require any training, education or qualification; or in other words that it’s available to careless mouth-breathers like you.
I’m not sure what it is about holiday shopping that makes it seem like dragging your extended family out is a good idea; but it’s not. The only places that three or more generations of any family should get together are a big house, a big church or a big park. What’s more, when did bringing children along at all to holiday shopping become o.k.? Part of my parents perpetrating the Santa Claus myth for as long as they did was not buying gifts in front of me -- especially at those ages when I was prone to being difficult to handle in public.
If the traditional naughty or nice paradigm is still being used to determine whether kids will receive Christmas gifts, then Toys R Us is about to have a very lean year. I’ve seen better behaved broods on Animal Planet - and for what it’s worth, sometimes cleaner.
Lots of Love
Unfortunately, the horror of holiday shopping usually begins long before you even make it into the shopping venue itself, out in the suddenly undersized parking lot. Now, parking lot behavior that was already rife with the inconsiderate, the ignorant and the just plain unaware has now become gridlocked by shoppers who appear baffled by basic traffic laws and lack any appreciation for simply taking turns. For what it’s worth, the good folks that run these retail churches had the foresight to know that their traffic flow was about to turned into traffic not flow and hired additional personnel to help direct the traffic for maximum efficiency. Unfortunately, the folks they hired wouldn’t know maximum efficiency if it walked up to them in a t-shirt that said “Maximum Efficiency” on it. Honestly, I’ve seen more cognitively-capable staffing cleaning up roadside debris. Installing people in the middle of already congested traffic flow who couldn’t optimize their own bowel movements, let alone two way traffic is like staffing additional cash registers with people that don’t know how to add or subtract. Do us a favor and spare us these parking lot wizards and leave us to our own terrible devices.
As for the remaining bad behaviors in parking lots, there are some basic principles to keep in mind:
1. Driving at 3 mph to be able to cash in on an ideal parking spot left by someone leaving (otherwise known as parking stalking) during normal shopping times is annoying, and during the holidays is criminal. If you think that you not having to walk the additional few hundred yards demanded by getting a spot somewhere else in the parking structure outweighs the need for everyone waiting behind you to park at all, here’s hoping someone gives you the gift of a dent in your door while you’re gone.
1(a). Additionally, if you’re truly worried about the marginally increased physical exertion involved in having to walk a few extra hundreds of yards to the actual mall, it’s more than likely that you can actually use the exercise - so why not kill two asses with one stone?
2. Driving around the parking lot like you’re Jason Bourne or James Bond does not make you similarly cool or debonaire (besides your Honda Civic isn’t exactly spy material anyway). The acoustics of these enclosed spaces make the revving of your Mitsubishi Lancer’s engine or the screeching of your 15” tires all the more insufferable and turns what is normally just annoying into reasonable grounds for assault and battery. Trust me, there’s not a jury in the land that would convict me for dragging you out of your neon green Neon and beating your wanna-be Fast and Furious ass.
3. Indictment of parking stalkers notwithstanding, if you’re one of the lucky few who’s actually getting into your car to get out of the shopping carnage, then is not a good time to check your mirrors a dozen or so times, rearrange the stuff in your center console or otherwise sit in your car with your back-up lights without moving for any appreciable amount of time. All of us are waiting on the jerk off who’s decided to wait for you. Don’t worry, we’ll give him a piece of our mind - but do us a favor ... and move your ass!
I’m not quite sure what set of rules governs the right of way in pedestrian situations, but it would appear that the following groups are to be yielded to under all circumstances:
- Families with two or more small children;
- Middle-aged women;
- Teenagers in packs of three or more; or
- Any group not speaking English.
On my trip to the mall, I was forced to yield to each of these groups, on a number of occasions despite carrying any number of bags, being in a visible hurry and/or moving through these crowds alone as an adult man. And by yield I mean that I had to either stop completely, squeeze myself up against a wall or actually go back they way I came to avoid them. On a few occasions, I was unable to make myself small enough to actually keep from having them run into me or my bags. And despite the fact that none of these minor collisions was my fault, I apologized each time, though, in fairness, without much vigor - simply a reflex from not being raised by wolves.
Listen, folks - not a moment goes by in these indignant crowds that I don’t fantasize about simply squaring my shoulders and plowing through you like a bunch of doughy bowling pins - and all it’s going to take is one more ill-behaved child or bad parking lot experience to put me over the edge. And trust me, I’m not the only one. Do yourselves a favor and watch where you’re going.
* * *
I imagine that there is some larger social lesson to be learned here; some commentary on the commercialization of a holiday and/or the commercialization of a society. There is likely some conclusion to be drawn about our rabid consumerism getting the better of our notions of good manners and basic respect for others. There may even be some moral about how we are often at our very worst when preparing to be our very best. But for me, I’ll simply take away two important lessons from my holiday shopping nightmare. First, holiday shopping is best accomplished before Thanksgiving, in front of your computer or, if you wait until the last minute, very early on weekdays, and second, there's nothing like spending a few hours amongst the hordes of savages, malcontents and morons who appear to be ringing in this most festive of seasons by turning a shopping mall into a third world street market to make you appreciate the simple beauty of a quiet Christmas morning.
Merry Christmas, all.