Christmas shopping? Yeah, I think I’ll sit this one out.

December 17, 2009

Viking Woman and I no longer exchange gifts. It’s sad, really, but necessary, considering our shortage of discretionary funds, small house and murky future. The last thing we need at this juncture is to add more “stuff,” more “things,” to the equation.

The gypsy lifestyle we’ve led this past decade resulted in items bought with kind thoughts and love often ending up donated to the Sally Ann or sold at a garage sale. It’s a harsh reality and one that can be tough on the old heartstrings.

Instead, we now watch others shop. While that’s a bit difficult in Napier, what with its lack of a mall, it was a pastime we enjoyed during our various stops in North America.

The seed for this type of voyeurism was initially planted several years ago while I battled the Christmas-shopping hordes in Langley’s Willowbrook Shopping Centre. I tend to take a list with me, go into a store, make a purchase from that list and then get the hell out.

My fellow shoppers did not seem so organized, often wandering the aisles, a panicked look illuminating their features, praying something — Please! God! — that would be of any interest at all to this cousin or that aunt would somehow catch their eye.

I fell to thinking what it would be like to sit in a mall during its final hours of operation on Christmas Eve. To remain still and calm while all those around me — a mental clock ticking, terror writ large on their faces, eyes bright and wide with hysteria — scrambled for those final gifts.

And one year we did just that. Sure, a large part of the reason why we were at the mall was to give some breathing space to the relatives we were bunking in with, but it was also to satisfy my urge to witness for myself the madness that is last-minute shopping.

It was beautiful. Scary and horrific and soaked with sweat and desperation, but beautiful nonetheless.

Viking Woman can swan around stores for hours, eying and touching and sampling and trying on clothes and shoes, but men aren’t wired like that. In-out-done is how it’s done on Planet Man, whether it’s shopping or, you know, other things.

Having said that, the lure of shopping in the U.S. always fascinated me. The Land of Milk and Excess, where the streets are paved with electronic appliances. That fantasy was probably fueled by dashing across the border in the 1980s for cheap gas, milk and ice cream, where we gazed upon chocolate bars and other sugary confections not available in Canada. Maybe it was window-shopping the boutiques in Las Vegas, standing alongside Viking Woman as she pressed her nose against the window of Jimmy Choo or Coach.

America! Land of the No-fee Credit Card, Home of the Brave Consumer!

Even I might find something to buy in that wonderland.

Sadly, the reality turned out to be deflating, the truth hidden behind the Oz-like curtain leaving me hollow and unfulfilled.

A stay in California did introduce us to new shopping experiences — Target! Sam’s Club! Macy’s! Nordstrom! 24-hour Wal-Marts! — but where was the magic? We lived within 20 minutes of one of those huge Westfield shopping centres to the east, and a 50-minute ferry ride from San Francisco to the west. We should have been literally tripping over wondrous things, like Ali Baba whispering “Open Sesame,” like Howard Carter falling to his knees in King Tut’s tomb.

But we did not find treasure. We did not find objects of wonder. The brand names may have been different, and there may have been more choices, but otherwise it was pretty much the same mundane items we could have bought at home in Canada.

It’s always disappointing when reality turn out to be constructed of false prophets and smoke.

But it only reinforced my belief that shopping should be a necessity and not a recreational pursuit.

Viking Woman asked me what I want for Christmas. I told her a hug would do quite nicely. I plan to give her the same in return.

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