Posted on December 19, 2005
If there’s anything more stressful – not to mention soul-destroying – than Christmas shopping for and with your wife and daughters in the 21st Century then I don’t want to know about it, that being the last remaining thread in the gauzy veil separating me from seppuku, which, tempting as it might otherwise sound, forms no part of our annual holiday tradition, for reasons which, if you followed the link, must by now be obvious. I have written of this before.
I’ve never been a particularly effective shopper, although I will point out in my defense that I’m absolutely wizard at being a buyer. This is an important distinction: For most of human civilization, and in fact in pre-historic times, men have been hunters (buyers) while women have been gatherers (shoppers). (By the way, I’ve absolutely no evidence with which to support any of this, and am fully aware of counter-indicators, but I’m trying to get a roll going here, so back off, man.)
So. As I was saying: Men are genetically pre-disposed through millennia of natural selection to head to the fertile hunting fields of the local hardware store, carefully stalk the portable, rechargeable power drill in aisle 19, kill it (using either a spear, or, in a growingly popular alternative, credit card debt to the tune of $39.99) and throw it over their shoulders for the ride back home in the auto-voiture, all as a prelude to proudly showing it to their significant others and ostensible offspring as a kind of affirmation of their skills. In return, these significant others, if they are females demonstrating their usual degree of gratitude for the hunter’s skill, will sigh and roll their eyes in unison, successfully emulating an Olympic sighing and eye-rolling team, which makes me wonder at times where they fit the practice time in because they are gatherers and that is a damn time-consuming thing to be, especially during the Christmas season. Because I just spent the better part of yesterday doing it, so I know.
This is the important point: If a man goes to buy something, the odds are that he knows exactly what it is he’s going to get. Ladies, on the other hand (at least mine) go shopping. Shopping is not a precisely targeted mission; it does not target a specific, identified need. Instead, it is a voyage of discovery, of learning what it is that we need, not knowing what we might find. This is apparently a feature.
To shop you must go to the “mall,” another word for gathering fields. There you will be forced to deal with Many Other People, all of them plotting to deny you a parking place, personal space, air to breathe. Having bravely won through the mall’s outer defenses with my clan more or less intact, the Hobbit and the Kat then broke a cardinal tactical rule by separating our forces, breaking off for parts unknown and unknowable, leaving me to escort the Biscuit to the only place she really wanted to go, the place where they sell “gauges.” On the way to the gauges kiosk, we passed by Tiffany’s, wherein the week before I had bought her a little something nice I thought for a present. As we passed, she turned to me and said, “I can’t stand that place. Nothing in there is pretty and it’s so over-priced.”
Which is just the way my luck’s been rolling, lately.
Now gauges are not as you might suppose, gentle reader, the kind of familiar-to-us-all, glass-faced devices commonly used to measure the static or dynamic pressures of steam, lube oil or water, and measured in pounds per square inch compensated for outside air pressure (unless otherwise noted), or even those designed to tell you of your airspeed and altitude, oh no, not if it were ever so. No – they are rather something very like lifesaver candies or thick walled washers, great metallic rings with holes in the center that apparently are considered suitable for decorating the adolescent ear these days. Unobjectionable enough, I thought, if somewhat clunky and utilitarian, but then I detected what appeared to a fatal flaw in one pair that she had tentatively selected: The ring had no seam nor hinge, no way to open it up and slip in through the piercing of her ear, nor post and clasp with which to otherwise attach it to the ear lobe – it was defective, useless. I momentarily felt rather witty and clever to have noticed it.
Of these self-satisfactions I was instantly disabused, as my 14-year old daughter informed me with a well-practiced sigh and eye-roll combo (level of difficulty 3.1 with points off for individual effort) that the gauge was designed not to go through the ear piercing, dangling down below, but rather to sit wholly within it. Super-sizing it, like.
This took me a moment to process, but when the meaning of her words finally sank in I thankfully resisted the temptation of uttering the first words that came to mind (“You’ve got to be shirting me!”) instead offering with a certain admitted distraction of ordered thought that such devices were commonly worn by slaves in the days of the Roman Empire to distinguish them from free citizens.
Senseless, I know, I was stalling. What would you have said?
Just then the Hobbit re-appeared with the Kat in tow, and grasping the proffered life ring (in hand, not through the nose) I bravely switched off with her. Leaving both the Biscuit and the issues of self-mutilation behind me, I took the Kat courageously in hand, nobly turned tail and boldly fled. To Abercrombie, which as it turns out is an Abercrombie and Fitch for youngsters, a kind of conditioning school, a place you go to ensure that your children, once they are fully-grown into young adulthood, internalize a perpetual sense of physical disadvantage when compared to the genetically enhanced store models or else the sense that they are eternally out of style because of an ever-changing “look.” Or maybe both.
You: Why on earth would you go there, Lex?
Me: Because it’s Christmas, gentle reader. And that’s where she wanted to go.
We were shopping – and that’s a precise usage of the word – for summat to wear for Christmas day, and the Kat quickly discovered an eminently suitable long-sleeve polo button-down in a shade of green that I personally could never carry off but would willingly concede to her. She then took a broad, brown belt off a nearby rack and headed for the changing room at age 11, appearing for the entire world as though she owned the place. Wait, honey, I quickly said – don’t you want to find a skirt to go with that? At which point, with a well-timed sigh/eye roll and head shake combo (degree of difficulty 4.6, points on for the head shake) she raised the belt in her left hand and shook it at me in something very near to defiance. Because you see, it wasn’t a belt at all gentle reader, but a skirt masquerading as a belt. It was in fact the kind of skirt that could make a 70’s-style miniskirt look like a housecoat. For my 11-year old daughter. For Christmas dinner.
Have you ever seen one of those moments in a scary movie where the actor sees The Horror up close? The ones wherein the camera revolves quickly around the poor guy in one direction while he rotates in the other direction as the depth of focus suddenly changes, strangely distorting the perspective of everything in the background?
It was like that.
I gathered all my strength and courage to me, looked her in the eye and said firmly, “Gee honey, for Christmas dinner? I’m not so sure…” For which in return I got The Look (an order of magnitude more effective than the sigh and eye-roll combo, no matter how well executed – I don’t know where they learn it) as well as the implicit body language effectively communicating that the shopping expedition with the Dad, only moments before so promising, was now so over.
Having successfully alienated two-thirds of the feminine cohort in my family, we rejoined to a mass package and I grimly set about finishing the job. This was quickly done: “I think that’d look nice on you…” as quickly followed by The Look times three, falling upon your humble scribe like a ton of bricks, with herself looking as though she’d bitten maybe into a lemon, the fruit in question being the one she signed on to some 24 years, six months and six days ago, not that she was counting. I don’t think.
So as I said, I’m a buyer, not a shopper. I bought dinner at the nicest place nearby, which thawed the frost a little bit and we went back home again, each of us silently promising never to bring Dad shopping again.
It’s good to be united on something.