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Saturday, December 11, 2004

A Biological Fact

The object in the universe with the shortest lifespan has been conclusively determined: it is my paycheck, from the time it's put in my hands to the time I have to humbly ask The Wife if I can borrow five bucks so I can buy coffee at work.

OK, I'm not actually that bad -- but the Christmas season sure is hoovering the money right out of my hands just as soon as I can cash the check. (No direct-deposit for me, no sir! I wany my money physically in my hand. I chalk this bit of irrational paranoia to a former boss of mine who used to tell me horror stories about having to sprint to the bank on payday at one of his former jobs, so that the first people who cashed their paychecks would not see them bounce, unlike the slowpokes who waited until later.)

Last night I very nearly completed my Christmas shopping for The Wife (all that remains is a couple of books and a packet or two of specialty coffee), in a mad three-hour sprint that took me to two local malls, two of those malls' adjoining strip plazas, one stand-alone store, a Burlington Coat Factory (now I remember why I never shop there -- shudder), and our favorite local Chinese takeout. (This last was bribery for being allowed to depart the household with no child accompaniment.)

Next week should see the completion of our shopping for The Daughter and Little Quinn. We're thinking that he should be easy to shop for, since he'll only be four months old the day after Christmas. The Daughter already has some nifty stuff coming her way, and in any case we're fortunate in that we can offer the really big gift ideas to the Grandparents. Hence, the soon-to-be-delivered new bike. Grandparents rule. I wish I'd had all four of mine when I was a kid. (Both of my grandfathers were long dead when I was born.) We're lucky in that our church is offering a three-hour babysitting service next Saturday, so we'll be dumping off The Daughter and then going off to complete her Christmas shopping. Our only problem is that the two places we really want to shop for her -- Vidler's and Clayton's -- are in locales on the opposite ends of the Buffalo region. But we'll pull it off. Oh yes. Just as soon as I take the license plates off The Wife's car. You can't be too careful.

In just the small amount of Christmas shopping I did last night, I noticed a good deal of retail tricks designed to part the consumer with as much money as possible. Mall stores put their registers all the way at the rear of the store, and they refuse to open up all the registers therein anyway (two out of four were running in one store). This keeps customers in line longer, all the better for them to study the items strategically placed right alongside the queueing area. One store I was in had absolutely no advertising material in evidence anywhere pertaining to the availability of gift cards or gift certificates. They sold them, all right -- I bought one -- but you had to stand in line (a nice thing about Christmastime being that a man can stand alone in line at a women's boutique without feeling like a complete tool) and then ask the service person for them.

I really don't object, in principle, to all the gift-giving and gift-buying that goes on at Christmas time. I do think it gets a bit out-of-hand with all of the stores vying for all the dollars, but that's the lay of the land -- in an economy where consumers are constantly being bombarded with the message that they need to keep spending money lest the whole economy crumble like a stale cookie, it strikes me as odd that we then turn around and castigate those very retail companies for rampant "commercialism". I simply enjoy the opportunity to express appreciation for the people around me.

I guess I don't get too wrapped up in the hand-wringing that pops up every Christmastime about our collective secular Christmas versus the sacred Christmas. In all honesty, I don't see why I can't have room for both: the secular one for my friends, my coworkers, and people in general, and the sacred one for myself and for my family. It's a dichotomy I see no reason to indulge, because I want to spend money (and time) on people that I love, and attend to the little guy in that manger.

I am large; I contain multitudes.

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