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Last Minute Shopping

One of the abiding delusions of the male mind is the belief it is actually possible to put off critical Christmas shopping until late on the 23rd of December. I am the apostle of this delusion. I take comfort in this false belief every year. No amount of actual experience ever shakes my conviction that it is not only possible to shop like this but economically prudent too. And every year this faith is tested and found wanting. Whatever I may save in last minute markdowns I pay for in this evening’s glowing and gut-wrenching angst.

So there I was waiting at the “Information” counter in the local Barnes & Noble in search of, well, “information.” I simply wanted to know if this gigantic repository of games, gags, cards, calendars, coffee, and, oh yes, books had a certain title and where it might be located. I was one of a small cloud of befuddled customers hovering about the source of “Information” and the service in the store at this hour of the evening on this last day was not exactly “crisp.”

Bluntly stated, the “information” staff of 2.5 employees had had it. Burnt out, tired, tried to the breaking point, they were still going through the corporate mandated methods of “helping” customers locate what they were looking for. At Barnes and Noble these days that means, as it means at so many other stores, a quick look-up and then a guided tour to the book the customer has requested, a hang-out until the clerk is sure they’ve found it, and then an inquiry of that person whether or not they need anything else. People have gotten married on flimsier relationships.

This mandated hand holding means that those needing a simple data-base query run and simply to be told “That’s under the author’s name in Philosophy over there,” tend to build up at the desk in hordes. And in these hordes on this night nobody’s happy. Add to this stituation people actually calling on the phone with “information” requests and you can see the slow steam beginning to rise off the assembled.

Your real need to know means nothing to the “information” clerks of Barnes and Noble. They must, MUST, comply with corporate protocol lest some corporate quality control spy find they are doing things efficiently according to the situation and fire them. They know they could make things run smoother, but they also know they can’t. I understand this and, most of the time, I try to hobble my impatience and irritability out of empathy for their plight. Working retail on this day is not a stroll through a heaven of angels wings, babies bottoms, and hot chocolate with teeny tiny marshmallows on top.

However, this was the witching hour of Christmas shopping for me and I was getting ticked off as my, MY!, evening ticked away. The store was crowded and shabby by this point. The lines of my fellow sufferers (90% fellow male procrastinators) were long and growing longer. You could feel their nerve tissues fray and almost see the sparks glinting where the nerves were touching each other and sizzling.

Just when I thought it would be my turn at last to get my measly little question answered and get my own personal guided tour to the book I needed the phone rang at the “Information” desk and the woman, who should have been MY GUIDE THIS INSTANT!, took the call. She listened and said, “I’ll see.” Then she turned and disappeared into the bowels of the store.

Finally peeved I couldn’t help saying out loud in a scathing tone as she departed, “Jesus CHRIST!

Without missing a beat the man waiting next to me turned and said, “Well, that’s Who we’re here for, isn’t it?”

In the serious practice of Zen meditation, the jikijitsu walks behind the meditators in the hall with a keisaku, a flat stick. If you are having a problem with the depth of your meditation, your focus, you bow slightly in your Zazen posture as the jikijitsu walks by and he gives you a quick and solid rap on the shoulders with the stick. This snaps you into it.

In this case, this man’s observation snapped me out of it like a sharp whack on the shoulders from a keisaku. Snapped me out of my bitter mood and back into the reality of the Christmas season instead of the illusion of the bookstore.

“Thanks. Thank you,” I said. “You’re absolutely right. He is the reason we’re here. I needed that.”

We both laughed. I shook his hand and left the store and my remaining little needs behind. I’d just gotten what I needed.

Outside in the parking lot you could see the getting and spending still going on in the dark. Beyond the parking lot were the roads and the woods and the streams and the mountains all under a white shawl of snow. Driving back through the whiteness I realized I didn’t need to buy any more gifts for anybody. We all already have more gifts than we need or know how to use.

What we all need for Christmas is often the last thing we want — a sharp whack from a keisaku wielding jikijitsu focusing us to simply accept, at the very last minute, His gift.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • H December 23, 2017, 4:37 AM

    For unto us a child is born…….

  • ghostsniper December 23, 2017, 4:44 AM

    Ahhh….there it is.
    Now I can relax and slide right into the Christmas season.
    Where my “spiked” egg nog is?

  • Ed December 24, 2017, 1:47 AM

    Been there, done that, from the last minute shopping on Christmas Eve to the insufferable customer service policy at Barnes and Noble information desks.

    Thanks, Gerard, for another great (re)post.

  • Marica December 23, 2018, 4:24 AM

    Thanks. I’m sitting at the breakfast table in my mother’s house— that would be my cold, dark, virtual zero connectivity mother’s house that doesn’t even have a tree (!) grumbling about my mother’s house lack of a decent percolator. (Drip coffee? Ugh.) I needed a good wack upside the head (as we say in The South). Soon the grandson will come trotting down the steps!

  • jwm December 23, 2018, 6:28 AM

    I was in line at the local Mexican emporium gigante mercado waiting to order three dozen tamales for Christmas. There were two people ahead of me in line when I started. Soon there were two people behind me, then three, then a line. Immediately behind me was a white gal and a black one. They were chatting the way strangers chat in a long line. One mentioned Costco tamales. I turned, and said, “The Costco tamales are imported from China.” We all got a laugh. But the line wasn’t moving. The woman at the counter was taking forever. She must have been ordering food for a banquet. When she was done, the next woman in line had a similar order.
    I was getting impatient. Then I remembered this post.
    And yeah. It’s all about Christmas, and all about Jesus. Both those women ahead of me were buying tamales for their families and friends. Every corn husk wrapped a small gift for a loved one, a friend. My impatience evaporated, my mood lifted. This was a gift in and of itself. When it was my turn the gal at the deli counter was smiling. I wished her a Merry Christmas.


  • Phil in Englewood December 23, 2018, 6:31 AM

    I have not so much a delusion as a conviction that it is possible to put off shopping until the 23d of December. Also, I rely on Amazon’s time-traveling Prime Yesterday Delivery to get my packages to their destinations on time. Remember, the best work is done at the last minute! 🙂

    Merry Christmas, Gerard. Thanks for your posts all year. Something wonderful, indeed.

  • Roy Lofquist December 23, 2018, 7:09 AM
    • olgav December 23, 2021, 7:29 AM

      Reminds me of the communist propaganda “You will own nothing and be happy” Maybe they are closet Christians afterall

  • ghostsniper December 23, 2018, 9:05 AM

    “Beyond the parking lot were the roads and the woods and the streams and the mountains all under a white shawl of snow.”

    That’s my favorite sentence in the whole thing. It resonates.
    I just came back from Kroger, and purchasing our Christmas Day consumptions.
    Only took 2 hours. But thats about 1.5 hours too much. Too much society. I know my limits. At 1.5 I’m looking for the exit sign.

    Then as the city disappears behind me and the 2 lane country roads get smaller my blood pressure lowers in stair step fashion. About 15 mins later I can exhale and relax and enjoy the scenery, and soon, glide into my euphoria called home. I won’t leave again until next year. Really.

  • ghostsniper December 23, 2018, 9:05 AM

    “Beyond the parking lot were the roads and the woods and the streams and the mountains all under a white shawl of snow.”

    That’s my favorite sentence in the whole thing. It resonates.
    I just came back from Kroger, and purchasing our Christmas Day consumptions.
    Only took 2 hours. But thats about 1.5 hours too much. Too much society. I know my limits. At 1.5 I’m looking for the exit sign.

    Then as the city disappears behind me and the 2 lane country roads get smaller my blood pressure lowers in stair step fashion. About 15 mins later I can exhale and relax and enjoy the scenery, and soon, glide into my euphoria called home. I won’t leave again until next year. Really.

  • JiminAlaska December 23, 2018, 10:02 AM

    Yep, that’s what we’re here for.
    Merry Christmas!

  • Snakepit Kansas December 23, 2018, 2:36 PM

    I laughed at the charts, and have seen them before. These charts describe me in my high school days in both shopping and study. For some unknown reason, I flipped a switch in college and studied well ahead of time and my college GPA was better than in high school. Shopping….I hate it. I don’t shop. I figure out what I am going to get, then go out an get it. Done.

  • Richard Watson December 24, 2018, 9:39 AM

    December 23 is one day too early.
    I always shopped on the 24th. Stores are devoid of other customers. Clerks are standing around waiting for someone to assist.
    Bonus points if you pay in cash.
    In and out of Marshall Fields main store in Chicago in one hour.

  • captflee December 23, 2019, 10:21 AM

    Gerard; Thanks for this, and for the light you bring into the world at this dark time.

    Mr. Watson knows of what he speaks.

    Prior to the intertubes I was an inveterate Dec 24th shopper. It always worked for me. The only time it came close to biting me on the posterior was 1989, when my town, where it rarely does more than dust the lawns, got a genuine White Christmas, like 0 degrees Fahrenheit and 19 inches on the ground, both all time records. It snowed ten inches the night of the 23rd, and the nearest snowplows were up in the Piedmont, 150+ miles away. An inch, sticking to the streets, is generally sufficient to induce total transportation paralysis here, mind you, so things were not looking at all good when I managed to slide and scrape my old white 144 WOWO (the World’s Fastest Refrigerator) into the unplowed mall parking lot, not seeing much in the way of other humans. Maybe a quarter of the stores were open, providentially including the one possessing my bride’s heart’s desire, so it all worked out- barely.

    Generally the Christmas Eve shopping experience was entirely manageable, occasionally even quite pleasant. Once at Macy’s Herald Square about 2 PM on Xmas Eve I had four or five (I’m assuming working on commission) employees racing about the store for me, snatching up all the items on my list whilst I cooled my heels as the minutes to closing dwindled away, which was kinda cool, but my most favoritest Christmas Eve shopping was at the Fraser’s department store in Edinburgh; say what you will, them Scots ‘ave got Christmas doon cold…

    Well, that pumpkin cheesecake ain’t a gonna cook itself, so I’d best be at it. To all here, please accept my warmest, most sincere wishes to you and yours for a wonderful Christmas and/or Chanukah!


  • ghostsniper December 23, 2020, 4:17 AM

    This is my favorite one of all. And I’m non-religious. I think it is very well put together, it flows nicely, is timely of course, and for me personally just works. Just about everyone can relate to similar circumstances. And it serves as a good culmination for what has been otherwise a fairly rotten year. A leveling if you will, on an upstroke. 5 stars!

  • Anonymous December 23, 2020, 5:08 AM

    You must not have children, Vanderleun. If you don’t order Turboman 6000 early enough you’re shit out of luck, not too mention you’ve now got to handle one pissed off six year year old kid.

  • lpdbw December 23, 2020, 5:34 AM

    I’ve been here at this website long enough to recognize most of your recycled work.

    I’ve been at a lot of websites. Most of them wouldn’t dare to repost old stuff because it doesn’t stand the test of time.

    Yours does.

  • Bear Claw Chris Lapp December 23, 2020, 5:34 AM

    Lost immediate family members 1 before Thanksgiving 1 the day after Christmas years back. Use to take my little kids out Christmas eve to prove a point to my wife to shop for her on Christmas eve. The one thing I dislike for many years though is the decrease in recognizing the Reason for the season lest I forget. I have had those forgetful moments as well at times. Gerard may you and your family and all the readers and commenters here have a blessed Christmas and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

  • Snakepit Kansas December 23, 2020, 5:51 AM

    I’ve really been enjoying the re-postings. lpdbw said it best in that your writing stands the test of time.

    Merry Christmas to all the readers at AD! Even 10, wherever he went.

  • jefferson101 December 23, 2020, 8:07 AM

    I’ve got to go finish my Christmas shopping at about three this afternoon. One stop at the Bank and I’m done.
    My wife got an actual present, which I already have in hand. The kids, the SIL and the Grandsons? I’ve never had anyone want to exchange it because it was the wrong color or didn’t fit their billfold, so it must work.
    Around here, everyone remembers the Reason for the season, and after remembering that, they remember to go loot at Grandpa’s house.

  • Dirk December 23, 2020, 9:50 AM

    Hmmmm, I don’t start my shop until, Dec 26th. Money seems to go twice as far!. This year is new cross country skis, boots and poles, for both of us, ” Good boots” are the key!.

    God Bless, and Merry Christmas and a Very interesting New Year to all.

  • double XX December 23, 2020, 1:11 PM

    bought the bride a new watch charged because we had very little money i wrapped it an hid it two weeks before CHRISTMAS bill came on 23rd no CHRISTMAS surprise that year started shopping on the 24th after that 55 years ago. some things never change. thank you Gerard and MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND HAPPY NEW YEAR. Remember the reason for the season

  • ghostsniper December 23, 2021, 4:54 AM

    The wait is over.

  • Mike Austin December 23, 2021, 6:06 AM

    I’m lucky that Oklahoma liquor stores are open until midnight on Christmas Eve. Good for that last minute shopping.

    • ghostsniper December 23, 2021, 6:35 AM

      A wise person once said, “He who waits til the last minute runs the risk of walking home empty handed.”

      My wife is baking stuff today to give to the neighbors and she asked me how much milk I have in the freezer. I told her we have 9 half gallon jugs and I asked her how many should I bring in to thaw. The freezer is out in my workshop and I buy 4 gals of milk about every 2 months. It’s divided into 1/2 gal glass jugs so that it will freeze and thaw faster than 1 gal jugs, and it’s easier to pour.

  • Sirk December 23, 2021, 7:02 AM

    Ghost, samo samo here, my wife’s been baking making fudge, cookies, pies and cakes for a solid week. Christmas music 18 hours a day. Both our kids stopped by and the grand kids, was exhausted by 1300.

    I’ll get around to wrapping gifts perhaps today, if not certainly by tomorrow afternoon. Fancy paper ribbons mean nothing to me, it’s the “Christmas Scam” but my wife loves it, so I comply out of tradition.

    She has a closet in one of the abandoned bedrooms chalked full to the roof of wrapping paper, ribbons.

    This stuff makes my wife happy, so I’m happy to see her happy.

    Nate King Cole’s on the stereo, his Christmas stuffs wonderful.


  • KCK December 23, 2021, 7:06 AM


    All the comments are funny, and my Christmas love to the host and all of his host who read here.

    I found this one and I did get the eye dust problem. God Bless. https://youtu.be/c4-oyBnknHk

    • Terry December 23, 2021, 8:39 AM

      Thank you Casey,

      I needed that.

      Merry Christmas to all.

    • Mike Seyle December 23, 2021, 8:42 AM

      Welp, Casey; that got me. Glad my wife is in St. Louis with the grandkids today. Otherwise, she would know without a doubt that I’m a sentimental old guy. And sometimes, I try to keep up the stalwart facade.

  • Dirk December 23, 2021, 8:06 AM

    Casey, I’m crying.

    I don’t think I’d want to go on, without my sole mate of forty years. What amazes me is just how sentimental I’ve become over the years! Life is good!

    Merry Christmas.


    • ghostsniper December 23, 2021, 1:54 PM

      We have a 38 year agreement, if one of us leaves the other has to stay and take care of the animals.

      • Terry December 23, 2021, 3:02 PM

        Yep. And 37 years with us.

  • ghostsniper December 24, 2021, 4:53 AM

    Research Finds Faults in Santa Claus Workplace Safety
    Paper finds Santa at risk: sleigh safety, cardiovascular risk, mental health

    During the holiday season, we imagine the joy that Santa Claus will bring to our families. Some households suggest an attempt to step outside self-centered viewpoints to consider the holiday from a Santa-centric paradigm of enjoyment by offering a cup of brandy, cookies and milk, or even carrots for his reindeer. However, as a society we systematically fail to take into account issues of workplace safety that affect or have the potential to affect Santa Claus and his ungulate co-workers every Christmas Eve. A commentary by University of Alberta medical researcher Sebastian Straube, published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, hopes to shed light on these chronic and acute safety concerns while examining the research landscape of the field of Santa Safety Studies.

    First and most obviously, the paper explores sleigh safety. “Though there is uncertainty about whether Santa or the reindeer ought to be considered as the operator(s) proper of the sleigh,” the paper writes, “the consumption of alcohol during work would typically be discouraged, even if Santa were a sleigh passenger only.”

    By encouraging what we see as Santa’s enjoyment of the Christmas journey and/or imagining that our alcoholic offerings somehow fortify Santa for said journey, are we in fact undermining his safety? The potential for alcohol-related sleigh accidents is especially troubling in light of the fact that, as the article points out, Santa routinely travels without copilot or radio operator, in a sleigh that is not “manufactured to the engineering standards of the twenty-first century.” Without seatbelts, airbags or radar-based collision systems and with the real concern “whether Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s highly vascularized olfactory organ functions adequately as a beacon light for other aircraft,” should we as a society enable the ancient elf’s consumption of intoxicating beverages?

    This is without taking into account St. Nick’s obvious cardiovascular risk factors, namely obesity and, at times, smoking. The article points out that Santa must be considered a “shift worker who works a significant amount of seasonal overtime,” and in this population, specifically, cardiovascular risk factors (along with acute stress and over-consumption of unhealthy snacks including milk and cookies) have been shown to greatly increase the chance of adverse cardiovascular events including stroke and coronary heart disease.

    Additionally, Santa Claus does not, apparently, alter his work uniform to match the widely-varying temperature demands of the altitudes and geographic locations in which he works. A table of U.S. Standard Atmosphere Heights & Temperatures shows that a sea-level temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit equates to approximately -12.3 degrees Fahrenheit at 20,000 feet. If we presume St. Nick’s iconic red suit and hat are adequate to protect against frostbite and hypothermia at altitude and with the significant wind chill of traveling at what the Fermi Lab calculates as nearly light speed, then the same suit must contribute to the chance of heat stress at lower altitudes and speeds. In fact, “Little is known about the efficacy of his fur-lined red suit in thermal regulation, and carrying his sack of presents would reasonably increase his physical workload, exacerbating heat stress further,” the paper writes.

    Stress and physical demands undoubtedly place great demands on Santa’s mental health. The paper points out that his near omniscience (“He knows when you are sleeping”…etc.) coupled with repeatedly checking extensive written records (“He’s making a list; he’s checking it twice”), seems to hint at the possibility of an obsessive disorder, writing that, “Recent evidence does link work stress with many common mental disorders.”

    The paper concludes with the following recommendation: “Given the above-mentioned concerns from an occupational health perspective, we feel that it is time to adopt an evidence-based approach to develop, firstly, a comprehensive workplace occupational health program for Santa, and, secondly, a standardized and reproducible protocol for assessment of Santa’s fitness for work.”

    I for one will be doing my part this Christmas to improve the workplace safety of this stressed, aging and at-risk elf who has been so insensitively characterized as unwaveringly “jolly.” Instead of setting out brandy, milk and cookies, you can please mail them directly to me.

    • Snakepit Kansas December 23, 2022, 6:10 AM

      Brandy and cookies? I’d give that a whirl.

  • ghostsniper December 23, 2022, 4:43 AM

    Has it been 5 years already since I first commented on this article?
    Jeez, I was but a yungbuk back then, and now I ain’t.

    I’m doing my best santy claws imitation this year. Stopped trimming my facial hair this past june and now that stuff is halfway down my chest, and white. And a pain in the ass. You know how your (long) head hair is when you first get up in the morning? Right. Now my face looks the same way. Recently I emerged from the bedroom in the morning and Sparkle was sitting on the stair landing and she looked up at me, horror crossed her mug, then she peeled rubber down the stairs. “Who is this monster???” I went down the stairs and into the living room and she was way over there peering cautiously around the couch at me. I talked to her and she warmed up and came to me. I picked her up and cuddled her. Now, all is well in Sparkle’s world. Merry Christmas to all!

    • Mike Austin December 23, 2022, 11:26 AM

      Ghost: Oh stop complaining! I have not cut my hair in five years. A 69-year-old retired guy who only rides bicycles has earned some street cred. So have you. Cuddle well!

  • Sancho December 23, 2022, 8:39 AM

    This song has been running through my head today. Now it can run through yours 🙂


    Merry Christmas

  • Stargazer December 23, 2022, 10:57 AM

    Thank you for all you do. Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.