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Not quite last-minute I suppose.  It’s the day before the day before Christmas.  My first true vacation day of my 12 vacation days of Christmas (well, only 10 really).  I’m a guy.  We don’t get up at the crack of dawn to go shopping on any day.  We’ve got to work up to it.  It takes a while to get the courage up.  Besides, there are no alarms to set this day.

I wake up at a fashionably late 8 am.  After donning my fuzzy slippers, I shuffle out to the kitchen and make a fresh-brewed pot of coffee.  The aroma of the freshly ground beans warms my senses, but not enough to counteract the chill of the early morning house. It’s funny how a chilly morning makes the coffee seem to brew more slowly.  My Bunn brews a full pot in under three minutes, but that seems like an eternity this morning.

Cup of coffee

(Photo credit: Etenil)

Mercifully, I finally get my large, hot, fresh cup of coffee.  After the obligatory sniff of the steaming aroma, I grab my tablet and shuffle back to the bedroom.  With hot coffee on the nightstand and snuggled back under the electric blankets, I turn on my tablet and read a few more chapters of the current eBook I’m reading.

Finally, it’s time to lay the eReader aside, go refill my coffee, come back to the electric blankets and just relax for a bit and mentally plan out the difficult day that lies in front of me.  I soon found thinking about a Christmas shopping trip was far too difficult and stressful, and decided I needed a nap so I could tackle it with fully charged batteries.

By 1:30 pm I discovered my batteries fully charged don’t have enough juice to handle a shopping trip, so I was just going to have to tackle it crippled and do the best I could do. My plan was gift cards all the way around. They usually keep those at the front of the store, near the checkout lanes.  How difficult could that be?  You don’t even have to go into the actual store area.  Just walk in the front, grab a few gift cards, check out and call it a day.

Armed with the most courage I’ve ever had about shopping (which isn’t much), I get my things together and head out to face the world brimming with confidence – well, at least only a little petrified.  I step out the door, keys in hand, and – WHAM! – the cold winter air slaps me in the face like my first high school girlfriend (I still don’t know why she did that).  It stung the nostrils.  My first thought was to head back in. No, I’m on a mission.  I race to the car, trying not to breathe – and off I go.  I’m going Christmas shopping.

I’ve got my third cup of coffee with me.  Christmas music is playing on the radio.  Traffic is light (I live in a two-bit country town, so traffic is always light).  I’m cruisin’ – feelin’ good.  I get to the store and you wouldn’t believe it if I told you – but I’m going to tell you anyway.  There were only 3 parking spaces left in the entire lot and the closest one was a half mile walk to the front door.  Of course, by the time I drive around to the next row to get that one, somebody else already took it so now there’s only two left and I’m walking a half mile plus another 200 feet.

No problem.  It’s only 12° and the wind can’t be blowing more than 30 mph.  Hey, but this is no big deal – I’m Christmas shopping for my wife.  I zip up my coat, cinch my hood up, stuff my hands in my pocket and head for the door at a brisk pace.  Focused.  On a mission.  I shivered so hard a few times that I almost tripped over my own feet, but I made it with only minor symptoms of hypothermia.  Thankfully, the store kept their thermostat set somewhere near 20° so it didn’t shock the system too much.


Risking life & limb, shopping for the one you love (Photo credit: baslow)

True to my plan, I head straight for the gift cards.  They had the gift card racks set up right in the front aisle just as I thought.  What the…?  It appears that somebody else thought of my brilliant idea before I did and he must have had to buy for a bunch of people, because the gift card racks were wiped out.  Oh there were some Facebook gift cards and Xbox gift cards, but either one of those gifts would get me divorced.

Plan B. I didn’t have a plan B.  I was already in this store and I wasn’t walking another half mile to drive to another store and walk another half mile. I thought about just giving her cash, but I knew that was out of the question.  Women like their men to suffer a bit for them.  A couple deep breaths.  I had to go find a “real” gift.  I had no idea how to do that.  Not for a woman.  Not for my wife.

Clothing is out of the question.  I’ve been married enough years to know a man NEVER buys clothing for a woman.  But the clothing section is at the front of the store, so I figured I might as well stroll through it.  I saw weird-looking hats, ugly suitcase-sized purses and handbags, lots of things that shouldn’t be hanging out in public view.  I realized apart from feeling uncomfortable, I was shopping on Mars.  An elderly lady says sweetly, “Can I help you find something?”, but she’s got this quizzical look like she thinks I’m a pervert — or worse.  I wanted to say “I’m shopping for my wife”, but instead I simply replied, “No ma’am, I’m just looking for electronics”, and I made a bee-line for the back of the store.

I’m much more comfortable now.  I see a bunch of really cool gifts.  Even though I know my wife HATES electronics and would kill me if I bought any one of them, I find myself really tempted to get her a digital photo frame, or a new wide-screen computer monitor.  I don’t know where the temptation comes from, because I know she thought the old green CRT monitor was fine before it died, and she used a basic flip-top phone until a few months ago when I incurred her wrath by forcing her to upgrade to a “smartphone” – which she doesn’t understand why they are called “smartphones”, because they are just “stupid.”

I finally come to my senses and leave electronics, take another deep breath and head for housewares.  Kitchen, bed and bath – there has to be a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. 

My gosh, what kind of animals shop in this department? 

Judgement Day Bargains.

(Photo credit: AllOfUsAreLost)

I go up and down the aisles and it looks like a street gang went through the store with baseball bats.  All the shelves were half empty.  The stuff that remained on the shelf was either ripped open or the packages severely damaged.  It looked like Santa dropped all his gifts from the sleigh at about 5,000 feet right into the middle of the parking lot and they ran out and gathered up the pieces and stuck them on their shelves.

My head was throbbing at this point.  Now I’m not looking for a particular item, I’m just looking for an undamaged item – any undamaged item will do.  But before I can even look at the first box I see on a shelf, a shopping cart hits my backside and some lady says, “Excuse me sir, can I get through?”  Well, of course you can.  I step back.  While I’m waiting for her to pass through a gentleman is tapping me on the shoulder saying, “Excuse me please.”  He’s wanting to look at something behind me.  I wanted to say, “She’s first, I’m next, you’ll have to take a number.”

After about 10 minutes of this and I haven’t looked at a single item, my head is about to explode.  I realize I’ve got to get out of there.  I head for the main aisle, but before I got to the end of the aisle I’m presently trapped in, two other elderly ladies come around the corner into my aisle, one lady’s cart collides with mine, then the lady behind me runs into my backside with her cart – AGAIN!. Yep!  Same lady taking her second lap.  I lost it.  Instinctively, I reached for my weapon.  Suddenly I realized I don’t own a weapon.  I’ve never owned a weapon.  In hindsight, I probably looked rather silly standing in the middle of a retail store pointing my finger at an elderly lady.  However, it did clear the aisle pretty quickly and I was able to make my exit.

My strategy was now clear – and simple.  I take the shortest path to the front exit, taking casual glances at the shelving on my way.  If I see anything on a shelf than is not open or damaged, grab it and throw it in the cart, and continue this process until I reach my budget limit or the front door, whichever comes first.

My Christmas shopping is done.  My wife is going to act like she loves her gifts when she opens them on Christmas morning, but then she won’t speak to me for a week following Christmas. I will probably be eating bologna or spam for a while as well, but that’s the sacrifice we men make for those we love the most.

There's pain in my head

There’s pain in my head (Photo credit: Stefan Neuweger)

Here’s the moral of the story ladies:  the true value of a gift isn’t reflected in its price tag or even in its “supposed” relevance.  It’s measured by the suffering, the sacrifice, the turmoil, the horror, the unspeakable torture – i.e. the sacrificial ordeal that your husband endured for three hours on the day before the day before Christmas, so you could know that you are loved on Christmas morning.