The Ladies Who Shop — at Christmas

Essay

O, CHRISTMAS in the suburbs!

The charming downtowns attached to sleepy little bedroom communities, straight out of a Thomas Kinkade greeting card. They're really a nightmare. The wreaths, the lights, the holiday cheer — these are all blown to hell when you're standing on the wrong side of a sales counter. I work at a tiny toyshop in an affluent town in the Garden State. I try to pretend this is Santa's Workshop. It's not hard. We put up signs that say so.

Picture this: A befuddled grandpa shopping solo for Christmas toys for the grandkids. He's sweet and adorable and worthy of dropping everything to help. I'm SO partial to any elderly men shopping alone — they all remind me of my dad, and I just want to cry and take them to the diner for coffee. But the women, I just want to slap.

A "befuddled" mom shopping for the "perfect" birthday gift five minutes before the party starts is a lazy housefrau who expects me to do all of her thinking for her and deserves nothing more than the cold stare and "Beats me" response that she gets.

Let me ask you: Would you leave your empty, lipstick-ringed Starbucks cup wedged between the Star Wars Legos and the Spy Gear if you were visiting the real Kris Kringle's operation? Would you stuff filthy tissues in the overflowing lucite bins marked "Stocking Stuffers" were this the actual home of Herbie and the other elves? Or allow your toddler to toss Fancy Nancy books on the floor, stomping on the covers and leaving a trail of pink glitter in her wake? Would you wince, pout, sigh and shake your head "No" at the elves as they patiently offer suggestion after suggestion for a gift for your nephew, having only a single clue ("He's a boy") to go on toward his interests? Or insist that Santa honor an expired, competitor’s coupon?

No, you would not. But here, you do.

And that’s why I leave the price sticker attached when I carefully wrap every single one of your toys.

It doesn't get any better than that. Oh, wait — yes, it does!

Dear Loonitard Suburban Mom/Idiot Trophy Wife—When I say, "Wrap it yourself, seahag" with my eyes, I mean in YOUR own home. But thanks for coming (uninvited) behind the counter to explain precisely how much tissue paper should be used when wrapping a gift card.

"Who in their right mind would ever demand that a gift card be wrapped?,” you might sensibly wonder.

THESE women, is the answer. These spoiled rotten ladies-who-lunch somehow believe that nothing, not even the teensyest plastic fake-gemstone ring or one-inch tall Panda bear-shaped Japanese eraser, is too small not to take advantage of our generous, free gift-wrapping service.

"Mind if I just tape this on top of another gift?," I'll toss out hopefully, one eye fixed on the line of sweaty, frustrated customers who are starting to snake into the street.

"Yeahhhhhhh. . .nooooo. You can just go ahead and wrap that in the red Christmas paper and then slide it into a cellophane bag with coordinating colored tissues and use maybe three or four different colors of curling ribbon to tie it shut. Don't forget the name tag. And use GIRL colors."

Big phony smile. You got it, Candy Spelling.

They stare holes in my back as I get both paper cuts and Scotch tape caught in my hair, and these same ladies never fail to (loudly) mention just where they could have gotten the same toys a whole lot cheaper. I never see the point in these comments. We don’t knock money off just because Target has the same Nerf Air Strike Rifles for five dollars less. Why not just shop there? That’s where I'm headed once my shift ends.

The help is so much better there.

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