If it were up to the little boy, he would prefer to go to school in a gunnysack because he had a particular horror of stores.
It wasn’t just that shopping expeditions kept him from playing backyard football with his pals. It was the idea of traipsing behind a tireless mother-on-a-mission who insisted he try on so many pairs of pants that he began to think he might be an adopted centipede.
The little boy thought the whole shopping experience was comparable to being boiled in oil or sitting in the dental chair with the drill rattling away like a jackhammer.
Because that far-off land was Australia, the little boy’s fervid imagination also conjured up local terrors — such as falling in a den of angry wombats, being mistaken for a mango by a giant fruit bat or finding a death adder nestled in one’s trousers. This last was admittedly unlikely in a fitting room, but the boy feared that the more pants a kid tried on, the more chance it could happen.
In the fullness of time, the little boy grew up to be a man, somehow having survived the snakes and marsupials. However, he did not survive the institution of marriage, even with a face like his.
And every now and then in a new land of opportunity across the seas, he would find himself walking like a condemned man behind his wife as she patrolled the mall. All the ancient feelings of humiliation and frustration would afflict the poor fellow before they even passed through the food court.
At this point, the brighter type of reader will have discerned that the identity of this conscripted shopper is none other than me, your column host. I write it in an attempt to win the sympathy of fellow shopping-averse Americans with a view perhaps to forming a support group. My hunch is that my tale of shopping woe is common to many of us.
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday having been celebrated like old-fashioned feast days when the Almighty was worshipped more than random stuff on sale, the non-shoppers of America can’t help feeling alienated. We have no place to camp outside to buy unneeded products. We have no way to spoil our Thanksgiving night except falling off the couch by accident. Why, we don’t even enjoy the fun of making life miserable for the poor store staff that must spend a holiday in the company of crazed shoppers.
To be fair, people who will do anything to buy a high-end HDTV on sale may not be clinically insane, despite the evidence of our eyes. They may just have a shopping gene, which people like me obviously lack.
Do you know how it makes me and fellow sufferers feel when shopping is ferociously being pursued on every side and at every unlikely time? Culturally isolated. Shunned. Whispered about. Baffled. Savaged by moose in the absence of wombats.
We understand that shopping is vital to the economy, and we feel like ingrates for not being able to play our part for America. We recognize that bricks-and-mortar stores and Internet shopping sites do good in the greater sense, because they wrap the gift of prosperity in colored paper. We wish we could help, but we can’t. It’s just not our nature (or nurture).
This does not mean we won’t swallow hard and buy presents for our loved ones, all the while trying to ignore the intense itching feeling that shopping induces in our wallets. Yes, we will bravely see to it that the shoppers in the family do not go without gifts bought frantically on Christmas Eve, despite our suffering an outbreak of hives.
Still, our bafflement will not easily go away. We were under the impression that the economy stinks, but all the election talk about fiscal misery has turned out to be political hoo-ha. Obviously, the nation’s fiscal health is wonderful. Shoppers waving large-denomination bills at service counters do not lie. They will shop until the Dow Jones average does not drop.
But if you should go to a mall and see a shopping-weary man slumped on a bench and wearing a gunnysack for a shirt, take pity on him and wish him a Merry Christmas and a Shopping-Free New Year. Then go find his wife and tell her to come and collect him because he is an embarrassment to commerce.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.