Catalogs keep this shopper sane

Thanksgiving is a harvest festival, the kind of celebration enjoyed by most cultures worldwide. Traditional pre-Christian cultures usually made sacrificial offerings to their deities to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and to induce the deities to protect and defend the followers. Nobody likes a cranky god (or goddess).

For us there is still the gesture of thanks to God for our blessings of ample food and for our families and friends. That really doesn't explain the football part. And it doesn't explain why we gird our loins for the opening salvo of The Shopping Season the minute the Thanksgiving dishes are done.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is the Boston Marathon of mall crawls. People wait in line in the predawn darkness for the doors to open and the race to begin. BARGAINS! I never go shopping on that day. For me the Christmas season begins just a few days before Christmas, and I try to ignore the shopping season.

This year I have really good excuses to avoid all the stores.

No. 1: Crowd avoidance. The flu, in both its traditional and in its shiny, new H1N1 variations, is a really good reason to stay away from the army of shoppers. We had our regular flu shots, but I don't know if we'll get the swine flu shots before the shopping season.

No. 2: Shopping with a cane. Fishing out a credit card or cash involves putting the cane somewhere while I use both hands to complete any transaction. After that, both of my hands are occupied. I can't carry much.

No. 3: My general inability to stick to lists I make and not pick up stuff on an impulse.

Surely three good reasons are enough. I don't have to use my fundamental loathing for seasonal shopping as reason No. 4. If anything is going to turn me into a Scrooge-like person, it's seasonal shopping. I end up hating Christmas carols because I've heard all the store music I need from now until whenever I shuffle off this mortal coil.

I am now the catalog queen of the family. Of course there is a downside to armchair shopping. The number of catalogs I receive is staggering. Not only do I seem to be on every mailing list in the Western hemisphere, but each catalog company feels it needs to send at least one catalog per week, especially at this time of year. I do feel some guilt and responsibility for the profligate use of paper, the burden on the Postal Service and the un-recyclability of glossy catalogs. Oh, well. Shopping for gifts from home gives me a really good excuse for not wrapping each gift and packing it up for shipping. That's another aid to crowd avoidance. I don't have to stand in line with other package senders to fill out those shipping forms, and I avoid the actual laying out of cash for that purpose. Having the shipping taken care of by others is worth those shipping and handling charges that are tacked on to every gift.

Of course nothing ever goes exactly as planned. Last year one of the gifts I ordered in early November for delivery a week before Christmas caused a near-ulcer. I have informants in all the households where my gifts are supposed to arrive. I got word that one expected package had not turned up just days before the Big Day. So, armed with the tracking number, I called the prestigious retailer from whom I had ordered the gift in question. After much "holding" (which of course treated me to endless canned Christmas music), I was told that item was out of stock and therefore not sent. I won't go into the rich vocabulary of profane abuse I'm capable of unleashing, but suffice it to say I won't ever open their catalog again; nor will they ever take my call.

I love ordering from the ones that already know the names and addresses of my giftees, take my order in milliseconds and guarantee delivery on the promised date. Normally I might feel a little apprehension that they know so much about me, but in this case it's really a relief not to have to go through the whole rigamarole.

I consider it to be in the interests of public safety that I don't venture into stores during the shopping season. Given the way I feel about the accursed Little Drummer Boy, I'm sure the world is much safer with me staying at home. No one wants to encounter an unstable old lady muttering about being run over by a reindeer and wielding her cane, a formidable weapon. She's apt to lay waste to a misguided temporary employee who had the misfortune to aim and spray an unwanted fragrance in her direction.

Write to Sheila Stoll in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Catalogs keep this shopper sane 11/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 3:30am]

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