Saturday, December 06, 2003

Trampled by eight tiny reindeer

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Every year around the Yuletide season, I have the same nightmare:

I’m standing in my living room, wearing my pajamas. In last year’s nightmare, I was wearing a pair of blue feety pajamas, which I swear I don’t own, but that’s another story.

Anyway, in my nightmare, I feel a strong sense of unease. Maybe it’s the four-story-tall Christmas tree. Maybe it’s the thick carpet of pine needles rustling under my feet. Or perhaps it’s the reindeer helping himself to a cup of tea in front of the television — drinking out of my mug, no less. But anyway, something tips me off in the nightmare that Christmas somehow sneaked up on me, and I forgot to buy presents for anybody.

Then my wife appears in a horse-drawn sleigh and wishes me a merry Christmas.

“Uh,” I say.

“I hope you like your presents!” she says.

And suddenly there are all these amazing gifts everywhere. Anything I’ve ever wanted. Books. Movies. Automobiles. All those useless contraptions from Sharper Image. Hickory Farms sausages. Money in cotton sacks labeled with dollar signs. There are kittens everywhere decorated with red and green bows.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, honey,” I say, “but I thought I Christmas was next week.

She looks at me with big, sad eyes and begins to cry. Several kittens spontaneously drop dead.

At this point in the nightmare, my wife opens the one present I gave her. It’s a poorly wrapped jug of windshield wiper fluid. It’s half-full. It appears I just took it out of my car’s trunk and wrapped it with aluminum foil.

My wife starts to weep loudly, dropping the jug of wiper fluid. She storms away.

“I’m sorry!” I say. “I thought I had more time!

She returns with her bags already packed. Clearly she’s been anticipating my ineptitude for weeks. I’m stuck in the middle of all my good presents, my feety pajamas snagged on that piano I’ve always wanted.

This year’s nightmare had a new twist: the reindeer hurled the mug of tea away, rolled up his sleeves (I forgot to mention — the reindeer is wearing my favorite striped shirt) and proceeded to trample me to death under his hooves.

Invariably, I awaken from this nightmare sweaty, startled — and in the mood for some Christmas shopping!

How much have I done so far?

Don’t ask.

I’m never on the ball when it comes to gift-giving, hence the annual nightmare. I start late in December, I spend too much, I worry for weeks that my choices are lousy, and the boxes end up looking like I wrapped them using my feet. This year doesn’t look like it’ll be any different.

I won’t forget people outright or let the whole holiday slip my mind — I’m not that crazy, man — but I always feel like I’m not doing something correctly. Or like I’m halfway to ruining Christmas for people.

I wouldn’t be bursting with so much anxiety if I just went to the stupid mall already. But I’m trying to avoid the mall this year.

More accurately, I’m trying to avoid the shoppers at the mall this year. The stores themselves are always nice. They’re probably decorated with the trees and the bows and the lights. There’s no doubt some pleasantly corny Christmas music playing. Santa Claus will look well fed, as usual, and his elves will appear to be elven, more or less.

But I’m creeped out by the crowds of shoppers who bully their way around the mall, smacking me with their bags, trying to steal my parking space, cutting in front of me in line.

Take the case of the lady bulldozed under a mob of shoppers at a Florida Wal-Mart. The day after Thanksgiving (her first mistake), Patricia VanLester waited in line for the store to open at 6 a.m. so she could buy a $29 DVD player. When the store opened, according to the Associated Press, “the 41-year-old was knocked to the ground by the frenzy of shoppers behind her.”

She was found later, “unconscious on top of a DVD player, surrounded by shoppers seemingly oblivious to her.” She didn’t take the DVD player along in the ambulance (her second mistake), but a Wal-Mart spokesman said the store would “hold one for her.”

I’ve never been trampled, but it’s been close a few times.

A few years back, I became part of a human glacier slowly inching its way to the cash registers at a Target store. I, along with the rest of the nation, was buying a George Foreman grill for somebody. Three hours later, I paid for it, got to my car, and became part of an automobile glacier creeping out of Taunton with the patience of eons.

And last year, I was caught in a riptide of Christmas shoppers and carried against my will into the Bath and Body Works at Providence Place for 20 minutes, even though I had nothing to buy in there. I saw a drowning man scream for help from several young girls carrying gift baskets — either he was graying, or his hair gone stark white with fear. I only escaped myself when the prevailing winds swept a current of fragrant elderly ladies back out the door.

Come to think of it, perhaps this last one is why the reindeer was trampling me in my nightmare.

I’ll manage to survive this holiday season somehow. It may take a trek to the mall, but with the help of Internet retailers and that greatest of Christmas miracles, overnight shipping, it’ll be January before I know it.

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