Sunday, December 05, 2004

Christmas shopping excursion

I should have known better; I should have realized how much I loathe Christmas shopping. Instead, I decided to venture out on Saturday morning, of all days.

Since I am working for a still unnamed catalog retailer, one of my few perks of employment is a hefty employee discount on their merchandise. While much of what they sell falls outside my qualifying parameters for merchandise (American-made or made by workers that are paid a living wage), there are a few things that they carry that I could purchase.

Badly in need of some Christmas cards to send out to friends and family, as well as a gazetteer and a gift certificate, I bravely made my way to my seasonal employer’s retail empire. This shopping mecca draws tourists far and wide to the small coastal community which has been irreparably altered to cater to this retailer.

Parking was my first challenge, but I felt fortunate when I found a parking space about one half mile away from the store at 10 o’clock. From there I managed to dodge fellow shoppers as they did their damned well best to try to run me over in search of their own parking spot.

Once in the store, I was confronted with a maze of shopping "zombies"—people that have apparently lost their abilities to orient themselves to their surroundings. You’ll be able to tell them by the confused expression on their faces as they whirl around in place looking high and low for god knows what. One particular woman, going up the wrong side of the stairwell, managed to cause a major traffic jam. This middle-aged woman, god love her, was straining to gallantly negotiate the final five stair treads to the top. Once she reached the 2nd floor riser, the crowd blew past her, nearly sweeping her aside like a river breaking through a levee. I’m still puzzled why she didn’t take the elevator—while I commend her spunk, mixing in a little aerobic exercise into her shopping day, this stairwell during a shopping rush hour may not have been the most appropriate locale for her newfound fitness regimen.

Fortunately for me, the location of the cards and gazetteer were in the same department and amazingly, not heavily populated. I quickly gathered my items and dashed for the first floor registers. I was amazed that there were only three people in the queuing area waiting for a cashier. Before I knew it, my items were bagged, my gift certificate purchased and in less than 30 minutes, I was back out to the parking lot where my vacated spot was quickly snatched by a car sitting five deep in the developing waiting line.

I was now bitten by the Christmas shopping bug. Infused with newfound confidence that I could do this, I was off to the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance book sale and author signing at The Portland Public Market.

If one has to do any shopping, this is the place to do it. The patrons have a more relaxed pace. I envision that this is how people may have shopped when open air markets and similar venues were part and parcel of urban landscapes. While there has been a trend recently to bring back the public market concept, many are gentrified and dressed up and lack a certain gritty authenticity of the markets of days gone by. Yet, even in their yuppified state, these offer a welcome respite from the sterile environs of the local mall, filled with corporate Christmas cheer and numbing holiday muzak.

I had a wonderful conversation with genial Maine writer and poet, Richard Foerster. As someone given more to writing prose than poetry, I was interested in his thoughts on the difference between the two. Like many writers, he enjoyed discussing his craft and sharing insights that I know will prove invaluable to me as I continue my life as a writer. I purchased Double Going, a book of his poems about coming to terms with family and the dynamics involved with that. Foerster graciously signed my book, and I was off to visit the downstairs vendor area of the market. It was here that I met a sausage-maker from my home town of Lisbon Falls. We talked about his craft, small town life and my newly-made sauerkraut curing in my basement. I promised to stop by and drop off a sample in the next few weeks.

It was now time to dash home and grab my gear and lunch and head off to work my eight hours on the telephones. The evening went well and I even got to go home early because our call volumes were down.

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