Friday, November 26, 2010

Bah Sing Bug

My baby sister likes to go to the mall on Black Friday. She doesn’t go early, and she doesn’t shop. She likes to go in the mid-day, by the time people are tired and grumpy and fist-fights are likely to break out. She says she likes watching people argue over the last (insert useless toy that will cost half as much on Jan 2 here).

The one time I was visiting and thus privy to this particular approach to observational sociology, we saw no fist fights, but there were two women in the knife & sword store who looked like they wanted to test the merchandise on each other.

There were gaggles of men sitting around in the center aisle of the mall, grumping with each other about why they had to be there: The American tradition, of course, being that cavemen, from earliest times, had had a long enough week sitting in their cubicle working hard so the women could put a year’s worth of spending on their credit cards in one day and that should give them a pass from having any part in the decision making of who gets what at gift-time. Especially if gift-time includes a CaveMall!

My sister’s husband wandered around blissfully enjoying the weirdness of others’ behavior on this special day—we were all in a sociological mood—and commenting on tight spots that looked like they might turn ugly. “Ooh! That woman just got the last (insert piece of clothing produced by the millions & easy to find—or for half the price come Jan 2 here)!"

We spent a great deal of time in the games store—their mall actually had one, where we yakked about the toughest puzzles we’d ever done. We’re a rough & tumble bunch, my family. Everyone who could has served in the military, and we now all use our “extra” time to play scrabble long distance with each other online.

But even observational sociology can get tiring—especially when the people being observed insist on acting like starving idiots over a $5 cup of Starbucks. And my sister and I had pretty much had enough when we finally got to the part of the day I most enjoyed and would love to recreate yearly.

Mind you, I hate Christmas. I’m a bah humbug who doesn’t at all mind gift giving, but loved that my hunny, last year, rather than trying to fight with people over last in the bin garbage tips, spent a thoughtful few minutes in the grocery store picking up gift cards.

I’m not unsentimental. I would absolutely love it if he thought year round about the perfect gift, planned it in advance and hid it in the closet—or by anything remotely related to cleaning, since then there’d be no chance of my finding it—I simply know him better than that, and he knows that a bookstore gift card will make me happier than anything in the world, since then I get the pleasure of browsing and of purchasing.

I’m a christmahannukwanzadanstice hater because it starts the day after Halloween, goes until New Years’, and leaves most Americans with debt they spend the rest of the year working off. Seems like a bad way to celebrate the birth of one’s savior, the miracle of a little oil lasting a long time (especially this one), the majesty of African American heritage, or the shift of the earth. On years when Ramadan is at that time, it also seems rather against the idea of day long fasts designed to help one become introspective. It’s just wrong! And every year, we rail against it. And every year, we fall right back into the same big ugly hole.

Last year I had the, erm, pleasure of working in a retail store for the holidays. I was a cashier, tasked not only with getting people out the door quickly, safely and with all their purchases paid for, but of trying to sell them even more last minute crap they hadn’t thought of yet. I tend to be a talker (if the writing hasn’t let on), and I tend to treat each person in my line as if she were the only person in my line. I like thinking I am doing what I’d want others to do if I were on the other side of the register. I am, apparently, wrong. I have never in my life been cursed at, yelled at, treated with such malign attitude as last year. And I’ll tell ya’ it is not worth the $6&change.

“Happy Holidays!” I brightly said to one man as he grabbed his bag violently from me. “NO! Merry CHRISTmas!” He replied.

I thought—but wish I had said— And I’m sure Christ would be very proud of all you’ve learned from his example about how to treat people.

I didn’t. I turned to the next person, asked him if he’d gotten everything he was looking for and if he had a discount card with “us.” He actually apologized for the behavior of the man before him. It was the only nice thing anyone had said to me all day.

So you’ll understand that the best part of wandering through CaveMall with my baby sister was both fascinating and terrifying. Why it made me wonder who these people were and what they would think or feel if their religious leader showed film of their behavior in their place of worship come the following day of service. I was tired. I was beleaguered. I was ashamed of the 99% DNA I shared with all these desperate people. I was even a little worried about what had made them all do this.

My baby sister (a woman I love & could only wish would be my friend were we not relations) put her arm through mine and whispered in my ear, “You do the high harmony,” and began, loudly to sing, “Oh Holy Night.” My smile returned. I love love love the high harmony—as does she. It was a gift.

We walked through the CaveMall, arm in arm, going through every beautiful, non-jingly, carol we knew, and as veterans of high school choirs, we knew many. I’d like to hope we made at least one person think. But even if we didn’t, I loved every minute of it.

Did I mention we’re Jewish?