My Christmas shopping trip was Hell. No wait, that doesn’t really describe it. At least Hell has a lava hot coffee break.
It was below Hell. It was Dante’s Inferno on Ice. It was a trip down a cobblestone path full of spiked rocks, flaming grass and poisonous snakes. It was Detroit.
It’s not that I mind buying my friends and family and their fife Christmas presents. It’s the only fulfilling thing I do with my life. I’m banned for life from every Goodwill store in America since the lawn flamingo incident. I no longer give blood since budget cuts forced them to serve Lorna Doones instead of Nutter Butters. I don’t even give money to charities anymore because since I became a writer, I’m so broke that I’m worried it’s just going to come right back to me.
The experience is the killer part. In fact, the more you care about the recipient, the more you have to suffer on the path to get them a gift that truly shows how much you appreciate them. It’s simple math. The better the gift, the more they love you. The crappier the gift, the less the giver would care if you were thrown from a helicopter and into the Atlantic Ocean.
I buy DVDs for the people I’m closest to because I know what they like and if I make 100 more purchases at Movie Trading Company, I get a free dinette set. Mom and Dad got “The Good Neighbors,” a British comedy they used to watch when I was younger. My brother, Paul, unwrapped the first season of “South Park.” The dog got a copy of Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows.” That only left my sister, Erin, with a blank space next to her name on my Christmas shopping list and a sharp pain forming at the base of my skull that could make a tequila hangover feel like an ice cream headache.
When I left the family nest, Erin was just a little kid who liked “SpongeBob SquarePants” reruns and watched Pixar animated movies until the VCR melted the tapes. Now she’s a teenager. She’s into stuff I wouldn’t screen to federal prisoners. During the summer, we were driving around looking for a place to eat when we passed a movie theater. She took one look at the marque and announced she would someday like to voluntarily see “House of Wax.” Enough said.
I called my dear sweet mother and asked what she might like to unwrap on that cold Christmas morning. She said through a thin wall of cell phone static, “Well, she really likes ‘Phantom of the Opera.’” The sharp pain at the base of my skull started playing Ping Pong with my nerve endings.
I shuffled over to the nearest Best Buy with Erin’s present on my “To-Do Even Though I’d Rather Stick My Hand in a Blender” list. Before I left the house, I slapped on a tan trenchcoat , a porkpie detective’s hat and a pair of sunglasses that were darker than Satan’s heart to make sure I couldn’t be identified in public. Having to wait in long Christmas shopping lines was bad enough. But being spotted by someone I knew clutching a movie that causes tumors could be more emotionally devastating than 9/11, Hiroshima and my high school prom combined.
The store was flooded with people who, like me, were dumb enough to believe that everyone would do their Christmas shopping earlier this year and the lines were be shorter the closer time crawled towards the holidays. I grabbed the DVD off the shelf and held it as close to my body as possible, trying to keep it guarded from any possible line of sight like a fat guy trying to keep the last slice of fat free devil’s food cake for himself at a Weight Watchers’ convention. The pain in my skull worked its way over my head turning itself into a swimming cap of pain.
Just glancing at the cover sent ripples of fear through my skin. In my cobweb filled mind, I could see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s germs of mediocrity seeping out of the box and soaking into the tissues of my body. The longer I held it, the weaker I felt. I had to get to the cashier as quickly as possible so I could double, no, triple bag this thing before the virus spreads to my mind and makes me sell back my “Evil Dead II” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” box sets for the complete works of Rosie O’Donnell, “Herbie: Fully Loaded” or “Xanadu: The Ultra Gay Edition.”
I stood in a long. tightly packed line that had enough breathing room to operate one side of my brain. I cleverly concealed Erin’s present under my arm. Sure enough, I spotted one of my friend’s doing his last minute shopping just a few aisles down from me. The whole time we were chatting, I tried to keep the DVD out of his field of vision. I held my arm so tightly to my body, I was afraid it might give me a pierced spleen. At least that would have felt nice compared to the throbbing pain in my head that now felt like I was giving King Kong a piggyback ride.
Soon but not soon enough, I paid for Erin’s gift, had it gift wrapped, duct taped and Ziplocked and ran out of the store knocking over two old ladies, a middle aged father and a line of fat nerds who were waiting three weeks to blow $400 an Xbox 360. The day ended on a high note.
On Christmas Day, I passed my gift to Erin and waited as she unwrapped it as I sat all giddily waiting for the evil to be done with me. She ripped the packaging off in a flurry of torn festiveness, took one look at the box cover and said, “Awww thanks Danny, but I’ve already got this movie. Can you return it for me?”
Oh I returned it all right, right back to the fiery depths of Hell.