Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas at Arm's Length

I stood in the soft glare of flattering light, holding a garment at arm's length.

It really didn't look like much: a thin gray and aqua "sweatshirt" that bore the name of an entirely different color in a fluid and conspicuous script across its narrow, size-indiscriminate chest.

But it was adorable; I had to admit. It had the undefinable something that would cause it to sell out of all sizes, leaving the desperate to settle for a one-size-up in yellow.

As I squinted my eyes, I wondered if the designers had anticipated the possibility that someone might actually perspire on its anything-but-natural fibers.

But it was one of the only items in the teen fashion catalog in which my teen showed any interest.

And it was $65.

My friend was laughing.

We hadn't been more than a few stores into our annual holiday shopping trip and already it had been an adventure.

See, we hadn't been in the store for an entire minute before a shopkeeper had asked to inspect our bags.

Now, ordinarily, when an alarm goes off and two customers walk into a store at the exact moment two rush out, one might think the extra effort of having store personnel step into the hallway and attempt to stop the fleeing customers would be warranted.

But honestly, I can understand the dilemma. An alarm had sounded, and we were there. The middle-aged shoppers are convenient targets. No one had to chase us down (even if they tried we don't move very fast). And who knows, maybe they'd find some pilfered goods from the bookstore as we walked back through the merchandise control towers.

 ... To the sound of silence.

"Ah ... well," the shop lady said with a smile. "They're stealing clothes they can't even wear."

I wanted to commiserate with the woman whose facial expression had softened toward me now that I had proved my trustworthiness with a security sashay and authenticated register tapes.

But I found myself holding her at arm's length, too.

Instead, I just held out my arm with the potential purchase I was considering - a garment that would amount to four-and-a-half hours of work in American dollars - and asked a simple question to no one in particular.

"Do you know what this is?"

My friend answered with a question of her own.

"Highway robbery?"

It was true. And I couldn't deny it.

Spending the kids' college tuition on single-use clothing was as insidious as spending it on the limited edition peppermint-flavored single-serve coffee pods only available for the holidays.

And yet, that very morning, I had stood zombie-like in my kitchen, popping two of these festive pods out of the caffeine convenience machine and into the trash, where they will remain a full thousand years after I have decomposed.

I do not feel good about this.

'Tis the season.

I put the hanger back on the rack.

The good of holiday giving happens elsewhere.

It happens at the children's holiday concerts. The rediscovery of family heirlooms unwrapped of their tissue paper and hung on a tree. They are found in our stories and our recipes shared around a table. They are in our memories and the good we will do for others.

And they may go unthanked.

We may be in need this holiday season.

But we are not in need of stuff.

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