Though The Observer usually avoids the mall around this time of year like it's a swine flu convalescence ward, the need for a gift card that we could only get there drew us to the church of consumerism last week. We were standing
in line at a kiosk in the middle of the mall, waiting to make our last purchase so we could get the fudge out of there, when two young men ran past. One actually collided with us, then sprinted toward the door.
A second later, a security guard passed in hot pursuit, plain black shoes beating out a tattoo in the echoey chamber. Shoppers paused a minute and watched them go. The Observer, who has seen enough movies about artful dodgers to worry about being pick-pocketed, quickly checked to make sure the ol' wallet was where it was supposed to be. Yep, it was there. It seemed these young fellas weren't artful, merely wanted.
As a footrace, it was lovely: the two young men flat out, all elbows and lanky legs and stringy arms, the mall cop right on their heels. The young man in the lead ran like he was going for the gold, head down, with a dire enthusiasm. The young man in back — seized, perhaps, by the spirit of the holidays — laughed the whole way in a high, strange cackle. The jingle of his keys, which dangled from a fob sticking out of his back pocket, added to the festivities.
When the two young men were around 30 feet from The Observer and halfway to freedom, the jingle-bell fob finally popped out of the young man's pocket. His keys dropped to the floor, spinning against the wall as their owner continued southbound and out the doors, the mall cop still a blur of pumping limbs in his wake.
The girl who was working the kiosk where The Observer stood left her booth, walked over, and
solemnly picked up the keys — a
car key, The Observer saw, along with a few brass keys that looked like they might fit a house or apartment.
The Observer hates to think cruel thoughts in this joyous season, but: Oh, to have seen the look on that kid's face when he and his pal doubled back to the getaway car, only to find that his keys were gone. As someone who has come home to find our house tossed and a fair amount of our hard-won goodies spirited away, we would have given good folding cash to have been able to witness that moment. We might well have called it the greatest gift of all.
The Observer hears of a new book called “Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays.” The premise, author Joel Waldfogel explained in an interview we heard, is that it makes no economic sense to spend $50 on a gift for someone when there's a possibility that the recipient doesn't want what you picked out and could have spent the $50 in such a way that would have made him happier.
Obviously, Mr. Waldfogel doesn't get what Christmas is about. As readers of The Observer know, or at least the female readers, Christmas is about buying someone something that a) the recipient would never buy for himself because $50 can always be spent more sensibly on groceries or beer; b) will make the recipient laugh loud and long, or c) will let the recipient know that you've spent the last 12 months paying attention to his/her every desire.
For example. Our aunt once gave us a shaggy goat purse that smelled like the unfortunate animal that gave up its skin and white coat for fashion. Did we ever use it? Never. Does it make us happy to think about it? Very, and for 40 years. One Christmas we gave our brother a one iron. Ha! Another, a book by Thomas Pynchon. (Does it make us happy to think about it? Yes. Not sure about him.)
Waldfogel suggests gift cards are the way to go. Just picture it: A Christmas tree with a pile of little tiny cards underneath, all with three-month expiration dates not noted anywhere on the card.
Having said that, The Observer could only come up with a scarf for the brother this year. Sometimes our wit fails us.