ONE MAN'S Christmas shopping trip:
2 p.m. -- Arrive at mall. The parking lot looks like something out of "Smokey and the Bandit." Cars are running stop signs, cutting each other off, screeching up and down the aisles.
I should be driving a jacked-up Daytona with a roll cage. Something that can take a hit.
2: 11 -- Can't find a parking space; I've circled the place twice. I end up stalking a young couple leaving Sears, creeping behind them in my Jeep until they reach their Toyota Camry and pull out.
A little old lady in a Buick is eyeing the same space.
Don't try it, Granny. I got you by 70 pounds.
2: 15 -- First stop is Macy's for my mom's present. Every year I ask her what she wants for Christmas. And every year she says: "Oh, I really don't need anything."
Then if you press her, she says: "Whatever you do, don't spend a lot of money."
Well, that certainly narrows things down considerably. Guess we'll start with these napkin rings. Two bucks apiece, on sale.
2: 28 -- Uh-oh, here's a bad omen: the Partridge Family version of "Jingle Bells" comes over the sound system.
You hear something like that and you think: Can Tony Danza's "White Christmas" be far behind?
2: 35 -- I've been in three stores and every sales clerk has that burned-out look, what combat veterans call the Thousand Yard Stare. Exhaustion, retail shell-shock, it's written all over their faces.
Hey, how many times can you re-fold the same sweater or smile sweetly and tell a customer, "I'm sorry, we're out of boxes," without losing it?
These people must go home every night and do shots of Pepto-Bismol like they're lemon shooters.
2: 50 -- I'm in a toy store looking at a basketball for my 5-year-old when a woman rushes in. Breathlessly, she asks the kid behind the counter if he has the Tickle Me Elmo doll, this year's mega-hot toy.
The kid says: "Sorry, no."
The woman looks like she just got bad news on a biopsy.
3: 05 -- I'm sitting on a bench, reading the newspaper, taking a break next to this older guy loaded down with shopping bags who keeps muttering: "If she doesn't get out here real soon, I'm leaving her butt here."
Tell me something: What in God's name has happened to parents? I just read that some lunatic mother in Philadelphia paid $3,500 for a Tickle Me Elmo.
Thirty-five hundred bucks! I read this and it's all I can do not to jump in my car and barrel up I-95 to wherever this woman lives.
I want to ring her doorbell, and when she comes to the door, I want to scream: "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?! FOR AN ELMO DOLL?!"
3: 20 -- The food court is jammed and exudes all the calm of the Mariel boatlift. So I duck into this gourmet coffee shop and have the following conversation with the woman behind the counter:
Me: "Small coffee, please."
Her: "Hazelnut, French vanilla or Amaretto?"
Me: "Just, um, plain coffee."
Her: "Regular or decaf?"
Her: "Skim milk, milk, or Half & Half?"
Me: "Milk is fine."
Her: "Sugar, Equal or Sweet n' Low?"
Me: "Sweet n' Low, I guess."
Her: "Stirrer or spoon?"
Me: "Oh, surprise me."
I'm probably dating myself, but there was a time when you didn't have to pass a mini-SAT just to order a cup of coffee.
3: 45 -- The line to see Santa stretches into Delaware. It's a vast sea of strollers, hyperactive toddlers and grim-faced moms and dads, with the occasional grandma and grandpa pressed into temporary warden service.
Santa's "helper" and the photographer try to move things along, but the whole thing has an exercise-yard-at-Attica feel to it.
There's a simmering undercurrent of tension, as if at any moment the kids might try to rush Santa and demand their toys right now.
4: 10 -- Still haven't found anything for my mom, so I duck into JC Penney. One Christmas I asked her what she wanted and she said -- swear to God -- a broom.
Sure, there's something you want to get the woman who bore you, changed your diapers, nursed you when you were sick, was there when you needed a shoulder to cry on: a $7.99 broom from Giant.
Then you can come back next Christmas and get her the popular squeegee-and-mop gift set.
4: 45 -- I'm in the record and tape store looking at CDs for my wife when I come across "James Brown's Funky Christmas," billed as "17 holiday favorites from the Godfather of Soul."
Boy, did it bring back memories! Remember back when you were a kid and the whole family would trim the tree and sing that Christmas classic, "Tit for Tat (Ain't No Taking Back)?"
5: 15 -- That's it, I can't take it anymore. My head is pounding. Mom's other gifts will have to wait. She mentioned something about a shower curtain liner in our last phone conversation.
God, is that Tony Danza singing "Frosty the Snowman?"
Pub Date: 12/19/96