A CHRISTMAS shopping trip, 1998:
7 p.m. -- Arrive at mall. Parking lot looks like the Gaza Strip minutes after the Israelis have closed the border.
I circle for 10 minutes, end up stalking a giggling couple heading back to their car who decide to stop every 10 feet and kiss.
L Yo, save that for the back seat of a Buick where it belongs!
I'm trying to shop here!
7: 16 -- Here's an upset: the mall's packed. Tired moms push baby strollers, determined, energetic women are trailed by weary, hollow-eyed husbands laden like pack mules with shopping bags, oblivious toddlers bump their heads against marble columns and sob mightily.
Roaming throughout are the usual bands of disillusioned youth with multiple body piercings.
Swept up in the crushing herd, I'm dimly aware of a dull pain forming directly over my right eye.
7: 22 -- Well, that didn't take long. Just received my first hip check from the requisite boorish Type A personality for whom the escalator is not fast enough.
In this case, it's a 50-ish, CEO-looking man in an expensive suit, cell phone glued to one ear, who pushes by several of us as the escalator nears the second floor.
Merry Christmas to you too, pal.
Say, what time tomorrow will you be laying off half your work force?
7: 46 -- I'm in the music store to pick up a Beastie Boys CD for the 16-year-old. The scene is surreal: an indecipherable hip-hop anthem wailing from the speakers, hordes of teens with ultra-baggy pants dancing in the aisles, posters of Lenny Kravitz and Julian Lennon looming overhead.
You want to feel old? If you're over 30 in a place like this, you feel like Strom Thurmond.
At the cash register, the kid with the eyebrow ring seems surprised to see me buying anything other than, say, a Burl Ives tape.
"Dude! The Beasties!" he chirps. " 'Rhymin' and Stealin,' 'Fight For Your Right,' 'Time to Get Ill' that rocks!"
I nod and make a mental note to find out what language this kid is speaking.
8: 02 -- Well, this is it. I take a deep breath and enter the most frightening place on Earth: Victoria's Secret.
Soon I'm moving past islands of billowy bras, forests of shimmering panties and negligees. It's a strange, exotic land.
I tell the smiling, officious 22-year-old saleswoman I'm looking for pajamas for my wife.
She shows me a lacy, fire-engine red number you'd wear only if the customers are banging their Bud longnecks on the bar and it's your turn to dance.
"That might be a bit much," I say.
She looks at me as if I just announced my wife was Amish.
"Look," I tell her, "I'm not looking for something from the Dagwood Bumstead Sleepwear Collection. But we have to tone it down a little."
8: 20 -- Just passed Santa's Workshop. A line of about 20 fidgety kids and their parents wait for a word with the Great Man.
Snap observation: Whatever they're paying Santa, it ain't enough.
Right now, a suburban-looking mom is trying to take a snapshot of her two cranky toddlers perched on Santa's lap.
"Say cheese!" she's saying, except there's not much chance of that happening, since both kids are bawling like Santa just zapped them with a cattle prod.
There's something I could never understand.
Years from now, is this the kind of snapshot you want to pass around at family gatherings? ("And here's Megan and Morgan freaking out with Santa ")
Oh, that's a Kodak Moment, all right.
9: 05 -- I'm in a sporting goods store -- the 7-year-old wants a Nike basketball.
Nike products always invoke the same image in my mind: an army of 10-year-olds shackled to work benches in a stifling factory in Thailand, while a lone palm-leaf fan groans listlessly overhead and a scowling foreman barks: "Mr. Phil Knight says production at this plant is not satisfactory!"
Suddenly a sales guy behind me says: "Sir, those Nike balls are on sale -- $10 off."
Tell me something: Why is the media always picking on Nike?
L Somebody has to keep those kids in Thailand off the streets.
9: 20 -- I'm in a department store. The good news: It only took a few minutes to nail a nice sweater for the 13-year-old. The bad news: I'm paying for my good fortune now at the gift-wrap counter.
At the gift-wrap counter, time stands still.
Only the very slowest of gift-wrappers are hired for the holidays. Also, in order to get the job, you apparently have to agree to take prescription barbiturates during work each day.
The woman wrapping my gift is extremely slow.
Plus, she insists on telling me all about her son and daughter-in-law, who just moved into a new neighborhood, have a darling house and blah, blah, blah.
At this rate, I'll be lucky if I'm home by next Christmas.
She ever finishes wrapping this thing, I'm outta here.
Pub Date: 12/17/98