Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who, 2,000 years ago, followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.
We try to keep our bumper about four inches from the shopper's calves, to let the other circling cars know that she belongs to us. Sometimes two cars will get into a fight over whom the shopper belongs to, similar to the way great white sharks will fight over who gets to eat a snorkeler. So we follow our shopper closely, hunched over the steering wheel, whistling "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" through our teeth, until we arrive at her car, which is usually parked several time zones away from the mall. Sometimes our shopper tries to indicate that she was merely planning to drop off some packages and go back to shopping, but when she hears our engine rev in a festive fashion and sees the holiday gleam in our eyes, she realizes she would never make it.
And so we park and clamber joyously out of our car through the windows, which is necessary because the crack Mall Parking Space Size Reduction Team has been at work again. They get out there almost every night and redo the entire parking lot, each time making the spaces smaller, until finally they are using, say, a Jell-O box to mark the width between lines. "Let's see them fit in there," they say, laughing, because they know we will try. They know that if necessary, we will pull into the parking space balanced on our two left-side wheels, like professional stunt drivers, because we are holiday shoppers.
I do not mean to suggest that the true meaning of the holiday season is finding a parking space. No, the true meaning of the holiday season is finding a sales clerk. The way to do this is, look around the store for one of those unmarked doors, then burst through it without warning. There you will find dozens of clerks sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth and whimpering from weeks of exposure to the holiday environment. Of course as soon as they see you, a shopper, they will bolt for the window. This is why you must carry a tape recorder.
"Hold it!" you shout, freezing them in their tracks. "I have a tape recorder here, and unless somebody lets me make my holiday purchases, I'm going to play 'Frosty the Snowman.' "
Cruel? Inhuman? Perhaps. But you have no choice. Because this is the holiday season, and you have to buy thoughtful gifts for all of your Loved Ones, or they will hate you. Here are some helpful suggestions:
Gifts for Children
To find out what children want this year, I naturally called up the headquarters of the Toys Backward 'R' Us Corp., which as you parents know is now larger than the Soviet Union. I spoke with a spokesperson who told me that last year the corporation's net sales were $2.4 billion (I assume she meant in my immediate neighborhood).
The spokesperson told me that one of the hot toys for boys this year, once again, is the GI Joe action figure and "accessories," which is the toy-industry code word for "guns," as in: "Don't nobody move! I got an accessory!" The little boy on your list can have hours of carefree childhood fun with his GI Joe set, engaging in realistic armed-forces adventures such as having GI Joe explain to little balding congressional committee figures how come he had to use his optional Action Shredder accessory.
Another hot item is Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, a toy system that -- here is a coincidence for you -- is featured on a Saturday-morning TV show. The heart of this system is an electronic accessory that the child shoots at the TV screen to actually kill members of the Bio Dread Empire. The spokesperson did not say whether it also would work on Geraldo Rivera.
For little girls, the toy industry is once again going way out on a limb and offering a vast simpering array of dolls. The big news this year, however, is that many of these dolls have computer chips inside them, so they can do the same things that a real baby would do if it had a computer chip inside it. Some dolls even respond according to the time of day. In the morning, they say: "I'm hungry!" In the evening, they say: "I'm sleepy!" And late at night, when the house is dark and quiet, they whisper into the child's ear: "I think I hear Mr. Eyeball Plucker in the closet again!"
Gifts for Grown-ups
I don't want to get too corny here, but I think the nicest gift you can give a grown-up, especially one you really care about, is not something you buy in a store. In fact, it costs nothing, yet it is a very precious gift, and one that only you can give. I'm talking about your parking space.