Capture the holiday spirit--steer clear of the mall


December 21, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

I don't understand all the complaints about the parking lot at the Towson Town Center. I love the parking lot. I love that it takes a half hour to find a spot. If only it took an hour.

What should be obvious is that every minute spent in the mall parking lot is a minute you don't have to spend inside the actual mall.

I hate malls, and not just because this time of year, wherever you turn, they've got Perry Como crooning it's a holly, jolly Christmas. OK, it's not always Perry Como. Sometimes, it's Julio Iglesias. A two-part question: Who picks out the music in these places -- and why hasn't he been pantsed?

Anyway, we're cruisin' the parking lot, the radio's cranked, the Animals are screaming, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," and I'm hoping my wife will take the hint from Eric Burdon. She doesn't. Like many people, she will shop even at the risk of hearing the Chipmunks sing.

One thing about the lot, it provides a great opportunity to study human psychology. For instance, who gets the coveted parking space that, from nowhere, suddenly comes free? Right, it's Eli Jacobs. Every time. You see, the successful parking lot navigator is someone who has the conscience of a baseball team owner.

Finally, we get a spot. I had to cut off only one sweet-looking elderly woman who smiled and then, well, saluted me in her special way. I was going to salute her back, but, hey, I already had the spot, didn't I, and besides, she might want to fight.

So, we're in. You've been in malls. You're probably in one now. What's really objectionable is there's no real life in them. Look at the shoppers. Zombies with credit cards. They don't walk, they shuffle. If you could see anything behind the glazed eyes, it would be fear.

Everything is plastic, even the food. The light is artificial. (You don't think those are real skylights, do you? They're painted.) The only people who look animated are the very young teens, who hunt in packs and tend to gather in the Gap.

Which brings up my annual Christmas shopping tip: Never, ever go in the Gap at this time of year because, according to the Law of Displacement, you can fit only so many people in a store before somebody shoots out the door like a cruise missile. You'd be surprised how many people are injured this way every year. For some reason, it just doesn't make the papers.

Despite this danger, malls have become America's gathering place. Which, I think, explains everything. Human commerce has become mixed up with plain-old commerce. Malls are modern-day cathedrals, and people come to worship.

I remember a time when, particularly during the Christmas season, grim-faced editorialists warned us about creeping commercialism. Those were the days when Santa was always arriving in a helicopter or maybe a fire engine. These days, in a less affluent time, not so jolly St. Nick usually has to share a cab.

Remember the famous Peanuts TV show in which Charlie Brown gets the hangdog tree, and, between commercials we all learn the true meaning of Christmas? Now, we're told Charlie Brown had it all wrong. Turns out, the point of Christmas is to shop till we drop, just the way Mad Ave. always said it was. It's our civic duty to mortgage our future to buy the giant-sized Barney along with Rappin' Barbie and 200 Nintendo games.

Apparently, the only way the economy is going to get better is if we spend all our money.

I have done my best. I was in a store the other day with my wife and daughter, who were trying on various items of clothing. A salesclerk asked if he could help me. I said, "No, I'm just the facilitator." He said, "Everybody's got to have a role."

You want the true Christmas spirit? Here's a mostly accurate story that resembles nothing more than O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi." A friend searches long and hard for a gift for his spouse. He finally comes to a jeweler and explains what he wants down to the last detail. His exact words were, I believe: "You got something under 100 bucks?"

He gets this beautiful nearly solid-gold pin and gives it to his wife, who apparently likes it. As they're clearing away the presents from under the tree the next day, the pin is gone. In the spirit of the day, he accuses her of losing it and she accuses him of throwing it away with the wrapping paper.

And so he goes back to the store to buy a replacement pin.

If that's not Christmas, then I'm not broke.

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