Canis lupus retailus

Dick George

December 21, 1992|By Dick George

IT'S that time of year when days are short and the cold breath of winter puts a frosty glow upon the land. Geese head south, trees shed their last leaves.

Conditions are perfect for observing the deadly habits of the North American species, canis lupus retailus. Pack shoppers are on the move.

You can see them loping through the malls, lean and hungry, yipping and yapping and sniffing the air for the scent of game.

In each pack there is one keen-witted dominant shopper who can retain for quick reference the regular and sale prices of over 400,000 items. Once dominant shoppers identify their prey -- often but not always with the help of the pack -- they begin to circle slowly, examining, comparing, nipping at the variables of color, size, price. Is it a good deal? Will the recipient like it?

"What do you think?" dominant shopper says aloud to secondary shopper. But where is secondary shopper? This weaker shopper has succumbed to the rigors of the hunt and sits in a lump on a nearby display.

Secondary shopper is often grumpy and looks tired, even though dominant shopper has done the work of the hunt.

Nevertheless, secondary shopper is usually consulted before a kill and often receives the honor of the kill itself, slowly reaching for a credit card as dominant shopper moves off in search of fresh game.

Although packs are most common, it is not unusual to see lone shoppers on the prowl. These loners have sometimes been repudiated by their own packs, forced out of a warm den and into the frigid night, driven by the natural imperative to return with durable goods. Lone wolves move fast, buy quickly and snarl frequently, especially when the scent of a clearance sale is in the air.

Entire packs will back off, for few phenomena in nature are as terrifying as a lone shopper with a limited budget and an attitude.

Pack shoppers can often be seen with cub shoppers in tow. There is no other way for the younger members of the pack to pick up the survival skills necessary to thrive in the cold forests of the marketplace.

The cubs learn the lessons: How to identify prey. Avoiding prey that will overextend you. Waiting for larger game to age, get weaker, go on sale. Knowing when there is a real moose of a sale. Arriving early. Fighting off other packs in the struggle for fresh meat.

Once thought of as pests, pack shoppers were almost poisoned and trapped out of existence. In some areas they have not been seen for years.

Their recent resurgence has authorities scratching their heads. Is it a result of weather, environmental factors? One thing is certain -- it's not because of increased income or new job creation.

Pack shoppers cover a large geographic area, ready to move up to 50 miles in any direction at the barest whiff of overstocked inventory.

They often communicate from one pack to another. Once their own appetites are satisfied from a fresh kill, they will tell other packs where the leftovers can be found.

On clear cold nights when the moon is full and stores are open late, you can hear them howling across the frozen asphalt, as the struggle for survival goes on.

Emmy Award-winning writer and secondary shopper Dick George operates with his pack out of a den in Baldwin.

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