Bad Santa, frantic mall

You can probably get these socks on <a">

You can probably get these socks on

It's Christmastime, which means shouldering up to the thousands of aggressive shoppers aprowl for that perfect je ne sais quoi at the glistening consumer palace that is Arden Fair mall. Unfortunately, “je ne sais quoi” is about as far as I get Christmas shopping. Normally, I fall back on what you buy anyone in a holiday-season emergency: socks. This is a gift I have found to be generally well-received if you put enough effort and money into acquiring a quality pair: cashmere-blend knee-highs, 100-percent merino wool or highly quirky pairs to be found at novelty-sock-specific stores.

This year, however, there are a few relatives coming into town for whom socks probably won't cut it. So there I was, looking up at the towering Christmas tree in the center of Arden Fair without a clue as where to begin. Getting my bearings proved difficult as I listened to the flow of pleas tinged with notes of hysteria from the nearby garish Santa-land display. Here, a photographer stood exhausting her supply of rattles and brightly colored toys as a child sat, perched on a stranger's lap, with a frown as immovable as a mountain. It made sense, of course. He knew this wasn't Santa, but rather he was sitting on a strange man's lap, which went against everything he'd ever been taught to do. His parents huddled together behind the photographer, guarding themselves from their child's stare of angry, broken trust. The photo itself costs about $10, but it stands as a seed of deeply repressed feelings that will cost many thousands of dollars more to reconcile in the years to come.

Time to move on and, after fruitlessly wandering from shop to shop, I found myself in a Best Buy down the way. As I contemplated an unidentifiable thing with buttons, a man in a polo shirt approached me. “Have you heard about the big event?!” he asked. “Christmas?” I suggested, hopefully. His frozen smile remained: “Do you have cable or wireless?” Without a clue as to what he was referring to, I picked one. It was like a game. “Cable,” I said definitively.

“Of course!” he exclaimed. “I've won!” I thought. He went on to say something about bundles and bills and fell into a conciliatory tone. “And it just gets higher and higher, doesn't it?” I nodded my head solemnly. After a few more questions, my responses hinted that I didn't actually know what we were talking about, and his expression melted from sympathy to irritation.

“You pay $50 a month for Internet, phone and cable TV?” he asked in a beleaguered and deflated tone.

“Oh, no,” I corrected him. “We don't have a phone line or TV at all.” The polo shirt decided to cut his losses and walked away.

Deflated of motivation myself, I returned home to my secret weapon, It's possibly the only online marketplace where one can pick up replacement Cuisinart parts, a Taylor Swift poster and a variety of esoteric books on the history of electrical theory. All stocking stuffers for my loved ones! I think this is the year I'll really nail it.