Last year, my wife and daughter and I enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday in San Francisco. Just the three of us. Quiet. Our own pace. The day after Thanksgiving, we decided to take a cable car to Macy's. We would have been better off wearing Giants' jerseys to a Raiders' game. What a disaster!
People were stuffed into each inch of floor space like entrails. This was a scene out of "Dawn of the Dead."
People tearing at each other. Clothes on hangers being molested; clothes on counter displays being strangled; clothes cast on the floor looking mowed and tortured.
And the noise. All different languages blended together like some gaseous narcotic, and with the anvil-like pounding of the hangover. The horse-shoe hammering of noise. That vibrating clanging, shouting, laughing, yelling. It was like the March of the Wooden Soldiers on amphetamines and with live ammunition. A dream of holiday serenity rudely awakened. The Island of Misfit Toys with real people as the misfits and Rudolph ground up and packaged as holiday venison sausage. Holiday shopping was never like this.
When I was a kid, Christmas time in Utica, N.Y., was more like Frank Capra's portrait of Bedford Falls in "It's a Wonderful Life." What we saw at Macy's that day after Thanksgiving was more like a Quentin Tarantino movie, but without the rockin' soundtrack. Just noise.
I remember Friday afternoons during the holidays, and my mother walking to the grade school I attended. She and I would take a bus downtown and visit the stores. My brother and sister would sometimes stay with my grandmother who lived with us since they were too small at the time.
The baby-powder whiteness of the snow blanketed the sidewalks. The streets looked like fountain trays of root beer-colored slush. Cars with headlights peering their dull glow against an icy mask would drive by slowly, each one filled with faces - big and small - that took mind photos of the decorations and street lights with each blink of their eyelids.
And the stores, those wonderful stores! Holiday music swept through the streets - usually Burl Ives, or Bing Crosby, or Perry Como. Some choir music too. Salvation Army bell ringers, blowing small gusts of air that seemed to freeze and form ice-pools in mid flight, moving their feet to the broken-rhythms of the bell just to keep warm. People stopping to say, "Hi."
Fast forward to the Monday after Thanksgiving this year. I saw a film clip on TV of early shoppers at a Wal-Mart in New York the previous Friday. Pushing, pulling, tugging at each other to get to sale items. I'm sure there were fists flying off screen too. And for what? A VideoNow Jr.,? An IPod Shuffle? A portable DVD player? Wow! What rarities!
And then I saw that an estimated 57 million Americans were expected to shop online that Monday after Thanksgiving.
Fifty-seven million?! When I last checked, the nation's unemployment rate was 5.3 percent against a total population of nearly 296,000,000, which is 15.7 million people. Soooo, that means that either 41.3 million people took a vacation day this past Monday, or many business offices sported their least productive day of the year with 41.3 million people hunched over their computers, shopping during work hours.
Remember Cabbage Patch Dolls? Those ugly little androgynous wastes of money. Remember people waiting outside Montgomery Ward, brain dead and freezin', at 4 in the mornin' for those dopey things? Where are those things now? I mean, what junkyard are those things rotting in now? And how about Beanie Babies?
Another wait-in-line 'til you die holiday item of the past. Put 'em all in a wicker basket, soak 'em with gasoline, and prime the blow torch. Yeeaah baby! That's how much they're worth now.
No, my memories of holiday shopping are much different than the mindless mania we see now.
The pace was slow, and the images are as distinctive as a Granda Moses winter scene painting. The memories remain archived in motion - in space and in time - selectively filed to be shown forever on my mind's own TV screen.
n John DiMambro is publisher for the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.