Archive for December, 2018

Lost in the Mall

It was December 23rd and the Neshaminy Mall was packed. The shops were overflowing with deranged shoppers. The food courts were like Valhalla sans booze or war hammers. The mall staff looked crazed and exhausted, as if they’d just been on a weekend bender with Charles Bukowski. The walkways of the mall were jammed with people trying desperately to get last minute gifts to bolster Christmas piles. It was all happening to a soundtrack of Christmas music, store announcements, and screeching children.

My mom and I had made a morning of it. Well, she makes a morning of it every day. My mom rises at about 5 a.m. every morning and begins a day that would flatten a senator. She is the most active person I have ever known. Three decades raising four kids and five decades raising my father has left my mother in a perpetual state of activity and motion. I have never known her to not be busy. She shops every day, works every day, and does a number of activities within our little community. When she is at home she’s cooking, cleaning, reorganizing, and building. This is in direct contrast to my dad, for whom a bank run and a nap in the same day requires another nap.

Since my mother would be up and out early, I knew I would be too. And sure enough we were up at 6 a.m., caffeinated, organized, and out the door by 8:30. Once at the mall, we had a bagel and coffee and made a game plan. Her priority was to get me a coat for Christmas. My priority was to buy 97% of my Christmas gifts. We started at Boscov’s. Boscov’s is a department store where my mother dragged me each August for a decade to buy back to school clothing. She brought me and my siblings here before countless Christmases to shop in the evenings after work. The ground level is immense, aisles cut through uncountable racks of clothing and accessories sectioned off in age-old classifications: ladies, misses, juniors, men, young men, intimate apparel, active, LL Bean. Upstairs is kitchen and dining room, downstairs is living room and bedroom.

Department stores are my mom’s natural habitat. Today she read the crowd and store conditions the way a Sioux tracker might observe a valley or a forest perimeter. She grabbed a cart three times her size and swerved it down the aisle in the same way she drives the SUV that is fourteen times her size. She clipped me in the hip twice and then took it off-road without warning. She squeezed it through the racks of clothing into nooks and crannies where carts aren’t supposed to go and, thusly, do not fit. It was like watching someone maneuver an airboat through a miniature garden pond. She whistled the whole time until she shouted my name from some invisible locale. We then had a disembodied conversation.

“Damien?”

“Yes?”

“What about this one?”

“This one what?”

“This coat?”

“I can’t see the coat.”

“Why not?”

“I am not with you!” I looked around wildly. My neck began to heat up. She was nowhere to be seen and I ran into a rack of shirts more expensive than my rent. I took several deep breaths and listened for my mother’s response. When it didn’t come I offered: “Mom?”

“What about this one?”

“Holy shit.”

“Oh that’s real nice language.”

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Happy Christmitzvah

Christmitzvah

Get Christmitzvah

My sister Amanda and I were huddled beneath the wall in our living room. The Christmas tree stood to our right, kept precariously erect by fishing line tied to various sections of banister post. We had belly crawled from the foyer and then gingerly tiptoed between gifts that had come in the mail or from my parents’ work contacts. I hushed her with a finger. Above us, in the kitchen, my mother played Mah-jong with her friends. Their discussion jumped from Oprah Winfrey to the seasonal financial concerns. When the talk finally turned to gifts my sister and I made eye contact. This was exactly the point of our intelligence mission. Gifts. Our two younger siblings were upstairs sleeping or watching Christmas specials, but as the oldest I had a responsibility to get information. Amanda was next oldest, my second in command. So, we listened.

“I’m going to pick it up this weekend,” my mom said.

“Who’s it for?” one of her friends asked.

My sister and I goggled our eyes. The mother lode. But before my mom could say anything further, one of her friends laughed a short horrific cackle and said, “I had to give Michael the talk last week.”

“Oy, how did that go?” one of them asked.

My sister’s fledgling OCD thwarted our plan when she reached out to right an errant Christmas ball and upset the house of cards equilibrium keeping the tree upright. It listed, we were forced to hold it in place or become impaled by hundreds of pine needles, and my mother and her friends were alerted to our eavesdropping. I managed to convince my mom and her cross-armed Mah-jong partners that we were just snooping around the gifts under the tree. And, left without proof of any further misdeeds, she sent us upstairs where we joined the other two watching one of the dozens of Christmas specials on television in late December.

My external environment during the 1986 holiday season was probably the same as it had been in 1985 and 1984. My family and I lived just off the teardrop of a cul-de-sac on a hill high in a suburban development. We were surrounded by trees and fences and other houses. It was in that cul-de-sac, compacting snowball ammunition that my friends and I – Skip, Joe, Eddie, Mike, and Ben – were engaged in our seasonal debate on the rivalry between Hanukkah and Christmas.

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