Shop 'til you drop

Thanksgiving has passed, and you know what that means. Well, for one thing, it means Andy Williams is being exhumed to perform one more Christmas special.
And for another, it means we've boarded a rocket sled toward that spirit-warming and budget-busting season we call Christmastime. As the Christmas shopping season begins, Uncle Ben would like to provide his nine loyal readers with some advice. It's not that Uncle Ben is a particularly shrewd or thoughtful shopper; in fact, Uncle Ben is cheap and impatient. He views holiday shopping not as an enjoyable tradition rife with selfless spirit, but as a seek-and-destroy mission, a surgical strike worthy of the U.S. Air Force. That's because Uncle Ben doesn't particularly enjoy shopping. Although he does, as you've probably noticed, enjoy referring to himself in the third person.
The shoppers who really need pointers at this time of year are rookie parents. They'll be tempted to spend a fortune on their babies during this special first Christmas, unaware of the No. 1 rule of gift-giving when it comes to small children: The expense and complexity of any gift is inversely proportional to the child's enjoyment of it. Give your toddler a NASA-approved Erector set capable of launching satellites into orbit, and your toddler will flee the gift crying. Give your toddler the box the Erector set came in, and it will be enjoyed for hours.
Whenever he's forced to shop for a new niece or nephew, Uncle Ben opts for a plastic bowl or a spoon or some other seemingly boring household item, preferably one he just snagged off the kitchen counter of whoever happens to be hosting the family Christmas gathering. The kids love this approach, as does Uncle Ben, who puts all the shopping money he saves into the hands of his bookie ... er, into the nearest Salvation Army kettle.
Here's another holiday shopping tip from Uncle Ben. This one's for the ladies. In case you haven't noticed, we guys don't have much shopping endurance. When it comes to watching football and/or scratching ourselves, we can go all day. But about an hour at the mall is all we can hack.
If you want to prevent your husband from melting down toddler-style - laying on the floor, kicking and screaming, as boogers fly everywhere - you must observe the subtle hints we leave. These may include your husband, seconds after entering the mall, asking, "Are we about done here?" Or your man may make like my Grandpa Peck, who when he grew tired of shopping - you know, after seven or eight minutes - would place his hands on the small of his back and lean backward, as if to say, "One more minute of this and I'm going to keel over!" Grandma knew then that it was time to go.
Yes, spouses learn to pick up on each other's subtle hints over the years. You may think this makes finding a Christmas gift for one's spouse easier over time. If so, you are a huge moron. Shopping for your wife is never easy, and it gets harder every year.
Why? Because you use up all your good ideas in the first couple of years, before the arrival of children leaves you sleep-deprived, poverty-stricken and completely devoid of inspiration. Last year Uncle Ben gave his wife one of those electric carving knives. He remembers this because it took the EMTs nearly an hour to remove it from his cranium.
Closing in on his 10th Christmas as Wendy's husband, Uncle Ben has no clue what to get her anymore. His only hope is that she will leave him a subtle hint. You know, like circling items in catalogs in red marker, ripping out the pages and stuffing them in his pants pockets. Or, if such gentle suggestions fail to register, she can always whack him on the back of the head with a meat tenderizer and scream her Christmas list in his ear. This should make an impression - perhaps literally - unless the blow renders him unconscious.
Come to think of it, being unconscious during the Christmas shopping season wouldn't be all bad. Uncle Ben wouldn't have to set foot in the mall. Or sit through Andy Williams' Christmas special.

All columnist Ben Bromley wants - nay, NEEDS - this Christmas is aspirin and Jack Daniel's. A former Lillie Suburban Newspaper editor, Bromley now is a writer at the Baraboo News Republic.


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