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Jinny’s article will be written this week by her daughter, Adele.
Holidays are a funny thing. They seem to bring out the best and worst in people; Christmas particularly so. If you think about it, there is a tragic dichotomy inherent in Christmas in the modern world. The two primary expectations associated with Christmas are doomed to be in direct opposition to each other for eternity.
On the one hand, the most meaningful aspect of Christmas (and the one most important in my world) is the notion that we all ought to be filled with love, goodwill towards men, peace, joy, and a powerful desire to give to those less fortunate than ourselves. This, in short, is the lesson of Christmas. On the other hand, one is expected to maintain these lofty ideals while spending one’s formerly free time battling traffic and crowds while spending obscene amounts of money. Christmas is definitely a schizophrenic holiday.
There is a lot of guilt associated with Christmas; at least for me there is. While I absolutely adore showering my beloved children with gifts and delight in their delight at receiving them, I can’t help feeling that I have somehow sold out to the gross commercialism and become a cog in the giant wheel that represents what is wrong with the whole business in the first place. Every year I promise myself that I will not go too far with the gift giving, and every year I end up folding like a house of cards. I’m obviously lacking in will power.
I comfort myself by being of good cheer and having boatloads of goodwill towards whomever. I confess to being annually appalled by the behavior of some people during this stressful time of year. I am particularly horrified by the frequent abuse of cashiers that seems to have become almost a holiday tradition.
I was in a store during the peak of the shopping nightmare when I had an encounter predicated by just such behavior. I was in line behind a woman with a small child in her cart. From what I could discern, she was quite distressed by the fact that the store did not have, or were sold out of, a particular item she wanted and she was taking out her frustration on the poor girl at the register. She was demanding that someone go in the back and see if there were any more and generally heaping verbal abuse upon the girl, the stock boys, the store, and anyone else she could think of. The poor child just trying to do her job had tears in her eyes and looked like a whipped puppy. The woman was red in the face and I think I saw a vein popping out on her head. It was getting uglier by the second and I felt it my duty to attempt some intervention.
I decided to use my best firm, yet conciliatory tone of voice. The one that is a cross between a hostage negotiator and a character in a Jane Austin novel who is attempting to calm some hysterical female. “Madam, please calm yourself,” I said. “This poor young lady cannot be held responsible for your problem; she does neither the ordering nor the stocking of inventory.”
The woman turned her throbbing vein in my direction. “Who are you?” she asked. “Some kind of freaking saint? This isn’t an episode of Touched by an Angel, you know.”
OK. That sort of threw me off, particularly since I have no idea what happened in any episode of Touched by an Angel, given that I never watched it. Was I supposed to sprout wings and be suddenly surrounded by a white light and impressive choral music? The poor clerk was white as a sheet and looking at me as if I had sprouted something, but I don’t think it was wings.
“Actually,” I replied, trying to look as haughtily angelic as possible, “I am merely a fellow patron in this store attempting to live up to the principals of goodwill, kindness, and love that typify the season, who is appalled by your wretched treatment of this poor girl who is only trying to do her job, earn some money, and put herself through college.”
I had no idea if any of this were true. The young lady may have been earning money to buy a pair of designer jeans and tickets to a Marilyn Manson concert for all I knew. I didn’t think that would work quite as well, however, so I went with the college thing. I had toyed with the idea of throwing in an operation for a sick grandmother, but that seemed a little over the top.
The response to my little speech was dead silence. The woman snarled in a feral kind of way and grabbed her purse in a death grip. I heard the man behind me say, “Honey, I might be a little late, I think there is going to be a cat fight in the store.” I turned to see him talking on his cell phone.
It did look like she was going to hit me with her purse. I looked around for something I could use for some clever Kung-Fu-y like block, but I didn’t think that candy bars or tabloid magazines were going to help me much against the lady’s copious handbag. Things were looking grim. The girl at the register was on the phone frantically calling for someone named Dave. I assumed Dave was the manager. Or the bouncer.
“Here’s some holiday advice.” The lady spit at me. “Mind your own darn business.”
I’m paraphrasing, of course. Her language was not nearly as polite. I heard the man behind me giggle.
Since my last little speech had obviously been misunderstood, I opted for something more culturally specific. “Mam, I am only trying to keep you from falling into the Dark Side of the holidays,” I told her, and pointed to her young daughter in the cart. “Is this how you want her to view Christmas, as the time of year when her mother is nasty to shop girls?”
“Hey, I’m not a shop girl!” said the offended clerk.
“Sorry, poor choice of terminology.” I assured her.
The evil customer, meanwhile, was looking decidedly pale. She looked at her daughter and promptly burst into tears.
OK, this response was slightly better than assault with a handbag, but not expected.
“Ohhhhh,” she wailed. “I’m so, so sorry. The stress has been unbelievable and my teenager wants an I-pod and if I don’t get this stupid CD for my niece my sister-in-law will spend the rest of the year making my life miserable.” She was seriously crying, now.
The little girl in the cart followed her mother’s lead and began to cry as well. “You made Mommy cry, I hate you!” she said to me between keening sobs.
I felt panic set in. I patted the little girl on the head and the woman on the back and made all sorts of vague soothing noises while keeping a sharp eye on the toddler who I felt might bite me at any moment. I told the woman not to worry, stress could do this to perfectly nice people and what she needed to do was go home, make a nice cup of tea, and put her feet up for awhile.
In the end, she subsided to sniffles and her daughter stopped looking at me as if I were the embodiment of evil when I handed her a lollipop. Dave finally showed up and gave her a rain check for the CD, which he promised would be in by the end of the week. She apologized to the girl at the register, thanked me, and left a better person.
“I thought she was going to hit you with her purse,” said the girl as she rang me up, including the lollipop.
“You and me both,” I answered dryly.
“There wasn’t even any hair pulling,” the man behind me grumbled.
“Well,” I responded cheerily, “I guess we all can’t have our holiday wishes come true.”
Well, I guess all was well that ended well but it was touch and go there for awhile. When I was out in my car I reflected upon the entire incident and decided that the spreading of goodwill business could be decidedly dangerous, and was probably best left to Carmelite Nuns, Men of the Cloth, or heavily armed mercenaries with names like Duke or Butch. It seemed to me that they had far less chance of being hit with a handbag for the holidays.
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