I'm trying to decide what I want for Christmas. Since today is the 1st of December, and therefore almost Christmas, it seems imperative that I decide. My next door neighbors are working on their third or fourth list already. To keep them occupied, their mother gives them sheets of paper and pencils and tells them to go through the ads. Later on, as I understand it, they go through their individual lists and decide what's acceptable or unacceptable. They aren't getting full-sized motorcycles this year, not that they haven't tried, so dirt bikes are unacceptable. They've been making lists since Friday — Black Friday — and revising them as if their lives depended on it. A full four weeks of their young lives will be invested in wishing, hoping for, attempting to convince, or generally begging and manipulating, which isn't all that unusual, of course. What got me was telling them to go through the ads.

I remember thumbing through a friend's Sears and Roebuck Catalog as a child. We didn't buy things through catalogs and almost never shopped at Sears. So, while I can't remember which friend, I'm positive it wasn't our catalog. As a cornucopia of material excess, it was mesmerizing. I'll include women's underwear in the list, which was interesting for a while, but the mixture of microscopes, pool tables, Erector Sets, cameras, Lionel trains, and everything from basketballs to catcher's equipment, with guns, skis and spring-loaded traps thrown in for good measure, made not lusting after material possessions almost imposible. Most of it was junk, I suspect, but it glittered and glowed. The lure of it, the spell it cast still tugs at me.

But, newspaper ads and mailers are not catalogs. They turn out to be compendia, for the most part, of merchandise that retailers hope you will buy from them rather than from someone else. The question is, do you see yourself buying a Canon PowerShot from, Target, Wall-Mart, K-Mart, Best Buy, Costco, or CVC? That's the local choice. Also, ads are salted with high profit items, which means your local retailer, if successful, can sell fewer of whatever they turn out to be than whatever he might have sold with a lower markup — and end up with the same number of dollars. Your part in this wonderful equation is the privilege of getting less for your money, perhaps only something of lesser quality, but with more glitter and glow. If people were more introspective than ad inspective, they might discover what they actually want or need. If it's socks or t-shirts, a constant need in my life, then check the ads and mailers. But, if you're just trying to figure out what you really want for Christmas…

Of course, the question might be why you're wondering that in the first place. Every so often my kids, who are old enough to have kids of their own, have been disappointed by the gifts I gave them. I have since given up on gifts. An emergency kit for the car was one such disappointment. It was something I gave William — not the only thing, but the "biggest" thing. A few months later he had a blowout on a busy highway and remembered it in the trunk. At that moment, with Christmas far behind, the wisdom of it dawned on him, but the disappointment, I think, lingered. It neither glittered nor glowed at the time of giving. My other son's bitter disappoint was that I sent his gifts to his grandparents' home where he would eventually find them. It didn't matter what I had given him, because if I had really cared, he said, I would have given him the gifts directly instead of just leaving them somewhere. It was March or so before he found them and June or July before he mentioned them. So, I asked if he'd prefer that I send things to:
c⁄o General Delivery
Wherever the Grateful Dead Are Playing
He thought about that for a while and then changed the subject.

The truth is, I've grown to hate Christmas. I've also been hated for hating Christmas. It's my duty, I'm told, to maintain the illusion that adults are in fact children once every year or any time they're at Disneyland. Their innocence should be respected. Mostly, I hate the demands people make. Christmas, as now practiced, is an Annual Day of Entitlement. Ill-conceived and poorly thought out material needs are expected to be filled. It's a town where every street is a one-way street and they all lead to ME. I'd settle for a nice meal, a hot cup of tea and pleasant conversation.

Remember, only twenty-three more shopping days until Christmas.