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You better shop offline

December 21, 2000

You better shop offline



For the past four seasons, Christmas shopping has been relatively easy, based on three little words: Point and click.

Those of us who do not like to get up out of our armchairs for anything other than opening the door for the Chinese-food delivery guy, or seeing if we've left the remote in the refrigerator again, learned the secrets of online shopping early on.

But suddenly the masses have caught on, and like the Grand Canyon and four-wheel-drive vehicles, they've ruined it.

Last Thursday, I got a message from my computer calendar reminder service. Seemed there was some sort of holiday on the horizon that deserved attention. Oh yes, that Christmas thing. I like to keep the Yuletide season in my heart - not because I'm any more spiritual than the next guy, but because it's just a whole lot less effort.

Tell a person that you "keep Christmas in your heart" and it does two things: It keeps them from expecting a card. And it elevates you in their eyes to a position of superior consciousness, of one whose inner soul is above the marketing and the hype and the commercialism, and dwells on a peaceful plane of existence that draws happiness without material gain and chooses to give to others by extending an aura of kindness and good wishes.

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And it's all true, mostly. Except maybe the part about kindness and good wishes.

Some say that it is better to give than to receive. I say it is better to ignore than to exert. But still, there is a "bare minimum" that must be done, so I yawned, cracked my knuckles and logged on to a couple of my favorite, online retailers.

And then things got weird.

The first place I tried had nothing I wanted. The second place I tried had what I wanted with shipping (due to heavy orders and not enough packers) happily guaranteed by Jan. 15. A third Web site was moving so slow I couldn't even get through.

Angrily I pawed through the recycling and removed one of the estimated 46.3 billion mail-order catalogues I'd received in the last month.

I called in and said "Look shoppie, I want a fleece overcoat, a leather purse and a Li'l Einstein ant farm" and he said "Yes sir, we have none of those."

I called another catalog merchant, but it was one of those overly helpful kind that try to sell you stuff and solve your emotional problems at the same time. They're all into helping you find the "appropriate gift" and stuff. I tried to explain that I didn't want the appropriate gift, I wanted a Christmas present. But in a warm, cooing voice, she insisted.

"Now who are we buying for today?"

"How the heck should I know? I'll figure all that out later."

"Well, what kind of personality traits does this person have?"

"What do I look like, a psychic? Just give some consumer goods that slap some glorified Kleenex around and never think about again."

I slammed down the and went back online.

But it just got more and more confusing. Hand-picked, mountain grown sweaters. Polertec steaks. Cob-smoked mittens. Angora-lined salmon. Scooters that cost $89 more than the ones we had when we were kids because the wheels are smaller. DVD players that show movies with perfect clarity, but no movies worth watching no matter what the reception.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Americans have too much money. What we need is another recession.

In the end, I shut down the computer and decided to bake everybody fruit cakes.

At least they shouldn't care too much if I don't get anything for them next year.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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