So, I was desperate for column ideas on a Monday afternoon that also happened to be Christmas Eve.

No brainer, right? I’d just head to the stores, behold the eye-bulging madness of last-minute shopping and let that column write itself.

Maybe it would be a hair-pulling, eye-gouging brawl in the toy aisle over the last Princess Cadance My Little Pony on the shelf.

Maybe it would be a young father reduced to tears by the realization that the 9-terabyte Nintendo XBox Annihilator his rug rat demanded for Christmas cost more than he makes in a month.

Perhaps a mall Santa would hit the Cutty Sark a little too hard and would go weaving into Kmart to sing “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” pants-less in the lawn and garden section.

Late afternoon in the stores on Christmas Eve? Oh, yeah. That’s when holiday push becomes Yuletide shove and anything is possible. I’ve seen cantaloupes hurled like bowling balls down the checkout lanes. I’ve seen exhausted last-minute shoppers (young men with new girlfriends, mostly) curled into fetal positions in the ladies apparel section.

I’ve seen depraved acts at the produce bins, abominations in the home and bath department and drunken roundhouse kicks delivered in that weird section that offers cheese gift kits, Old Spice bathing sets and a remarkable variety of bath oil beads to the truly desperate Christmas shopper.

I’ve seen fire, my friends. I’ve seen rain. On Christmas Eve, the stores turn into scenes from “The Walking Dead,” with zombies who are out for expensive electronics, bottles of perfume and last-minute stocking stuffers instead of human flesh.

If you’re a handsome and desperate column writer like myself, often you don’t even have to go into the stores to get what you’re after. Sometimes fights over parking spaces turn crowded sections of the lot into a minivan version of bumper cars. Sometimes you’ll see inappropriate behavior with shopping carts. There is often nudity, drunkenness and occasional vomiting as Christmas spirit slams into desperation and human nature goes dark.

Who among us can forget the unfortunate incident with the store mannequin and the mistletoe from 1997? I still have nightmares.

So on this Monday that was also Christmas Eve, I went to the stores with the high hopes of a freckle-faced youngster who suspects that he’s getting a mountain of loot on Christmas morning.

Instead, I was like poor Ralphie when he got the pink bunny outfit instead of a BB gun. What I found at the stores was just horribly deflating. There were so many available parking spots outside Walmart, not one round of minivan bumper cars was played. Inside the store, the aisles were not crammed with surly shoppers, the shopping carts were upright and nobody was hurling fruit.

The lines were not long. Tempers were not flaring. Even the electronics department, which normally looks like the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” around Christmastime, was unusually sedate.

“What’s going on?” I asked a man I encountered near women’s shoes. “Where are all the desperate shoppers? Where are the fights? Why isn’t Santa singing pants-less over by the garden rakes?”

The fellow looked at me like I was some crazy stranger in the women’s shoe department.

“Who goes shopping on Christmas Eve?” he said. “Just about everybody shops online now. Why go out to the stores when you can do it all from home and get two-day shipping? Ever heard of Amazon? Geesh. Now, get out of this changing room, I’m using it.”

I went to Lowe’s and Kmart and Big Lots. Same thing everywhere: just normal, non-frenzied shopping and no roundhouse kicks to be seen. I tried the grocery stores, figuring the last-minute runs for booze and Christmas dinner fixings would at least mean a small tsunami of holiday hooliganism.

Nope. Just Monday afternoon shopping with nothing much to indicate that the clock was ticking down to the hour of Santa. There was no Christmas music. There were no shrieking arguments over the last tub of French onion dip. To me, it didn’t feel like Christmas at all.

Near the checkout lanes, I encountered a woman in a Santa hat. She appeared confused and was gazing at everyone she passed in hopes of recognizing a glint of the old holiday madness she had come to love.

Our eyes met. Silent communication seemed to pass between us. Where were the panicked mobs, we wondered? Where was the insanity?

“Merry Christmas,” I said.

“Merry Christmas to you.”

Out in the lot, she rammed my car with her own and screamed at me to get out of her parking spot.

It was the perfect gift.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer who has always depended on the kindness of strangers. Email him at [email protected]

 

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