Shopping Woes
by Jeff Lewis

It seems these days that if I’m not bird watching or injuring my back while turning the contents of our compost bin, I’m either wandering from one mall to another or searching the internet in vain for good gifts.  For instance, I thought it would be a great idea to create customizable t-shirts at CafePress.com, a site that allows you to upload images for placement on shirts, lunchboxes, hoodies and stickers. I think it is a great concept and the prices aren’t too bad, but in my case the quality assurance process left me with a new batch of “pajama” t-shirts.

Shortly thereafter, I spent a sizable amount of time trying to track down a copy of the new Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield-inspired funk album by Baby Jaymes, which the San Francisco Chronicle gave an overwhelmingly good review.  The problem, which the Chronicle failed to mention, was that the CD is not on a major label so none of the major music sites had any mention of Baby Jaymes.  After much searching, I finally found his own website, which sells the album, but lists it as an LP, not a CD.  As I don’t have any DJs on my shopping list, this was a bit of a setback.

My failures online unfortunately necessitated a lot of shopping in malls.  Kudos to the companies that are offering free gift cards to Christmas shoppers, because this is a brilliant marketing ploy that will bamboozle loads of people into buying things they don’t necessarily need.  The Gap, for example, is giving customers a $15 gift card for purchases over $75.  Sadly, we are the primary demographic for this trick:  middle-class shoppers who still can remember what it was like to eat top ramen.  By my calculations, this promotion will end up costing our household about $150.  Let me explain.

Our first trip to The Gap netted us about $100 worth of children’s clothes and a $15 gift card.  (Those onesies really add up.)  Unfortunately, we didn’t bring our master Christmas list and forgot that we also were trying to find some soft, pretty women’s gear that can be returned easily.  Since Gaps are ubiquitous, they are good for exchange purposes.

On our next visit a few days later, we quickly found a couple of likely gifts, but because we hadn’t reached our target value for the particular recipient, we continued shopping.  We expanded our search and found a nice accessory, but we needed a size that the store didn’t stock, so we decided to end our day’s spree at $40.  That’s when we remembered the gift card, which triggered our brains to release some extra shopping hormones.  The illogical need to get a gift card overwhelmed our revulsion of the Bing Crosby techno remix that played incessantly, and we wracked our brains for fresh gift ideas.

After wandering around the store for about thirty minutes we found a couple more items, which brought our total to $66.  I considered buying a few socks at that point, but my math was poor—very poor—and I thought I needed to buy $20 worth of socks.  I already have many, many socks, but I mulled over the brown-with-orange-striped athletic pair.  Meanwhile, the baby section caught my wife’s eye, so I dragged myself away from the footwear to appraise the tiny frocks, sweaters and onesies.  After a half hour, I tired, so I naturally I leaned against a rack to contemplate the frilly $40 dresses.  (At $20 per square foot of fabric, that’s quite a racket.)  That’s when my old composting injury struck—a violent back spasm shot through my left side and down my leg—so I draped myself on top of the baby turtlenecks and tried to stabilize the pain.

Pain stabilization came in this form:  buttocks out, head and chest pointed towards the ceiling.  Any deviation from this posture:  searing pain.  Glimpses of this posture in Baby Gap:  troubling.

I called in a matter of fact way to my wife, “Lynn, I just messed up my back.  We’ve got to go, even if we aren’t up to $75 yet.”  When she popped up from the Sale corner with a sweater/dress combo, I pointed to the register and said, “Buy it.  I’ll follow.”  Booty out, head and chest up, I shuffled gingerly out of the store; our Gap bill was $115.

Unfortunately, a couple days later, we had to return to another Gap, for the accessory that we planned to buy, to match with the $40 gift that launched the aforementioned debacle.  We resolved to be content to leave without a gift card, but I couldn’t pass up heavily-reduced rain gear, which brought our total purchases to $65.  This was just too close to $75, so again, I eyed the brown socks, but wisely passed.  We split up, with Lynn looking at pants, I at belts.  Somehow, we could find nothing that we could justify buying, despite circling the store at least a dozen times over the course of three rotations of the Bing Crosby techno remix.  Finally, overwhelmed by the experience, wanting desperately to leave the store, I bought a grey pinstriped pant, for $60.  Our bill:  $140, with tax.

So far we’ve spent an extra $130 to get $45 in gift cards and if our current pattern holds, there’s no way we’ll be able to keep our purchases under $45 when we cash them in.  All we can do is hope for a Christmas miracle; maybe Santa will alter our psyches, so we are no longer compelled to use up every last penny of the gift cards.

Copyright Jeff Lewis, 2004