This Side Up

A cheer for Christmas Eve shopping


Some people save the most important gift for last.

That, at least, was my conclusion on entering PetSmart Christmas Eve day.

Other stores I visited that morning were virtually empty. Finding a parking place at Pier One was a snap. I just pulled up to the door. Inside, I found sales assistants tripping over each other to help me.

“Is there anything I can find for you this morning?” asked one woman in a cheery voice. I thought of answering, “Yes, something my wife would love; a gift for my daughter in-law; something fun for my granddaughters and the grand daddy of them all, a surprise, but something not too expensive because that would cause problems, for Ted’s mother in-law, Sharon.”

In other words, I was just getting started with my shopping.

But, deciding not to sound too helpless, I asked, “Do you have table cloths?”

I thought that would be a winner with Carol, for sure.

The smile on the woman’s face evaporated. Another assistant standing close by, who looked ready to sprint to any corner of the store to fulfill my order before then, was likewise crestfallen.

I evidently picked the one thing they didn’t have.

The first one rebounded.

“We have table runners and placemats … and napkin holders, candles … but no table cloths in the store. They’re online.”

She almost bit her tongue when she said “online.” Maybe in the future, when Amazon really is delivering by drone, I could get away with online shopping Christmas Eve.

“Anything else?” she implored, almost desperately.

“I’ll check out the placemats.”

She looked relieved to leave me alone.

My shopping experience turned out to be remarkably entertaining. The entertainment was in the form of another couple looking for last minute presents. She wore black leotards, high heels and a tight-fitting bodice. She had a red bow in her black hair. Her eyelashes were an inch long and her lips were caked with ruby red lipstick. They looked gooey. She could have stepped out of a Toulouse Lautrec poster. He, on the other hand, was a good two inches shorter, wore khakis, a blue work shirt and boots. He could have stepped off the set of “This Old House.”

“It’s this,” she said, enthusiastically picking up a silver modernistic sculpture looking like a sword that had been bent back on itself.

He looked skeptical. She raised the sculpture to her head as if they were a pair of horns. I was ready for her to charge through the store and for him to yell “Olé,” but he was in no mood for her playfulness. She handed him the sculpture and turned her enthusiasm to trying on scarves and jewelry hanging from a nearby rack. She tried on a necklace, glanced at her profile in a nearby mirror, and caught me looking. She smiled. I smiled, but she never would have guessed why. I had just found the perfect gift for Ted’s mother-in-law looped around her neck.

From Pier One, I walked over to PetSmart. The place was humming. My objective was to find something chewable but indestructible for Ollie. The gal at the checkout suggested a chicken-flavored plastic bone, pointing in the direction of a nearby aisle. That’s where I came face-to-face with an older couple with a golden lab mix at their side.

“You’re going to spoil it for him if he sees you buying it,” I ventured, anticipating a laugh, which I didn’t get. They were serious shoppers.

The dog looked at me and shrunk back on his leash.

“He doesn’t like men,” the man offered.

I kept my distance and extended my hand. The dog knew the routine and gave me a sniff.

“He’s a rescue dog from Tennessee. Doesn’t like trucks either. Something bad must have happened,” the man said.

The woman used the diversion to pull a stuffed animal from the shelf and slide it into a shopping cart.

“I don’t think he saw that,” she declared triumphantly. They had found their surprise. It looked like a good choice, so I got one for Ollie, too.

It was then that I encountered the gal from the “Moulin Rouge” for a second time. She wasn’t modeling doggie outfits or about to charge through the store. Her arms were filled with doggie toys and what looked to be a Patriots jersey. I wondered if it had the number 12 on it.

Her companion trudged along dutifully.

“So, you’ve got a Patriots outfit for your dog?” I said.

“Oh,” she answered. “He already has one. This is for his friend. It’s a cheerleader’s skirt.”

I looked at the man, who was now reaching into his back pocket for his wallet. His expression said it all.

There’s nothing better than shopping on Christmas Eve. There’s the pressure of a deadline, lots of attendants anxious to help so that they can get out and shop; and plenty of parking, I discovered. Just do it alone and maybe you won’t have to end up buying a canine Patriots cheerleader outfit.


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