Thanksgiving hadn’t even come! But still, nearly a week ago, I could already say that I had lost my membership in the Holiday Kindness to Others Club.
Last Monday night, I was inching my full shopping cart forward in the checkout line at a Tempe store. It was not a huge department store, as it had only four cash registers. Only one lane was open, however, and there were five other customers ahead of me.
It wasn’t even my first approach to the checkout area; the first time there was a similar line, so I turned back and poked around among the shelves for about 10 more minutes, only to find there were still five shoppers ahead of me at the same single register.
So I pushed the cart into line and waited another 10 minutes. OK, maybe it was only five.
Just as I was about to approach the cashier, though, a thin middle-aged woman in bicyclist clothing — who apparently wore her helmet the entire time she was shopping — stepped behind me, cartless.
“Excuse me,” she said, after what I am sure was a good look at all the stuff I was going to buy. “I just have one item.”
This was the moment all the Christmas movies and books and songs talk about: Good will toward men. And women. And pets. And Tiny Tim’s famed exclamation, with the emphasis on the last word: “God bless us, everyone!”
My reply? Uh, let me explain:
Like a lot of people — and contrary to popular folklore this doesn’t merely include men but plenty of women as well — holiday shopping is a means to an end. I give some serious thought to what each recipient would like, and when I have amassed a decent list I head to the stores and look for that stuff.
I’m one of those people that financial talk-show hosts love but who aren’t anywhere near the majority of us who put together a Christmas shopping budget. I admit that I am not rich and that I — and my creditors — certainly appreciate any time that I’m paying less than I thought I’d pay. So price is an important consideration, but not as much as getting an item that matches the desires, needs, or both, of the particular person, mindful of the total I have to spend.
I certainly sympathize with anyone for whom spending the night outside waiting for the store to open is the only way they can afford to buy certain items. But those shoppers are nowhere near the majority. The majority are people who simply love the thrill of the find, the deal, for its own sake, so much that they would spent a fitful night in a tent set up on hard, frigid concrete just to light up someone’s face on Christmas morning. Because, after all, they got 50 percent off!
It’s great to get the lowest price possible on something for oneself, because you’ve been living with your level of frugality your whole life. But it’s another thing entirely to give a gift to someone that says, “Someone else’s loved ones got the same thing after paying $40, but aren’t you happy to know that I only paid $20 for it?”
All this has little to do with how, last Monday night, there I was, with nothing in my cart headed for a spot beneath a tree, by the way. Many of the items were actually to fill a shopping bag of necessities to give to a local charity that helps the less fortunate.
Therefore, I admit it: Here I was, helping the less fortunate and everything, and it wasn’t enough for this woman. I’ve been trying to check out for nearly 20 minutes and she just waltzes up without waiting, behind only one other customer — me — and that wasn’t enough for her?
I turned and although I didn’t smile, at least I didn’t scowl.
“I was the sixth person in line,” I said, hearing my own loud sigh. “Would you mind?”
It was she who showed the kind of deference we’re all supposed to have.
“No, go right ahead,” she said.
I had all my items back in the cart and was heading toward the door when I heard her once more. “Hope you have a better night,” she said with a sincere voice.
And up there at the North Pole, I imagined Santa Claus adding one name to the “nice” list, and one to the “naughty” one.
And it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet! Which means that there’s still time for anyone to reapply to join the Holiday Kindness to Others Club. Even me.
• Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Watch his video commentaries at eastvalleytribune.com. Reach him at email@example.com.