Ladies and gentlemen, do you suffer from . . . . PRESENT MADNESS?
Present madness is when you find yourself choosing, paying for, and possibly even being ecstatic about a gift, even though it is stupid and insane and nobody wants it. You do it because you’ve been caught up in the panic and hysteria of Christmas shopping, and after a certain point, your brain takes one look at your emotional state and decides it wanted no part of this, and leaves. So you end up paying too much money for something that is objectively garbage, but it presents itself to you as if it’s not only a good present, but the thing without which Christmas simply will not happen.
If this has never happened to you, then please consider the following essay my gift to you, so that you may be happy in the life you have chosen. If what follows is familiar, then this is also your gift: The gift of knowing it’s not just you.
Present madness happened to me when, as a newlywed, I ended up buying my new husband a heating pad from a drug store for Christmas, and was devastated when he very understandably didn’t like it, because it was a heating pad from a drug store.
It happened to me back when I was single and had time to wander around a mall unimpeded, and yet somehow I ended up buying my younger brother a rubber steering wheel cover decorated with red and yellow flames. (My brother did not own a car.)
It happened to me last year, when I came within microns of pressing “order” for a pair of Harlem Globe Trotter Heelys for a child who not only never expressed an interest in Heelys, but doesn’t know who the Harlem Globe Trotters are and may not even know what basketball is.
And it came very close to happening this year, when we went to GameStop (ptui, ptui) a week before Christmas in search of a very specific item.
Before you judge us for what I’m about to relate, please remember that we had “finished shopping” weeks ago, and were smugly resting on our materialistic laurels, quietly sneering at those inferior parents who had squandered their Advent praying or serving the poor or whatever. We, being wise and prudent, had Christmas literally in the bag. We had ordered almost everything online, and let the goodies come to us, and honestly, most of the gifts were wholesome, thoughtful, and occasionally delightful. But, about a week before Christmas, we locked ourselves into our bedroom to make sure everything on our list was actually in our possession.
Oh dear. It turned out two items we had ordered were still in transit, and expected Thursday (Christmas eve). One item had quietly changed its expected arrival date to March 25. One apparently hadn’t realized it was coming all the way from China, and in a panic, sent us a rather hostile email saying that there’s no way it would make it on time unless we coughed up an extra $40 in shipping, and we had to say yes or no two weeks ago, and it went to spam. And one was still meekly sitting in an Etsy cart, hoping and praying I’d actually order it.
The lo, the twinkly world of Christmas joy became dark in our eyes. And so we succumbed to Present Madness.
We shouted something vague at the kids about being back soon, and we went to, uh, seven stores, looking to just pick up a few things to fill in the gaps in our carefully calibrated present list.
And we found nothing. Walmart, Target, Michael’s, the local toy store, the local comic store, even the retail wasteland known as TJ Maxx, but NOTHING.
To GameStop then we came, burning burning burning.
If you’re not familiar with GameStop, it’s a sort of geeky gehenna that sells video games, used video games, and a horrifying array of spectacularly useless game-related merch. The rug smells funny, the air is bad, the employees are all shriveled monsters, and whoever sets the prices should go to prison. Last time I went to GameStop, many moons ago, I went to advocate for my gangly, curly-haired teenage son, who had somehow gotten himself embroiled in a complicated situation involving a box of special edition Sonic the Hedgehog breakfast cereal. I don’t ever want to talk about that. But the line was moving turrribly slowly, and I soon saw that the delay was being caused by a middle-aged woman with stooped shoulders and baggy eyes, who was passionately arguing for justice on behalf of her gangly, curly-headed teenage son. Something about reward points and the collectable My Hero Academia shoelaces he had ordered.
And I says to myself, I says, if I wanted to look in a mirror, I could do that in the comfort of my own home, and at least I could sit down. So I never went back, until last weekend, when we had nowhere else to turn and GameStop knew it.
My feet hurt so much, they were audibly whimpering. My nose was running behind my mask, and I had to go to the bathroom. We hadn’t made a dent on our list at all, except that we had bought one thing that took care of one kid, but which shifted the balance of presents so that now a kid who had formerly been done suddenly needed a little extra present to even things up. Yes, I said “needed!” Don’t question me! I’ll cut you!
So we made the ultimate sacrifice and went to Game Stop, and we still didn’t find the thing we were looking for, because it’s Game Stop. We circled around and around to make sure the thing was not there, and it was not. But. What is this? What is this amazing thing? It is so amazing! It is, and you’re not going to believe this! It is a Dragonball Z hot air popcorn maker that lights up! So cool! And we knew exactly who would want such a thing: A child who didn’t need any more Christmas presents. But it is on sale! And it is a limited edition! Or maybe it doesn’t light up, but is just orange! Hard to tell from the box! Only six left! And her birthday is in April, so we could pack it away and be ahead of the game! We’d have to be insane NOT to buy it! So we grabbed one and got into line, chortling to ourselves at what a wonderful present we had scored, and how much progress we were making, because look at us, buying something!
Luckily, it was GameStop, which means the line was moving slowly. As we waited, we had time to stop and reflect. And we realized that we were about to spend $30 on absolute garbage that would make zero people happy. So, get this, we put it back, and we left the store without buying anything.
Just this once, we triumphed over Present Madness.
Except then we went to Walmart and bought a Frozen II Karaoke machine and also a rose gold microphone at Aldi, in case we need it. We might need it! I’ll cut you!
Maybe you think this is an essay about how we learned our lesson about excessive materialism, and how, having renounced the Dragonball Z Air Popper and all its empty promises, we vowed to realign our hearts toward the Christchild, who was born in Bethlehem with only swaddling clothes to cover him and only a choir of angels to sing him to sleep, and that was enough. That was enough.
But no. One of my sisters just mentioned on Facebook she’s eyeing a self-stirring mug they just put out at Walmart, and now I need to find my car keys. I honestly think the angels will still be singing when I get back.