“Dad, can we go to the mall?” She asks me, on Friday December 22nd.
“What? Dude, we have all our presents. Why do you need to go shopping?” I exclaim. If I ever told you that I don’t say “dude” it was a lie. I call everyone dude at some point in their life. When the dog poops on the floor, “dude!” When a player dribbles past everyone and scores, “duuude”. When you tell me some horrible secret, “damn dude.” Dude is just something I say when I’m emotionally riled up.
“I need to get stuff for my friends, Scarlet, Riley, and Audrey.”
I take a moment to think of an escape route. Parking is going to be crazy. People are going to be short tempered. And just the sheer number of people there is going to give me anxiety. But it’s too late to order online.
“Ok.” I say and I don’t know why those words came out of my mouth. But there it was, out there in the world and I can’t take it back.
I think back over my life. I don’t do Christmas. I’m not a Christian and I’m not a fan of consumer capitalism. I only got a tree because she bought me one a plastic one a few years ago when she was 7: a white one with red lights, the “Arsenal Christmas tree” she called it. And now we have Christmas lights, and decorations, and I’m going to the mall on the Friday before Christmas.
Traffic is as bad as you think it would be. I’m in the left turn lane to get into the mall with about 20 cars in front of me, so, about a 10 minute wait. And suddenly some Lexus just stops next to me and puts her blinker on and starts edging in front of me. Yep. There’s the Christmas spirit! This is why I don’t celebrate Christmas!
When I was a younger man, I would have squeezed her out. No way I would have let her in. But I don’t know what came over me. Go ahead in front of me. Go ahead and hold up the through traffic in the lane next to us because you’re halfway in and halfway out of the lane. And sure, the people behind us are going to honk and be mad at me. – rightly so, I guess. I decide that I don’t care.
“Dad, she waved at you.” Avie says. “Yeah, because I let her cut in front of me and hold up all these other cars. She’s thanking me,” I reply. I don’t know why, but I’m not even angry at any of this. And then it hits me, this whole trip is just a lesson in patience. It won’t matter a drop if I get angry at this person, they were going to cut in front of someone. Or maybe they would have driven around the block and been selfish somewhere else in the world. I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m just going to take it all in, let the world of selfishness, and greed wash over me. Let it all remind me why I don’t do Christmas.
With that attitude firmly installed, the parking lot at the mall becomes something of a joy to watch. People are driving the wrong way down clearly marked one-way streets! Someone just executed a three point turn in front of two lanes of traffic so that they could back into a parking spot! There is a human being standing in a parking spot saving it for someone else! “This is what I imagine the apocalypse would be like” I say to Aveline. “Yeah,” she says “cars everywhere.”
The mall is basically at capacity and there are no open parking spots. The only way in to the mall is when someone leaves – I call it dead man’s shoes, the same metaphor I use for dating after the age of 40. So you have to drive around looking for a spot. This causes lots of tension and some guy in a Tesla tries to turn right but swerves the nose of his car into my lane and nearly swipes me. He stops and honks his horn. I laugh. What was I supposed to do, get out of your way?
I take a chance on the lane nearest the entrance nearest to the store we need to go to and sure enough someone is pulling out. I wait a few seconds and we get a sweet spot!
She takes my hand and starts skipping toward the mall. She told me she only wanted to go to one store: the Anime Store. It’s a little shop that plays anime movies on a single TV and sells all kinds of Kawaii things like Pokemon dolls, Hello Kitty stuff, Gudetama socks, and of course shuriken and katanas. You can’t be a “Japanese” store and not sell swords.
As she shops, digging through piles of stuffies and trinkets, I imagine myself as a 14 year old saving up all my money to buy the katanas. They have a three sword set which I imagine isn’t even remotely sharp or even sharpenable. Imaginary 14 year old me would have probably tried to sharpen them.
“I’m ready, dad.”
She walks up to the register, her hands are full of things. She plops them down on the table and the clerk rings her up. “Hey, did you clear the last sale from this till” he says to his sales associate. “Yes,” is her reply. “Well.. That’s $75,” he says to Avie.
Whoa. I look at the objects, three stuffies, they are $16 each, “Well these three things are $45 alone, so.. are you sure you want to do this? Do you have the money?” I say to Avie. “I have the money, Dad!” She opens her wallet and a $50 bill pops out. I remember trading that to her back in the Spring. “Did you save your allowance this whole time?” I ask. “Yeah.”
The clerk says “you’ve got more restraint than me!” as she counts out her money. “Are you sure you want to do this, Avie? That’s a lot of money.” “Yes,” she says, “I want to buy presents for my friends.”
We leave the store and she’s happy. I walk with her down the mall a bit, stretching our legs after being cramped in the car. We stop at “Teavana” which is a store that always gives out samples and get a little plastic cup of something Raspberry.
“You know,” I’m doing my Dad voice now, “your friends probably won’t buy you as nice a things as you did. You can’t expect them to give you even anything in return.” I’m worried that she’s going to get something hand-made in return and maybe she’ll feel hurt.
“We all talked about it, they said they would get something. Scarlett said she would make me something. But it’s ok. I don’t care.” She sips her tea. “Except Audrey. She doesn’t know I’m getting her anything. She doesn’t have a lot of friends. I wanted to get her something.”
There it is. There is Christmas. A simple, unsolicited act of kindness. I hug her and scrub her hair and kiss her on the head, “Merry Christmas, little one.”