I went shopping today. I also went shopping yesterday. Yes, I realize that's admitting that I'm participating in a consumerist lifestyle and setting a bad example and probably making a big, ugly carbon footprint that someone else will have to clean up in order to assure the survival of the species. Feel free to post aggressive comments with photos of baby seals.
(No, they won't persuade me to stop buying next year's giftwrap and cards half off every December 26, but I like photos of baby seals. Not dead ones; don't post horrible murderous photos, just the cute ones. Thanks.)
Every once in a while, I contemplate my life, usually when confronted with an incredibly ugly blouse that I bought half-off on December 26 five years previously and have never worn. Fortunately, I live pretty close to a Goodwill dropbox, so I know what to do with that blouse (not because I think the poor like ugly clothes! I've been poor, so I know that's not true, but someone has to like the damn thing; they chose to produce that shape and pattern). Anyway, while stuffing the blouse in a box, I remind myself that I bought a house without cathedral ceilings because I'm too cheap to heat or cool empty space just for aesthetics, that I recycle, and I haven't inflicted any mini-me's on the world, so if I want another pair of shoes, well, frell, I'm getting another pair of shoes.
The important part, though, is that those cute shoes will not come from some upscale store where people pay three hundred dollars or more per pair. Nor will they come from an on-line store and cost one hundred and fifty dollars a pair at "bargain" prices. No, no, no. At most, they will cost seventy-five dollars, but if they cost that much, the second pair had better damn well be half off.
Three hundred dollars for shoes. Egad. Now that's not just consumerism, it's stupidity, especially if we're talking about those awful spiked heels everyone started wearing again when Sex and the City became a hit. Three hundred dollars..or two or three or four times that much...for a pair of torture devices. Do you know how many books I could buy for that? It's like my students paying top prices for those Rainbow flipflops that are not only deeply ugly (all flipflops are ugly), but become sweat-encrusted in a month, making them ugly and smelly. Bleh.
And don't even get me started on Crocs.
I love to buy shoes. And books. And clothes. But I don't particularly like to spend money. So I spend as little money as I can while still taking a certain pleasure in my possessions. And if I can't go cheap for one reason or another (off-brand batteries are not bargains), I like to use coupons or discount codes or huge enormous sales. It becomes a challenge: how little can I pay for this item and still get the item I want or need? Some hunter's instinct takes hold, and I find myself spending six months stalking a silver and black watch, rejecting the weak or infirm, and disdaining full-price offers. When I finally find it, quietly gleaming from the 75% off table, I feel at one with the universe.
This brings me to the topic of this post: buying gifts. I love buying gifts. I can indulge my quest for the perfect bargain combined with the challenge of finding just the right item for someone, something he or she will actually like, and, if at all possible, something I paid less than half of the sticker price to obtain.
Now, I'm sure this comes as a shock to my nearest and dearest, but I've always sort of assumed that everyone else takes the same approach: buy well, but most of all buy cheaply. It's one of the reasons that I hesitate to get people gift cards; not only are they difficult (though not impossible) to find at a discount, but it's like waving a flag in front of someone and saying, "You are worth $20 to me this year! Enjoy!"
As a result, one of the things I try very, very hard to remember to do is to remove any trace of a price from an item before I wrap it. It's not that I want people to think that I spent more than I did...okay, it is that I want people to think that I spent more than I did. Or, at least, that I might have spent more. Or, best of all, not to think about the price of the gift at all, but about how touched they are that I picked such a perfect gift, either for them or for whomever they're planning to pass it on to.
So when someone accidentally leaves a price tag on a gift they give to me, I have a kind of metaphysical crisis. What does it mean? Did something terrible happen in their lives, so that they only remembered to buy a gift at the last minute and had to wrap it in the car while speeding down the highway at 70 mph? Do they resent that they bought me a gift at all and leaving the tag on was some passive-aggressive message that our relationship is worth exactly $9.99? Or is that that they live such exciting lives between saving the lives of starving orphans in the morning and going to fancy cocktail parties in the evening that their minds are just floating on the memory of dancing with a hot Hollywood star while wrapping?
Or could there be something wrong with me?
Maybe no one bothers to take off price tags anymore because the protocal changed in the same way that it's now okay to wear white shoes after Labor Day or tell people off in public for being fat, and I missed it. Maybe everyone is judging me because they can't find their tags?!
Usually, this is the point at which I either make a joke or have an adult beverage. Or both.
But this Christmas, I have to tell you, oh, digitalized friends of mine: every single person who gave me a gift left the price tag on. Everyone. My aunt, my cousin, my sister, my mother...even the neighbors across the street. Everyone. Except for my Aunt Trudy. She sent a gift card.
Now I'm flummoxed. I'm considering having a fit of the vapors (though I'm not sure how one does so; I think it involves corsets). Earlier this morning I collected all of the price tags, so that I could take a picture of them and post it to facebook with the caption, "Do people do this to you? Should we start a facebook support group?" but when I went to get the camera, the cats stole the tags and dropped them in their water bowl.