Shopping for Armageddon

Photo by Leslie SmithAt this time of year, you can practically hear the whine of human anxiety rise a pitch as each of the scant few days remaining before Christmas ticks off, and more voices join the chorus of those asking, "Whatever shall I get for Jim?"

I am hard to shop for, I'll admit. People buy me Fender Telecasters, and I'm disappointed with the shade of patina on the vintage finish. They buy me deluxe box sets of marvelous bands, like I DON'T ALREADY OWN THEM, YOU DOPES! They bring me myrrh and frankincense when I'm hanging out in my swaddling clothes, and I say, "Put it with the rest of the shit, would you?" I am beyond desire, though. Excuse me. . . . There, in these past few seconds, I bought another fuzz-tone on eBay. It's just one more damn thing to file between the frankincense and the fylots. It's all just stuff, and I've about had my fill of it.

I grew up poor, you see. How poor? So poor that we had to fight the gophers for the weeds in our yard. So poor that when the Beatles came along, and everyone was getting guitars, I had to make my own guitar out of cardboard and string. Oh, how I cried when they repossessed the string! I swore that day, turnip in hand, that someday I would own several of everything, even underpants.

So I scraped and saved and stabbed and scrambled to reach my current status, and I stopped at every garage sale and swap meet along the way. Buying stuff became a way of life. Consider: when I went to Rome, I only went to one Vatican, but I went to two swap meets. When I'd travel to other historic cities with girlfriends, all they'd see were pawnshops and used-record stores.

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When Christmas rolled around each year, there wasn't much left that anyone could buy for me. And now, I've owned nearly everything I've wanted. Maybe half of it was bent or broken, but it took up as much space as the prime stuff. I'm stuffed—and none the happier for it. To me, a shopping mall is nothing but disappointment with a roof on it.

* * *

There's tons of holiday shopping advice I could give you. For example, the Long Beach Veterans Stadium Antique and Collectible Market this Sunday is loaded with acres of gift ideas to let your friends know how unique you think they are: "Hey, a lifesize poster-board standup of Lou Rawls in a leisure suit holding a 16-ounce malt liquor. Thanks! You've sure filled a void in my life!" Or buy your loved ones a Jorg Dubin painting at Laguna's Peter Blake Gallery: "Dad, this painting scares us!"

I ducked into South Coast Plaza to see what normal humans are buying this season. The usual sex and glamour, from the looks of it. Nearly every ad and window display was showing a lot of stylish leg. Selling a watch? Have some leg. Buying coffee? Here, Santa, have some leg nog. Everywhere you look, it's naked people with some clothes on, using sex to sell you a $400 pair of designer jeans. Forget the jeans, kids: for $400, you can peel the jeans directly off your choice of sexy, glamorous call girls or guys—and get what's inside, too.

Even Santa's lap has become a profit center. Want a photo of your kid with Santa? Be prepared to pony up $5 (using your camera) to $48 (their camera, 14 smallish photos).

For a store where half the things vibrate, it's surprising the Sharper Image is the exception when it comes to sexed-up adverts. They're busy bringing you the Jetsons' lifestyle. There, you can be in your own personal future, lounging to the soothing nature sounds of the $50 Tranquil Moments machine (I'm waiting for a model with a "Chinese sweatshop" setting), as your $50 electric wine opener does everything but drink the stuff for you, as you listen for the receiver of your $75 broadcasting meat thermometer (sort of a baby intercom for barbecues) for when your steak is done, while the $200 robotic vacuum cleans up after your robot dog.

I'm of an age where I could benefit from a nose-hair trimmer, but for $35, I'd expect it to have other uses, like cutting radishes and other garnishes into flower shapes or something.

Of course, you have to wait only a few years, and global warming will probably singe your nose hairs off. If I may play Ghost of Christmas Future here, Jesus, build a bomb shelter! Buy durable goods and iodine pills for potable water! And more iodine pills for the radiation! And some smallpox vaccine is a good stocking stuffer.

* * *

I wish to point out to my Republican readers that I made it 812 words this week before mentioning George W. Bush. Even in this holiday season, scarcely a day goes by that his administration doesn't further imperil our future: making government less accountable to the public, eroding civil liberties and not only ignoring the need for action on climate change but clear-cutting the environmental safeguards we already have as well. At the rate he's going, even all the aluminum trees will be dead soon, as he and the world's other zealots amble into Armageddon.

In these darkling days, you have to be careful what you wish for. For example, you might have wished, "In these times of unchecked conglomeration and corporate greed, I wish the Bush administration would institute an antitrust investigation."

Well, they have, and it ain't Enron or Clear Channel, but instead John Ashcroft's Justice Department is doing a full-court press on the nation's two leading alternative weekly chains, Village Voice Media—which owns the OC Weekly—and New Times. The two chains apparently had a deal in which in two competing markets—including LA—each chain wished one of their papers into the cornfield, leaving the opposing chain's paper without an alternative competitor.

I don't know that this was a good thing, but far more detrimental deals go unmarked daily. As a Los Angeles Times article pointed out, both markets have several other news sources, so the only parties really impacted were the alternatives' porn advertisers, who now face higher ad rates. So prudish Ashcroft, who put drapes on seminude statues in the Justice building, is going to bat for gay phone-sex providers? It must be purely coincidental that their actions might also kick the shit out of two of the few media sources that dare to criticize the administration. Humbug!

* * *

Though bomb shelters can make fun rumpus rooms, I don't really recommend building them or stocking up on canned goods for Christmas. What I do recommend you do is make or buy gifts that affirm life, build community and say "phooey" to the processes that make us consumers instead of citizens.

For instance, buy your loved ones three months' worth of organic vegetables from Capistrano's South Coast Farms, from whom they will get a weekly box of in-season local organic fruits and veggies to do with what they will, while supporting local sustainable agriculture ( Or buy them a membership in the ACLU, KPFK or the OC Philharmonic Society. Or make a donation in their names to a good charity or environmental group.

That's what my niece Amber gave us last Christmas. It was a kind gesture, but I can't especially remember now if we're helping a Peruvian kid or a den of fruit bats. These are the gifts that keep on giving, not some Dolemite DVD. You've already got more stuff than most people on the planet, and I've got more stuff than you. So believe me, you don't need it.

Look at Trinity Broadcasting Network's Jan and Paul Crouch. They've got the $6 million Newport Coast house. They've got the fancy cars. They use so much electricity to light up their joint you can see it from Mars. They drink wine that costs more than your college tuition. But are they satisfied? Are they not always asking for more, in Jesus' name?

I stopped in at Trinity's Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh Gift Shop, where you can buy a nice leather checkbook holder with a cross on it for $29.95. "Have you got any myrrh?" I asked. "I haven't been feeling very anointed lately." They haven't, I was told, except for a bit mixed in their little bottles of holy oil from the holy land. Such nice people. "Have a blessed day," the saleslady said. And I wish you the same.

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