Lileks: Christmas future is here, and it's not a pretty sight

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2013 - 6:58 PM

I remember when the local Shopping Center had something called “Moonlight Madness.” The ads showed a yawning crescent moon wearing a nightcap, holding a candle. Wear your pajamas, kids! Fun for all! The stores, you see, were staying open until 10 p.m., which broke all the known laws of retail.

Ten p.m. was as far as this lunacy extended. If you’d shown up downtown at a department store at 2:30 a.m. and told the night watchman, “Look, I’m wide awake, I need an electric eggbeater,” he’d have called the cops and you would be put away for observation.

Not anymore. First the stores open on Thanksgiving, and since there were no spontaneous riots of protest, a few stores have announced they’ll be continuously open Friday through Christmas Eve. They will close that day at 6 p.m. so employees can go home and be with their families, or, as it’s known, “fall asleep face-first in the mashed potatoes.”

This is only the start. Next year stores will open on Christmas evening so people can enjoy pre-post-Christmas sales, and soon a new tradition will be born: opening your gifts in the car in the parking lot a few minutes before the store opens, so you can get right in and exchange that sweater that looks like someone stuffed a monkey full of pizza and fed it to a wood chipper.

In 10 years, the stores will never close, but there will be a ceremony at 6 p.m., as the manager puts the key into the lock, turns it, then unlocks the door again, signifying the specialness of that blessed time between 6:00:00 p.m. Dec. 24 and 6:00:30. Since it’s a time for family and togetherness, employees will use the 30 seconds to text greetings to loved ones, along with a coupon code redeemable for 20 percent off unsold ornaments.

In 20 years we’ll just hold Christmas in the Mall, and exchange identical beige plastic rectangles redeemable for merchandise anywhere. A featureless card that symbolizes a predefined monetary value? You shouldn’t have. The clerks will have to work, of course, but they will wear patches that release tryptophan to simulate the consumption of turkey. The store manager will pass out capsules filled with gravy, which the clerks can either bite down on, or let dissolve in their mouths while they ring things up.

It can’t stop there; progress marches on. Retail scientists are working on opening a portal to an alternate universe where time moves much more slowly, permitting people to shop for extended periods of time before they return to normal space, whereupon they collapse in a pile of dust because they’ve actually been gone for 600 years, the packages falling to the pavement and breaking.

They’ll have to fix that last part. No store will take anything back after 600 years. Even Nordstrom draws the line at half a millennium, except for fruitcake.

You have to feel empathy for the clerks. Having worked overnight shifts as a waiter in a 24-hour joint, I know there’s a certain pattern.

1 a.m.-2 a.m.: Bar rush patrons who think they’re at Perkins and mistake the changing booths for bathroom stalls.

2 a.m.-3 a.m.: Refolding sweaters while listening to “Charlie Brown Christmas” music on the store’s sound system, wearing the long haunted stare of someone who did two tours of combat in ’Nam.

3 a.m.-3:30 a.m.: There was one guy in the store and he was like hanging around the socks department for half an hour but then he bought some and left, so, whew, but now he’s just sitting in his car outside in the lot trying on the socks he bought, which is weird.

3:30 a.m.-3:32 a.m.: Did that mannequin move; I swear its arm was up before and now it’s down.

3:32 a.m.-3:45 a.m.: Mussing up the piles of sweaters JUST BECAUSE.

3:45 a.m.-4 a.m.: Refolding sweaters ... focus, focus, they’re just mannequins.

4 a.m.-5 a.m.: Power-executive type who gets into the office at 6 a.m. has the clerk run through all the features on an electric mixer, nods, whips out a smartphone, buys it on Amazon.

5 a.m.-5:30 a.m.: Guy comes in, wants some Frango mints. Kindly tell him that he has the wrong store; Frango chocolates were sold by Marshall Field’s, which bought Donaldsons, and then one day, ha ha ha! It was Macy’s for some reason! NO, WE DON’T HAVE FRANGO MINTS. DO YOU SEE ANY AT THE COUNTER? NO? Hold on, hold on, let me take this pen and write FRANGO on this chocolate we do sell. There! Will that do? Wonderful! Gift receipt in the bag or up your nose? Anything else? Can I run down to Seasonal Decorations and jiggle all the snow domes for you?

6 a.m.: Relieved by next crew; go back to break room and eat a stale cruller while squatting and snarling at anyone who gets close; sleep …

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