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Saturday, Nov 24 2012 10:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: Advice from the world's worst shopper

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    Robert Price

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My most memorable holiday shopping trip was probably the Christmas Eve I burst into Macy's an hour or so before closing. Scrambling through the aisles at a half-trot, I scooped up the first gender-appropriate garments for my intended recipients that I could spot. It helped that the shelves were mostly barren, so I didn't have to fret all that much about color or style. And it helped that the store was eerily empty except for a few desperately determined men like myself. No jostling, no strategic body positioning, no hurdling of strollers or slow-moving children.

I was pretty certain that everything I bought was going to be exchanged anyway, because it usually is, no matter how much time I dedicate to this pursuit. I was certain, too, that the store's selection would be better in three days anyway.

I didn't say this was my most cherished holiday shopping trip, just that it was probably my most memorable.

I don't do shopping.

Over the years, making fun of my Christmas-shopping ineptitude has developed into almost a family sport. How wildly age- and lifestyle-inappropriate can Dad's purchases be this year? It's considered bad form in our house to openly complain about newly opened gifts. After all, they're gifts. But invariably the eye-rolling and stifled laughter will become too much and someone will say what everyone else is thinking: "Well, thank you. But, um, I don't think I can possibly wear this in public."

Needless to say, I was not even remotely tempted to hit the stores on Black Friday, and certainty not on Gray Thursday, also still known (I think) as Thanksgiving Day. If ever there was a holiday dedicated to the concept of conversation and communion, Thanksgiving is it. But people don't talk anymore; they consume.

Apart from that, I just had no interest in wading into that fray. People are nuts already, but when you place them in quasi-competitive, close-proximity circumstances, seems to me it can get much, much worse.

None of us should be the least bit surprised that:

* A shopper at a Florida Wal-Mart tackled and handcuffed by two police officers who thought she was trying to cut into line. She was just looking for her sister, she said later.

* A 14-year-old boy shopping in Annapolis, Md., was robbed of his newly purchased merchandise by five men outside a Bed Bath & Beyond store at about 2 a.m. Friday. One suspect punched the boy and another grabbed his bag.

* In San Antonio, a shopper pulled a gun on a man who punched him in the face in a line at a Sears store. Police said a man was trying to cut his way to the front, which didn't sit well with fellow shoppers. Arguments escalated to name calling before the alleged line-cutter threw a punch. The punchee then pulled out a gun and the crowd scattered. The puncher hid behind a refrigerator and then bolted out the door.

* At a Kentwood, Mich., mall, teens started a post-midnight brawl that resulted in the arrest of two. The news spread quickly on Twitter. "Gang fight at Woodland Mall," tweeted one boy. "Cops tackled them and sprayed pepper spray, everyone in that wing started coughing and sneezing."

What possesses people to take on this kind of absurd challenge? Laura Brannon, a professor of psychology at Kansas State University, says shoppers are adept at rationalizing the horror once they're in the store. And the excitement of the challenge, she told The Huffington Post, "keeps them from thinking clearly about the other consequences."

I am familiar enough with the consequences of shopping under normal circumstances. Sorry about that lime-green sweater, kid, but Dad's sanity and physical safety is more important than your fashion sensibilities.

Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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