Lady,Take the Bag: A Christmas Story

rugratI had the Shopping Trip From Hell today, and I’m going to rant about it here, so if you’ve had enough of your own holiday shopping trips from Hell, best move along.

Let me start with all the Santas standing outside of every. damn. shop. My heart tells me, “Those Santas are there for a good cause. And they’re cold, poor things, outside for hours, ringing those bells, next to that little leprechaun pot. Look at them ─ so persistently cheery, asking for nothing, just wishing everyone a happy holiday, wanting to help the needy, hoping you won’t be a selfish git and ignore their smiles and puppy dog eyes.”  But my head tells me, “Oh, goody. Guilt Trip. Haven’t been on one of these in a while. What should we pack?” 

Heart wins. Over and over again. I run out of loose cash by Santa Number Four, and when I get to Santa Number Five, I feel as though I should be explaining myself: “Look, I’ve just paid off four other Santas. I swear, I have. And now I’m tapped out.” 

Yep. Those Santas. Don’t let their cheeriness fool you. They’re steel. 

So, then I’m at Target. I’ve got tons of stuff for my grandsons and more gifts and…just …stuff. Stuff one needs when one has to stock up a new place, which we now have,  and every day stuff, and you know, we all gotta get our stuff. Even though the parking lots are full to the brim, and people are miserably not returning shopping carts to the proper stalls, and you have to maneuver around them until you find somewhere to leave your car. And then best grab one of those abandoned carts once you finally do find some godforsaken, long-ways-a-way place to park, and wheel it all the way from the back of the lot to the shop with you, else you’ll only discover that there are none left inside. The queues are like Snakes on the Plane, and it’s a Sunday and you’d rather be home eating pizza and watching “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but you’re not about to up. No, you’re standing and standing there, waiting, along with so many others who are engaged in the activity of silently prayer, “Lord in Heaven, please. Please just let this line keep moving.”

Today, at last, there was only one woman ahead of me. She had a rugrat with her– a tiny tyke, under a year old, for sure, and she was holding him.

Cashier — clearly a just-for-the-holiday-season hire, rings her up. Shifting the tyke, the woman opens her wallet to pay, in cash, counting out every penny, bless her heart. Then, the unthinkable happens. She’s forgotten to bring bags with her.

For those who live in other states, or who live overseas, in case you’re unaware: California passed a law that went into effect immediately after this godforsaken US presidential election ─ no more plastic or paper bags given out to consumers to bundle purchases. Consumers must bring their own paper/plastic/reusable bags to package said purchases, or else pay ten cent for a recyclable/reusable bag from the place of business.

The woman with the rugrat in her arms forgot her bags, and she doesn’t have the extra ten cents to purchase any. Her next move is to argue with the young cashier:

“Are you serious? No bags, even in Target? I thought that was only for the supermarkets.”

  “No, ma’am. I’m sorry.” The cashier’s face is turning red.  

I sense impending disaster, so I speak up. “I’m happy to pay for the bags you need It’s no problem,”  I say to the woman.

She turns to me, shifting the tyke again, onto her other arm. “No. No, I can’t let you do that. That’s not right.”

She’s truly upset. Maybe I’ve embarrassed her. I don’t know what to say now.  She’ll have trouble managing all her purchases with a baby to hold. Said baby starts to get twitchy right about then. He shifts right and left, left and right, then breaks wind so loudly I’m surprised the Johnny Mathis recording of “White Christmas” they had piping throughout the store didn’t come to a skidding halt.  But that’s not the worst of it.

The worst of it is that…it wasn’t just wind the rugrat has passed. Apparently he’s been eating jalapeno bacon burgers and drinking Budweiser when his mother wasn’t looking. The odor is unspeakable. It wafts over me and the clerk first, then makes its way back to the end of the line.

The man standing behind me describes all of our feelings best. “Can I please just have a heart attack and die right now?” he mutters to his companion. “If you die, you’ll only make it worse for everybody else,” she responds.

This couple just has to be from my native New York. How three New Yorkers came to be shopping at a Target in Yuba City, California, is anyone’s guess, but there we were, having a moment of absolute solidarity, just like when the Joker tried to conquer Manhattan. Yep ─ you mess with one New Yorker, you mess with us all. And this was a mess─ a shitty, smelly diaper mess.

The rugrat’s mother doesn’t seem to notice the stench. She turns to the clerk again, who has steeled his expression, but has placed his hand, as nonchalantly as he can manage, over his mouth and nose. “Can you just give me one bag?” she insists.

He doesn’t seem to comprehend that if he can bring himself to break the unbreakable commandment of Thou-Shalt-Not-Give-Out-Any-Bags-Without-Collecting-a-Dime, we can all be freed from this. “I wish I could give it to you,” he tells her. “But I’ll get in trouble.”

I speak up again, trying not to breath while doing so.  “Please, let me pay for the bag. It’s no problem,” I say to her.

She starts to reply, but what she would have said was lost under the rugrat’s sudden screech. He’s had enough. He wants to go home, get himself into a nice, warm shower, and then maybe kick back with another beer. But he’s too little to tell his mother that, and so the screeches continue, one after another after another. I want to drop all my purchases and run. I want to run to the nearest house of worship, so that I can beg for God’s mercy on my knees, to never have to go shopping during the holiday season again.

“Lady, pleasetake the bag. For the love of God, take the bag!” Once again, the man behind me has read my mind.  He’s so brave. He’s so honest and true. I’m ready to leave my husband for him at this point.

In a huff, she takes the bag, stuffs her purchases in, while the tyke continues to wail. At long last, she moves off the line, leaving a trail of reek behind her.

It’s only when I get home and look at my receipt that I notice that the clerk has forgotten to add the ten cent charge for her bag. I can’t help but worry about what the consequences of that will be for him. What was the “trouble” of which he spoke? He was so terribly afraid of it. Would he be flogged, or just fired? Would any of the Santas come to his rescue, offering him the dime from their pots of collected change?

I don’t know the answers. All I know is that for tonight, I need to sit, a drop of lavender oil under my nose, a cup of soothing herbal tea at my fingertips, thankful that we’ve only got another two weeks of this madness to get through.



  1. I used to take my son to Memphis every Christmas (from London) to visit his grandparents for a week or two, very nice.

    However, driving around town was pure hell. So many out on the roads rushing to get that “last present”, very scary, very unsafe. And the parking lots were even worse. OMG

    And you see so many accidents, such a terrible “Christmas Present” for those you hit.

    BE CAREFUL, BE SAFE, SLOW DOWN, Enjoy your Holidays!

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