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 Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

Christmas Shopping

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
It's simply not enough to keep up with the times and work into the conversation bits of current events to show you're hip, slick, and cool: "Say, you heard they found signs of water on Mars?" or "Should Kramer attend meetings of Idiots Anonymous?" or "If Gore is right, how come it's snowing?"

We're also supposed to keep up with the ever-changing definitions of old words like cell, gay, and horse, plus a bunch of new ones like strategerie, truthiness, and nuculared. If that isn't enough, we're not supposed to finish words any more, and I'm not talking about accepted short cuts like limo(usine), sweats(uits) and deli(catessen), I'm talking about op(eration), stat(istics), and intel(ligence). And there's even more new stuff to learn about than that.

There's no such thing anymore as overcoats, now they're called outerwear; no more shoes, they're footwear; no more place settings, they're tablescapes, themselves broken down into other categories, such as candlescapes.

The one that's most bothersome at this time of year when we search high and low for just the right gift, used to be called pajamas but they're now called "nightwear." Even worse is the fact that nightwear isn't even whole. You can't ask for a pair of nightwear because today it seems they make only bottoms.

A trip to what is thankfully still referred to as the Men's Department is no longer fun because all the tops are missing, gone perhaps to be laundered in the newly discovered rivers on Mars. Whether you call them pajama tops or nightwear tops, they no longer exist. Just a million mateless bottoms. When a woman stays in a man's apartment overnight, she used to wear the tops. What does she wear now, perfume?

They tell me there are some upscale shops where you can actually buy blackmarket nightwear in two pieces, sold separately by crafty shopkeepers. Why sell one pair of pajamas for $50 if you can sell the tops for $35 and the bottoms for $60?

This is the time for shoppers to rise up and demand the return of tops. Otherwise, our future will be bottoms up.

Okay, now we're past the bottoms-only problem, we now must concern ourselves with size. Once upon a time, we were able to get Large, Extra Large, and Extra Extra Large for those relatives who eat at fast food joints instead of sucking on a lettuce leaf as super models do. Not any more, not with lying labels.

Let's be fair. Perhaps in China, they think "large" means "small." While nightwear labels may well say Extra Extra Large, right after they've been folded to better fit into the gift box which was once given to us by the shops but we now have to purchase separately, we note the size of the waistband, and decide to call them boywear and give them to the man's 10-year-old son instead.

Okay, now we've got the name straight, and we understand that labels lie, but we're still faced with other changes.

In the U.S., there are laws against child labor, and laws for color fast and pre-shrunk fabrics. However, we have no law against buying goods from other countries who do not have such binding consideration for its citizens. Our most difficult lesson to learn is that it's all right for little children to labor for who knows how long or under what conditions, working with fabrics whose colors will run and shrink in our washing machines. We suppose that, to these children from countries where citizens may not be as tall as Americans, small probably appears large.

Still, it must be okay for shoppers to buy these imported goods, since a phone call to Office of Textiles and Apparel, U.S. Department of Commerce, elicited an urgent denial of wrongdoing. Good to know it isn't the fault of the U.S.

Not like the old days, is it, where we could walk into Bloomingdale's or Neiman-Marcus or Marshall Field, and find "Made in the U.S.A." on the label and knew it would neither run nor shrink, nor was it produced with child labor.

Wait until Mrs. Claus tries to wash all that chimney soot out of Santa's suit on December 26th only to find that next year, the only person who'll be able to fit into it will be an elf, and that she has inadvertently turned all his underwear pink.

Santa might lay his finger aside of his nose
But we'd rather have union back in our clothes

Merry Christmas everyone, and Bottoms Up.


Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
December 13, 2006 column
Email: maggie@maggievanostrand.com

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