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Seasonal Allergies

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Skye Dunlap

The annual disease of Last-Minute Holiday Shopping has hit once again as millions challenge the consumer calendar

By Christina Waters

How do we always end up here? A week until Christmas and still no gifts, much less stocking stuffers. Each year we swear we will start in August. We even know those proto-Martha Stewarts who actually do start in August. We hate them. Each year we plan to haunt the aisles of Long's and Macy's immediately after Dec. 25 and scoop up all those bargain candles, wrapping papers and cards so that we can be ahead of the curve for next year. We don't. Instead we feel mildly nauseated at the very sight of red and green ornamentation for months and months after the shopping blitz that is Yuletide in America.

Then the calendar gives us a shocking reality check. A week to go--no more time for denial. It's time to spring into action.

Maybe that's part of the syndrome: the Last Minute Shopping Addiction. We love the adrenaline rush, the exhilarating challenge of shopping for 15 people of all ages, sizes and tastes with only 14 days and a single VISA to go. It's the same instinct that separates high seas barracuda hunters from those who like fishing off the end of a wharf. The excitement, the chase, they set our pulses racing even as we make our list and check it twice.

Let's face it, anyone with a credit card and 12 months' lead time can finish holiday shopping without even breathing hard. But where's the joy in that?

My father, a highly decorated veteran of Last Minute Guerrilla Shopping forays, always relished the prospect of waiting until 48 hours before Dec. 24 before he so much as lifted a credit card and plunged into Saks Fifth Avenue. He relaxed while the rest of us suffered holiday performance anxiety. During his heyday, he daringly waited until Dec. 23 before even beginning his hunt for the perfect gifts for the five people on his list. OK, the list was short. So was his attention span, but that's another story.

Many of you reading this are already nodding your heads in sympathetic agreement with this cavalier Last Minute attitude. Think of all the worrying that is avoided. Think of all the calories conserved by not running around for weeks and weeks, from store to store, from mall to mall, questing for the state-of-the-art snowboard in Jason's favorite color. If you wait until the last possible minute, they will only have a single color left, and if it's not the right one, it's not your fault.

And that's another feature of the Last Minute addiction. Shoppers who wait until the eleventh hour feel absolved from blame if the gift isn't absolutely adored by its recipient. 'They were out of magenta" becomes a viable response. Of course they were out of magenta--all the magenta ones had been sold a month ago. When you wait until three hours before packages are to be opened, you have limited selection--and hence absolutely no problems making choices.

No problems making choices. That phrase is music to the Last Minute addict's ears. Especially if he is a male. And truth be told, many Last Minute junkies are men. Men, so easily confused and bewildered by visual overload, develop situational vertigo when cruising through department stores. Less is better when it comes to male decision making in a crowded mall, and so a depleted product pool--i.e., the women's sweater department the night before Christmas--offers exactly the right degree of complexity for the Last Minute guy.

Another factor motivating many of us to wait until the Last Minute is related to the depleted-product-pool concept. When you absolutely, positively have to buy something, desperation loosens the sphincters of hesitation. Desperation makes us buy something that will fill the bill without going through pathologies of deliberation. You can't waffle with time running out. You just gotta grab that prepackaged generic gift that is roughly her size and pay for it.

To be honest, we've all gotten stuck at the last minute searching for that impossible gift, hoping for a sudden miracle that will give us a delicious "Aha!" feeling. Maybe that's the true reason why Last Minute Shoppers exist in such numbers. Refusing to settle for the merely OK, we keep shopping, looking, hoping that it will appear, that perfect gift to enchant someone we love. The one that will express with the simple unwrapping of a bow all the love we've felt all year long.

Whatever your personal shopping style, be of good cheer. Relax. Don't rush. You'll find it. There's plenty of time.

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From the December 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro.

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