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Ric Latarski - Shopping: the real nightmare before Christmas

OK boys and girls, it is now officially crunch time.

This is the last big weekend to complete Christmas shopping before the big day, and there is no doubt a number of people who are still procrastinating with regards to their gift buying efforts.

There are usually numerous reasons for this delay in making your Christmas purchases.

In the first case, it is simply a matter of sloth. There are those among us who will sink as deep as we can into the sofa and peruse the sale catalogs as a way to pretend we are about to shop. The fact is, the slothful had rather go to the dentist than go shopping.

Then there is the matter of money.

She wants a Mercedes but your budget runs to a Ford compact, and I mean a plastic model of a Ford compact. While your heart may be willing, your pocketbook is not, so you have to delicately find a way to get a meaningful gift that will not result in long-term hunger.

This causes what is known as gift confusion. Because you cannot think of what to buy that special person, you become paralyzed with indecision.

The idea of roaming aimlessly through throngs of people with absolutely no idea of what you are looking for is the ultimate nightmare for the challenged Christmas shopper.

This is why Internet and shopping by phone have become increasingly popular in recent years. The reason is you can actually shop while sinking deeper into the comfort of your sofa.

The key is that whatever you buy will be brought to your door, thanks to a little thing known as the shipping and handling fee.

Normally, this will be a small amount, something like $7.99, but if you have waited until the last minute, you suddenly realize there is no way you can get the gift in time for Christmas if you wait for the normal seven- to nine-day delivery period.

This means you must pay to take advantage of what is called next-day delivery, which usually cost an extra $278.56.

There are some other downsides to remote shopping. Sometimes what looks good in a picture doesn't look that great when you see it in person.

The crystal vase that you thought would make a fine centerpiece turns out to be so small you could use it for an eyedropper. You also find out that one size fits all is not necessarily the truth.

You also discover that you are placing your order with some poor, underpaid, overworked and exhausted sales person who is so bleary-eyed that making a mistake is practically guaranteed.

All it takes is for them to type in one wrong number on the computer and instead of getting the bong with a picture of Elvis painted on the side you end up with something really bad.

Then there is trying to buy something for the person who apparently has everything. This is when you can fall back on the idea of buying something you like and figure it is the kind of gift a person would want but never buy for themselves.

This does two things: one is that you can change your mind at the last second and keep whatever it is rather than give it away. The naked lady lamp I bought for a friend a few years ago makes a fine light on my desk.

Secondly, the danger is that it is almost certain whatever you end up buying will be useless or massively inappropriate. While you can argue that the gift is something the person does not have, that will not necessarily justify your actions.

Buying a septic tank for your mother just because she doesn't have one is not a good plan.

Waiting until the last minute to do your shopping almost certainly means you will make a mistake when it comes to buying for your significant other.

The word of advice here is that as long as it's an expensive mistake, you can get away with it, but if you work under the lunatic notion that it is the thought that counts, you might as well retain an attorney.

Even worse than the mistake gift is to tell the person they are getting cash because you "just didn't know what to buy." Do this and you might as well retain an undertaker.

Christmas shopping may create angst and anxiety, but through it all, it also offers moments where, despite the commercialization of the holidays, the idea of buying something to simply give away cannot help but bring a warm feeling to your heart.

We humbug and grumble, but somehow eventually stumble back to the reality that no gift is meaningless, because the physical gift ultimately means nothing compared to the simple act of giving.

Perhaps that is the most important part of Christmas. And in the end, it really is the thought that counts.

Merry Christmas.

Ric Latarski can be reached at ric.latarski@rockdalecitizen.com.