Sunday, December 18, 2005

COLUMN: Windy City X-Mas

Well, it finally happened, and at a Bennigan's of all places.

There I was, waiting for my Turkey O'Toole, when out of nowhere I felt it. Maybe it was the garland hanging in the restaurant or Wham!'s "Last Christmas" playing on the delightfully deranged seasonal muzak.

I don't know what caused it, but -- WHAM! -- right then and there, I was struck with the holiday spirit.

Or at least the retailer's version of the holiday spirit. That's the one where Santa brings loads of expensive toys. The one where Rudolph, the Invented-by-Montgomery-Wards-To-Sell-Refrigerators Reindeer, saves the day.

The one that teaches that the amount of holiday joy and laughter one can achieve is in direct proportion to the obscene number of blinking lights adorning their home.

The one where you think of Jesus (but only when you're buying a lighted, animatronic plastic Nativity that's so tacky it frightens small children).

No offense Bennigan's, but the Turkey O'Toole suddenly wasn't cutting it. I wanted to roast chestnuts on open fires, even though I'm not sure what a chestnut IS. I wanted figgy pudding. I wanted Alvin's hula hoop. I wanted nine ladies dancing. (OK, I ALWAYS want nine ladies dancing.) The point is, it was a beautiful sight and I was happy that night.

I thought of my favorite warm, fuzzy Christmas movies. From "Elf" to "Home Alone," from "Miracle on 34th Street" to "Scrooged," my mind was abuzz with tidings of comfort and joy.

Then it hit me, the one common factor in all these flicks: all take place in major cities! It was nothing shy of divine inspiration. I needed to go holiday shopping in Chicago. I took a couple days off work, reserved a hotel, donned me now my quite-heterosexual-thanks-much apparel, and began my pilgrimage.

Note to self: When one decides to have a merry little Christmas in Chicago, one might want to check yon Doppler radar first.

As I left the Quad Cities, a lovely little picturesque snow was falling. By the time I reached Joliet and Interstate 55 into the city, it was full-on winter carnage. Top speeds on the Stevenson Expressway were 5 to 10 mph. Between the snowfall and being mere yards from Midway Airport when that plane tragically hopped the runway, it took 6 hours and 15 minutes to reach my hotel.

I was down, but not defeated. After a good night's sleep (i.e. TWO HOURS thanks to lousy hotel pillows), I headed to the Magnificent Mile. It was time to gather with fellow revelers and celebrate the holiday spirit.

Folks, the movies lie. Downtown Chicago is an evil, evil empire that only wants ONE thing: money, and gobs of it. It seemed as though every store was filled with the most aggressive salespeople imaginable.

My mom wants something called a "Mother's Ring," so I went to a jewelry store, only to be shoved a $599 ring by a saleslady who SURELY was on the naughty list.

"Sir," she implored, "don't walk out of this store without this ring. You'll regret it if you don't buy it right now! Let me get my manager..." Fa la la la la, my fanny.

I ventured into the cologne section at Marshall Field's, only to be assaulted by clerks from all directions, each with stinky cards and unwavering sales pitches. I'm pretty sure I still reek of bizarre sandalwood and citrus combinations.

As if the clerks weren't bad enough, the bell-ringers were worse. I can't believe I'm complaining about charities asking for change. I know that's in horrible taste, but there were at least two or three Salvation Army bell-ringers PER BLOCK of the Magnificent Mile, and every one of them yelling, pointing and asking for money.

Charity is a FINE thing, and we ALL should give as much as we can, but when it's to the point of harassment, that's neither holly nor jolly.

One bell-ringer, though, was fantastic. I'm pretty sure he may have been authentically crazy, but he definitely got the most of my money. As shoppers trooped by, he sang made-up tunes with random lines from Christmas songs.

At one point, he was singing, "DECK THE HALLS WITH A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE! PA RUM PUM PUM PUM, DOWN THROUGH THE CHIMNEY WITH A SILENT NIGHT!" It was priceless.

So, all it took was one lousy trip to sub-zero downtown Chicago to turn my Merry Christmas back to my usual cynical, bah-humbug.

I didn't get a lick of shopping done (except for a few CDs for me.) I froze my jingle bells off, and now I've got a miserable cold. Next time I'm at Bennigan's, I'm eating my turkey and going home to bed.

1 comment:

Steve Hunt said...

Shane,

I've seen you visit other blogs and wonder why you waste so much energy on everyday nonsense.

You're bright, and you even write well, but you spend your gift on drivel.

Join the war. It's real and it's at your back door, front door, and of course, all over the net.

You either don't care, are too self absorbed, or you think that 'small talk' from 'small minds' to just pass some time, is all that life is about?

I'dunno. You tell me.