Saturday, November 11, 2006

Peppermint Death March

I TYPESET NEWSLETTERS. They tend to arrive 2 weeks to a month before they mail out to subscribers. Around this time of year, I should have at least half of the December titles out to the printer. I'll start getting January 2007 issues around Thanksgiving. It's a bit of a time warp, but I am used to it.

What I am not used to is seeing full-scale mall Christmas pageants 2 weeks before Turkey Day.

I went to Paramus Park last night for pizza. Big spender. The food court is actually a second-floor plaza above the mall's atrium, capped by a glass roof. Noise tends to echo from the space, and when I entered the mall, I heard big, amped voices from the food court.

I was stunned to see the mall totally tricked out for Xmas. Moreover, a large area usually filled with tables for diners was hosting a full-scale pageant. Poorly amplified singing echoed off the glass ceiling and filled every corner of the food court with shrill holiday cheer. This on the second of two days' worth of 60ยบ weather.

Wincing, I edged up to the pizzeria, which had the misfortune of being adjacent to the floor show. I'd seen the counter-kid on duty there before, so after I ordered, I commiserated with him and asked how long he'd been putting up with the noise. He said they had started that afternoon, and the mall was done over earlier in the week. So they donned the red and green when November was still in single digits.

I noticed a guy dressed as Santa Claus edging up to the scrum. The boss of the pizzeria said, "Here comes Santa! He's probably crocked."

"Wouldn't you be?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah. I'd have to be totally lit!"

The pizza arrived, and I stuffed a dollar into the tip jar, saying to the kid, "Put this toward a pair of earplugs." As I sprinkled hot pepper and oregano on the slices, a third employee, a teenage girl, covered her ears and yelled, above the holiday din, "I am so sick of this!"

I ate at a table as far as I could scrounge from the show, drowning it out as best I could with the inspired violence of a James Ellroy novel. It's not that I haven't seen any traces of the holidays this early before, or that I am a fanatical anti-Xmas zealot. In fact, I host a holiday party each year. It's just abrupt to be immersed in the season while Halloween pumpkins are still moldering on porches across my slice of suburbia.

After downing the last chunk of crust, I descended to the main level of the mall and the exits. Santa had moved downstairs, and what I heard described as a two-hour line of families was snaking around the atrium, waiting for picture time with Saint Nick. With some satisfaction, I saw two of his "elves" argue briefly before snapping out of it to smile at one of the families in line and pass some assurance of imminent service. Maybe they were already sick of the season. For them, it still stretched long ahead of them, like a road of shattered candy canes, a peppermint death march serenaded by impatient parents, frightened children, and the mindless shriek of a million shoppers' ringtones.

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