Hope for the Holidays

A bench at our local outlet mall. They may not see as much use this holiday season. Then again ...

It’s hard not to get depressed about the economy these days, especially for a guy in my line of work.

Just this week, we got a look at the closely watched Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index.  Most of the cities included in the survey saw price gains over the summer but economists say that won’t last.  I talked to one who doesn’t expect prices to bottom out until early next year.

Unemployment remains high and if very little job growth doesn’t make you blue, take a close look at Wall Street and stock markets around the globe.  If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the markets are bipolar.  One minute they’re in a very good mood but watch out because they can turn on a dime. It just depends on which way the breeze is blowing.

And, then there’s Washington.  Congress has apparently avoided a government shutdown for the time being.  But the threat that was in the air last week (the third in six months) is still on the horizon as lawmakers bicker over the debt and deficit.  My kids get along better.

Given all this (and more), it’s hard not to be gloomy.

But I ran across a story last week that gave me some cheer.  Actually, it was a specific quote in a story predicting that Americans, given the down economy, will remain cautious when it comes to holiday shopping.

“Clearly, consumers will remain surgical in their spending,” Bill Martin, the co-founder of the research firm Shoppertrak was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

In other words, these troubled economic times play right into the hands of shopping averse men. We’ve been given the perfect excuse to at least limit the time we spend following our wives from store to store.

Or so I thought.

Just the other day my wife suggested we take the kids shopping for clothes at the local outlet mall.

“We’ll be in and out,” she promised when I was a little slow to respond.

I had visions of my son and me spending a long afternoon lugging my wife and daughter’s purchases around while they feverishly browsed store shelves.  We’d be reduced to being mere pack horses struggling to catch up with the thoroughbreds galloping to the next sale.

But it seemed to me that my wife was taking an almost manly approach to the trip.  She knew exactly what the kids needed and said she didn’t plan to waste time browsing.  That’s just the kind of attitude Shoppertrak is expecting this holiday season, so I agreed to go.

The 20-minute drive to the outlet was encouraging.  We compared notes on what to get and where to get it.  We even talked about where to park in order to minimize our time spent shopping.

All was going well until we left the first store.

It was then that my 10-year-old daughter turned to me with a sparkle in her eye that sort of scared me.

“Here, Dad.  Can you carry this?” she asked, handing me her purchases and then running to catch up with her mother.

My son and I looked at each other.  Then we spent the next couple of hours alternately following the girls around and searching for the benches provided for the almost exclusive use of boys who’ve been hoodwinked into going on a shopping trip.

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