My family holds a membership to a local warehouse club. I have not pressed a sticker on my car to advertise the relationship, the way I have for our downtown farmers' market. It is simply where our monthly budget firmly and consistently reminds us to shop in bulk for a few essential articles of life: soap, diapers, wine. Former President Jimmy Carter did a book signing here almost seven months ago. I found that news both intriguing and embarrassing. Did someone tell him to check out Rue Cler before he left?
A few nights ago, after I flashed my card to gain entrance to this retail galaxy, I slowed down and put my weight on the wide blue cart. I also noticed something. Christmas was permissibly here. Of course, it had been here since late September, but I like to think most folks had been ignoring it. A limping economy and an election season had contributed to a buffer that I was now watching evaporate. Flat screens, cashews, sweat pants and a paper shredder floated past me. I did not touch. I did almost cave in for some cozy dog beds, but at $35 each, I decided we would wash the dingy old ones instead. I was happily browsing inside aisles only a forklift could stock.
A few dozen feet behind me, an employee whistled a Christmas carol, loud and flat. He was drowning out the speakers strapped to steel trusses on high. It was kind of annoying, but he looked pleased. I asked him for directions to the hiding place of the Romano cheese, and he steered me to where the stuff was normally laid up, in a cold case beside sacks of shredded cheddar and gold bars of Velveeta. What, did I think it was with the brie? He didn't say that, I did.
Amid all the normal routines that were unfolding in the store, you couldn't help but feel like someone was whispering, "Yuletide, on three!" The set designers of the season had given us enough music, ornaments and gift ideas that we could not ignore it any longer. I shrugged. Somewhat reluctantly, somewhat eagerly, I flipped my switch and thought about the end of the year and the guilt that comes with boiling Christmas down into a vacation from reality. I shoved off to check out and show my card for a second time.
Everywhere I looked, shoppers quietly wandered, strolled and ate. Maybe, like me, they were feeling a melancholy pause before dashing against that list of all things we must get done. As I stood in line at the door to leave, the blue-vested man who draws a smiley face on the back of receipts for our children was there to see me off. He dutifully counted my items. Since I was alone and a grown-up he spared me the artistic flair of his highlighter but handed the ticket back with a nod and a grin, recognizing my face and my reasons for traveling here. Cheers and thanks, two for one.