- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 26, 2005

The malls will never be the same: The American Chiropractic Association has just issued a 14-point health alert that explains how to ward off back, neck and musculoskeletal pain while navigating the stores this season.


“Treat holiday shopping as an athletic event,” the earnest spinal soothers advise. “Drink water frequently, wear layers. Stretch before and after a long day of shopping.”

And their last tip: “Always stretch before and after you wrap gifts.”

Thank you, doctors. We’ll take two shopping bags and call you in the morning.

Shopping has become many things, but it has not been treated as a contact sport, physical challenge or exercise regimen — until now.

We already know shopping has been elevated into a personal experience of paramount importance these days as the nation seeks to get in touch with its inner spendthrift. Or maybe that should be inner spendthrift child.

Among the psychobabblers, shopping has become a catchall bin, an allegory for the American experience. Why, it fills us with dread, glee, guilt, lust. It is our mania and phobia, our ego and id. We’re “shopping” for more meaningful religion, a better job, an honest politician, a decent preschool, a third husband.

That naughty shopping has been parlayed into full-blown addiction; otherwise Stanford University would not be studying the effects of antidepressants on those now labeled “compulsive shoppers.”

But wait. Shopping is also entertainment, self-identity, immediate gratification and — oh, heavens to Mergatroyd — a substitute for sex, at least according to a certain genre of annoying therapists angling for a meaningful girly chat with Katie Couric on the “Today” show.

Bah. Just be strong and repeat this mantra: Miser-tightwad-cheapskate. … Miser-tightwad-cheapskate. Go to the dollar store. Get in touch with your inner Fred Mertz.

Ah, but it’s a difficult road. There are so many enablers out there as jingle bells begin and sales resistance ends in the days ahead.

Just imagine: Should harried holiday shoppers begin to descend into a persistent vegetative state outside Nordstrom, well, they can just pull out their trusty Rescue Remedy Spray, which is endorsed by Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Aniston and Sissy Spacek, according to Nelson Bach, the London-based manufacturer.

Shoppers-in-crisis are supposed to spritz the “flower essences” on their tongues, “especially in the midst of holiday shopping. It’s like yoga in a bottle,” says company spokesman Curt Finckler.

Yoga, indeed.

Now, let us breathe deeply, dress in layers and do a deep knee bend while holding a complimentary shirt box at arm’s length. It is time for the ultimate reality check. It is time to do the holiday math.

Steady, now. There are just 27 shopping days left.

(Recommended sound and vocal effects here: Crash, boom. “Oh my gosh. Oh. Oh. Water, please.” Zing, boom. “I feel faint. Somebody let the dog out.”)

During that time period, each of us will spend exactly $1,373 on gifts, at least according to the Direct Marketing Association. That means every day, statistically speaking, we’ll part with a little more than $50 until Santa Claus — or Bubbie and Zadie as the case may be — arrives for the heavy lifting.

The association also has determined that just a virtuous 20 percent of Americans complete their holiday shopping by the end of November, while a comforting 46 percent wait until the last week of the shopping siege before they attempt to breech the fortifications of say, Tysons Corner or Montgomery Mall.

Dr. Moe, Dr. Larry, Dr. Curly, please note: Significant risk-taking behavior also is present. A full 23 percent habitually wait until the DAY BEFORE to begin their shopping duties, with the act usually accompanied by a spectrum of anxieties leading to total psychological breakdown and night terrors.

(Sound effect: Crash, boom. “Oh my gosh. Oh. Oh.”)

Cue soothing music.

Of course, all of us here at the Traumatized Shopper Relief Station (located just opposite Santa’s Magic Cheese Wheel Kingdom on the upper level of the mall) fully sympathize with those who pine for the delicate, meaningful shopping depicted in “Miracle on 34th Street.” Or the kindly, sparkling variety described in the little holiday tune “Silver Bells.”

As a service to the public, we offer “Cheap Gifts I Have Known,” a free pamphlet written by the late Jack Benny, plus the ever-popular classic “My Miser, Myself” by Ebenezer Scrooge. A therapeutic, sepia-toned photograph dated 1938 and featuring a contented female shopper carrying a single Macy’s bag and smiling warmly is also available for viewing by appointment only.

(Sound effect: Loud applause.)

The Traumatized Shopper Relief Station wishes all its customers a happy holiday; please note that we close at 7 p.m. Dec. 24 but will reopen Dec. 26 in our location opposite Santa’s Magic Gift Exchange Kingdom.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and department store phobias for The Washington Times’ national desk. Contact her at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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