Christmas decorations seem to lack something of the Christian ethos this year. When I was growing up, you could barely move for cheerful scenes of the crucifixion and mawkish tableaux of ceramic shepherds hanging around dodgy mangers. For years, a church in Durban North put out a nativity scene on the street. Then people started stealing the livestock and a couple of the wise men went missing and it was stopped altogether the year baby Jesus was nicked.
Anyway, nativity scenes are outdated. If it were today, the three wise men would be unemployed academics with substance abuse problems, Joseph would be out working overtime to pay for the new baby and the shepherds would be on strike.
Meanwhile, not too long ago, you could barely walk through a mall without smacking your head into a polystyrene angel swinging from the rafters. These days it’s all disco balls and plastic dross swaddled in fairy lights. It’s not so much Santa’s grotto as it is Hugh Hefner’s grotto, although you do have a slightly smaller risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease in the Hypermarket.
You’d think the very least the dude responsible for all of this could do is send down a few real angels to pretty up the city. Maybe we’ve been doing it wrong and everyone has gone straight to hell. Or perhaps this is hell. Perhaps heaven is another planet with mountains of marijuana and rivers of beer and beautiful women who don’t mind if you never call them but who will happily whip up a hearty breakfast if you drop by early on a Sunday morning, horny and bleeding.
With only a couple of weeks left before the traditional exchanging of gifts and bodily fluids, I found myself in the maw of a gargantuan shopping maul, having been driven there by guilt. Or, more accurately, by the Bad Yellow-Eyed Woman. I am dating a woman who believes in the magic of Christmas instead of doing the sensible thing and dating an iconoclastic pagan who would sooner perform outlandish fertility rituals around a burning goat than go shopping.
At first glance, it appeared as if the complex was designed by Dante Alighieri himself. There was Cerberus tied up outside and a sign at the entrance saying, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Inside, nine levels of hell, jam-packed with opportunists, adulterers, gluttons and greedheads, hypocrites, thieves and sodomites, the sullen, the slothful and the suicidal. It sounds more fun than it was.
“Let’s split up,” said the Bad Yellow-Eyed Woman.
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” I replied. “I’ll have my stuff out by Tuesday.”
She gave me the lazy eye and, in an instant, was swept away in a raging torrent of hoarders and wasters, deceivers, flatterers and sowers of discord. I sought refuge in a shop called Dad’s Toys. It was either that or CUM Books, a shady outfit that looked like it might sell tasteful Christian porn to happily married couples.
Dad’s Toys was the perfect shop to get something for my landlord. He’s been married for a while, so it was a toss-up between a crossbow, a knuckleduster, two throwing knives, a pair of nunchucks, a bulletproof vest and a riot shield. In the end I took it all. To even things up a bit, I bought his wife a stun-gun, a flick knife, a hip flask, a can of pepper spray and a pair of handcuffs. It’ll be like a second honeymoon for them.
Back on level three of Dante’s inferno, I suffered some sort of weird asthma attack in a shop that reeked overpoweringly of the stuff women put in their underwear drawer to repel their husbands. It appeared to be a biological agent. Nerve gas, probably.
Fighting to breathe and lurching like an escaped lunatic, I was steamrollered into Game by a mob of unbaptised heretics. Almost immediately, I felt my sanity slipping away. An alarm wailed as if the store were under terrorist attack, purple-faced tellers shouted for reinforcements, wild-eyed women clawed at one another’s eyeballs to get the last trolley, the floor vibrated to a hideous rap version of Hark the Herald something or other and every few seconds the madness was cranked up a notch by some maniac screaming over a PA system for Dawie to meet Hannelie at the front of the store. I think it was meet. It could’ve been eat.
Ripping through the mayhem like a circular saw through the occipital bone came the most terrible sound of all. If Christmas is such a happy time for children, why in God’s name are they all crying? Why are they lying on the floor thrashing about like epileptics?
The idea of penetrating too deep into the belly of the beast filled me with revulsion, so my plan was to buy anything within spitting distance of the tellers. A man in a red waistcoat came over and asked me to stop spitting.
Adrift in the toy section, I overheard an assistant say to a man with a troubled face, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but Spiderman has sold out.” This was disturbing news. Had our hero been bought off by the Green Goblin? Or had Peter Parker finally discovered that it would be far more lucrative to become an estate agent and use his superpowers to spin a web of lies and deceit, instead?
I was distracted by row upon row of babies stacked up like prematurely born infants in cheap plastic incubators. There was Butterfly Doll with eight functions – five more than a real baby – and Kissing Baby, a favourite among visiting Belgian paedophiles. Sippin’ Sue is a cute little thing “who lets you know when she wants more”. Yeah, she’s cute now. Wait until she grows up and starts demanding cunnilingus and vodka at 3am.
There’s a doll that speaks six lines. Or does six lines. I can’t remember. Cocaine Barbie, perhaps.
I came across New Born Baby. “Look after me,” the synthetic sprog demanded. “I can drink and use my potty.” So can I, but you don’t see me lolling about in a cardboard box expecting people to pay R300 to see me do a wee, do you? Not that I wouldn’t.
There was also some kind of contraption that could accommodate seven babies. Of course. Why have one when you can have seven? It’s a valuable lesson for any girl to learn in a country starved of people.
The Americans, being the peace-loving democrats they are, seem to have ditched the toy guns this year. Instead, your cuddly little psychopath can look forward to Santa bringing him remote controlled Apache helicopter gunships, M1 tanks and amphibious assault vehicles that come with flashing lights and fabulous sound effects including machine gun fire, explosions and wounded civilians screaming in Arabic.
The ideal present for a boy isn’t, as you might think, a plastic M-16 rifle with pull-back breech action and realistic auto sound. It’s a kitchen play set and vacuum cleaner. The lad needs to be equipped with survival skills because by the time he is of marriageable age, all the women will be riding Harleys and staging cock fights in the local pub.
Some mothers never taught their daughters to clean and cook and I believe it’s never too late for them to learn the basics. Girls, or even grown women, will appreciate the “My Little Home” range. It has everything from a plastic washing machine to a trolley fitted with a mop, broom and bucket. Next year, I’d like see a “My Little Broken Home” range where nothing works except a miniature crystal meth lab. Accessories would include paramedics and a social worker.
The electronic kitchen “makes realistic sounds” so you might not want to get that. The last thing you need is a toy that shrieks, “You’re not having another beer, are you?” and “You can also cook sometimes, you lazy pig.”
My Little Iron also makes realistic sounds. Like what? “I’m sick of slaving away for these ungrateful white bastards” and “Why doesn’t your useless father ever do this?” and “Open the safe or I’ll iron your face.”
There’s also a talking octopus. What can it possibly have to say? I once met an octopus while snorkeling and I can honestly say that in the brief moment our eyes met, we both knew there was nothing we had to say to each other. If octopi could talk, I expect they would say, “Please take that pointy stick out of my head and return me to the rock pool from whence I came.” Well, the educated ones would. The more common octopi would probably squirt ink everywhere and try to strangle you with a tentacle.
A shop assistant caught me looking up a doll’s skirt. Awkward. I simply wanted to ascertain whether it was anatomically correct. With the education system as it is, I wouldn’t want my nephew growing up thinking all girls have a piece of hard plastic between their legs. Not that I have a nephew.
I had ingested a muscle relaxant in the parking lot and fortunately was able to deal with almost anything – even the Verimark aisle. It was like stepping into a future filled with home appliances designed by mad geniuses on hallucinogenic drugs and whiskey.
Talking vacuum cleaners with an incredible 22Kpa suction power! That’s enough to suck the eyeballs right out of your head. There was one that not only picks up dust mites, but gives them in-house training so they can entertain you with tiny circuses and cabaret acts instead of freebooting on skin flakes and crawling up your nose while you’re sleeping.
Slumped in a jewellery shop doorway, I watched a middle-aged man staring blankly at a pair of diamond earrings. He noticed me and asked what I thought. I took a look at the price.
“I think you you should get something cheaper. She’s probably cheating on you right now.” Apparently a sense of humour is out of place in the festive season.
With my blood-alcohol levels dangerously low, I repaired to the restaurant area where several companies appeared to be having their get-togethers. Christmas parties used to be held at night. There would be carousing and fornicating and the company would happily pay your bail the next day. Now, the grinches offer their employees a free lunch.
As if there’s such a thing.