by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I am from Earth. You are from Mars. I take your hand and we go Christmas shopping.

“Very big,” you say, as we pull into the mall parking lot. “Is this a center for intelligent life-sharing experience?”

We park the car, and walk through whipping wind and blinding snow, as we cross the approximately 37 miles to the mall entrance. When we open the door, we are flattened by an army of exiting shoppers.

“Are their loved ones in danger?” you ask, wiping the footprints off your space suit.

“Worse,” I say. “They gotta use the bathroom.”

Inside the mall, we are bumped by baby strollers and knocked over by stock boys. We pass carts with T-shirts that read, “I Don’t Have A Drinking Problem; I Drink, I Fall Down, No Problem.”

“What is that loud noise?” you ask. “Like metal bells, playing the same song, over and over? Is that a form of torture?”

“Close,” I say, “Muzak.”

We push our way into a computer store. Computers, I explain, are a hot commodity. The perfect gift for the cutting edge of technology. Since you are from Mars, you look at our gigabytes, hard drives, CD-ROMs and PCI slots, and you chuckle.

“Tinkertoys,” you mumble.

“What’s that?” I say.

“Um, nothing,” you say.

Let’s look for a salesman, shall we? Battle of the sexes

We do not really know what a salesman looks like. No one in this store has seen a salesman since 1986. Finally, we find a teenager in an apron. Does he work here, we ask? Yes, he says. Can he show us a computer, we ask? No, he says. He is “on break.”

“What is ‘break?’ ” you ask.

“It’s something salesmen do between arriving at work and going home,” I say.

We pick a computer, on our own, and lug the box to the cash register. Actually, we cannot see the cash register, because the line is longer than the one for Pearl Jam tickets.

Two hours later, we pay for the box.

“It must be a privilege to purchase such a thing, that you would wait so long,” you say.

“Yeah,” I grouse, “it’s a true honor.”

We push to other stores. We fall into The Gap. We see pants with 32 waist, 30 inseam, and 32 waist, 31 inseam. We hear a woman say she can’t find anything here. We wait in line 40 minutes.

We go to Harmony House and The Limited. We go to Victoria’s Secret and see a line of women thumbing through black blazers and a line of men holding up tiny red panties and saying, “Honey, what about this?”

Finally, we reach Radio Shack. I explain that this is a good place for gifts, because everyone loves new technology. I say that not too long ago, we listened to albums, then advanced to 8-tracks, then cassettes, and now, the ultimate, the CD. We are proud to have reached the limit of audio technology.

“But you haven’t even invented Gryzpo-6 yet,” you say.

“What’s that?” I say.

“Um, nothing,” you say. It’s a wonderful life

Soon our arms are crammed with boxes. We exit the mall, into the snow and cold. We walk 37 miles across the lot, spend an hour trying to find the car, then shiver in the front seat as we drive across the road to the toy store. We park 63 miles from the entrance.

“Why is the toy store not connected to the mall?” you ask.

“I have no answer,” I say.

Inside, we are knocked over by a kid with a sled, and tripped by a kid with a hockey stick. You are amazed at all the video games, electric cars, talking monsters, football simulators.

“Do children spend all their time with toys?” you ask.

“Of course not. They also watch TV.”

Four kids go screaming past, shooting each other with lasers. We hear the sounds of shrieking women, and we run to see two mothers pulling on the legs of the last remaining Barbie doll.

“SHE’S MINE, WITCH!” says one.

“CHOKE AND DIE!” says the other.

You are amazed. You are confused. You ask, “What do you celebrate this time of year?”

Peace and love, I tell you.


We exit the store. The snow blows in our faces. We have six shopping carts and nine shopping bags. “For your children?” you ask. No, I explain, most of the gifts are for people who give me gifts, and to whom I must reciprocate — even though I don’t really like the gifts they send me.

You study my words. You study the parking lot. You feel the snow and cold in your alien face.

You run to your spaceship and return to Mars.

You are there before I find my car.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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