Don’t Hate the Shopper, Hate the Game

If the thought of the holiday season fills you with an icy, quivering dread, if the sound of silver bells sends flurries of cold nausea tinkling down your spine, if the idea of holiday gift shopping invites a retching panic to engulf your heart, then you are experiencing a completely normal mammalian stress responses to negative stimulation.

Every type of media is clogged with advertisers shouting assertions that they will sell you THE PERFECT GIFT. The onerous sense of obligation that latches onto your back and greedily gnaws juicy chunks out of your spine while you stagger through the mall in a haze of self-loathing and panicked desperation is part of what’s being sold, and you buy it before you set foot in a store. You wait in stifling lines to pay for garbage while fluorescent lights nuke the soul behind your eyes and royalty-free renditions of holiday songs rend apart your brain. It prompts you say things like, “I hate the holidays.”

But you don’t hate the holidays! The corporate campaigns that seek to exploit and profit off your cheer and goodwill toward mankind are what you hate, and rightfully so. Keep your cheer, keep your goodwill, and keep your dignity. If you remain mindful of your intentions, holiday shopping really is a blast. Here are a few simple rules:

1. For the love of yourself, do not enter the mall. It is its own private hellmouth, and you are the tender morsel it slavers to consume.

2. Do not enter a department store. See #1.

3. Do not go anywhere near Rte. 2 in Warwick. See #1.

4. It’s perfectly okay to spend less than $10 on a gift. It is the thought that counts.

November is a lovely time to take a scenic drive down Rte. 44 West, through Smithfield, past several local farms, and into Greenville where resides the Stillwater Antiques Center at 711 Putnam Pike (stillwaterantiques.net, 401-949-4999).  Occupying a former coffin factory, the three-story warehouse boasts hundreds of dealers specializing in everything from antique farm tools to mid-century ladies’ hats. You can easily spend hours wandering the aisles, a perfect arrangement for one of the best methods of holiday shopping: to wander aimlessly looking at all the neat stuff until something pops out at you that is just right for someone. More often than not, that something will be between $2 and $5. A 19th-century songbook for Paul who plays piano, a vintage Pyrex casserole for Katy who collects, a portrait of the Virgin Mary surrounded by doe-eyed cherubs for your somewhat intense mother.

The RI Antiques Mall at 345 Fountain St. in Pawtucket (riantiquesmall.com, 401-475-3400) offers a similar shopping format — two floors of booths chock-stocked with treasures from every era. Here they provide the public service of an annual Black Friday weekend sale in an environment where you get free cookies and cider instead of trampled to death by strangers in a parking lot. The atmosphere is positively festive. Keep an eye out for kooky vintage salt and pepper shakers; when cleaned and stuffed with candy, homemade spice blends, or choice illicit pharmaceuticals, they make excellent stocking stuffers.

From November 29 through December 20, InDowncity, Cornish Associates, and Aurora nightclub are teaming up to provide a month-long program of free holiday activities from noon to 6pm every Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, based out of Aurora at 276 Westminster St. in downtown Providence (auroraprovidence.com). The important part about this is the Bloody Mary. Aurora has been perfecting its Bloody Mary recipe for the occasion, and there is no better way to begin a day of relaxed small business shopping than by getting smashed on vodka in the guise of a breakfast smoothie. Balance out your buzz by partaking of the complimentary bagel bar before you embarrass yourself in front of Santa. December 13th will bring the holiday edition of What Cheer Records and Vintage’s Rock & Roll Yard Sale to Aurora, bringing vendors of vinyl, vintage clothing and accessories, collectibles, and handmade items. And vodka.

While you’re downtown, meander over to Cellar Stories Books at 111 Matthewson St. (cellarstories.com, 401-521-2665). There are very few feelings in the world as heartbreakingly cozy as wandering through quiet stacks of stories on a bitterly cold day, stroking bindings and inhaling the scent of aging paper, and books are a perfect gift. Cellar Stories stocks all the classics as well as a well-rounded cookbook selection, a broad Occult section and a collection of original early-mid 20th-century pulp fiction paperbacks. One of my favorite gifts I’ve ever received was from Cellar Stories, The American Spelling Book; Containing the Rudiments of the English Language, for the Use of Schools in the United States, by Noah Webster, Esq., 1828. It is bound in wood, and falling apart, and it is a first edition of the first American dictionary, and it is the joy of my heart and my most prized possession after my Teddy bear, and I think my boyfriend paid $20 for it. So there you go.

Be merry.

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