Jeff Lagasse

Jeff Lagasse

Beware of guilt shopping. It’s a common occurrence this time of year.

The term “guilt shopping” has a long and storied history, having been invented by me about five minutes ago. It refers to the pressure certain sales clerks apply in getting someone to buy something – which works primarily on wishy washy holiday shoppers with no backbone or self-respect. So it happens to me frequently.

Guilt shopping is like herpes – it can strike at any time and happens primarily when one’s guard is down. Like mine was just last week, when I was guilted out of 15 bucks that would have been better spent on pulled pork wraps and shaving cream.

At a toy store in central Maine, this was. I wander into toy stores with some regularity, not because I have young relatives in need of playful stimulation but because I have the emotional maturity of a tree frog. In particular, I was looking for Batman merchandise; Batman is awesome, and the devil on my shoulder insists that I need to be surrounded by his scowling face at all times to be reminded of this fact. I also apparently have an innate need to scare off women. It works.

While sifting through action figures and plush dolls the size of alpacas, I stumbled upon a line of figurines called Pop Heroes and was immediately charmed. Pop dolls are created using the likenesses of characters from movies, comic books and TV shows, and have an offbeat and distinctive style – all of the toys have large heads and squat bodies, like Donald Trump minus the golf courses and racism. Ninja Turtles Pop toys swarmed the shelves. Meth drama “Breaking Bad” was represented, as was “Game of Thrones” and superheroes from the “Avengers” movies. Alas, no Batman.

Disappointed but determined, I approached the sales clerk and asked if they had any Batman figurines in the Pop line. The clerk leaned over a laptop, and after a rattling of keys and a cursory check of her screen, informed me that the store was currently out, though they would be happy to order one and call me when it came in. I had half a mind to say “don’t bother” and order the thing on Amazon, but I’m making a conscious effort to do less shopping online and patronize local businesses when I can. I made this decision because it’s the right thing to do, and also so I can feel haughty and superior. Mostly it’s to feel haughty and superior. I acquiesced.

A few days later, they called and told me it was in. Great. So I went back down.

Well, as it turned out, it was a false alarm. A different clerk had misunderstood my request, and when I arrived, the original clerk, Clerk One, just shrugged and opened her palms to the sky, as if to say, “Sorry dude, what can I say? Batman doesn’t love you.”

As you can imagine, I was a bit peeved. It was an honest mistake, but I could have spent that time doing something productive. Better yet, I could have spent that time eating Fruity Pebbles and watching “Dr. Phil.” Frustrating.

Dejected and ornery, I was turning to leave when Clerk One stopped me.

“It’s not in our warehouse, but you can probably order it, uh, online,” she said with obvious distaste. “Feel free to look around, though. We’ve got plenty of Batman stuff.”

She wasn’t lying. The joint was practically crawling with Caped Crusader merchandise. Problem was, it all stunk. A plastic piggy bank in the guise of 1950s Adam West Batman? A Dark Knight version of the board game “Trouble,” complete with the cheap-o plastic dome in the center that you punch to roll the dice? What did I look like, a schmuck? Actually, never mind. I’m pretty sure I did look like a schmuck.

But it was the way she said “We’ve got plenty of Batman stuff,” with that pleading, half-hopeful tone, that wormed its way into my brain. That, in combination with her ostentatiously reluctant suggestion to search the Internet, conspired to crush my will. There was no way I was leaving without making a purchase. I justified it by telling myself I didn’t want to make a trip all the way out to the mall just to leave empty-handed, but the truth was that the clerk had me pegged: I am an inherently guiltridden man. Guilt-ridden men don’t summon their courage and walk out of toy stores. Guilt-ridden men buy Super Mario Bros.calendars they don’t need so cashiers will like them.

Clerk One likely had no idea she was dooming my brain to a neurotic crisis. She merely regretted not being able to help me further. My purchase was my own weakness, and I get that. But that pleading voice, those shelter dog eyes – it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t a part of her mind that knew she had a shot, a slim percentage of a ghost of a chance, of shaming me into buying non-Batman swag. Guys like me are susceptible to shaming. Maybe it’s ‘cause I was raised Catholic.

What she didn’t know, or perhaps knew only on a subconscious level, was that she had nudged me over the edge from normal holiday browsing to guilt shopping, and in less time than it takes to ninja-kick a Siberian husky. It’s early in the season for this kind of avoidable lunacy, but that’s what I get for crawling out of my man cave. If the trend continues, I’ll have spent about a grand on junk I didn’t need, which’ll overstuff my remaining closet space with the boundarystretching tightness of a gut filled with figgy pudding. By the end of the year I’ll have 14 calendars, seven autographed footballs and a subscription to Women’s Health Magazine.

The goal in sharing this is twofold: To warn others of this growing holiday scourge, and to be known and acclaimed for coining a new phrase. Hey, we may even get a new Christmas carol out of it. Working title? “Hark! The Guilty Shopper’s Broke.”

Jeff Lagasse is an editor at a Portland media company who dressed as Batman for Halloween because he probably has some kind of weird complex. He can be contacted at [email protected]