Monthly Archives: January 2016

Is There Anything Sadder Than Costco in January?

When I went shopping just after Christmas, my local Costco was virtually unrecognizable. All remnants of Christmas had vanished, as if the entire holiday season (signs of which, by the way, appeared in early October) had never happened. And so I lie awake at night and wonder…did they sell ALL those neatly wrapped boxes of Belgian chocolate? ALL the 8-foot tall teddy bears? Every last pallet of Panettone?

Just days before Christmas, the place had been a happy madhouse. There were traffic jams near the meat counter, long lines at checkout, and a parking lot situation that looked like the bumper cars at the state fair – but the Christmas spirit prevailed. I don’t know why; perhaps the marketing geniuses at Corporate determined just which Christmas songs were best suited for both calming the nerves and opening the wallets.

The Christmas Season at Costco is a playground for the senses. Holiday tunes drift magically from the player piano ($2,799.99!). The high-pitched whirr of a blender makes milkshakes, which are offered to shoppers by a nice lady demonstrating a Vitamix. You can walk down the row of home goods and plunge your arms elbow-deep into throw blankets that feel like real fur.

Of course, the warehouse is still a warehouse – it never quite attains the glistening visual appeal of a Crate and Barrel – but it’s also not nearly as breakable. Thank goodness for that, because it’s easy to get distracted by a giant inflatable snowman and accidentally ram your cart into a pallet of grapefruit.

But the very best thing about Costco during the holidays is the merchandise. For a limited time, you can practically get diabetes just by standing too close to the desserts. They have coffee cake, tiramisu, peppermint bark, shortbread cookies, apple pies, and tins of “biscuits” with pictures of European cities on them. Nearby, the endless piles of toys beckon. My kids are too old for most of them, but it’s still fun to browse the remote-control cars and hover boards and packs of 100 colored pencils, sharpened and ready to go.

Alas, all that good stuff disappears the day after Christmas. When I arrived and showed my member card at the door, I entered a different world.

The store was silent – no more music. Just the shuffling, snow-booted feet of the shoppers in front of me, wiping icy slush (ugh!) from their practical footwear. Such are the sights and sounds of winter in Massachusetts, with no Christmas to distract us.

After Christmas, there is not one fun thing left in that store. Apparently, January is the month when we pay for our holiday sins. The dessert section was replaced with industrial size jars of protein powder, which presumably we need to add to the diet green smoothies we’ll grudgingly consume until spring break (and made with that new Vitamix!).

What else is featured in Costco after Christmas? Well, lots of mattresses. Respectable-looking furniture (nothing too funky or hip). Throw rugs. Among the sweaters and coats, a lone table of women’s bathing suits mocks me, as if to say “It’s too cold to wear us now and you’d only depress yourself by squeezing these over your pale, over-fed body.” I can’t deny it.

I still go to Costco, because life goes on and we need milk, laundry detergent, and wine. Lots of wine (the next best thing to Christmas for distracting one from winter in Massachusetts).

On the bright side, the crowds have thinned considerably and parking is easy. Costco is like church – after Christmas, you see who the regulars are. And you wait for the next holiday, when it will be warm and crowded once again.

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What’s the Worst Thing That Can Happen When a Boy Plays With a Toy Gun?

If you watched any part of the recent 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon, you might think you know the answer. The classic holiday film features a white boy named Ralphie who desperately wants to find a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle under the Christmas tree. Much to his dismay, everyone with whom he shares this heartfelt wish (his mother, his teacher, even a department store Santa) rejects the toy as too dangerous. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” they proclaim.

But the story of Tamir Rice tells us that the “worst thing” that can happen, actually, is being mistaken for a criminal who is brandishing a real gun, and being killed by police who shoot first and ask questions later.

Last week, a grand jury in Cleveland declined to press charges against the officer who shot and killed Tamir. Timothy J. McGinty, the prosecutor in the case, said the boy’s death was “horrible, unfortunate, and regrettable. But it was not, by the laws that bind us, a crime.”

Perhaps McGinty’s statement is actually the “worst thing,” for it did nothing to assure parents that any black boy playing with any toy gun couldn’t reasonably expect the same fatal outcome. He reported that the officer who shot Tamir had reason to fear for his life, implying that the fatal shooting was merely an unfortunate consequence of Tamir’s own actions. Actions identical to those of Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Each boy was playing with a toy.

Several recent news reports confirm that the worst consequence for any particular behavior may depend upon the skin color of the one doing the behaving.

Sandra Bland (African American) allegedly changed lanes without signaling, which didn’t result in anyone being harmed. She was arrested and jailed, then mysteriously ended up dead in her cell. The officers involved claim she killed herself, but her family doesn’t believe it. A grand jury declined to indict anyone.

Eric Garner (African American) allegedly sold individual cigarettes on the street, which didn’t result in anyone being harmed. A video recording clearly shows him being choked to death by a police officer and his death was ruled a homicide. Again, a grand jury declined to indict anyone.

Meanwhile, a white male named Ethan Couch drove drunk and killed four people, then pled guilty to four counts of manslaughter (Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner never went to court or entered pleas – they didn’t live long enough to do so). But Ethan was sentenced to 10 years probation and no jail time. Now that he’s been apprehended for apparently violating probation, maybe he’ll face real consequences. He will probably survive.

These news snippets are selective, but they highlight a painful truth that is undeniable to all but the most blind. While America has spent the last century desegregating our institutions, giving all Americans access to the same rights and privileges, the criminal justice system is a stubborn holdout and still has a long way to go. As long as it’s not working for each and every one of us, it’s not working at all.

With that in mind, what’s the worst that can happen when a boy plays with a toy gun? For now, unfortunately, that depends on the color of the boy’s skin. America can celebrate progress when a boy like Tamir wants to play with such a toy, and his mother’s only warning is “You’ll shoot your eye out!”