Tis the Season

We headed out this morning to finish up our Christmas shopping so we'd have everything ready for our drive-by gifting next weekend. We're flying to New Jersey Thursday night on a red-eye for a Saturday wedding and coming home Sunday evening. Aside from going into Manhattan Friday morning for rush-hour breakfast with Kristin's youngest sister, we're hoping to basically see and exchange gifts with most everyone in both our families. And, of course, make it up to a ski hill where the wedding is being held.

Our fingers and toes are already crossed that it's an open bar -- we're going to need it.

So, anyway, the first stop today was the Samsonite outlet store in North Bend. Last year Kristin surprised me with a pair of large luggage pieces and now it was time to get the carry-ons. The guy who runs the store remembered storing the bags for her last year and was a big help. Unfortunately, that didn't keep it from getting weird at the end. First he starts telling us how we remind him of the couple that was arrested recently for identity theft "Really attractive, young couple like yourselves. Looked like they had everything going for them, and it turns out they were thieves. You guys aren't planning on stealing anybody's money are you?" He didn't stop there. He then launches into a rather odd tirade about good-looking people not having to work as hard and that they ruined everything and that if he were governor he'd build as many prisions as there are houses and there'd never be a prison over-crowding problem because he would... I think you get the idea. It's bad enough when people you know start going off on a tangential rant like this, but the salesman at a luggage store? He couldn't hand us the receipt fast enough.

I wish that was the only oddity in today's shopping trip, but oh no.

Even though we live no more than 5 miles from the outlet shops in North Bend, we only every stop in once every year or so. Because of this we kind of felt obligated to at least browse each of the stores. That was, until we noticed the stink. Every store we went into seemed to have an odor. And not a good odor. A stink that doubled in power to the point that as I walked into a puzzle and games store I had to actually spin a 180-degree turn and walk right out. It was a punch in the gut and I nearly gagged. Kristin thought it was just the smell of the bread baking at the Subway sandwich shop and to that I say Quiznos 1, Subway 0.

We continued the parade in and out of the stores looking for the perfect gift but seemingly not really using our heads -- brain damage from the skunk-wheat baking down the hall -- and eventually wandered into a Black & Decker shop because Kristin thought she might be able to find her mother something fun inside. To this my normally sarcastic and chatty self was simply dumbstruck. "Your mother? Something fun? In a Black & Decker factory store?" We left shortly after and eventually made our way to the Kay-Bee Toy Hobby which may have been fun to wander around had it not been for the impenetrable and dare I say visible wall of body odor that greeted us inside. We soon fled to the safety of the gourmet food store and foraged on some fancy pretzels and dips while catching our breath. A nice raspberry-horseradish dip was the precise antivenom for the olfactory dillema we found ourselves in.

Kristin wasn't so sure that the smells were as bad as I thought they were, but she knows I have an extremely acute sense of smell and an equally strong gag-reflex (true story: I once fled a friend's house and threw up in their flower beds because his wife was washing whites... the bleach just about killed me. I was only in their house for about 5 seconds.)

"I swear my sense of smell and taste are so strong, I feel like a blind person sometimes. All of the benefits with none of the annoying side-effects like loss of vision."

We left North Bend and headed down to Bellevue for lunch at The Pumphouse, one of our favorite haunts. We hadn't sat at the bar inside this place in quite a while. The last time we did a guy way to old to be flirting with the waitresses asked the bartender how many months pregnant she was. She wasn't. Good times at The Pumphouse, let me tell you!

After that it was to Circuit City to see if they had any HDMI switcher devices. Our tv only has 1 HDMI input and we currently use it for the DirecTV receiver. Santa is bringing an HD-DVD player that I would like to connect to the tv with an HDMI cable. I'd like to get a switcher so that I can eventually connect my Xbox 360 via HDMI as well. Circuit City had two such projects. Neither had a price tag so we were forced to do the only thing one can do in Circuit City during the holiday season -- we called in a Masai warrior experienced in tracking the elusive beast known as the Circuit City Salesman. He eventually picked up the scent and lead me to a large cardboard box where the wily creature was trying to convince a woman that "Vanilla Sky" is a very, very good movie.

The salesman took the two items and went to scan them for a price. Shortly later he returned to tell us that one switcher was $119 and the other didn't show up in the system so he would check with a manager. He returned five minutes later to tell me that the device I really wanted didn't exist in the store. It was supposed to only be available on the website. They couldn't sell it to me and had to take them all down. They couldn't sell me the item because it didn't exist. The item I was holding. In a store. The item that I was willing to pay up to $100 for. The one that they had several of on the shelf. And in my hand. Didn't exist. And could not be bought.

You would have thought that after all the time I spent looking at the device and reading the package description that I would have noticed the long spiraling horn sticking out of the box's top, but I didn't.

So we handed him back the other switcher and, instead went across the street to Radio Shack to see if they had an HDMI-to-DVI converter (I suddenly remembered our tv had a vacant DVI input). We parked the car and stated to go inside just as Kristin commented that she hates Radio Shack because of how obnoxious all the clerks are.

Sure enough, truer words were never spoken. They had the converter we wanted and I bought an extra HDMI cable as well (Santa opened the box and the HD-DVD player didn't come with any cables; two free movies, but no cables). The cashier tries to sell me on an HDMI cable that can handle up to 1440p. I tell him there's no such thing as 1440p, to which he tries to tell me they'll be widespread within a year. Rubbish. I just sort of smiled and gave him the friendly "you never know" that should have ended the conversation. But no, that didn't work. He then asks what kind of LCD we have. I tell him we have a Samsung DLP even though I know I should have told him it was none of his business what kind of tv we have. So then he starts in with the geekier-than-thou commentary about how "cheap" those types of tvs are and "how it really stinks that you can't hang them on the wall". And that we should have bought an LCD. I would have gotten angry if I hadn't found it terribly amusing that this hotshot Radio Shack cashier was trying to dress me down about my electronics.

In hindsight, I should have asked him what kind of tv his mom had for him in the basement, but the whole time he was talking, all I kept thinking about was Kristin's comment on the way in and a Simpsons episode from years ago where they are about to launch a search for Milhouse (I thnk) and I believe Chief Wiggum says "We need to search every place a lonely, maladjusted kid would ever hang out" and Lisa exclaims that she'll begin the search at Radio Shack.


We eventually finished the rest of our shopping, some half-dozen stores later and had a really good time despite the oddities. We were out all day and really needed to take the dogs for a walk when we got home so we took them the long way over to the coffee shop. There's a restaurant across the street from the Zoka Coffee shop that always has a water bowl out for dogs. Without fail, my dogs rush up to the water bowl, sniff it, then kind of wrinkle their nose and walk away. Apparently our dogs are too good for a communal water bowl. It could be the middle of summer, 90-degrees outside, and their tongues will be hanging on the sidewalk, and they will still not touch the water in that bowl. I've seen it happen. They'll jam their face into a sprinkler, they'll lick from a muddy puddle, but they will never under any circumstance drink from the communal water bowl outside the restaurant. Reminds me of my friends and the bowl of mints at the diners in NJ -- they had some pretty strict rules about those mints. Dog rules.

So we eventually went and got our tree and came home and made dinner. Then we sat around talking for a while. In what's become our typical style of late, we started decorating at 11:30 at night. We eventually finished decorating the tree and putting out all of the decorations and Kristin wanted to know if I was going to hang the lights outside. "Umm, babe, it's two in the morning." Ever understanding, she reminded me that we have floodlights and that I should be able to see just fine.

Ah yes, the holidays. They're officially here.

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