Tuesday, December 17, 1996
Desperately late shoppers flood malls

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Well, ho, ho, ho. I don't have my Christmas shopping done yet. Do you? If you do, I don't think we can be friends.

Of course, I still adore my Aunt Patty, and she has had her shopping done for months. In fact, I would be very surprised if she doesn't have several items for Christmas of '97. She also changes her shelf paper every spring and cleans behind the refrigerator. You are either born this way or you're not.

I'm not.

This is why I am shopping my buns off right now. As punishment for not thinking ahead, I have to rub elbows with everybody else who's as irresponsible as I am. We are not a nice group of people when we are panicky.

Just ask the Wal-Mart clerk in Fredericton, New Brunswick, who was mowed down Saturday by a group of rabid parents in search of Tickle Me Elmo. Or just watch our behavior in the parking lot of any mall, where shoppers are stalked for their parking spaces as soon as they leave the store.

The material girl

Aunt Patty is probably sitting down right now with a big glass of egg nog and organizing her cookies by size and color. Or maybe she is dyeing Easter eggs. I am in the aisles of toy stores and specialty shops, and I can tell you that I'd rather be at a Metallica concert.

It would be more civilized and quieter.

Do you know that they now have learning toys and computer games for newborns? Apparently, kids can come right down the chute and find out how to spell umbilical. Pathetic, computer-illiterate grandparents mill around the baffling array of ''educational'' toys, trying to snag a kid to ask for advice.

Barbie has her own lounge and marketing center in the middle of most toy stores, where you can buy 97 million (by actual count) different dolls, each with her own outfit. Conspicuous Consumption Barbie also has her own talking makeup mirror, horse, answering machine and camera.

Greedy Barbie also owns several residences and vehicles, including a roadster, a minivan and a sport-utility vehicle. Meanwhile, Ken doesn't even have his own remote control for the TV in the Barbie Dreamhouse. And he has put up with this situation for more than 35 years.

Perhaps he is anatomically correct.

Buying Elmo futures

You will not catch the Barbie toy company in the same boat with the Tickle Me Elmo toy company. They have produced enough Barbies to satisfy civilization to the end of the millennium.

My daughter, who is showing some shop-ahead tendencies that she must have gotten from her father's gene pool, purchased Elmo several weeks ago before he appeared on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, which apparently does for toys what Oprah does for books.

I have advised her to auction Elmo to finance a trip to Bermuda for the whole family. After the holidays, the pressure will be off and she can buy another one at retail rates.

Maybe Elmo will be on the markdown tables with the leftover Christmas ornaments and Disney dalmatians, including a Wet 'n' Wizzer plush pup that defeats the purpose of getting a fake dog in the first place, if you ask me.

Look for plenty of surplus devices you can heat in your microwave then apply to body parts, such as bad backs or aching shoulders. They also sell microwaveable seats and socks. They should sell separate microwave ovens for those of us who would rather not have our food come out of something that also cooks things people sit on or put on their feet.

I have never been depraved enough to actually shop on Christmas Eve, but I have pushed it close to the wire. By the time I get my yuletide act together, ordering by mail is out of the question, as is anything engraved or monogrammed.

What finally happens is that on the eve of Christmas Eve, I am lured by the very items I sneered at when I had more time. Microwaveable knee pads. Chia Pets. Weed Whackers. Thighmasters.

So, anyway, I'm proud to say that, thanks to me, when Aunt Patty is alphabetizing her soup cans next spring, she can turn on the pantry light with her very own Smart Clapper.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.