Before I wrote fiction, I considered co-authoring a gift guide with my good friend Lisa. The idea came to us the first day at work following the holiday break. We were two exhausted people working as merchandisers for a three-level department store, and in our spare time we’d held holiday parties and hosted dinners for our friends.
Since Labor Day, we’d received countless memos from the corporate office telling us how they wanted us to fill the shelves with items and stack tables to the ceiling with all manner of goods, including ugly Christmas sweaters in the days before their renaissance as comical clothing. The people purchasing those knitted nightmares back then were serious.
Throughout the fall, in addition to the hideous pullovers, the crew from the loading dock brought out cases of slippers, racks of pajamas, cartons of gloves, trays of scarves, and tables stacked with pyramids of tiny boxes containing inexpensive jewelry. Lisa called those cheaply made rings and bracelets chazerai (the CH pronounced as the H in Hanukah, sometimes spelled Chanukah). Lisa taught me a lot of Yiddish, and she proved over and over again there’s often not an English word to appropriately describe what lies before us. Chazerai perfectly describes all the bits and pieces of worthless junk that clutter up a life.
“Look at these schmatta!” Lisa exclaimed. “Who’s buying this crap?” She was holding up a synthetic fleece pullover with the image of three wreathed pigs pulling a sleigh. The person who’d designed the image and our corporation’s head buyer seemed to be the only two people who didn’t think this $19.99 item of clothing was a schmatta—a rag.
As we surveyed the damage that morning after Christmas before the doors were unlocked and the teeming masses stormed our gates and brought all their gifts back for store credit, Lisa and I toured the war zone with our café lattes in hand, remarking how the Christmas Eve shoppers, desperate to find something, had bought all the gloves (useless in San Diego), had stormed the jewelry tables and had stripped mannequins of their clothing as though our “preferred customers” were nothing more than marauding Saxons, ripping garments away with their seax.
All three floors were an utter disaster. We could’ve gotten jobs with a humanitarian aid agency after witnessing the aftermath. Knowing that it would get worse before it got better, we picked up a few novelty boxers and socks off the floor in the men’s department and tossed them onto a red-draped table like dirty laundry before heading to our office to hide out until the next coffee break.
“What do you think goes through a person’s mind when they open a gift that the giver hasn’t put any thought into?” asked Lisa. We were pretending not to hear that series of bells, paging us to intervene in some trashed department on the third floor.
“Maybe we’re just used to seeing mounds of this stuff piled up for three months. Perhaps unwrapping a single sweatshirt with pigs on it isn’t so bad. To us, sixty pig shirts in an assortment of colors stacked a mile high since Halloween is the scariest thing we’ve seen all year, but if someone gave you a beautifully wrapped box, which holds one special—”
“C’mon! There’s nothing special about that crappy pig shirt. I don’t care if there’s one or sixty-one of the damn things, nobody wants that! Would you want one?”
“No, of course not.”
“What kind of person buys that?” she asked.
“Someone in a hurry who’s shopping for somebody difficult.”
“If they gave that to me, I’d be difficult all right. Actually, I’d be gone! Not hanging around after that. I’d rather get nothing than something they grabbed on the way to the check-out stand five minutes before the store closed.”
“I think our company preys on the desperate shopper. Also the person who’s drawn to mounds of mass produced—what was that word again?”
“Yes, chazerai. We seem to attract that crowd. That’s why they tell us to pile it higher and deeper.”
“We should do something about this. We need to help people. Maybe we should write a gift-giving guide.”
“That’s a good idea.”
“Let’s start off by saying that you’re better off not giving any gifts at all if you don’t put some thought into it.”
“Should we say that? Somebody will complain that we’ve lost the true spirit of the season and are focused on the gift exchange.”
“Or maybe we’re reminding people that each person in their lives is unique and that it’s not the cost of the gift or where you get it. The love is in having thought how much that person means to you, considering the things they might treasure, and making them happy by showing that you care.”
“What should we call the book?” I asked.
“Send Me No Chazerai!”
© 2016 by Patrick Brown
To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1
3 Replies to “Send Me No Chazerai”
I just had a minute before we head to Dallas and then to New York City in the morning. So please, no chazerai for me either. It makes you wonder who in the world would think that the pig shirt was cute, clever or even funny. I would imagine they still have a jillion of those shirts left-over.
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Please please write this guide
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Oy, Vey! Such a Mensch! Ya, I, too understand the Yidderish influence that comes from the privilege of living near such a culture. When as a young screenwriter in Los Angeles, I lived in the heart of the Kosher district — Fairfax — and learned the schmaltz! Always good reading, Paddy — and such a magical talent for eliciting heartfelt memories.
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