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"It's got ham summer sausage, turkey summer sausage," I say, reading the box. "But it's not summer."
"It is funny," he says.
It's after 6 a.m. when I pop into J. Crew and tell them I want the perfect gift. One clerk leads me to a $325 gray coat before handing me off to a guy in back.
"The perfect gift?" he says. "O-kayyy."
"You know," I say, "perfect. If you had to pick something out to give to baby Jesus."
"I would, hmmmm. It's kind of a loaded question," he says, then: "Definitely one of the weekender bags. ... Also, too, Red Wing boots, a suit, a pea coat and a hoodie."
Me: "A $68 hoodie?"
"It's really, really comfortable."
Me: "The weekender bag, though, it's the one?"
"That's the baby-Jesus gift," he says.
The Charlie Brown Christmas tune, piped out over the mall speakers, makes it feel like I'm walking through my own holiday-TV special.
The corridors of Lenox are a cosmos of smells: $5 coffee, new car, newer car, old wallet, left-open Chanel, cigar box and Coach store. It's free to look, but, this time of year anyway, they could probably charge admission.
I overhear someone streaming out of Macy's say, "I doubt they are giving anything away."
At the Gap, where on this day all merchandise is 50 percent off until 10 a.m., a young woman, almost hyperventilating at the prospect of potential savings, says to herself, "OK. I'm a little freaked out right now."
As for my pursuit of perfection, I check out the magnetic-toy BuckyBalls at Mori Luggage & Gift. And the $460 Montblanc pen. At Williams-Sonoma, a sales staffer guides me to the "perfect" herb-cutting kit. At Coach, I'm shown to the $1,400 gathered-leather Madison shoulder bag.
At Brookstone, the gadget-geek paradise where cardboard peppermints are hanging, a salesman whose name tag bears the title "1st Assistant Manager" points out his shop's dream toy. It's something called the AR.Drone, a quadruple-propellered gizmo that goes for $300.
"It's the most happening thing out right now," I'm told. "Steve Nash has one."
"Who's that?" I say. Even though I know who Nash is, I'm wondering why an NBA point guard's endorsement of hovering plastic is a selling point.
"The basketball player for the Lakers," the sales guy replies, which may come as an early Christmas present to Lakers fans, considering the two-time MVP plays for Phoenix.
"These have four blades," the salesman continues, "and live-streaming video to your iPhone, iPod or iPad. It's augmented reality, which actually has video-game kind of technology. Let's say you're flying one and you have another one come in the vicinity. It switches it to a battle mode where you can actually fire at the other one, simulated on the iPad."
The drone's box pronounces, "As Seen on YouTube."
"They spared no expense on advertising," I say.
"Actually," the guy says, "there's all kinds of people loading up videos about it now."
"So Steve Nash has one?" I ask.
"Steve Nash," he says.
Then I'm shown some much cheaper remote-control helicopters. Think hummingbirds from hell.
I joke that I'm sure they're guaranteed to last through New Year's.
"Nothing's guaranteed with the copters," the 1st Assistant Manager says. "But we do offer crash plans."
I drift down to Bath & Body Works, where the sign out front reads "Perfect Gifts Start Here!"
Saleswoman: "How we doing?"
Me: "I'm here to find the perfect gift."
"I'm right here," a sales guy, who is standing near a rack of what I think is some form of soap, says.
"What," I ask, "would you say is the perfect thing here? The thing you'd get for baby Jesus."
"We had these blankets that were like the most soft thing in the world," the guy says. "That would have been the perfect gift, but someone bought them all."
"I know, it's crazy," he says. "I love the candles, too. I think they are the perfect gift. That's what I'm getting for my own mother. I'm gonna do a set of candles for her because she is awesome like that. They are two for $20 right now. ... I don't know what baby Jesus is gonna want. Maybe a bag?"
I swing by Phipps.
Tiffany & Co.
Surely I can waltz into Tiffany's and go diamond gazing. (Not that I have ever gone diamond gazing, mind you.) But when there are sentries by the doors of a place where the décor approaches contemporary bank vault, putting my hands on anything makes "just looking" the proper approach, even if it rings a tad too Wal-Marty.
I give my spiel.
"You're in the perfect place," says a salesman who passes me off to a saleslady who hands me off to another.
"It will have to be something with diamonds," the first saleslady says as we pass showcases full of stuff I'm sure doesn't have the words "Mrs. Whippy" or "Underwear Dusting" etched anywhere on it.