It began as a guy’s night out. My husband organized it on a whim, under the pretense of Christmas shopping for girlfriends or wives. He called it the “Shop-O-Rama.”
The first time they gathered was at the old Johnny’s On the Mall, taking over two tables in the corner of the bar. After ordering several rounds of Jack Daniels, tequila shots and beer chasers, the eight of them – all Type A personalities in white shirts and ties – left Johnny’s and made a beeline for Nordstrom.
Their wallets bulged with plastic, their egos bulged with fast-acting alcohol and the sales clerks had no trouble spotting them as the men moved through the lingerie department trying to outspend each other. Word spreads quickly when there are high-rollers in the store, and within 15 minutes the clerks had moved the men through coats, suits and handbags as quickly as their cards could swipe.
Leaving Nordstrom, they took a slight detour at a lingerie shop before heading back to Johnny’s for a nightcap and a rousing game of Liars Poker – usually closing the bar at 2 a.m.
The wives and girlfriends of this pack of wild spenders would then meet in January while returning frilly things with garters, the fur coats they wouldn’t be caught dead in and the $500 handbags. Meeting at Orange Julius, the wives would high-five each other over their great haul, spend the refunds on household appliances and shoes, and go home until the next year.
When Johnny’s On the Mall closed, the men moved to the Bon Marche Cascade Room. Jo always took care of them with cocktails and food, ensuring that she could afford to send her oldest child to college on the tips they left.
Since the Bon Marche department store was just up the escalator from the Cascade Room, the men seldom got to Nordstrom. A few of the more adventurous made side trips to the lingerie shop, but in the interest of time they just hurried back to the Cascade Room, ordered Irish coffees, and complained about job stress and losing hair. After a few hands of Liars Poker, they stifled yawns at around 11 and headed home.
As the gifts of underwear became more conservative and the $500 handbags gave way to presents for children, the women saw less and less of each other at the return counters.
The Cascade Room closed several years later, but that didn’t deter the men. They moved to the Pine Street Bar and Grill. Instead of meeting at 7, they met at 5 because it’s too dark by 7.
After ordering beer and a few Diet Pepsis, they would eat their way through the bar snacks, play some Liars Poker and skip the mall shopping. It was such a hassle to drive across the street and find parking. Besides, some of the men had retired, and medical bills took precedence over a new robe for the wife.
Last Christmas, when my husband announced, “It’s Shop-O-Rama time,” I smiled. He now emails the invitation to his friends. Two of the original group have moved away, and one was too sick to attend this year. The location was moved to a restaurant at the mall. Five of them met at 4 for dinner, a bottle of wine, coffee and soft drinks. The spirit was still there, however the conversation had moved to Lipitor, kidney stones and proctology exams.
The attractive young server sensed a large tip because she looked like one of their granddaughters. They did not disappoint.
When my husband returned home that evening without a shopping bag in hand, he fell asleep in front of the TV with a death grip on the remote control.
I thought about the annual Shop-O-Rama tradition and how fortunate he was to have friends like that. In their minds, they are still the pack of eight lusty boys, terrorizing the clerks in the lingerie departments. In my mind, it’s a big part of what Christmas is all about – friends and tradition.Glenda Cooper, one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page, has recently published her first novel, “The Road to Lost and Found.” She lives in Tacoma with her husband Jim and Old English sheepdog Reilly. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.