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Nashville Scene Shopping Stress

Men resist shopping at the glandular level

By Walter Jowers

DECEMBER 14, 1998:  Last week, British researcher David Lewis announced that Christmas shopping was stressful for men. "In some cases, when we looked at heart rate and blood pressure, [we saw] something you'd expect to see in fighter pilots going into combat or policemen going into dangerous situations," Lewis told the Associated Press.

Well, uh, Dave buddy, if you'd just asked me, I could have told you all that and more. Personally, I'd rather have a root canal--or even listen to a whole Garth Brooks record--than do any serious Christmas shopping.

Guy-mode shopping is not compatible with Christmas shopping. Christmas shopping involves long-term interaction with crowds of people who don't really know what they want, or where they want to go. No man can stand much of this. We men are all about completion--getting in, getting the job done, and getting out. This is autonomic, brain-stem stuff, and nothing can change it.

In years past, here's how I've shopped: 1. Decide on the thing I want. 2. Call around to find a nearly deserted store that has the thing. 3. Go to the store. 4. Walk briskly and directly to the thing. 5. Buy it. 6. Get it wrapped. 7. Peel out.

Last year, I bought wife Brenda a coffeepot for Christmas. I bought it at the Dillard's in Bellevue Mall, and the whole process, door to door, took about 15 minutes. Still, I was shaking like Don Knotts when it was over.

Guy-mode shopping is the rough equivalent of a mob hit man marching into a clam joint to do a little business. A guy makes a plan, carries it out, and exits before the doorknob can hit him in the ass. We don't wander, we don't browse, and we don't do a whole lot of comparing. If we say we're going window shopping, you can expect us to come home with a window. This is borne out in Lewis' research, in which most of the men admitted that they would choose the first gift they saw, rather than spend time in crowded stores.

"Men like shopping," Lewis said, "provided they're going out to buy a Lear jet or a Porsche or a computer or something, a toy for a boy. But when actually forced to do domestic shopping, that's when they become very stressed out and fed up."

I think even that's a stretch. For instance, here's how my buddy Chuck--a fully normal and regular guy--buys cars: He calls down to the car lot and tells his salesman to start driving cars by his office window. If Chuck doesn't like a car, he just waves the salesman on. If a car catches his eye, Chuck holds up his hand like the Supremes doing "Stop! In the Name of Love." The salesman pulls up to the curb, then Chuck walks out and eyeballs the car up close. If he still likes the car after five minutes, he writes a check.

Another fine example: Last week, when co-inspector Rick's windshield busted, he called a glass shop and told the clerk where his car would be during business hours. While Rick and I were out working, a guy came and replaced Rick's windshield. Now that is perfect, stealthy guy-mode shopping--when you don't even see the transaction take place. It's like just thinking to yourself, I'm thirsty, and having a fine import beer magically appear in the cupholder of your Barcalounger.

Back to researcher Lewis' shopping science: In November, Lewis recruited 35 shoppers ranging in age from 22 to 79. Two-thirds were women. Lewis sent the shoppers into stores on London's crowded Oxford street. Each shopper had an identical Christmas-shopping list, and each wore a monitor that measured heart rate and blood pressure. When the shopping began, only one in four women showed a significant change in stress level. But the adrenal turbos kicked in on each and every man, revving 'em up to knife-fight levels.

Dr. Mark Copley, a psychologist at London's St. George's Hospital Medical School, said Lewis' research made sense. "It sounds intuitively like men don't like shopping," he observed.

Begging Dr. Copley's pardon, but this is like saying pig farms stink. If Lewis and Copley want to shoot some more fish in the male-behavior barrel, let me suggest that they look into dancing. Outside of those poor henpecked souls who've been dragged kicking and screaming into ballroom dancing, all the men who dance well get paid to do it. I submit that James Brown, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire would never have danced a lick if they hadn't needed the dough. Good as he was, Buddy Ebsen quit dancing as soon as he got the Jed Clampett gig.

From everything I know, men would rather eat carpet tacks than dance. I figure about 80 percent of the alcoholic men in the world today started drinking because they had to get drunk to dance. I have never actually danced myself. Sure, I can play air drums with my arms, and I can make my head move like a pecking chicken. But that's about it. There's no chance that I could get my feet involved.

With about two weeks left before the deadline, I've still got a little Christmas shopping to do. And I'll tell you how it's going to happen: I will do it all on the Internet. I'll do it while wearing sweats, watching the Discovery Channel, and enjoying a glass of iced tea. With any luck, I'll keep my heart rate below 70 and my diastolic pressure below 80. I call that a merry old Christmastime.

Visit Walter's Web site at http://www.nashscene.com>. Or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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