By MARY BETH MAASSEN
My neighbor Al Miller is a world-class shopper.
His eye for style and design, whether it is fine art, textiles, or every day home goods, is remarkable. His shopping prowess is so impressive that he and his partner, Richard LaBelle, opened an antique and home décor store in their hometown in Wisconsin to repurpose and resell Al’s purchases. It was hugely successful.
Al and Richard, both retired art teachers, eventually sold their store and now live comfortably in El Rancho. Al continues to shop and shop. He never shops online. He peruses consignment stores, flea markets, and art fairs, seeking that special little something.
Each selection is highly personal and is accompanied by a conversation. The clerks all know him by name. He shops for useful and beautiful gifts for friends, for charitable organizations, and for random people he meets and befriends. The people he befriends include the musician on the street, the lady who sells the New Mexican on the corner, and the baristas in the coffee shop. His gifts are thought-filled and purposeful, and usually pretty artsy.
I am programmed to shop pre-Amazon-Los Alamos-style. This means when I can’t find it on the hill I reorganize my schedule for a trip to Santa Fe or Albuquerque. I shop for very specific items, like school clothes, or bedding, or kitchenware. My friend Helen shops the same way.
Trips are planned like a SEAL Team mission. You have the list, you know the retail stores, you have six hours to accomplish your mission and get home and get dinner on the table … go, go, go!
Then Helen and I go shopping with Al.
“Let’s go to Starbucks first and talk about our day,” Al suggests.
“Uhhhh. Do we have time?” I ask.
This is not part of the mission plan. I look to Helen.
“We do have time.” Helen replies. “We have all the time we need. We’re not on a mission, today we shop just for fun.”
Fun. Shopping. Who knew? So I throw the mission mind-set out the window and trail Al and Helen around the aisles. It IS fun. I chat with clerks and vendors. I buy gifts for people I had not intended to buy gifts for. It lights a giving spirit inside me. I do come home with a few things I don’t really need right now, but maybe someday. Like the mercury glass drawer pulls (24 of them). They are just so pretty! And what a deal! Al has all kinds of ideas as to how I can use them.
Generally I am a list-driven kind of person. I have so many things to accomplish in a day. If those tasks are not completed I go to bed feeling a little stressed. After a day of shopping with Al I wonder if those lists are ruling my life instead of facilitating it.
Maybe I need to let go of the list a little bit and embrace the moment. Perhaps Al has introduced me to his addiction, but I understand it. The spark of excitement I feel when giving the gift to someone certainly outweighs the spark of excitement I feel when I purchase the gift. The shopping is great, but the real fun is the giving.
Al has given me many wonderful gifts over the last few years but the most precious is this spark and his spontaneity. I plan to pass it along.