Shopping is serious business. Just ask anyone who's ever woken up at 6 a.m. to be the first in line to get an XFL Barbie for a Christmas present. Or who's written a letter to the editor asking why they don't put all the ads in one handy pullout section instead of hiding them in between those icky news articles. Or who's groused because the stores don't hold a sale on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday (not yet, anyway).
But if you're a nonshopper like me, it's hard to relate. After all, you don't plan your week around sale days. It's never crossed your mind that a one-week-old cinder block with a lifetime warranty could need replacing because it's "Oh so yesterday." And the idea of driving halfway across the state to save less on a reconditioned Thighmaster than the cost of the gas just doesn't make sense, especially when Suzanne Somers won't be there to give a private demonstration.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be supportive of those poor, unfortunate people who break out in a sweat anytime they see a percent sign and the word "off" within two paragraphs of each other. They need love and understanding, too. That's why Conde Nast has put out a new shopping magazine for women called Lucky. Well, that smells like money. Lots of it.
There's little doubt the magazine will do well, especially on the newsstands, where it will be snapped up by single men who read the name but don't notice that the cover is trumpeting articles like "Second Mortgages -- the Key to Your Spring Wardrobe," "On-line Shopping, Can It Fulfill More Than Just Orders?" and "If Neiman Marcus Can Remember Your Dress Size, Why Can't Hubby?"
Editor Kim France says, "It's not a princess-y, shop-aholic magazine." Right, and there will be an Elton John Jr. any day now. She says it's aimed at those who hate to shop as well as those who love to. But how she intends to get nonshoppers to read a shopping magazine is beyond me, unless she's planning on having centerfolds featuring "The Hunks of Macy's Shoe Department."
The question is, should they even be encouraging shopping? After all, too much shopping -- just like drinking, gambling and sex -- can lead to addiction. And as with those other activities (the first two, anyway), we don't want to get carried away.
But if we do, help's available. For starters, there's Compulsive Shoppers Anonymous, where people stand up and say, "Hi, my name is Shirley, and I found the cutest little monogrammed gold toothpick cleaner at the Galleria the other day and just had to buy four of them." Then there are the debt counselors, those compassionate, caring souls who take people who are mired deep in debt and increase their load by charging them to help get them out of debt -- a concept only Lewis Carroll, Bonnie and Clyde, or someone who writes federal tax regulations could fully appreciate.
And then there are the psychiatrists, who have identified a syndrome they call compulsive-shopping disorder. (This is not to be confused with compulsive-shopping reorder, which is when you get home with some new purchase and immediately decide you simply have to have one in every color so you run back out to buy them even though the house is on fire, the dog is lying on its back with its feet in the air, and Survivor 2 is on. No, this is a bona fide, health-insurance-will-pay-for-it medical problem.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (motto: "Sometimes a cigar may be just a cigar, but that doesn't mean we can't give it an eight-syllable name and charge a lot of money to try to cure it"), compulsive-shopping disorder is "a consuming need to buy which often results in debt, personality and relationship disorders -- and, if we have anything to say about it, maybe a new boat after we've had the patient in therapy for a couple of years."
The usual treatment is to have the patient come in twice a week, on the theory that by the time they get done paying those exorbitant fees, they'll be too broke to do too much shopping. In psychiatric parlance, this is known as "transference" -- in this case, from the patient's checking account to the doctor's.
But now, these medical professionals have a new weapon in their arsenal: electronic funds transfer. (Just kidding -- actually, they've had that for years.) What is new is a drug to help combat compulsive shopping. Forest Laboratories (motto: "No, Mr. Gump doesn't work here, and please don't call again") has discovered that their antidepressant Celexa can also help people who shop till they drop, then get up and shop some more. They say that in tests, 80 percent of the people who took the drug improved. (What they don't say is how much time those people spent going from pharmacy to pharmacy to sniff out the best deal on their prescription.)
All this gives shoppers some very mixed signals. How are they to know whether to shop more, shop less, go into therapy, or head to the mall to complete their set of hand-painted dinner plates featuring dogs paying off their credit-card bills? But never fear: The answer, I'm sure, will be in the next issue of Lucky.
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