Oh tosh, it has begun. I realize, of course, that I should have been expecting it. But, alas, I was caught off guard. When I walked into the supermarket last night, there it was: the jingling of that bloody bell in the hands of a Santa-clad Salvation Army worker. I'm not entirely certain why it is, but I detest that sound. To me it is akin to the sound of a screaming baby or a wood chipper, both of which make my teeth itch. I put the tinkling of the Salvation Army Santa bell right up there with the sound of an unattended car alarm. Speaking of which, who ever thought that was a good idea? When was the last time you saw someone promptly attend to a car alarm once it has sounded? More often than not, the car alarm blares away outside the earshot of the vehicle's owner, annoying all those who are within earshot. It's senseless, I tell you. But about that Salvation Army Santa bell clattering. The more I think on it, the more I understand about my own loathing of the sound. Several years ago, for reasons I do not recall, I had the occasion to shop at a different supermarket from my regular one. The one I visited that day was in one of the more affluent suburbs. There were many dissimilarities within the supermarket itself (even though it was the same company), a wider variety of products, a higher-end selection of items, etc. But the most glaring difference was in the sound the Santa's bell made. It did not ring and ding along as I was used to. Rather, the up-scale Santa employed a tiny bell (the size of one you might attach to your cat's collar, if you are of such persuasion) that made a decidedly muted “tink” sound, quite like a grandfather clock might make. Not only was the bell smaller than the normal Salvation Army Santa bell, it was also muted (with a piece of paper attached to the inside, I believe). By talking to some friends who frequented the store, I came to learn that the store manager had insisted on this muted version of the Santa bell because customers had complained of being annoyed by the gusto the Santa had been showing in his bell ringing, a sentiment with which I heartily concur. The following day I returned to my regular shopping place and was promptly greeted by yet another Santa, who clanged away with relish on a bell the size of which you might imagine in the hands of a schoolmarm from a long-ago era. There is also the matter of the methods employed by these ersatz Kris Kringles. They guilt you every step of the way. They scope out the parking lot in front of the store and attempt to make eye contact with you the moment you exit your vehicle. They keep their eyes locked on their prey as they approach the store, all the while hammering away on their blasted bells, clang-a-clang-a-clang. “Merry Christmas!” the bastards belt out. Clang-a-clang-a-clang, the sound is unrelenting. One is not safe until he crosses the threshold of the supermarket. I have no proof of this, but I believe these fake Father Christmases are under strict orders not to enter the store in their pursuit of saps to line their coffers. And you are not yet out of the woods once you've commenced shopping because ultimately, and most certainly, there comes a time to pay up and be on your way. That's when these highway bandits have a second crack at you. Clang-a-clang-a-clang, they re-enter guilt application mode. They sing out, “Have a good day sir!” I shall, once I have rid myself of the likes of you and your festively garbed brethren. A pox upon you all.

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