Mind the Gap, and other holiday warnings

Leave it to Starbucks to remind us Christmas is just around the corner. Yes, Christmas. And Thanksgiving is still two weeks out.

God bless America: Home of the non-fat eggnog latte and the long-and-lean jean. They go together like John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Before you argue otherwise, allow me to explain. It’s all in the packaging. Packaging dreams.

Starbucks, brewing up all things cool since it started in Seattle in 1971, has long swapped its standard white coffee cup with a more festive one during the holiday season. This year is no exception.

But unlike last year, when the cups were campy and catchy in their green-and-red glory, this year, the cups are still white. But not just any white. White with silver stencils and silly little musings such as “Ever wonder how candy canes get their stripes?” and “Who tangles the lights?”

Nice and simple. An ode to our downtrodden economy, perhaps?

Or is Starbucks just trying to say, “Christmas should be easy. Why all the fuss?”

Good question. Want to find the answer? Spoil your holiday spirit. Get a job at the mall.

Last Christmas, I took a seasonal employment position at Gap, where I learned a thing or two about the holidays. Not to mention what it’s like to work with so many beautiful people. My intentions were innocent enough: I wanted to earn some extra cash for the holidays. So, I went to the mall, got a bunch of applications and went to work.

Gap was the first to call. I had an interview.

“Tell me, why do you want to work for Gap?”

The truth didn’t seem to be the best option, so I went with:

“Well, I’ve always enjoyed my shopping experience here. The service is excellent (read: aggressive) and the clothes …”

For every person who decries worker’s rights violations, I say, “Show me your closet!”

Blah, blah, blah. I got the job. My first day of work was the annual Holiday Kick-off Rally. Show up at this hotel at this time and look Gap, I was told. Look Gap. How about Banana Republic? J-Crew? Old Navy? I didn’t question, I just did as I was told. And when I arrived, I realized, in horror, what I had gotten myself into.

A sea of Gap employees stretched as far as the eye could see. All that denim and leather and wool made me dizzy. The scarves and the hats. And the Starbucks cups. It was as if they were all born with a grande, non-fat, no-whip mocha in their mitten-covered paws.

After standing around for 10 minutes, feeling awkward, trying to avoid eye contact with my new family, we were herded into a ballroom. Madonna’s “Holiday” flowed freely from speakers too tall to rip down. People started dancing and waving signs. One employee tumbled down the center isle.

“Now this,” I remember thinking, “is holiday spirit.”

What would the holidays be, after all, without total and utter disdain for your fellow man? How can we not grow cynical in the shadow of the sugar-coated Valley of the Dolls? And it only got worse and the season wore on.

Greedy customers. “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus.” Late nights. Early mornings.

All for a few extra bucks which I was forced to waste on keeping up appearances.

Can you feel it? It’s that time of year. Happy consuming.