Letter from the Editor 

This week it starts in earnest — the questioning. You can't escape it. It comes from your spouse, your kids, your parents — at the breakfast table, in the car, on the phone, via email: "What do you want for Christmas?"

I don't know. Really, I don't. Surprise me.

That is not an acceptable answer. So there are follow-up questions. And yes, I know I could ask family members to make donations in my name to the many good causes around town, and we do that — I suggest the Community Foundation's "Give 365," if you need an idea — but everybody wants to see boxes under the tree on Christmas morning, too.

But here's the thing: It's just stuff. And I'm fortunate in that I'm pretty set when it comes to stuff. I make a decent enough living that when I want something, I can usually just go buy it. I don't mean cars or boats, but a sweater, a pair of boots, a new putter, a bottle of good whiskey — that stuff I just go get. Plus, I'm old and cranky, and I don't want to wait around until December just so other people can go get that stuff for me. Besides, they might get the wrong whiskey.

But then comes the holiday season — and the questioning — and I have to come up with something. So, I start thinking: What do I want? I look down and see that the old slip-ons I wear to muck around the house are shot. I put them on to go get the paper in the morning, to run the kid to school, to pop over to Home Depot on Saturday, whatever. I've had them for a long time and they are worn out. So I think, I'll check out some new knock-around shoes online to see if I can find some I like and show the wife what I have in mind.

I go to a few sites, click on some shoes, enlarge them, rotate them, etc. Then I email my wife some URLs, so she can get an idea of what I'd like. So romantic.

And now, the whole world knows what I like. I'm being relentlessly followed by shoes. Every website I visit features the shoes I looked at, even those stupid ones with the orange soles. They're sitting in the right margin or above the headline, winking at me, dancing up and down, trying to tempt me to click on them. It doesn't matter where I go — political sites, sports sites, memphisflyer.com — the shoes I looked at are there. Is the NSA behind this? I mean, if zappos.com has spyware this good, I can't imagine what the U.S. government knows about me.

Actually, I don't think I want to know. But if the feds are feeling gifty, I wear a size 10.

Bruce VanWyngarden


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