Companies don’t hire them because of their skill or what they may contribute to the work force. They’re hired because they have a pulse. Spare bodies, decked out in holiday ensembles, whose main purpose is to corral consumers the same way a fence encages cattle. And they’re equally as helpful.

The twentysomething blonde behind the register is one such employee. You can tell by the slow, cautious way she pecks at the keys and her confused expression if someone—God forbid—asks her where an item can be found. She’s the reason for the sick amount of time I’ve wasted waiting to buy these shoes.

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The good news is, I’m about to cross the finish line. I step up, with only one more customer left in front of me—a tall, regal-looking older lady in a pricey red coat and genuine pearl earrings. I take out my wallet so I can pay as quickly as possible and get the hell out of here.

See the blazing yule before us,

Fa la la la la la, la la la la.

Strike the harp and join the chorus,

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Fa la la la la, la la la la

But my hope of an imminent escape is crushed when the blond temp rings up the purple Burberry of London tie and tells the old lady, “That will be one hundred and ninety-five dollars and thirty cents.”

Pearl Earrings looks offended. “That can’t be correct. This tie is on sale for one hundred and fifty dollars—not one eighty.”

A panicked expression swamps the blonde’s face. She taps a few buttons on the register and swipes the tie’s bar code with the red laser beam. “It’s ringing up at one hundred and eighty. Plus tax.”

I push a hand through my dark hair and listen for the predictable old woman response.

“That’s false advertising! I refuse to pay a penny over one fifty.”

The hopeless temp looks around for assistance, but there’s none to be found. So, like the knight in shining armor I am, I come to her rescue.

“Why don’t you do a manual override?”

Her eyes gaze at me without a clue. “A what?”

I gesture to the register. “It’s a computer—it has to do what you tell it to. Override the price and put it in as one fifty.”

She gulps. “I . . . I don’t know how to do that.”

Of course she doesn’t.

“I’m going to have to find my manager.”

No. No way I’m gonna stand here twiddling my thumbs for another twenty frigging minutes. And I refuse to walk out, either—too much of my precious time is already invested in these shoes.

Despite the frustration churning in my gut, I shift my attention to the pearl-wearing red coat and turn on the charm that—even with a ring on my finger—women of all ages are still helpless to resist. “Last-minute Christmas shopping?”

She nods. “That’s right, for my husband.”

“You have excellent taste. I’m a connoisseur of ties myself, and that one is superb.”

It’s working—she smiles. “Thank you, young man.”

“Tell you what, how about we save some time and I’ll front the extra thirty dollars so you can purchase this tie for your lucky husband, at not a penny over one hundred and fifty dollars?”

Her brow wrinkles. It was already wrinkled with age—but now it wrinkles more.

“It’s not about the cost, it’s the principle of the matter. They should stand by the price advertised.”

“I couldn’t agree more. Principles are important—which is exactly why I’m making my offer. Here it is, Christmas Eve, and I’ve been too busy to show any goodwill toward my fellow man—or woman. This gesture will make me really feel the Christmas spirit. You’d be doing me a favor, miss.”

The “miss” was just the right touch. Because her eyes sparkle, and she grins warmly. “Well, when you put it that way, how can I say no?”

I wink. “I guess you can’t.”

I smack thirty dollars on the counter and the old lady hands over her black card. While the very relieved temp places the boxed tie in a shopping bag with a ridiculous amount of useless tissue paper, Pearl Earrings glances at my left hand. Then she pulls a business card out of her purse, slides it toward me, and whispers low, “My husband and I host parties every month. Parties for . . . adventurous . . . couples.”

Oh boy.

“You’d certainly be doing me a favor if you attend.” She winks. “I would thoroughly enjoy having you. Think about it.”

I wait until she walks away before I chuckle. Just goes to show you—don’t judge a freak by their cover. The wild ones come in all shapes, sizes . . . and ages.

The holiday-hire hands me my prized shoes, and I’m finally able to head home to my wife and our terribly wonderful son.

Follow me in merry measure,

Fa la la, la la la, la la la.

While I tell of Yuletide treasure,

Fa la la la la, la la la la

I shut the door to our apartment and toss the mail down on the front hall table—mostly last-minute Christmas cards. Nothing says “you were an afterthought” like getting a Christmas card on Christmas Eve. I hang up my black wool coat and slide the shopping bag with Kate’s new shoes under the table, to be wrapped later.

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