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Shopping, no matter the state of the economy, remains our true national sport. (Illustration by Eric Palma)

Shopping Maul

The first rule of holiday shopping: There are no rules

Elbows out, adrenaline pumping, they line up by the thousands, aquiver with the thrill of the chase. Their focus is absolute, their aim impeccable, their arms powerful, their speed impressive. Impede or deter them at your peril.

Shopping, no matter the state of the economy, remains our true national sport—not football, basketball or baseball, which come with referees, umpires, fines and actual rules. This is cage match fighting without the cage. The playing season is short but intense, kicking off with Black Friday and reaching a fever pitch on December 24—the all-star playoffs.

As a former saber fencer who has worked the past two years as a sales associate at a posh mall, I've lived the heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed challenge of ferocious competition. At least on the fencing strip, I had a metal helmet and a sharp, pointed weapon to protect myself. Competitors who behaved badly were penalized and tossed out.

At the mall: I wish.

When we roll open our store's heavy glass door each morning, we inhale our last calm, deep breath of the day. By late evening, we've scraped fresh gum off the counters, picked up half-eaten pretzels from the floor and refolded sweaters so many times our hands are raw and swollen.

Remember The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1963 horror film? Every time Tippi Hedren stepped outdoors, a cloud of birds enveloped her, hellbent on pecking her to death.

That's pretty much life on our floor:

"Miss!"

"Can you help..."

"I need..."

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