In those brightly festooned American shopping malls full of stress and anxiety, I am the person you least expect.
I'm a revolving-door ride poacher.
And that may not be the worst of it. I'm also a car-key dangler, walking aimlessly through crowded mall parking lots with absolutely no intention of finding my car.
Call me crazy, but it's the way I get through the torture of the malls.
The main thing is that I'm a ride poacher. I'll ride-poach little old ladies, tiny kids, you name it. They're all fair game in this season of peace and love.
The peace-and-love part of the season is hardly mentioned in the malls, as it gets in the way of commerce. And besides, most Americans have been re-educated into thinking this time of year should be devoted to the Buy Lotsa Stuff You Can't Afford and Go Into Debt Festival.
Me? I'd rather call it by its old, almost forgotten and vaguely subversive name: Christmas.
Christmas is a season that produces great joy, away from retail stores, when we remember what the holiday is really about and that it's not about buying lotsa stuff.
But is there joy while shopping? No. It's all stress. Don't even pretend that you don't know the stress that I'm talking about.
Stress about finding a parking place so you can buy lotsa stuff. Stress about waiting in a mall so your family can buy lotsa stuff, stress that your wife dragged you there, stress from watching people buy lotsa stuff.
Stress from wondering what it was like in the days before we felt the need to buy lotsa stuff. Stress from being in a mall, while wondering how your hostess will take it when you tell her you'd rather die than eat her Jell-O with the chunks of floating fruit at Christmas dinner.
Of course, you never tell her that. You eat the stupid Jell-O. Just knowing it adds to the stress.
So you deal with it your way, I deal with it my way. It begins with ride-poaching. I've confessed it before, and I'll confess it again, because I just can't stop myself.
Is that wrong?
Here's what you do: Just slide into a revolving door at a shopping mall crammed with stressed-out people and pretend to push. The trick is that you don't really push. Just let those behind you do all the pushing. This way, you don't have to touch the handle crawling with germs that are likely immune to antibiotics.
And you catch a free ride. Cheap thrills? Of course. Poaching rides is like being a Chicago politician, only without having to run for office or worry about getting indicted.
"I thought it was just people being lazy," wrote John K. (not me) on Facebook, "but I see it's a real art ... or is it a science?"
Yes, it is a real art. One of the low arts, to be sure, but still an art.
Many are drawn to the deftness of a ride poacher's life. So much so that someone posted a rather amusing Tribune video from a few years ago about ride-poaching (OK, I did it) and immediately, people lined up for or against. Most were against.
One anti-poacher was Linda, whose husband is a Chicago police officer who once walked a criminal through the revolving doors at the criminal courts building: