If hell is other people, and if, during the holiday season, malls are full of other people, then transitive logic proves that Pacific Place is hell. The mere thought of December makes many of us hyperventilate: going in and out of infernally hot stores, sweating in your coat, while herds of families with shrieking children walk ever so slowly in front of you, stopping every six steps to look in a window and gawk at the blinking lights.

But nowadays, thanks to the Internet, mall-o-phobes need never shop in public again.


Even the most ordinary of gifts -- the necktie -- becomes interesting when purchased online. Buying a tie is usually depressing, an admission of defeat ("I couldn't find you a decent or interesting gift, so I got you a... tie"), but the folks at www.politicalgifts.com have found a way to make ties sexy again. Their cotton/poly blend American Flag Tie and Suspenders Set comes in its own gift box -- and that's not even the exciting part. The set goes for $39.95, but with all purchases over $30, politicalgifts.com throws in a FREE Monica Lewinsky Cigar. Imagine the possibilities...


Grandmas in Nebraska may pile the backs of their sofas with fuzzy little Beanie Babies, but not everyone is charmed by Ty's cloying plush toys. If you do find yourself needing a gift for a grandma in Nebraska, you may want to consider the quality alternatives at www.meaniebabies.com, the homepage of Meanies plush toys. Like Beanie Babies, Meanies are released in a series and eventually retired. Unlike Beanie Babies, though, Meanies are ugly, clever, and often rely on blue humor. Names like Got Lucky Rabbit, Peeter the Peegull, and Velocicrapper indicate the sense of humor at work here. The real find on the Meanies site, however, is the "Farce Wars: the Phantom Meanies" series, featuring Dark Gator, Slobba the Mutt, and, with a name familiar to anyone who saw The Phantom Menace with a lisping child, Queen Armadillo.


It's getting harder to justify buying books from Amazon.com, so discerning Internet shoppers should instead opt to purchase zines from the classy and intelligent www.obscurestore.com. Most run one to six dollars, and all sound more interesting than the last five issues of Vanity Fair put together. Site manager Jim Romenesko (who also runs www.mediagossip.com) provides content descriptions of each zine he sells, so you won't accidentally end up with some collegiate vegan punk's manifesto about how his father never hugged him. A sampling of obscurestore's wares yielded Thrift Score #11 -- a look at jeans from the 1980s, with a comparison of Guess? and Jordache -- and Nancy's: The Mark Issue, which is all Mark, on every page. Be sure to read "Marks We Have Dated" and "MARKers versus Crayons."


If the thought of e-commerce bums you out as much as going to a mall, why not buy yourself a little something? If you're seriously depressed, check out www.discounturns.com. There you'll find Exclusive Urns, Fine Art Urns, Pet Urns, and my favorite, Book Urns. Shaped like a weighty tome, a Book Urn allows you to rest easy knowing you'll spend eternity on a shelf in your family library, in a Jackie Collins/Wilkie Collins sandwich. And at around $1,500 -- half the retail price! -- Discount Urns lets you buy the farm for a song.