To Imogene Joyner, waiting until the last minute to buy Christmas gifts is the ultimate shopping high.
"Anyone who shops in July misses all the fun," said the 47-year-old Costa Mesa woman, whose arms were loaded down with three sweatsuits at Oshman's Sporting Goods store in South Coast Plaza. "The crowds are great and it's the first day people say, 'Merry Christmas.' "
But Joyner's good cheer was not to be found on the harried faces of many South Coast Plaza shoppers--or sales clerks for that matter--as they flooded the huge Costa Mesa mall Monday afternoon.
"Every day, I say to myself, 'it's just one more day,' " said Michele Power, frantically stuffing soldiers and spacemen into a red gift box for a customer at Toys International. Her pink lipstick already faded after two hours on the job, Power, 26, added: "I get so drained from all the questions."
Apart from a store jammed with customers in need of assistance, Power said she and her co-workers also serve, by default, as the mall's information booth, answering such standards as "Where do I get a lawnmower?" or "You know where the bathroom is?"
But on Monday, most of Power's attention was focused instead on the cash register, where she rang up more than $1,000 in toy sales an hour and lifted her head only to hand over customers' change and packages.
Two customers hard not to look up at, however, were Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson and tight end David Taylor, who waited patiently for the toy store's snaking line to move along.
Were they really spending their last hours before Monday night's big game against the Raiders buying toys?
"These things still have to be done," said Taylor, 30, his massive arms piled high with talking teddy bears for his two young sons.
Dickerson said he was just along for the ride with his teammate, having already completed his Christmas shopping for his relatives in Texas.
At Nordstom, Colleen Stauts, 34, told salesman Ralph Shaw: "You should just have my paycheck sent here." Stauts had just shelled out about $300 for a last-minute cashmere sweater and pink striped shirt for her husband.
"He's a 50-year-old dental student at USC," Stauts explained. "So he wants something trendy." Still, not everybody was shopping for others.
At the busy lounge in the Magic Pan restaurant, Susan Young of Tustin rested her weary feet as she waited for a friend to show up.
"This is the last Christmas present I had to buy," she said, waving a 1986 "Miami Vice" calendar. "It's for myself!"
And dreamily eyeing a 15-pound dumbbell on the weight rack at Oshman's, Zac Kain, 16, of Laguna Beach said with a sheepish grin: "I was looking for stuff for myself, to tell you the truth. Actually, I'm hoping for what I'll get."