A note to the College of Canine Medicine: as of 12 AM, I am happy to report that a 45-lb dog can eat eight Hershey’s Kisses with no ill effects, the supposed poisonous effects of chocolate on dogs notwithstanding. He ate them foil and all. For once in my life I cannot wait to see what he craps out tomorrow. I almost expect this one to be gift-wrapped.

The first Annual Report to the American Toy Industry:

To Mattel: I would like to register three key objections to your Barbie Jetski playset. First: Barbie gives little girls an unhealthy and unrealistic body image. Barbie’s head, for example, revolves 360 degrees. Normal female necks are not that supple. You are making millions of little American girls feel bad because they cannot twist their skulls completely around. Shame. Second, the instructions show that the top of the Jetski “snaps into place” on the motorized portion. It does not. Oh, the back part snaps, but the front does not. I could take it back; I could return to the Mall of America on the day after Christmas, find a parking spot, schlep the item to the store, get another one, drive home, and discover that it too has the same design flaw. I could also saw off my little toe with a butter knife, if I really wanted to. Three: It took 17 minutes to free Barbie from the wires, plastic garottes, tape and screws that binded her to the box. If you did not hire bondage enthusiasts to design the packages, parents might have an easier time on Christmas morn. Okay? Okay.

To Hasbro: The My Little Pony Celebration Castle raises more questions than it answers, frankly.

Apparently the Ponies live in some sort of feudal economy in which they are the dominant class Fine. I’ll buy that. But how do they maintain control on the serf class, exactly? They cannot manipulate objects. Granted, they have magic magnets in their hooves that activate certain items in the castle, and I suppose this sleight-of-hoof could convince a credulous population to do their bidding. I just don’t want to be around Celebration Castle when the Enlightenment hits the peasants, because it’s going to be bloody.

As for the Ponies themselves: nice long hair. Nice long hair for little girls to comb. Nice long pretty hair. HAVE ANY OF YOU EXECS IN THE HASBRO BOARDROOM TRIED TO DRAG A BRUSH THROUGH A MY LITTLE PONY MANE? It’s like pushing a brick through a cheese grater. Some detangler would be nice.

The castle did not require much assembly, but it did require the application of 50+ small spangly heart-shaped decals. Very nice but utterly inessential. There was almost something perverse about their addition, as though you thought I wouldn’t have a personal involvement in the gift if I hadn’t spent half an hour carefully positioning hearts and stars on the surface of Castle Cheval Petite. I’d forgive this if you hadn’t included a line in the manual about the peculiar dishes that top the turrets: “Press into place,” it says. This makes no sense. The item does not fit. It’s too loose; there is nothing to hold it in place, and it has this odd cutaway feature on the bottom that suggests the design was changed midway through production, and a key feature abandoned. Put it this way: it was the sort of thing that immediately made me call up amazon.com, do a search for the toy and check the reviews - perhaps someone else had noted the same glaring deficiency, and had already posted a detailed critique in the form of a one-star review. Alas. Nothing. Then I hear her downstairs:


<sideshow Bob rake-strike mutter>

On another note, I was surprised to hear the tune the castle plays when one of the ruling-class ponies puts its pink hoof on the magnetic heart. (And there’s a sentence I wouldn’t have written four years ago.) (Sober.) It issued a robot version of Delibes’ “Valse” from “Copellia,” a tune my mother used to love to play on the piano. It really caught me – hadn’t heard it in a few years, and recognized it right away. Mom’s tune.

All Christmases refer back to the Christmases of your early childhood. That’s your baseline, your definition. Mine were warm and happy, which is a blessing and a curse – you love the season, but now you have an unreasonable standard. Everything falls short. It takes a long time to unlearn Christmas and reassemble it for your own – although having kids of your own accelerates the process, makes it easier. Forget your own unrealistic half-remembered expectations; let’s implant the same in the next crop! And when your toddler hugs your leg and says Oh Daddee it’s the best Christmas EVER you know you’re back in the groove. Is there a Louis Prima Christmas song in the iTunes playlist we can now play very loud? Why yes there is.

My wife made Swedish Meatballs for Christmas supper; that’s what my Mom always made. In the house she never saw, inhabited by the granddaughter she never met, the song and the aromas were like the presence of a kind quiet ghost.

And then my dad showed up!
Live and direct from Fargo. Not a complete surprise; he’d called the night before. He appeared in his annual Yukon. The man likes his vehicles. We took for a spin around the lakes while dinner cooked, and I was stunned by its heft and its panoply of features. It has OnStar, which I love. Push a button: instant help. Hello, OnStar? We’re on Interstate 94 heading west –

“Yes, I see that from my GPS screen here; what can I do for you today?”

Well, we wanted to know whether the birth of Christ abolishes original sin or provides a means to circumvent it?

“Hold on, I’m connecting you with our theologian. Have a nice day, and thank you for using OnStar.”

He also has the satellite radio. They have a 40s channel.

And they have an Old Time Radio channel.

We’re driving along, listening to an OTR show, and I asked my dad: do you recognize this? He didn’t. Neither did I. Then I got it: “That’s ‘Life of Reilly,’ I said.”

“You’re right. It’s that . . . William Bendix.”


We drove a few more blocks.

“I never liked him,” my dad said.

“Neither did I,” I said, and I pushed the button on the steering wheel to find another channel. They have C-Span on XM. You can listen to C-Span while you drive. Beamed from space! They have a NASCAR channel, if you can believe that. I'm certain they had a Chess channel, where epochal matches of the past were recreated in hushed reverential tones.

Gnat fell asleep on the journey. When we got home my dad asked how much gas he had left; a few clicks of a button the steering wheel told him he had enough gas for 294 miles. That was enough. But still. What if all the stations between here and Fargo closed by the time he left? We headed to the Holiday station down the block to fill up, and since it was already five minutes past the time I told my wife we’d be back I wanted to reassure her that we’d be there soon. So I used his cell, and instantly discovered one of those utterly modern peculiarities: even though I was sitting outside my own house, the call was long distance. Routed through his Fargo account. It showed up on Caller ID as the area code of the house where I grew up. It’s as if Dad generated his own Fargo Field. As if? Of course he did.

We had a fine dinner, a great dessert, coffee and conversation – then he got back in the Yukon and drove the four hours it took to get home. He called from the road; I could hear the 40s channel playing in the background. Music from space; voices through the ether. All part of the normal life of a man who slept in barns when he was a kid, and who didn’t really know indoor plumbing until he went to war.

Gnat just loves him.

She's a fine judge of character.

Amazon Honor SystemClick Here to PayLearn More