|She closed the door and put on a Christmas CD and arranged all her friends around the gingerbread tree.
You never thought you’d live for moments like these; turns out you do.
Note: Mr. Magoo shilled for GE. I don’t know what I was thinking. It was right there in the ad. Just a reminder! Never trust me! About anything! Except the stuff I get right.
I’m never happy to see Christmas pass; it makes all the decorations and holiday gear suddenly seem sad and out of date. It shouldn’t be so, as we are celebrating The Season, and that lasts beyond The Day, right? But we all know better. Santa is a symbol of hope and delight on Dec. 23rd; on the 26th he’s heaped in clearance bins. Even his most fervent constituency, children, has moved on.
This will be the last year Gnat believes in Santa, I expect; she is already asking too many practical questions. How does he eat all the cookies? Well, sugar gives you energy – remember how hungry you get after you’ve been doing a lot of work? Not a lie, technically. This is how I save face and keep my self-respect: misdirection. How to reindeer fly? I can’t say magic, since I have previously dimissed the existence of magic. “Scientists have been inventing things that make things float and move very quickly. They use them on trains. You could make horseshoes out of them, don’t you think?” How does he go to all the houses in the world? “Punjabi Subcontractors.” And so on. She wants to believe, though; all kids do, at a certain age. They are all Fox Mulders before their inner Scullys kick in. She asks me if I believe, and I can only express faux shock: What would Christmas be if I didn’t believe?
Anyway: as I meant to say, I am never happy to see Christmas pass, but content to hear evidence that it’s over. I am very tired of Christmas music, with a few potent exceptions. This may result from actually listening to Christmas music this year instead of having it on in the background. Most of what I have I don’t like, it seems. Some songs I have discovered I do not like at all. Occasionally you have a combination of insincerity and banality, like the Beach Boys singing “Frosty the Snowman,” and see a red mist and grope around for a hammer. Other songs stop me dead and make me want to ride a camel around with only a star for my map. As you may suspect, the second group is smaller than the first.
This week’s bleatcast – which requires no special software or iPod or anything else; all you need is a fast connection, since it’s 31MB file – concerns Christmas music past and present, and includes excerpts from a wide variety of post-war holiday music. It was done in haste, as usual, but it’s free and you can always FF or hit stop.
I had so much more planned for today; I really did. So it looks like I will have to break with tradition and post on weekends. Hah: after training everyone to ignore the site Saturday and Sunday, I expect you to change your ways? Well, if I can, so can you. See you tomorrow, then.
Oh: Here are the last 2 weeks’ Quirks, assembled in one nice wad: The 12 Catastrophes of Christmas.
ONE: Have to pick up Child™ from school. I leave early, because I assume – quite naturally – that if I am one minute late Hannibal Lecter will chloroform and kidnap my precious child. I hop in the car, hit the garage door button, turn on the radio, buckle up, check the rear-view mirror – blue sky. All systems go. Put the car in reverse, and JONK
All systems stop. That’s really the only term that sums up the sound of a vehicle slamming into a garage door: JONK. I get out. The door stuck 7/8ths of the way up. It cannot be budged. Wishing to compound my stupidity, I push the button again; the motor screams, smokes and dies. Let’s recap! I’ve busted the door, bent the rails, dented my hatchback, and destroyed the opener! Huzzah! Let’s complete the festivities by setting my hair on fire with hundred dollar bills! A repairman was summoned, and managed to exude bemused contempt waves without speaking; if you’d held up an Etch-A-Sketch behind his head, the words YOU FREAKIN’ IDIOT would have appeared on the screen.
What’s worse: I did this before. Last December. It’s a new tradition! All sing: Barreling barreling through the door, Christmas time is coming. Barreling barreling one time more, Christmas time is coming. Dredge ye out the pages Yellow / cut a check to workman fellow/ Ding dong ding dong . . . LECTER HAS YOUR DAUGHTER.
TWO: Child™ is having a Christmas party, and has been so excited for a week she actually vibrates; when she touches the dog there’s a bare patch of skin where once there was fur. She has planned cookie baking, dancing, My Little Pony kabuki theater, et cetera: three hours of Cute. The party starts at 1:30. At 1:29 I hear a trickling sound. Odd. I look in the dining room. Water is running from the ceiling. I have the same reaction as someone in a horrible train wreck who looks down and thinks you know, usually I have legs down there. Could have sworn. I distinctly recall buying socks.
The doorbell rings. The dog goes nuts. Ten kids have arrived all at once, it seems. My wife enters the room, sees the water, hears the doorbell; we make eye contact like Bonnie and Clyde in the movie, right before the bullets hit.
I run upstairs, and find the problem. The regulating device in a commode has failed, and the bathroom looks like the boiler room of the Titanic. Well then! Well! Well then! Gosh! Gee! (I’m paraphrasing.) For the next 15 minutes it’s a blur of buckets and mops until I get the problem under control. So this is catastrophe #2, complete with holiday song: Oh toiletbowl, oh toiletbowl / your love is overflowing / O toiletbowl, O toiletbowl, the kids will have fun rowing / The damage oh I dread to tote / That wall just got a fresh skim coat / oh toiletbowl, oh toiletbowl / your timing is exquisite.
THREE: The Third Catastrophe of Christmas has to do with the lights, which are cheap and disposable and made by liars. “If one goes out, the rest stay lit.” Yes. Except when they don’t. I have several dead patches in my myriad strands, and once a day I walk around and shake the ropes to wake them up; I feel like the manager of a flophouse. I thought I’d put up enough lights, but my wife wanted me to do the big evergreen. Dang: this was actual Work; my skill consists of artlessly strewing strands in the bushes, cussing as I’m jabbed by dead thorns and prickly branches. Look, hon, I do a good job, people will slow down to look, and they’ll be rearended by careless drivers. Teenagers. You want that on their record, just as they’re starting out in life? Allright, then.
So she did it herself. Almost a thousand bulbs, winding around the tree, exquisitely spaced. I arrived home as she finished, and trotted off to the shed for extension cords. And here we came to Catastrophe Three: you know how you put the lights up, arrange everything just so, and when you hook up the juice you discover that the prongs on the power plug are at the end of the display? Right. Like that. Except in this case the prongs were at the top of a tall tree.
Yes! YES! Victory! Her mistake cancels out my sloth! Sort of. In that not-at-all-really sense. This wasn’t the catastrophe, though. That came later when I tried to attach the extension cord to the TOP of the tree. I’ll just say this: pole + snow + ladder + hill = sliding down into the street. Almost got hit by a car that didn’t stop.
FOUR: holiday party. Here’s how you do it: Iin November, decide what sort of party you want. (This part requires time-travel.) If you’re a single guy, this is the easy part: Nachos and pay-per-view boxing and the good beer, the imported stuff. Hey, “trucking it in from Chippewa Falls” is importing, sort of it. If you’re an adult, you probably want the sort of party you see in Crate and Barrel catalogs. (Which sell neither, incidentally. Where the devil is a man expected to buy crates and barrels these days? And if did want to set up a store that sold crates and barrels, what would you call it? Placemats and Vases? ) The catalog pictures always have perfect place settings and perfect wreathes and perfect centerpieces and throw pillows that somehow set it all off. Or tie it all together. Hard to say.
Step two: decide to have your party in the Crate and Barrel store. Step three: reconsider. Step four: realize you’ve been talking about the party for five weeks, and every good weekend is probably taken. Assume defeat. Step five: note absence of party invitations from other people; realize that everyone else thought it was too late. NO ONE is having a party, except for your children’s friends, which have them at the rate of two a day. Step Six: decide to have the party in January, when the holiday pressures will have dissipated.
Step Seven: get six invites for January parties from other people. Shoot for February, then. A Midwinter Party! Go to Crate and Barrel for decorations, where you complete the last step: behold the new spring colors, and despair.
FIVE: I am responsible for making the Christmas cards, and as Goldfinger said: that was your first mistake, Mr. Bond. One year it’s a typo – Merry Chirstmas! – and the next it’s a blurry picture that looks like something snapped by a cellphone during an earthquake in a Vaseline factory. But this year I had a plan. I found a website that would deliver quality glossy prints in a trice. I had a new camera with so many megapixels it could actually show individual DNA strands if you zoomed in close enough. We took the pictures, and it was the usual assortment – Child™ mugged, I looked like Goofus McDork, and my wife looked perfect and radiant as ever. I uploaded the best one, chose 2-day delivery, and exhaled. Finally. Success.
The pictures arrived six days later. We look like we’re sitting in a coal mine during a solar eclipse. All you see are three pairs of glowing eyes, peering from some dim pit of perdition. From Hell’s Heart We Stab At Thee! Happy Holidays! I could call the company, demand they cattle-prod their elves into remaking the batch, or run to Target and use their machine. Either way, it’s screwed up again. To the tune of Silver Bells, then: Not my fault! Not my fault! I chose the overnight ship rate/ Don’t get tight / o’er reams to write/ who cares if they’re several days late?
I tried to get my wife to sing along. Hah. No holiday spirit, that one.
SIX: the unintentional revelation of a present. We all know that kids want to spoil Christmas, see what they’re getting. Child™ wants an Amazing Amanda, a doll that “responds to your feelings.” Except the feeling you get for paying 80 bucks for a hunk of plastic whose elementary subroutines make a deaf cat look like Oprah. Well, I got one, and it’s in the garage in a big plastic bag from Menards, so if the kid looks at the bag and she’s getting shingles this year she’ll be sorely disappointed. I also picked up a few little things to put under the tree – one of those Barbie-princess toys that promote feudalism and archaic gender roles, and a holiday-edition My Little Pony with gift-wrapped branded on its haunches. Must have hurt.
I stored it in Forbidden Closet. Peek if you like, I’d said, but if you do they go back to the store. Apparently my word is still bond, because she avoided the closet – until one afternoon when the door was open, and she wandered in. She froze. I see a Pony. I’m sorry sorry sorry. She slammed the door and shook her head, erasing the memory. Sorry sorry. Does it go back?
No, sweetheart. That’s okay. Can I look in the closet again? No. you might see your other gifts. Like what? Underwhelming Amelia. She responds to your feelings by rolling her eyes and text messaging other dolls about how boring life is. Comes with her own blog.
That did the trick.
SEVEN: The Seventh Catastrophe of Christmas: I misplaced the Harry and David catalog. Drat. Now we will be without fruit, all year long. And I was so looking forward to eating an orange. They taste better when shipped via UPS, somehow.
EIGHT: the furnace lost its mind. Actually, it’s become an overachiever, inasmuch as it will not shut off. Every Honeywell donut in the house is dialed down, but it’s hot enough to make candles slump. Guests think I’m setting up a tropical biosphere as part of my plan to kidnap Jimmy Buffet and raise cloned versions in captivity. I shut it off every night; in the morning I turn it on again and the water starts coursing through the boiler with a horrible sound: GORSH. GORSH. GORSH. It’s like Goofy is in the utility room throwing up. GORSH GORSH GORSH.
I expect my heating bills will be so vast that Bono himself will appeal on my behalf to the utility company. The effect on holiday spending has been subtle – Christmas cards are going out with 34 cent stamps, the dog’s annual gift of a life-sized mailman made of rawhide has been downgraded to a photo of the post office smeared with Alpo, and my wife gets one earring and a pawn ticket for the mate. Child™ will get a full compliment, but has been prepared for the sight of Santa on the floor unconscious from heat stroke, his clothes in a heap, his vast pink belly glistening with sweat. Could anything else go wrong? Tune in tomorrow.
NINE: the Tree is Dead. I think it died of fright en route to the house, frankly. We gave it water when we put it up, but either it’s on a hunger strike or it expired. Yes, we got a “fresh cut,” but you could say the same thing for the healing powers of a Civil War battlefield amputation. So it’s dead. Someone on TV sneezes, it dumps a bushel of needles. Ah well. Happens every year; it’s absurd to think the tree will remain supple and perky, given all that it’s been through. Sawed from its roots, wrapped in plastic mesh, stacked in a pyramid like some arboreal version of Abu Ghraib – no leash, at least - then auctioned off, impaled in a pan of chlorinated soup. Who can blame it? Makes me feel less guilty about dragging it out for disposal, frankly.
TEN: the dreaded email from an online merchant informing you that the item requested is not in stock. Mind you, they’re very sorry. So sorry. Horribly sorry. Entire swaths of upper management have resigned in shame. Black crepe is being draped in the boardroom as we speak. Happy holidays! If you have any questions, please feel free to call this number and harass a well-educated bilingual fellow in Bombay, who will swim across the entire Pacific with a printed copy of your opinion clenched in his jaws, and deliver it to our office, so we can send you a form letter offering ten percent off your next order. Unless you’re ordering that thing you wanted. We don’t make it anymore. It was too popular.
ELEVEN: The Eleventh Catastrophe: I can’t come up with a twelfth catastrophe. But that’s okay. Let’s recap: I ran into the garage door; the toilet overflowed during Child™’s Christmas party; I screwed up the cards, my wife’s lovely job of light-stringing ended up with the plug at the top of the towering outdoor evergreen, the kid found one of her presents, the tree died, a mail-order gift didn’t show, the party didn’t come off, and something else. Can’t remember. The dog found a skeleton in the backyard dressed in Santa clothes, maybe. That’s just Santa’s Halloween Helper, hon! Hide your eyes. No, that wasn’t it. Well, something else went horribly wrong. And my mood?
Happy. I’d be a fool to feel otherwise. Like I said a few weeks ago, no one remembers normal Christmases; everyone remembers the one where the nog gave everyone cramps. I’m happy and healthy, except for this cold (ah! Catastrophe #12), Child™ is filled with wonder and glory, Minnesota is draped in the thick white robes of winter, and no one on my list wanted an Xbox.
But of course:
You could be Martha Stewart and stare death-beams at everyone who does not want to make star-shaped lefse. And I was up all night crushing the potatoes and hand-grinding cinnamon! Or you can buy the stuff at Lunds, put on the old Goodyear Christmas albums, pour a Tom and Jerry’s, put on the Santa hat your picked up at Target, make the dog wear reindeer horns, throw a Duraflame in the fireplace have yourself the only Christmas you’ll get this year. Me, I don’t remember a toy I got. But I remember Dad coming through the door on Christmas Eve, bearing a box of Russell Stover he picked up at the drugstore on the way home from work. I can only hope to give Child™ a memory as simple and potent.
And if it’s Dad backing the car through the garage door? So be it.
Reminder: podcast. And I’ll be here tomorrow. Merry Christmas!