An action-packed weekend, as it turned out. Friday night we went to the Holidazzle parade –

No, I should back up. Friday afternoon Gnat got off the bus, dejected: she had missed both of the Super Challenge words on the test. “Great,” she said. “Now I get two tarantulas in my bedroom.” I didn’t say anything; I wanted to see which emotion had the upper-hand – ersatz sadness to win sympathy, disappointment with herself, or trepidation about my response. I just said I figured she might not get 100%, since she seemed shaky on the hard words. As it happened she was unhappy with herself, and when asked why she hadn’t gotten them right, she chalked it up to insufficient practice. Well, lesson learned, then.

But it put a deep dent in her mood. She was also tired from a long day and a long week; piano practice went poorly, and on the way to piano class she was a sad little lump in the backseat, staring out the window. Whereupon I did the sort of thing I would never do, because it Sets a Bad Example all over the place: I turned the car around and drove to the coffee shop for hot chocolate. You could say I was rewarding failure and avoiding responsibility, and that’s what my inner Vader was saying, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Period. So we sat by the fireplace and had hot chocolate and reminisced about the bygone days when she was four. It turned the day around and put a spark in her eyes, and banished all the tarantulas. Then it was downtown for the Holidazzle parade.

It’ll never be as good as a few years ago, when we were in the lead float; hard to top that. (I wonder if she tells other kids she was in the parade on a float, and whether they think she’s a little fabulist. I suppose it depends on whether the ringleader-kids believed her; others would fall in line. I’ve learned they’re more likely to believe dark things than boasts; if a kid says she has a mortal illness, it’s believed, but if they say they were in the lead float of the parade, the BS detector kicks in.)

This year was almost as good. We attended a private party in a skyway crossing the Mall:  you could look down, Masque-of-the-Red-Death style, on the crowds, and watch the parade pass directly beneath you. It was a law-firm party in the Young Quinlan building, a virtuous old high-end clothier’s store now occupied by modern shops and offices. The renovation was respectful, though, and left many old signs of the previous tenant intact. The floors had the company’s logo embedded in the marble; eighty years of soles hadn’t worn them off. The skyway hallway had a display case of items from the store’s history – celluloid collars, matchbooks, white gloves, menus from the fabled dining room, all hailing from the late 20s and early 30s. (The building’s décor is true Art Deco, floral and stylized, not streamlined.) The old elevators still had the manual controls, the proud name OTIS engraved on the wheel in busy florid script. It’s the sort of building that proves the nonexistence of ghosts. If there were ghosts, the building would be thick with shades. Old clerks, floorwalkers, house detectives, snooty managers, shopgirls on their lunch hours . . . of course, for such people to haunt the old store, they would have had to die there, so never mind. I don’t think ghosts commute. It’s not like there’s 9342 ghosts lined up on distant street corners for trolleys that never come.

The company provided seasonal crafts projects and the ever-popular face painting. By the time the parade began nearly every kid resembled some sort of jaguar, which gave the event a Junior Apocalypto vibe. When it was done we headed for the elevators, and my wife said she hoped we got the car with the old elevator operator.

The what?

I rode up in a car with an old lady who ran the elevator.

You’re kidding, right? That’s the ghost.


No, really. The old elevator operator. They say she died at her post and rides the shaft every night.

The elevator doors opened, and of course it was empty.

Went home for a pleasant evening. Watched the end of Deadwood’s second season. It says something about the show that you can have a suicide, a rare minister-assisted gutting, the throat slitting of the San Francisco Cogsugga!, and the aftermath of a heart-wrenching funeral, and it’s the feel-good episode of the entire season.

Saturday we got the tree. Went to the big garden store this time, where the trees were Santa-fat and fresh. Also hanging from chains. Really: they hung from a pipe overhead, which propped them up nicely but gave them a meatpacking / Hellraiser appearance that did not look entirely festive. I made my usual snap decision, had the lads bind it in mesh while the other trees watched in mute horror – dead tree walkin’, men – then drove home with care, lest the ropes snap and the tree launch itself through someone’s back window. I got it up the stairs – the usual stupid act of machismo for which I am paying today in lumbar, pectoral and shoulder socket pain – and hammered the base on its thick raw trunk. We set it up, let the arms relax. Verdict: Best tree ever. Tall and wide and green and fresh. If this is the first tree Gnat remembers in years to come, it’ll be a daunting standard

Sunday Gnat had her annual Christmas party. Eleven little girls. The level of screechiness was unquantifiable; we lack the means to measure such racket, let alone describe it in terms that make sense to anyone who has not seen what little girls do when turned into a feral pack. They spent the first half hour running around the house screaming, and that was before we got a single atom of sugar into their bloodstreams. Two tables – one for crafts, one for cookies. I took cookie duty, and handed out the blunt knives, teaching them all the importance of grasping the handle, not the blade. Periodically I had to be Mister Hardarse, and tell them not to do something, like fling large stuffed Santas at the vases, or drag poor My Size Barbie down the stairs with her head banging on the steps, or otherwise dent / scratch / break / the house. At one point they swarmed around Jasper and put reindeer antlers on his head; the look he gave me afterwards was so woebegone and disappointed I let him lick a plate encrusted with frosting.

Some of the girls were perfect little guests, kind and sedate; a couple had that wild naughty charisma that made the rest go nuts. Some kids have manners. Bless them.  Others treat adults as servants, which always sets my teeth on edge. I don’t expect please-and-thank-yous when the cookie-decorating frenzy has gripped them all, and they’re vying for the various ingredients, but bossiness moves a child to the end of the queue.

At one point they all packed into the entryway, sat on the bench by the door, and watched as the co-ringleader in General Mayhem performed a little dance. Aw, how sweet.

Then I noticed she was doing something Madonna might do on stage, if she had crabs. I heard with sudden horror the ditty the kid was singing:

I don’t want to be a chicken / don’t want to be a duck / so I scratch my wajina

We’ll never know if that resolved into a rhyme, because we put a stop to that, right there.

Anyway, the noise and the glee and the fun went on for two hours, ending in a sugar-crash session around the TV watching a CGI Mickey Mouse feature. Then the Moms came to collect, grateful, all of them, for the respite. Every kid got a bag of stuff (two pencils, a candy cane, stickers, a Hershey’s kiss in non-denominational yet holiday-signifying colored foil) and off they went. One of the child-collectors was the wife of a locally prominent politician from the 70s, and I was amused to think that she could show up at any party and take any kid, because no one would think twice about it. I mean, if Barbara Bush showed up at your house and said she was here to get little Jillian, you’d hand little Jillian over.

 I have the suspicion this will be an annual event, and that’s fine. Last year, however, we had two moms helping, and this year it was just me, whose Indigenous Person name is He Who Fears For the Woodwork.

Two hours, but it seemed to consume the entire day. Now I have to write two columns and start “24,” so I’ll leave you with a Quirk and a matchbook. Thanks; see you tomorrow.