I’m not sure what to call this post-Christmas communication. “Debrief” sounds like we’ve just smuggled a defector out of Beijing. “Report” makes me want to write about reindeer with a No. 2 pencil in a Big Chief notebook. “Summary” is something that you deliver once you close the quarterly books, and “After Action Report” implies that we’ve just overrun a Nazi battalion in some unfortunate Belgian village.
How about “Reckoning”?
While this holiday launched a few more challenges at my people than we generally see, we managed fine. We all came out of it alive, with our health no worse than when we started, and loving each other as much as we did on December 24. That said, I feel obliged to settle the score regarding my wife’s Christmas gift. I of course refer to replacing the squatty wooden chair that I destroyed a few weeks ago, as if I were a Grimm’s fairy tale character with three teeth and a size 96 chest.
I received a lot of comments about trying to repair her old chair, since it was so charming, and any other chair I could find must suck in comparison. I admitted that might be true. My wife accepted it too, and she hinted that she expected a plain, utilitarian chair. In fact, those exact words might have come out of her mouth. But I judged the old chair to be as thoroughly obliterated as Lot’s wife and thus beyond repair, so I went chair shopping.
I stalked a new chair, killed it, brought it home, and wrapped it. I think I did a nice job of supporting the fiction that a wrapped chair should be unidentifiable as a chair. I also think that my wrapping job managed my wife’s expectations down to the lowest common denominator, as you can see here:
My wife unwrapped the thing after five minutes of work with a sharp knife and some other implements that might have included a spatula. She saw that the disinterred new chair differs from her crushed squatty wooden chair in several respects. The seat is an inch and a half higher. The whole chair is two shades darker. The new chair is not held together with strategic bungee cord structural supports, and the new chair has a blue shirt hanging over the back of it:
My wife smiled, kissed me, and made other positive overtures, which leads me to think I’ve done well and needn’t fear being eaten by wolves.
By the way, my wife gave me a stellar gift. She knitted me a scarf, patterned after one she screwed up in a neat and creative way a few years ago. But she made this one in manly colors, so I can wear it without fear of testosterone depletion. Here it is modeled by Lola, our articulated artist’s mannequin that sits behind our bar, a gift from my sister some years ago:
And speaking of my lovely sister the artist, she painted a fantastic painting for us. You can see it here both with and without cat, just to give you a sense of proportion:
So the Reckoning is made, and the holiday season moves into the cherished past. It’s time for New Year’s resolutions, something I’ve never been good at. I can only think of one right now. I resolve to keep my huge ass off the new squatty wooden chair.
My wife could be getting a remodeled bathroom with heated tile floors for Christmas. Or she could be getting a cruise down the Danube with a personal chef and her own burly Teutonic masseur. Maybe a puppy that will grow into a huge, destructive dog, or maybe a freezer and a “Tasty Animal of the Month” membership. But my sweetie will not be getting any of those things because the universe is unfair, and it requires me to pay for everything I want to give someone. Therefore, my wife will receive a squatty wooden chair on Christmas morning.
Presents were a big deal in my family, and I guess they still are. We didn’t have much money when I was a kid, but we didn’t care about spending a lot on gifts. We wanted to give a gift that was so perfectly suited to the recipient that he would go into convulsions from pure joy. It was a modest goal. Occasionally we found the perfect gift at a reasonable cost. Usually we couldn’t afford it even if we sold all the grandparents for medical experiments. So we’d buy the most nearly perfect gift we could afford without actually weeping blood from the expense.
I’ve carried this pathology with me into adulthood. My preferred gift shopping strategy is to walk into an interesting store and stride up each aisle. My goal is to shop for some loved ones whose lives I want to make ideal for one shimmering, eternally-remembered moment. So of course I don’t think about any of those people at all. I just absorb the merchandise’s aura in a consumer-zen fashion, and when my intuition smacks me in the forehead about some item I buy it. When I get home I’ll figure out who it’s perfect for. Or as close to perfect as I can afford.
Over the years, that strategy did not drip insanity, no matter how it sounds. I always employed a critical safety measure. I only went into stores that I could afford that year. If my income made it a Woolworths Five and Dime year, I did not walk into Aberdeen’s Custom Jewelry and Furs Worth Going to Hell For. I could set limits. I indulged my neurotic gift giving compulsion and still remained fiscally responsible. The universe made sense, at least through the skewed lens of my childhood.
Then came the internet.
The internet blew away my safety interlocks faster than a reckless starship captain in a David Hasselhoff movie. Suddenly the world was one big store, with nose hair clippers on one aisle and matching Ferraris on the next aisle over. My strategy would lead only to wailing frustration, immediate bankruptcy, or catatonia induced by irreconcilable psychic and moral conflict. In other words, bad strategy.
I turned to my wife for guidance. She has always adopted a more reflective approach than I to gift giving. She follows the, “Give them something nice and move the hell on,” philosophy. She doesn’t give crappy gifts. She doesn’t shop at the gas station for presents. I’ve never received from her a 5 Hour Energy Drink and a Zagnut Bar in a used Arby’s sack for my birthday. She even dares to ask people what they’d like to get as a gift, which I kind of consider to be cheating. If they don’t tell her what they want, then she gives them something modest and charming, and if they don’t like it then it’s their own damned fault for not telling her what they wanted. It all seems like insanity to me, but I don’t see my wife obsessively scratching furrows into the back of her hand because her brother wanted the blue jacket instead of the brown one she gave him.
So under my wife’s tutelage I’ve developed a new strategy. First I ask people what they want. If they want something too lavish, I just ignore whatever they said. Then I count up the rest of the money I can spend and divide it by the remaining gift recipients. Hopefully it comes out to at least seven dollars per person. If not, I decide which family members and friends I want to offend and maybe never speak to again. Then I find something that I can give to everyone, making sure it’s the nicest thing I can buy for seven dollars. I buy the gifts, bestow them as appropriate, and drink some Christmas tequila to smother my sense of having violated some natural law. Simple.
This is how I know that my wife will receive a squatty wooden chair for Christmas. She got me started on my new strategy by flat out telling me what she wants. She wants this chair so she can sit on it while she applies makeup. She had a nice chair for that purpose, but I crushed it when I sat down to talk to her about weather stripping the front door. She coaxed the chair back into cohesion using a bungee cord and some profanity, so she can sit on it for now if she doesn’t mind risking permanent spinal injury whenever she applies blush. So, she wants a chair, I understand why she wants it, and I even feel responsible for her needing it. I will buy her the best squatty wooden chair I can find.
I wonder if they come inlaid with sapphires and ivory from extinct animals?
I have decided that Santa Claus can kiss my ass. We once had a warm relationship. He gave me my first bicycle. I helped him build the deck over his back porch. We bitched about global warming together, which is truly creating havoc up at the North Pole. It was all good.
But I’ve realized that with the best of intentions he has helped create a world of “Suits”. I saw someone’s definition of a Suit a while back, and to paraphrase it: a Suit is a person who doesn’t understand that the universe doesn’t give a crap about their opinion on any subject whatsoever.
I am not against gifts and charity. I love generosity and mercy. But my buddy Nick has changed. Once he was fine being the personification of kindness (and a left-handed bribe to hold over kids’ heads). Now he’s a force of nature that fulfills the desires of the deserving.
Sure, he’s led some kids to feel entitled to iPods and computers and cars because they’ve been good, and they want them, and therefore the universe is obligated to provide them. (Not all kids—just the future Suits.) But ooh, the adult Suits! I do not want to get all political, but it seems everybody is concluding that the universe should just make things happen because they want a thing to happen and they’ve been good boys and girls.
You hate something and want it to stop? (Pick anything you care to name… war, high taxes, bad health care, illegal immigration. A Suit’s suit is just as likely to be tie dye as it is to be Armani.) For a Suit, all you need is a righteous stance and a proud ignorance of history, facts, and the forces at work. Really, NOT knowing the facts is a mark of pride for a Suit. The universe should just make it happen in the natural course of events because you’re right, in the same way Santa was supposed to bring you a teddy bear because you were good.
So Santa, you’re fired. I can’t have you hanging around my Christmas anymore. I’m taking over the gift giving for my friends and relatives, and my criterion is that they get presents because I love them, whether they’ve been good or bad, but with the clear understanding that I do not represent the universe in any fashion. I recognize that I do need a holiday icon, since as far as the embodiment of the season goes, I blow. I think I’ll offer the Thanksgiving Turkey the job. He expects everyone to buy their own yams.