Monday, December 22, 2008

T'is the Season...

by Ben Small

L’il Ella, our granddaughter, has left, and the wife and I are bereft. Stuck for a few days (until I can return them) with all these toys. Wifey wants them out of the house, and my SUV is the only container large enough to hold them. It seems C batteries never wear out. So now while I’m driving around town, every time I hit a bump, I get the ABCs.

Nice tune, that. I’m singing it in my sleep.

We miss L’il Ella, and I’m sure she misses us. I don’t think she’d ever seen so many toys.

But with Ella gone, we now face the other side of the holidays: party season.

My wife calls me a humbug, but that’s not totally accurate. Lazy, yes, a humbug, not really. I just don’t get a big kick out of Christmas trees and decoration. People who decorate their houses like Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation seem to me to be starved for attention. Why else have your house visible from Mars?

Plus, there’s all that work involved in lighting up your house. Manual labor, what I went to school for nineteen years to avoid. To do the job right, you gotta climb up on ladders, expose yourself to the elements, play with light bulbs that will work while you’re attending them, but then will shut down the whole system as soon as you descend. Back up the ladder, turn each bulb, discover which one is loose.

Oh joy to the world. Isn’t this fun?

And in a couple weeks, the lucky homeowner gets to do it all over again…

Okay, so I relented this year. Because of Ella. We got a tree. Not a real one, mind you. I don’t want sticky fingers, eczema breaking out all over my hands, pine needles dropping all over the floor, not to mention a fire hazard. And I don’t want to water the thing.

So we went to Costco, got a bunch of plastic and wire that resembles a tree. Easy to assemble, just stick in the pretend-branches and move ‘em around, and plug in the lights that came with it. Done. And dis-assembly is easy, too. Just unplug, fold up the branches, tie the thing off with plastic handcuffs, and throw it into a box in the garage.

So what else can I complain about? What else might lead me to murder?

Parties. The never-ending holiday party schedule.

Have you ever noticed how much fun the only sober person at a party has? Well, that’s me. I don’t drink much, maybe an occasional beer. I do have friends in Milwaukee I must honor, you know. Still, two beers is usually my limit, if I drink that much.

We went to a friend’s house the other night for their annual Christmas party. The wife is an interior designer, her husband the best Venetian plasterer and artistic house painter in town. Nice people.

You want to feel inadequate: go to a party at a designer’s house.

I do not know how these people did it, but they managed to buy and restore an old run-down Tucson mansion into a spectacular showpiece in just one year. Heck, I’ve been in my house for two years, and I still can’t find my socks.

Don’t these people sleep?

I asked the husband how this all came about. He said, “My wife wanted it done, so we busted our butts and spent every spare moment working on it.”

I wanted to choke him. “Do you know what a bad example you’re setting for our gender?” I said. “No Sunday football, no poker night, no shoot-‘em-up flicks? If your diligence becomes widely known, you’ll ruin things for every male in town. What’s worse, you had to throw a party and show it all off.”

He shrugged. “I’m scared of my wife.”

I saw my wife and a few other women, all sipping generous glasses of wine while the lady of the house was pointing out various appointments that helped make the house look like a Hollywood set for Spanish restoration and holiday perfection. I expected to see a microphone attached to her gown and HGTV cameras poking out from all corners.

My wife looked up and caught my eye. She waved her hand expansively and mouthed something like, “We can do this.”

My wife’s look and silent vow told me all I needed to know. My life was about to become a never-ending hell. I reached into my pocket for my little North American Arms Derringer. Five shots of .22 magnum. All I’d need was one…two if I decided to shoot the homeowner first. Hm… About that… Yeah, I owed a duty to every male in Tucson.

But the gun wasn’t there. I’d left it in the car. Arizona has a law: no guns where booze is served. Okay, so I found one benefit Connecticut has over Arizona: Booze and guns mix in Connecticut.

I broke away and ran to the buffet, where I elbowed my way into line and snarfed all the tamales, Mexican green stew, cheese, stuffed peppers and smoked salmon I could fit on my red plastic holiday plate. Someone bumped me, and one of my stuffed chiles flew off my plate and smacked a woman’s breast, leaving a cream cheese spot in the shape of California. She didn’t notice; she was too busy telling her husband how easy it would be to restore their house. The guy’s face was slack, his eyes locked in a far-away stare. Sweat beaded on his brow.

Shock and fear. I could have dumped a bucket of water on his wife’s head and he wouldn’t have noticed. Like me, this guy was seeing ladders, paint, tile, chisels, grouting, plaster, and window replacement in his future. S’long relaxation, s’long television, bye-bye newspaper, Sunday football and golf with the guys.

A new world order was coming, and this guy, like me, knew it.

At least, I thought, this would be the last one, the last party before Christmas. We could then wind down, eat a quiet turkey dinner, have a roaring fire in the hearth and watch a good movie after Christmas dinner. Ah… just the thought of it calmed me down.

And then the wife hit me with it, a by-product of all this holiday hoopla. No quiet Christmas dinner, no movie, a fireplace fire, maybe.

She’d invited six people to join us for Christmas dinner.

Where was that Derringer? I’d need three shots now.

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