As I texted Calvin during the dinner I spent the other evening with work people, there’s nothing like Christmas to make you remember exactly how much you hate society.
I guess the Honors Program has spoiled me – while the last semester has been hectic, it’s been spent mostly at school, and I’ve consequently been spending most of my social time with Honors kids, who can, on the whole:
1) Carry on intelligent conversations
2) Make good grades
3) Make passably amusing jokes
4) Understand and relate to me when I talk about an old Nickelodeon show such as “Hey Dude!”; a movie such as “Indiana Jones”; a book such as “Anne of Green Gables”; or a hobby such as crochet.
As I say, I’ve gotten used to this, and while an idiotic or banal conversation will sometimes sneak in (“I don’t think gay people should be allowed to adopt,” or “What the hell is wrong with Britney Spears?”, for example), I’ve greatly enjoyed the quality level of the conversation, and had rather forgotten that people out in the real world are capable of less.
All you need know about my dinner companions is that the evening was tailored to the two fourteen-year-olds present.
I think these people need a Christmas Miracle or something, seriously. As much as I come down on all these crappy Christmas movies, at the end, the protagonists nearly always realize the true meaning of the holiday – after, that is, they see what the world would be like were they never born; watch their whole family die in a tragic accident; fall in love; or learn that Santa Claus is real after all.
I say these people need a Christmas Miracle because I cannot remember the last time I heard such materialistic, self-centered bullshit issue from the mouths of humans.
While fundamentalist christians and I have a well-recorded and checkered history, I can agree with them on one point: their “Jesus is the Reason for The Season” campaign may be utterly obnoxious (not to mention preposterous, considering that many scientists and theologists now peg the date of his birth at or around April 19, 6 B.C., and celebrations of the Winter Solstice were around looooong before then), but I have to applaud them for their attempt to shift the focus of Christmas away from pointless, soulless reception of gifts to which a lot of kids seem to have reduced it.
I’ve decided to jump on a modified Ebeneezer Scrooge Bandwagon, or perhaps a better title would be the Grinch Bandwagon. While Seuss posited that the Grinch just straight-up hated the”whole Christmas season,” I think perhaps the metaphor is deeper. Was the green fellow not merely scornful of a holiday manipulated by greed? Did he not free the Whos of their dependence upon the Gods of Retail by removing their false idols, and gently teach them that Christmas is really about standing in a circle and singing Kumbayah?
I may soon be adorning a dog in antlers and creeping tip-toed into living rooms in the regional area to steal presents.
Much of the conversation at dinner consisted of my boss – who was driving the conversational bus straight to crazytown – asking everyone what was “on their Christmas lists,” what they wanted and had asked for, etc.
One of the girls who had received a touch-screen iPod for her birthday not a month earlier expressed a desire for an iPhone. Oh, amusing story about her iPod, by the way. She snooped through her mother’s closet several months before her birthday and discovered it. Then she mentioned to her mother that she had done so, and her mother, rather than saying, “Hey, what the hell were you doing in my closet?”, said something along the lines of “Oh, well, ya caught me.”
Ha-ha! Isn’t that charming?
The other explained that her mother had been buying her gifts since August, and that when they walked through stores, all she had to do was comment upon something’s cuteness, and, I quote, the mom “remembers, and gets it for me!”
And in my day we walked eight miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways.
And then it came to me, the cheery, “So, what did you ask for?”
“Well, if I asked for everything I wanted and then got it,” I replied levelly, “it wouldn’t be a surprise, now would it?”
This garnered facial expressions I haven’t seen since I last watched “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
Here’s the thing: I think asking for stuff is tacky, to the degree that I’ve seriously considered asking people not to bring presents to my wedding (when I fantasize about such things) on the grounds that
A) All wedding presents suck, and
B) To prevent them from doing so, one has to register, which pretty much boils down to – you guessed it – telling people what to buy you, which is decidedly tacky.
This ambiguity of present-purpose upsets many of the people closest to me, from my well-meaning father (“You’re sure you don’t want anything in particular?”) to my passive-aggressive grandmother (“Well, don’t blame me if you get stuff you don’t want for Christmas, because I had to guess,”) to my sweet Calvin (“Please. Please. Can’t you just narrow the field a little? I have no ideas. Please, help me out, here, you’re killing me. Please.”).
To me, it really is the thought that counts. I’m not seven anymore, and, in the long run, I’d much prefer to get a present that some thought went into, than some fancy, extravagant gadget. I come from a “You-Can’t-Always-Get-What-You-Want-But-Sometimes-You-Just-Might-Find-You-Get-What-You-Need” philosophical school of thought when it comes to gift receiving. To illustrate, a true story.
When I was eight or so, I wanted nothing more than I wanted a Giga-Pet. God, I still remember the commercial: A pyramid of wholesome cheerleaders in a white-backgrounded-Apple-style-netherworld, gleefully chanting, “Don’t for-GET your Giga-PET!” Oh, I wouldn’t, I vowed. I was gonna love it, an’ squeeze it, an’ name it George, or something to that effect. At the time, it seemed like the higest evolution of technology, but in retrospect, it was a portable 8-bit, non-color screen upon which would occasionally appear an image which vaguely resembled a dog, if one squinted hard enough. Also, I would discover later, it was equipped with small, yet incredibly potent speakers, which would make skull-fracturingly annoying whining noises for roughly 23 hours and 45 minutes out of every day. It seems pretty primitive when you consider Apple’s now making iPods specifically designed for the under-ten set.
My mother refused to get me a Giga-Pet, so I, ever the resourseful child, played on my knowledge of the ongoing cold war between my mother and grandmother over my soul, and asked my grandmother if she would please please pretty please buy me a Giga-Pet for Christmas. Naturally, she was game, and I tore off the paper Christmas morning and found my heart’s desire in my hands. I turned it on and began to program it, and it immediately began making beeping, mewing noises, and I could not for the life of me get it to shut up. I hid it under a pillow. I wrapped it in a sock and stuffed it in the back of a cabinet. Not unlike Poe’s Telltale Heart, it just kept piercing my ears in a highly unlikely, clearly supernatural manner, reminding me of my foolishness in asking to be awarded this hell. When it prevented me from sleep on Christmas night, I, chagrined, took it to my mother and quietly asked that it be disposed of. She affected an “I-told-you-so” sort of face, and threw it away (or possibly smashed it with a hammer, for which I would not have blamed her).
And seven years later, I asked my grandmother to send me a beautiful necklace I’d found online, and she did, and it gave me a hideous allergy rash for a full year afterwards. But that same year, she sent me something I never would have asked for in a million years – a flashing LED beltbuckle – from which I obtained hours of hilarity and enjoyment.
I merely take this diversion of thought to illustrate that the meaning of Christmas is not getting exactly what you want, nor is life. Both Christmas and life are a grab bag. Sometimes, you get an LED beltbuckle, and it turns out to make your day; and sometimes you get just what you wanted, and it doesn’t turn out the way you expect; and sometimes, yeah, you get just what you want and everything’s perfect, woo-hoo.
But the purpose of presents is to engender goodwill between the giver and the receiver, and if the receiver manipulates that process, it almost turns into an ultimatum – “I’ll love you if you get me this…..”
That isn’t Christmas. That’s selfish.
At the end of the dinner, my boss passed around presents for everybody, ID holders/mini-wallets designed by the insufferable Vera Bradley. If you are not familiar with Vera, count yourself fortunate. Her designs – which serve a wide array of functions, from purses to curling iron covers – are vastly overpriced, consist almost exclusively quilted fabric printed in a paisley pattern, and are almost invariably ugly. The women at my work are all into it, though, rabid for it, owners of entire lines of designs, psychically cognizant of which ones are “active” and which are “retired.” I’ve never been into purses, the only nice one I have was, interestingly, a Christmas present last year, and is Juicy Couture, which, it has been explained to me by wide-eyed young women in the street, “a very good thing.”
I’ve always gone out of my way to eschew Vera Bradly, however, on the grounds that everyone I’ve ever seen carry one of her products has turned out to be mentally deficient in some way. So this was not a gift I asked for, not one I would have chosen for myself, and, yet, it was kind of……..cute. It was neither paisley nor quilted, and it will keep me from having to dig for my cell in my bag in the future.
If you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.