Saturday, December 24, 2005

A little Christmas Dickens

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Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas (secular version)! Happy Hannukah! Blissful Kwanzaa! Pleasant winter solstice! Affable Ramadan! Festive Sunday! Congenial shopping season!

I bring tidings of great joy to all of you, friends, on these joyous holidays!

We could all use some nice hot tidings right about now. It seems to me this year that the holidays are a little ... well, bloodthirstier than usual. I'm thinking of the so-called "war on Christmas" to stamp out the phrase "happy holidays." Cadres of paranoid Christian conservatives, led by Fox News' John Gibson, call it a "liberal plot to ban the sacred Christian holiday."

Actually, it's only a phrase people use to mix it up once in a while, or to use as an inclusive seasonal greeting for people who aren't Christians.

I swear. I asked, like, a bunch of liberals. No plot.

But no — all I hear about is the fight to take back Christmas! Because Christmas is all about fighting. Boycotts against Wal-Mart! Wall-to-wall media coverage on Fox News Channel! They even turned on President Bush! The poor man has to send the same greeting card to Ariel Sharon as he does to Billy Graham — leave him alone!

In 50 words or less: I think the whole idiotic argument is an attack on the spirit of Christmas. I think people who complain about "happy holidays" should be trampled by and fed to eight tiny reindeer. I think every time you condemn somebody else for not celebrating Christmas your way, you're spitting on everything Jesus stands for.

To illustrate how much I love Christmas, I'd like to give everybody here a Christmas present. I call it:


A Holiday Carol

Once upon the Victorian era, there lived the crotchetiest, most miserable, black-hearted old miser London had ever seen, named Ebenezer Scrooge. His business was in providing and collecting high-interest loans from the poor, but Scrooge spent much of his time in the icy cold office dashing off badly misspelled letters to the editor and furious notes to his congressmen, demanding things like mandatory Intelligent Design in the school curriculum, Nativity displays in public buildings, and, in one unfortunate case, the ill-scrawled blueprints of a catapult-like device designed to fling liberals into a brick wall. All these were faithfully copied and stamped by his kindly clerk, Bob Cratchit, who was shivering under a large Santa Claus hat.

Into the office came a stout and ruddy fellow, Scrooge's nephew, Fred.

"Happy holidays, uncle!" cried Fred.

"Bah, humbug!" Scrooge replied. "Don't commit your hate crimes here, you communist! Christmas only in this office!"

Bob rolled his eyes and muttered, "Oy." He removed the Santa hat briefly to scratch his scalp around his yarmulke.

"That hat goes back on, Mr. Cratchit, or you shall celebrate Christmas by losing your situation!" Scrooge growled. "And as for you, nephew, 'happy holidays' infringes on my right to celebrate Christmas! I'll call the ACLU! I know the number — I send them crank pizzas all the time!"

"Well," Fred said, "I only said it because Bob here is—"

"If I could work my will, nephew," Scrooge said, crooking a finger at him, "every fool that goes about with 'happy holidays' on his lips would be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly in his heart! Now begone wi' ye!"

That night, Scrooge went home to his empty, bleak house. And he was about to tuck into his customary pot of gruel when an apparition appeared to him, clanking a vast chain about its waist. It was the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley.

Scrooge trembled before it, dropping to his knees and crying, "An angel!"

"No, I'm a ghost," Marley said.

Scrooge stood up. "Oh. I don't believe in ghosts."

Marley clanked his chain, sending Scrooge into a fit of quaking. "Hear me! You must amend your ways, Scrooge! You're not keeping the spirit of the holidays in your heart! Also, you irritate people — a lot! You will be visited by three ghosts! Heed their lessons, lest my cruel fate be yours!"

Later that night, at exactly one o'clock, a strange figure appeared at the foot of Scrooge's bed with a light emerging from the top of its head. Basically, what I'm saying is, a human Maglite.

"Are you the spirit whose coming was foretold to me?" Scrooge said from under the bed.

"I am," the ghost droned. "I am the Ghost of Holidays Past. I have come to show you how intolerant you've become."

The ghost magically transported Scrooge to moments in his past when he wasn't such a blithering jerk about the holidays. He saw his childhood spent waiting up for Santa Claus, and his apprenticeship at Mr. Fezziwig's for the Kwanzaa party. O, the Kwanzaas they used to have in those days! Scrooge thought. But the warm nostalgia that washed over him didn't last. Before Scrooge knew it, he was back in his own bed.

He did not sleep. For in a twinkling, a second ghost was in his room, a tall, green-robed man wearing a wreath on his head.

"I am the Ghost of Holidays Present!" he said as Scrooge regarded him in awe. "We have a visit to make!"

In a flash, the ghost had transported him to the hovel of Bob Cratchit. The entire family was busy molding potato latkes for the frying pan, except for Tiny Tim, who hobbled over on a crutch to the menorah to light it.

"Bob's Jewish?" Scrooge said to the spirit. "I just assumed, you know, Cratchit's not a Jewish name—"

"His mother was Jewish," the spirit said. "Sheesh — didn't you know? You worked with him for 16 years — why else'd you think he wanted Yom Kippur off?"

Scrooge shrugged. "Early Halloween?" He peered into the window and frosted the window with his breath. "So that First Communion suit I bought Tiny Tim..."

"Er — no," the spirit said.

With that, it vanished, leaving him alone in the street. But soon in its place appeared a third ghost, clad in a grim, hooded black robe.

Scrooge shuddered to the marrow and said, "Are you the Ghost of Holidays Yet to Come?"

It nodded dismally.

"Spirit of the future, I fear you most of all," Scrooge whispered. "Tell me — will I live to see next Christmas?"

"No," it said. "You'll be crossing the street. A driver will slow down for you, notice who you are, then speed up again." It cleared its bony throat, sounding like the clinking of dice. "At your funeral, the minister will kind of shove your coffin in the hole with his foot."

Scrooge wept and fell to his knees. "O horrors! But tell me, spirit — will there be a Christmas next year?"

It flung back the hood to reveal a clean white skull. "Naturally. There'll always be Christmas. Celebrate it all you frigging want. There'll also always be a Hannukah and a Kwanzaa and a Ramadan. Deal with it."

The fog began to creep in, and Scrooge soon lost sight of the spirit, flailing his arms to find him. "I can change!" Scrooge cried. "I won't be the man I was!"

The spirit's voice cut through the mist. "Then don't use Christmas as an excuse to divide people — you turd!"

"I shall repent!" Scrooge cried as the shroud curled around his feet — and soon he was overjoyed to find himself in his own bed.

Scrooge was good as his word — better, in fact. When he saw the spirits had given him a second chance, he never complained about "happy holidays" again. He even accompanied Tiny Tim, who got over whatever the hell it was making him sick, to his bar mitzvah. And as Tiny Tim observed, [fill in the blank] bless us, everyone!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Better to receive than to give

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Every Christmas, it's the same thing. What do you get for the person in your life who has everything, because he's already rich beyond your wildest imagination? Will a nice basket full of endangered snow leopard cubs do the trick? Or is this the year you should spring for that continent he's been hinting around at?

Just about the time most of us (by "us" I mean "them") might be giving up and reaching for the old standby in frustration — cotton money-storage bags with dollar-signs printed on the side, package of six — the annual Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog has arrived. Yes, Fall River, it's here! You can view it online at At long last, someone has taken the guesswork out of gifting the ultra-wealthy!

There's plenty of great stuff to choose from, but nothing will make your special someone put down his copy of The Wall Street Journal and finally take note of your puny existence like one of the Neiman-Marcus fantasy gifts! Ooh la la!

Fantasy gifts are unique presents, highly elite and more expensive than the human mind can comfortably perceive — we're talking hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Any of them would be sure to make your giftee's face light up with joy. Wait. Do rich people's faces light up when they receive a terrific present? Or do they have plastic surgery to fix that?

On the low end of fantasy gifts is the Neiman-Marcus Photo-Me Classic Photobooth. It's an actual working photo booth, the kind you see at the mall with a bunch of giggly teenage girls crammed inside. It's a bargain at $20,000, but delivery and giggly teenage girls are not included.

According to the catalog description, "The Photo-Me Classic Photobooth features a customized NM exterior." From what I recall about photo booths, that means playfully hand-scrawled vulgar graffiti, illustrations of comically oversized cocks, and authentically aged urine puddled around the back. For an extra $5,000, Neiman-Marcus will personalize the vulgar graffiti about someone you love.

Is your special person a fan of Elton John? You have my sympathy.

But if you want to indulge that person's wretched taste in music, Neiman-Marcus sells a private Elton John concert for you and 500 of your friends. Having 501 people there seems to say, "Screw the whole 'private' thing," but never mind.

The best part? It's $1.5 million. You also get a free piano, though. A red one! And add an extra million and Sir Elton will rewrite "Candle in the Wind" again to feature your life and/or tragic death.

But it's an awful lot of money for a fleeting gift. As the old maxim goes, you never own Elton John — you just rent him. And there's a $2 late fee if he's not returned to the store by 11 p.m.

If you really want to possess something of value, try jewels. Neiman-Marcus has a rock or two for sale. Not sure what she likes? Luckily, Neiman-Marcus sells an assortment — a trail mix of historic rubies, diamonds, turquoises, black onyxeseses and salted cashews.

"Eight significant pieces in all, spanning parts of the last three centuries, from the 1800s to 2004," the catalog reads — although to be fair, the jewels pretty much just hang a toe over two of those centuries, starting in 1880 and going to 2004.

Then, with a straight face, the catalog says, "It's an amazing way to begin a jewelry collection." For this beginners' set, you'll shell out $1.2 million. Intermediate sets include a sculpted fragment from the earth's core at $3 million. The advanced jewelry collection features two rings of Saturn connected by a hair from God's beard. That's $5 million.

For the kiddies? Many children of the upper crust enjoy games in which they can control everyone and everything in their environment, all while safely locked into a predestined path. It prepares them for lives of ease at the head of major corporations. So the Neiman-Marcus elves have been busy in Santa's workshop building personal Grand Empire Railroads for all the good rich boys and girls!

It's a nearly full-size working locomotive that comes with a thousand feet of track, several cars, a caboose, eight decorative signs ("Butler Xing" is probably in there somewhere), and a cute antique-looking cow-catcher on the front for running over cows and other poor people.

Only $200,000 will give your little angel hours of fun playtime, until they realize that running a leisure railroad is an unprofitable business venture and lease the track to a freight company.

Lastly, for the kid in all of us, there's the ultimate Neiman-Marcus gift:

The prototype Moller M400 Skycar.

Say it with me again:

The prototype Moller M400 Skycar!

It's a flying car. An actual car that flies.

I didn't want any of that other crap. This, I want.

It looks sort of like a cross between a Jaguar and a vision of aeronautic glory.

Take a look at this baby online. It takes off and lands vertically, so I wouldn't have to use my driveway as a runway. More room for my Toyota. The Skycar doesn't use gas — it uses ethanol, and gets 20 miles per gallon. It's better than a Ford!

What's best is, its top speed is about 275 mph. Imagine how that would cut down on my commuting time. I live about a mile from work, and typically I get hung up on that stupid stop sign on Rock Street and Locust. The traffic takes forever, bringing my commute time to something like four minutes.

The prototype Moller M400 Skycar? Thirteen seconds. In a straight line.

Now for the awful part. How much does the Skycar cost?

If you have to ask, it's still just a fantasy for you, too.
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