Christmas Shenanigans (Now and Then)
Ah, that time of the year…everyone is draining their bank accounts and hitting the “fuck it” button in their brains to anything and everything. Excess is in full tilt boogie as we fumble with our terrible present wrapping skills while eating not-worth-the-calories sugar cookies and listening to John Tesh tell holiday tales to warm your heart and make you barf at the same time.
But, was Christmas always this way? In a word; yes. And it always will be, hopefully.
I love Christmas. Just about everyone I know does. It’s that perfect holiday where, even if you aren’t a Christian you find yourself putting all your efforts into getting something special for someone or many someone’s. You finally have an excuse to think of someone other than yourself and you can use it as ammunition for the rest of the year or to try and justify a trip to heaven when your clock stops ticking.
Last year I wrote to Santa and asked if he could arrange for me to keep all my limbs and to return home safely (thanks, Santa!). So, this year, I get the ultimate excuse to jump into the pool of Christmas excess and spend like a hillbilly that just won the lottery. Except I’m not buying a hot tub for my trailer.
I wanted to take on this holiday season with a heightened sense of spirit and joy. I wanted to make it as perfect as possible, saying yes to everything, not caring about cost or consequence.
Then, I went to put up the fucking Christmas lights.
Of course, we made a plan with certain goals in mind, a certain ‘look’ if you will. All white dangly ones, along the eave of the house and the trim, creating that not-quite-tacky Griswald feel of some truly motivated Christmas spirit…
So, here I am, dressed for success in the cold, standing in the garage, and I’m going to do this shit right this year. No fuckin’ around. I’m gonna lay the lights out, test them to make sure they are all good, and then I am going to systematically make this house glow with enough Christmas glee to make Chris Rock never swear again.
I lay out the lights, undoing every tie, taking them out of the plastic ever so gently, taking this bitch on like a pro. That’s it. I am a professional Christmas light installer-guy. I am the fucking best. I got this shit.
Look at how smart and professional I am. I have all the lights laid out in a row, side-by-side, ready for their inspection. Probably because I’m in the military, that’s why I do it like this, like a smart, meticulous killer. Thanks, Army! You even help me with Christmas decorating!
I’m plugging in the lights, making sure they work. I give a hearty, stern nod as each plugged in strand passes my test. We run into one that does not. I set that one aside, congratulating myself on doing it this way, making sure I didn’t hang duds. I am so fucking good.
Lights are tested. Ready to be hung. I stand before my opus, about to begin. The twirling lights in my head start…twirling…like a nuclear plant breach alarm. Gotta do this right. I start to think about which end will go where when I start stapling these bitches up.
I already screwed that up once this year with the Christmas tree. When I was done with the tree the male-end of the plug was by the star. It’s times like that when you truly wonder, “Did I really just do that? How do I think I’m smart when I do something so freaking retarded? Something that I would laugh at a child for doing…also, why are my pants on backwards? Need some more Arbor mist…”
Anyways, that mistake would not be repeated. It was a minor hiccup. We don’t dwell on such things. They will impede progress. Forward.
I start to get giddy with excitement when I think about how I’m going to get the lights up on the eave of the house (which is on top of the garage). I had thought of it while driving home from work and, once again, I am congratulating myself on what a crafty and handy young man I am. I am that guy you want on the island when you are stranded.
I am Locke on Lost. I even have knives. No shaved head, though. Also, my dad never tried to kill me. Oh, and I never killed my dad. Oh, man if you haven’t seen Season 3, I just ruined that shit for you…
…Where was I? Ah, my idea. Ingenious. Because I don’t have a tall enough ladder, I will BACK MY TRUCK UP, put the ladder in the bed of the truck and viola! I am hanging lights WAY HIGH. All this in a ten-minute drive home.
I get the stapler. Check the level of staples. Get extras ready. Lots of lights to hang. We have work ahead of us. No bullshit. No driving back and forth to the store. One stop, one job, and that’s it.
I pull the truck back and park it perfectly under the eave. I’m smiling. “Nice.” I grab the ladder and put it in the bed of the truck. Moment of truth. I rock it a little. It’s holding. By God, it’s holding. I get in the bed and climb up the ladder and test my reach. Perfect. Fucking perfect. I am SO the man.
I grab the first strand of lights. I grab the stapler. I take one last look around. I’m ready. This is it. Let’s begin. But first…which end goes up first?
Okay, if I hang this end up first…then, it will plug into…waitaminute…okay…this end in first…then it plugs into the next strand…so, I’d staaaaart…fuck…okay…this end plugs into this end…but…what the fuck? Where the fuck is the other plug? What the…? Oh, you’re fucking kidding me…
This is where sudden realization sets in. When suddenly you realize that you have been HAD and by HAD I mean taken, like lobotomized by aliens and shit…
And I blame it all on the creative genius that designed Christmas lights for Home Depot’s deliciously titled “Home Accents” line of Christmas lights…What follows is a trip into this genius’ head after completing this masterful strand of lights:
“Man, these lights rock the house so much, they don’t even NEED to connect to the next strand of lights. They are perfect on their own. They are individuals. These lights need a fucking name, they are that good. I like Randy. Randy, you are an individual and you do NOT have to listen to any stupid ass customer that wants to connect you to another strand of lights so that he can have the convenience of using only one plug. No, sir-ree, you are on your own. Go get ‘em Randy!”
I can’t believe this. I must have overlooked something. I just missed a step, that’s all. But no. I grab another strand. No, it’s true. They do not connect. In no way, in no form, in no strange coincidence of fate or magic will these strands connect to one another to create one long, beautiful stand of Christmas lit joy that will shine from my house and out to the heavens inspiring all those who drive by my humble home, reminding them of the joys of Holidays and that, “Oh yes, it is Christmas and it is a wonderful time of the year and…oh, shit, I’ve got to get to Wal-Mart and get Guitar Hero 3 before they sell out and my kid burns down the Christmas tree…”
I am standing there. My truck is parked under the garage. A small ladder sits in the bed of the truck, ready to do it’s job. I am dressed in full-on winter gear, ready to fight the cold until the job at hand is complete. My stapler is full of staples.
And my five hundred feet of lights will not connect to one another. They are individuals. Each special. A beautiful and unique snowflake. Unique and useless all at the same time.
Suddenly, I am hoping that none of the neighbors are watching. Suddenly, I’m hoping that none of them have been watching from the beginning. I can see them now, watching from their windows, gathering the family to watch the war vet hang his Christmas lights to see if he cracks, if he can do it, if he remembers how to plug shit in and hang shit.
They make egg nog, put on music, giggle at my every hiccup, gasp at my daring, and marvel at my genius. And then, look at that, he has given up. He has stopped. He’s…what’s he doing? He’s…Oh no. Oh my God, honey, will you look at that? Will you look at this moron? Oh my God, he bought lights that don’t connect. Honey, get the camera. Oh man…this is too much…Kids, do you see this? This is a lesson in poor planning kids…learn from this…learn from this buffoon…This is what makes the difference in life…this is what sets you apart from losers…and that man…he is a loser.
Suddenly, I’m the American version of Mr. Bean.
I quietly and purposefully begin to collect up my things. I hang the stapler back up, put the ladder back in its corner…
…but wait…what about…last year’s lights? Fireworks are going off where my brain lives. I yank open the box that houses our old lights. There they are. A tangled mess…but there they are nonetheless.
I take them out…quickly go through my steps…fuck it…they work. I don’t hesitate. This will be good enough. It’s not the “all-white” look we were going for, but whatever…it’s Christmas…they’re lights…deal.
They’ve got the big color bulbs with the hanging white icicles. It’ll look great. It’ll work. I grab the ladder. Put it back on the truck. I check the lights one last time. They’ll plug in. By God, these will plug in and I can create the masterpiece strand!
I am renewed. I am full of confidence. I am ready to do this shit. I start to step up onto my truck. A loud POP fills the air. I hit the deck and push some snow up to form some cover, pulling out my knife and facing out, never missing a beat. The round must’ve come from across the street…where…
Oh…I’m not in Iraq. I’m in Alaska. I’m safe. Not many snipers in Alaska. Or people who speak Arabic for that matter. I get up. The neighbors are loving this. I see multiple camera flashes from multiple windows. Suddenly, I’m a celebrity on the cover of US Weekly.
I look down at my foot and see the shattered bulb of one of the lights. I quit.
I’m not nice about it. I yank the ladder down, shove it in its corner and slam-dunk the shitty strand of lights into the aluminum garbage can. I jump in my truck and pull it back into its parking spot. I head to the garage and start to close the garage door. I give the neighbors a view of my full moon, twig and berry’s as the door slowly closes shut.
Merry Christmas, you bastards!
As a kid, Christmas means so much more because it’s that one time when you get to get that BIG GIFT, that one thing you’ve been dreaming about all year. That thing that your mom always says “Maybe for Christmas,” while you’re pulling every string you’ve got to get that shit in July.
So, you plot and plan, like Ralphie with that fucking Red Ryder B.B. gun, you do everything you can to secure that mega gift. For me, growing up with two brothers, everything was about He-Man, G.I. Joe and Transformers. Well, it was for me.
For us, the ultimate gift was a base. Every year, the major themes would release a base for your action figures…a Mecca of bases to end all bases…every year they got bigger. It all started with Castle Greyskull of He-Man fame. Two big molded pieces of plastic that folded open to form a base, with platforms and traps and all the trimmings.
I’m sure most dads dreaded these things because putting them together was a bitch. They looked pretty badass on the cover. Painted like a Boris ‘Death Dealer’ poster, the base looked like the coolest thing on earth. Then you opened the box to a bunch of plastic pieces and an instruction manual from hell. “Here you go dad. Put this shit together while I play with my lite brite…and hurry it up will ya.”
We had all the bases. Caste Greyskull, Snake Mountain, and every G.I. Joe base you could name, except the Aircraft Carrier, which I don’t think any kid ever got in the history of kids. That thing was unattainable. It was all for show, I was convinced.
I can still see it now, sitting on the top shelf at Toys R Us…You would have to call an associate to come and get that thing down…with a metal push ladder…A crew would have to carry it out…and it had the ultimate price tag…the unforgivable price tag of death…ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS!
Oh, you heard me right. In my house, you were looking at a hundred bucks being spent on you TOTAL for Christmas. To get that thing alone is just…unheard of. But, a boy can dream can’t he? One year, I did get the mega cobra base, which fanboys will know as “The Terror Drome.” This thing had it all, including an opening at the top that housed a mini-jet. Seriously, how badass is that?
For me, the childhood Christmas ended on two counts: One, in the fourth grade when I got my mom to confess that Santa wasn’t real (she killed this myth with a hushed and simple “No, he’s not real”). And two, when I stopped getting bases for Christmas and started getting cologne. That was it. Childhood was over. Welcome to adulthood…neckties and moustache trimmers, ahoy! (I have never received either of those items, but have bought them for my step dad and just now realized how much it would suck to get either of those things and man, I do not ever want to be a grown up.)
My brother would always ask for the same thing every year. A remote controlled vehicle of some sort. Every year, it was the newest, coolest, fastest whatever that you could remote control.
The commercials sure sold that shit well…two enigmatic kids (boys hyper on sugar) who had the BEST fucking area to roll their RCV (remote controlled vehicle…I’m not typing that shit every time I want to mention it, so log that acronym now, please), complete with trees, mud, water, hills, and man, look at that thing fly and turn in slo-mo! Must-have-RCV-now-or-will-die.
So, every year, my brother gets the newest, latest craze in RCV’s and we run outside to test it out, like Raphie with that B.B. gun, because we can’t wait a second to see this thing cruise and careen all over the place (just like the commercials!) and we stand and watch and marvel at…
…This hunk of shit, stuck on a pebble in the driveway. Surely, there must be something more…something deeper to this minor snafu…but, no…no…oh, and look, yeah, there it goes over a dip in the front yard, falling over, stuck, wheels spinning in the air…
I stand there with my brother, his hand on the remote and he seems unfazed. He has seen this before. Last Christmas. With that hunk of shit that is sitting at the bottom of the toy bin. He will work through this. I can’t watch anymore. It’s too sad. I have to leave.
I have a base to put together.
I’ve never had a ‘bad’ Christmas. It’s always been fun and joyous and filled with anticipation. It has evolved over the years and will continue to so (as I get older…and… evolve).
However, one thing that has changed is my Christmas will. Yes, the will to not peek at my presents or even actively search them out to spoil the surprise. Today, I am perfectly content with having no idea what I may or may not get. I don’t even submit any kind of wishes unless asked. I will leave it up to the giver.
But as a kid…Man, I was in full on peek mode. My brother and I (we usually left the youngest out of our shenanigans, because the youngest is always the tattle tale) would come home from school in early December and begin ‘Operation: Find the Presents’ and commence the hunt.
It was never that hard of a search. My mom usually just buried the goods in her closet. Perhaps she trusted us or perhaps she just didn’t care to hide it. Perhaps she figured that if her sons wanted to spoil their Christmas then just let the little shitheads have at it.
And have at it we did. We were like Indiana Jones and that foreign dude he always works with, exploring a cave, looking for treasure;
Foreign Dude: Indy, I have found something!
Indy: Whatdya got, Foreign dude?
Foreign Dude: Indy, I believe I have found one of the lost treasures of Wal-Mart!
Indy: (inspecting item) Hmmm…Looks like a Transformer…Wave One…’Starscream’ I believe he’s called…this will look perfect in my museu-uh, room.
Foreign Dude: And look there, Indy…At the top of this shelf…could it be? Could it possibly be the almighty Cobra Terror Drome with Firebat and Pilot?
Indy: (looking on in awe) Foreign Dude, I think we have hit the jackpot…This could be the base we’ve been looking for all our lives…Imagine the Joe battles we will have…Imagine the adult that will have to build this and put the stickers on…Imagine the pieces we will lose in the first week…but the adventures…the adventures will live on forever!
Foreign Dude: Indy, quick, I think mom just pulled into the driveway!
Indy: Shit, close this up…and get to your room…you must act like nothing is wrong!
Of course it wasn’t always that easy. Sometimes, we’d have gifts that arrived in the mail, already wrapped and secure from our prying eyes. Or so they thought.
God bless kids being home by themselves after school when parents are at work! You have a good couple of hours to cause mischief that could in no way be covered in just a paragraph of this little story. Some other time. But, God bless it nonetheless!
In that time, my brother (a.k.a. Foreign Dude) and I would take turns UNWRAPPING the presents (usually in the bathroom…the only place of privacy for an adolescent) and ogling the goods before REWRAPPING them and placing them back under the tree.
We would keep watch over one another, having a special knock (which always degraded into “Hurry up, Mom’s home!”) to warn us of those pesky parents. Perhaps that’s why I’m such a good present wrapper today…I have been trained in the art of being a present spy, wrapping and rewrapping to conceal any thought that a child has already opened and peeked the booty.
At one point we got really bold. Sitting at home after school one day (Bless the Freedom! Bless the mischief!) A knock came to the door. We opened the door and welcomed the knock in and fed it cheerios and then burned it with an iron and pulled its legs off and then buried it in the backyard. Stupid knock.
The knock turned out to be a UPS guy with two big boxes from our estranged father. Our estranged father always sent the coolest shit, (estranged fathers either send the BEST shit or nothing at all…we were lucky.) stuff that would make all the other kids jealous. He packed it up in such a way that the gifts just seemed to BLOOM out of other gifts. You would turn over a G.I. Joe and there, on the other side, a box of Nerds, Holy Shit…and attached to the box of Nerds is a Pez dispenser! Holy Freaking Blooming Christmas Present, Batman!
Anyways, we have these two big boxes sitting in the living room, filled with what we knew would be the best gifts of the season. My brother and I stared at these boxes in wonderment and quickly reverted to our alter-egos, Indy and Foreign Dude:
Foreign Dude: Indy, what do you think is inside?
Indy: Something magnificent, Foreign Dude. Something awesome.
Foreign Dude: Alas, we will have to wait until Christmas day to find out what surprises await…
Indy: (thinking for a moment) Maybe not…
Foreign Dude: You have an idea?
Indy: Well, nobody knows these boxes are here…Estranged Father usually wraps all the gifts he sends…We could open these boxes, peek the presents and then simply put them under the tree…Our parental unit will never know…and if she ever asks if we received a box from estranged father…we simply tell her that we did receive a box and that the presents were put under the tree…she’ll never know the wiser.
Foreign Dude: Indy, you are a genius!
Indy: Get a knife…and be careful…we must make sure this isn’t a trap…
We opened the boxes gingerly and sure enough, all the gifts were wrapped. We took them out and studied each one, experts at guessing what was behind each meticulously wrapped gift.
Foreign Dude: I believe this one to be a G.I. Joe…individual figure…with a large accessory pack…
Indy: I think you’re right…this one here, though…a complete mystery…Heavy, boxed in…could be a game…possibly some type of sporting good…amazing…
In the midst of our shenanigans, I came up with another brilliant idea. Since my mom had not been home to receive these boxes and to inventory them, she would have no clue as to what was supposed to be inside. Estranged father would dare not call and demand accountability. So, that being said…who would notice one or two or three presents missing from this little shipment? Who says you can’t have a little early present opening ceremony during the first week of December?
And so it was to be that my brother and I would sleep with a suspiciously new toy (or three) in our beds that night (hey, kids sleep with toys...I don’t know). It’s hard enough for parent’s to feed, cloth, and make sure homework is done that there’s no way they can keep an accurate count of what your latest toys are. They’re good, but not that good.
Nowadays, although the great PEEK WAR of my childhood is over, there is still room for shenanigans. Even though they come in different forms, such as eating all of my wife’s chocolate from the chocolate advent calendar or putting elf costumes on my dogs, there is always room for shenanigans.
As I look back on the life altering events of the past year of my life I can be nothing but grateful for this Christmas and the excess that it brings. I will spoil my family and myself with glee and reflect on the days of old, when things were so different and mysterious, when Indy and his Foreign Friend reined supreme…when someone else put my toys together…when the anticipation for Christmas morning was asthma inducing…when there were plenty of surprises to ruin…
…when shenanigans were king…
…and I didn’t have to hang the Christmas lights.