Yeah, You Better Watch Out.
Well, Christmas is upon us. And it landed slap across my face.
It has been an interesting few days, marked by highs (in the form of good times with friends) and by lows (in the form of running into YET ANOTHER COLUMN in the goddamn PARKING garage OH MY GOD). And as you can probably tell, quite a bit has happened.
I'm trying to decide where to start, and how to distill these events into a cohesive narrat...oh! I KNOW. The TREE. Oh, let's talk about the fucking Christmas tree. Because the Christmas Tree Evening -- that's pretty much all you need to know to understand how this week has been. It is a metaphor.
So, get comfortable, people. This particular event only occurred last night, and I am already proving very adept at turning it into an epic tale lasting a minimum of twenty minutes, and involving fighting robots. (I recently decided that all good stories must include, at some juncture, fighting robots.) I have turned what should have been a short story into a whole damn miniseries.
What I am trying to say is: We may all be here a whiiiiiiiiiiiiiile. But this is what happened with the Christmas Tree.
It started a week and a half ago, when Dukay purchased our Christmas tree. We brought it home, stood it in the corner, and cut open its little plastic, orange straitjacket. Dukay walked in serious circles around it and, after a few minutes of serious! contemplation!, ultimately concluded that the limbs hadn't fallen yet. So he declared: we would wait to decorate it. We would do it the next day.
Well. Naturally, this was stupid. And so, for the past week and a half, Dukay and I have been trying to find an opportunity to decorate the damn Christmas tree. And, for the past week and a half, the tree has stood, naked and embarrassed, in the corner. Where it stares at us, sheds, and taunts 25% of the dogs. The 25% that is Gimmme.
(Gimmme TIRED OF HATE TREE. Gimmme NAP.)
The other 75% of the dogs could care less about a Christmas tree in the corner, but poor Gimmme, who honestly does not have the sense that God gave ranch dressing, hates it. He hates it SO MUCH. Granted, he cannot actually see the tree (because Gimmme = blind dog), but he senses it, and whenever he gets to that side of the room, he just wanders around randomly, barking in its general direction. Bark? he says. Ba? Rk?
I understand him completely. This means:
GIMMME HATE TREE. TREE GO BACK OUTSIDE NOW. TREE NOT LIVE IN DEN. GIMMME LIVE IN DEN, STUPID TREE.
The tree has not responded. We are in a stalemate!
As a result of all of this excitement, if you come over, you will see Gimmme waddling through the den, gazing in...sort of a tree-ish direction, and barking at random intervals at this woodsy interloper. While the other dogs look at him sympathetically, all, "Oh. Isn't it sad that he is an idiot?"
So anyway. The tree has not had a good year so far.
And Dukay and I have been trying to find an opportunity to decorate the tree, even going so far as to retrieve the ornaments from the attic, but then there was just all this other shit that had to be done. We had a holiday dinner thing, and then we had another holiday dinner thing, and then to mix it up, we had ANOTHER holiday dinner thing, and then Dukay had to work late one night, and then I had to work late one night, and finally I just threw up my hands and declared to the world at large THAT WE ARE DECORATING THE GODDAMN CHRISTMAS TREE ON TUESDAY, IF YOU'RE COMING FINE, IF NOT I AM GOING TO THROW SOME GLITTER ON THIS THING AND CALL IT A DAY.
Fortunately, Dukay came. Unfortunately, it was not...uneventful.
And actually, now that I think about it, the whole thing actually started before Dukay ever showed up. And furthermore, y'all, it seemed to start so well.
Tuesday, 6:00: I walked in the door from an unusually dramatic day of work (including depositions! Oooo! Legal!), to find that my house was dramatically cleaner than it had been when I left that morning. And the fact that the house was dramatically cleaner had nothing to do with my own efforts, or even with gnomes; it was because Tuesday is the day that my awesome, very hot housecleaners come, and they clean and shine and mop, and do other things that I really, REALLY hate to do, and they leave my house looking like a commercial for Mr. Clean.
This makes me a spoiled brat. It also makes me the only person who totally loves Tuesdays. Love you, Tuesday!
But it is not all rainbows and sprinkles. Because I am Crazy. See, I am just...not really comfortable with people cleaning up after me, and I am totally territorial about things like dirty clothes. I'm embarrassed if I think the house is too messy, and I'm embarrassed if I get home and discover that the husband part of the couple (who is, incidentally, totally gorgeous, which helps matters not at all) has spent a fun day scraping year-old dust off of my ceiling fans, because...you're supposed to do that? Really? WHY WASN'T I INFORMED?
It drives me crazy. I realize I should get over myself, but I can't help it. It all makes me feel like a failure. I feel like I am failing Homeownership! And soon they will TAKE THE HOUSE AWAY. BECAUSE I DO NOT DUST MY CEILING FANS.
And so, to ADD to the general sense of Crazy that is already occupying my house and mind, I insist on...cleaning. Before the cleaners get there. And I justify this by thinking that no gorgeous man will EVER see a dirty toilet at my house, no matter WHAT I am paying him. I would die of shame. My mother would die of shame. WE WOULD ALL DIE OF SHAME, AND Y'ALL DON'T WANT THAT AT CHRISTMAS, AND SO I HAVE TO CLEAN.
On Monday nights, I always spend at least an hour wandering around, scrubbing toilets and hanging up clothes and putting crap away. However, while I freely admit that the first two tasks are because of the Crazy, the last actually makes some degree of sense.
See, "putting crap away" is a separate thing altogether. Because, if you leave things out, the very hot housecleaners will put them up for you, but there is not a lot of...method, I suppose, in where those things will be placed. The guiding principle behind "putting things away" is "putting them in whatever cabinet/drawer/container is closest, or possibly farthest away, or possibly we toss a coin." I am actually not kidding.
There is no method to this madness. In the past two years, I have accidentally discovered the following items in the following places:
(1) Three pairs of shoes stacked neatly behind the bookshelf;
(2) A portable phone inside a cereal box in the pantry;
(3) The garage door opener in the silverware drawer; and
(4) All of my soup bowls in a bathroom cabinet.
Now. This is like performance art to me. I think the very hot housecleaners are troubled geniuses, and I find it thoroughly fascinating, and it is fun to have a scavenger hunt in your own home. But if you have something you don't want hidden in the crawl space, then it is something to BEAR IN MIND the night before they come.
And so, I bore that in mind on Monday, and that is why I gathered up all of my suits. They'd been tossed onto a bed, waiting to go to the dry cleaners; I didn't want them to end up (a) in the freezer, or (b) buried in the yard, so I threw them into a (c) hamper, tossed the hamper into my closet, and figured all was well.
And then I got home last night.
The house looked awesome, and the very hot housecleaners had left me a thank you note for their Christmas present. And I could tell that they had clearly gone to some extra trouble; they'd even swept the back porch, and I could hear laundry going in the laundry room. THAT IS SO NICE, I was thinking. I love those very hot people!
And I was even more pleased when I went upstairs, and discovered that they had ALSO been so kind as to go through my closet, arranging clothes and hanging things, taking all of the laundry downstairs, and lining up my shoes with a military precision. Damn! I thought. They are so awesome! I am going to call them right now to give them an extra thank you. And then I thought: I wonder where my suits are?
And so I went back downstairs and into the laundry room, where I found the following:
(1) Six wine glasses stacked on the washing machine;
(2) My cell phone charger hung neatly on a coat hanger; and
(3) All of my suits. In the dryer. Drying. Hello.
They had washed my suits. They washed all of my suits. In the washing machine. And then they dried them.
And, you know, I'm not even mad, because I know they were just trying to do something nice for me, and it's my own damn fault for leaving all of the suits in the damn hamper. (They do wash the clothes in the hamper sometimes, and I should have remembered that, so really, it's on me.) So I called them and thanked them, and the female half of the very hot couple was like, "Merry Christmas! We're very hot, and also, we're so glad you're pleased!" And I just looked at all of my suits, all of which would now fit your average toddler, and assured her that, yes. I'm pleased. I'm going to be naked at work for the next week, but I am, indeed, strangely pleased. And I can't WAIT to see what they've put in the freezer.
And that was the beginning of the evening.
So, I got off the phone, and stood there, realizing that all of my suits were ruined, but that the house was very clean, and these facts collided in my brain in such a way that the only conscious thought I could manage was: well, I am not cooking dinner toNIGHT. We are ordering OUT.
7:00: Dukay showed up, and we each poured a glass of wine, and called the cheap Chinese restaurant around the corner to order some dinner. While we waited for the delivery, Dukay put on some holiday music and started a fire in the fireplace, and all of us were feeling pretty warm, and cozy, and accepting of the fact that one of us has no more work clothes, by the time the food arrived.
The doorbell rang and the four dogs responded by experiencing a total of seven aneurysms while I took some plates from the cabinet, and we sat down in front of the tree, studying it intensely ("we need to plan our attack," explained Dukay, who views decorating a Christmas tree as a military operation, happy birthday, Jesus!). Dukay opened the little boxes of food, and I had my forkfull of rice about halfway to my mouth when suddenly, he let out an anguished cry.
"AHHHHHHHHH," said Dukay.
"AHHHHHHHHH," said myself, dropping my fork immediately onto the ground and looking hysterically for the roach I AM SO SURE he just found in his lo mein, but instead, Dukay was pointing at a piece of chicken, glistening in delicious brown sauce, and sporting something both foreign and...shiny.
It was a staple. There was a staple in his chicken.
(See? So shiny, and yet, SO WRONG.)
"There is a staple in my chicken," said Dukay. This phrase would be repeated many more times over the course of the evening.
An emergency staple-ectomy was promptly performed.
But this did not make Dukay feel any better.
So, he called the restaurant and told them: "There is a staple in my chicken."
The restaurant did not believe him.
He tried again. "No, really," he said. "There is a staple. In my chicken."
To which, the restaurant then presented Dukay with its own theory of the case, namely that Dukay had planted the staple in the chicken himself. (As you do.) The restaurant also refused to issue a refund, and informed Dukay that he would have to prove the existence of said staple by bringing the full meal, staple and all, back to the restaurant, and showing it to the manager.
Dukay was perplexed. "But!" he tried. "STAPLE! CHICKEN! IN! MINE!"
And that is when they hung up on him.
Coziness and cheer and warm feelings about the season pretty much...well, they died a violent death at this point, as a raging and cursing Dukay snatched his coat and shoes, tossed the chicken and offending staple into the bag, and stormed out of the house.
8:00: I drank another glass of wine. And, being bored, began taking pictures of stationary objects.
(Like, for example. The table. There's a whole series!)
Fortunately, Dukay returned twenty minutes later, clutching his refund in one hand, and a bag of Chik-Fil-A in the other.
"I AM READY TO BE FESTIVE NOW," he hollered.
"I am going to get you some more wine now," I told him.
Fortunately, after Dukay finished Dinner, Version 2.0 ("now without staples!"), and downed a glass and a half of chardonnay, his mood improved dramatically, and he declared himself ready to start stringing the Christmas lights on the tree.
Which would have been fine, except for the fact that...well. Y'all know! They're Christmas lights! And Christmas lights exist on this earth to serve two purposes, and two purposes only, those being:
(1) to illuminate your tree; and
(2) to spend the rest of the year participating in a sweaty, secret light bulb orgy that causes each strand to become so irrevocably intertwined that upon being opened, they resemble not so much individual cords, but rather one enormous, box-shaped brick of wire, bulb, and bits of last year's tree, MERRY CHRISTMAS, FUCK YOU.
"Hmm," I said, opening the box. "It is a little tangled."
Dukay peeked over my shoulder.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHH" he said, for the second time that evening.
I settled myself down on the ground, pulling the child-sized mass of lights and cords into my lap, and began the untangling process. Sighing resignedly, Dukay sat down next to me.
8:05 - 11:00: We untangled. And we untangled. AND WE UNTANGLED. Dukay was thrilled.
When the final knot was unkinked, and the final cord untied, Dukay stood and gazed at the strands of lights strewn across the den.
"Do we get breaks?" he asked.
"NO." I told him. "THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE MERRY. WE DO NOT TAKE BREAKS. YOU DRINK MORE WINE."
And that is when I got my brilliant idea.
"Dukay!" I said. "Know what we should do?"
He looked at me hopefully. "Take a break?" he asked.
"NO. We should choose an ornament. And it will be the first one we put on the tree, and it will be the LAST one we take off the tree, and we'll do it every year."
"Okay," he said.
"And it shall be this ornament," I continued, picking up a plastic box. "This ornament, that is shaped like the Bumble from the furry-claymation television version of Rudolph, where the girl reindeer has the long eyelashes and I think a little bow and Rudolph's dad is a TOTAL ASSHOLE."
(Don't you know about Bumbles? Bumbles bounce!)
"Okay," he said.
"And we shall always hang the Bumble first, and we shall always put away the Bumble last, and even if I die and you have to go find a new woman to fulfill your manly needs, you shall take this ornament with you and you shall, for the rest of your life, observe the rules I have created here tonight, Amen."
Dukay looked at me like I had lost my mind.
"JESUS GOD CHRIST," he said. "IT IS A BUMBLE ORNAMENT. YOU KIND OF NEED TO CALM DOWN."
And, you know. Maybe he was right. But that doesn't make me wrong. Because, people? THIS IS HOW TRADITIONS BEGIN. Yes. I have figured it out.
It starts with someone who finds a staple in his chicken, and then leaves his girlfriend, who has no work clothes, at home with unrestricted access to the wine, and then she comes up with what can best be described as a random, illogical, and totally inconvenient system for performing a holiday task. This task is repeated, out of a misplaced sense of irony and "humor" for several years, until all of a sudden it has become this Whole Thing, and the Bumble ornament takes on heirloom quality significance, and my grandchildren will BATTLE over this ornament, people, like there will be name-calling and hair-pulling, but then the whole thing will prove to be for naught when some poor great-great-grandchild drops The Esteemed Mister Bumble and it shatters into forty thousand heirloom pieces, and his mother will sob and the child will have to seek THERAPY, because WAY TO RUIN CHRISTMAS, JUNIOR, and YES. THAT IS HOW TRADITION IS BORN.
Seriously. Why not start one today? Generations of guilt can be yours for just $4.99! From Target!
AND SO! I hung my Bumble with pride. And then we decorated the rest of the poor, poor Christmas tree.
Do you like our red 'n green Christmas boxes? Do you like that we coordinate our storage with the season? Do you know why I am dressed like it is July? Do you know why I am wearing a headband? Do you have any wine? Will you give me some?
Okay, seriously now, we have to return to the matter of the headband. It is cracking me up. I love the thing, which I purchased at that craft fair ('member that?), but could I look like more of an idiot? No. I really could not. I look like I'm about to lead a group of overprivileged girl scouts into the wilds of a Holiday Inn somewhere. I look like I'm a fake little hippie chick trying to impress my new boyfriend who TOTALLY LOVES Widespread Panic. I look like I'm California dreamin'! On such a winter's day! IN SHORT, I LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT.
(Not that I am not wearing it...right now. And not that I intend to take it off. Shh.)
And so, after many full minutes of decorating, and wandering around the den APPARENTLY LOOKING LIKE AN IDIOT, and someone saying, "What? I'm HELPing by taking PICtures," we finally stood back, and admired the finished product.
(Tree is all dressed now! Yay, no-longer-naked-tree! We are happy things worked out for you in the end.)
And after all that excitement and drama, it looked pretty damn good. And Dukay and I smiled, and wished each other a merry Christmas, and toasted to our accomplishment. Then we sat back on the sofa, forgetting about ruined suits and staples in chicken, barking Gimmmes and heirloom Bumbles, and for just a little while, we enjoyed the season in silence.
Until the fighting robots showed up.
And really, FOUR HUNDRED PAGES LATER: that's how we've been. Running around, worried about little things, trying to make everything perfect, and freaking out in the process. But it all keeps on working out in the end. It's so...Christmas!
Happy holidays, everyone; two days until I am an elf. So I imagine I'll speak with you again very soon. And I promise to leave out the fighting robots.