I have a problem.
I love Christmas.
I love the lights. I love the smells. I love how happy everyone pretends to be. I love it so much that I’m already thinking about it. I love it so much, I’m willing to skip over Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving in order to set up the little white tinsel tree at work.
Also, I love my dog so much, it’s stupid.
When I was six, or somewhere around there, my mother pulled me aside and explained to me that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
I believe this is a right of passage for every Jewish American kid. The first indication that you’re not like other children, that you have a secret knowledge not all youngsters are privy to. That that special day of family and food, opening presents, and singing nice songs about jingling bells and a flying fat man, are for other people. And not for you.
“Don’t tell the other children,” she warned.
I held the secret of Santa Claus deep in the chambers of my heart, locked away in a strong box, deeply saddened by the absence of that great man.
Though, for a few years, I did try to sneak him cookies. Just in case.
How I wished he would stop by and say hello.
I never spoke of him. Not a single word. Until one day, decades later, the pull became too great and I commenced writing a holiday script.
It’s called Repo Santa.
I believe it’s one of my finest works.
I have another problem.
Plastic shopping bags.
Though those troublesome wastes of petroleum have their uses – household garbage, namely, if you don’t keep a handle on them, they multiply like kangaroos.
Other ways to cull the plastic bag collection: abandon them at the dog run for other bag-trodden dog owner to use, wrap presents, create insulation, make art, stuff pillows.
Even if you’re determined, as I am, to avoid the plastic shopping bag situation, they find you at your weakest points and insinuate themselves back into your life.
With one comes another. And another. And another. They’re unstoppable.
It happened like this:
My plastic bag collection was at a dramatic low. On one hand, I was triumphant, having put to re-use the last of my plastic bags. On the other hand, I now had a different problem to solve. I had no disposable vessels in which to deposit my trash, send it down the garbage shoot and out of my life.
I mentioned my dilemma at work. And, well, someone had more plastic bags in the trunk of their car than they knew what to do with.
– I’ll take a few, I said.
– I’ll bring you an entire bag. They are taking over my car.
– Just a few will get me by, I said.
The next day, she gave me with bodaciously overloaded yellow plastic shopping bag full of bags.
I hung my head and said:
– Thank you.
I decided to keep the bag of bags under my desk at work. I’d whittle the collection down week to week, taking what only what was needed.
Furthermore, I developed a plastic bag plan.
I would use the plastic bags for the good of all mankind. Each morning, when I walked my dog, I would fill one plastic bag with litter.
I had my limits, of course. I wouldn’t pick up anything that would give a disease, for instance. I would be a ninja super-hero litter lady – as cool as the Guatemalan woman in my neighborhood who collects cans very morning in her fedora, but in secret.
It wasn’t hard at first. During the summer, my dog and I wake up with the sun. The streets are quiet. I didn’t want anyone to see.
I had my spots – a tree well that, for some reason, collects bottles and candy wrappers, the ramp into the park, where I can pluck cups and cans from the ledges without anyone noticing, and the bushes and beaches by the river, where a Schlitz beer loving band of merry-makers likes to leave their mark.
The plastic bag plan was going gangbusters.
But, summer’s ended. The sun rises later. And when we walk, we walk while children go to school, adults leave for work, and superintendents sweep the sidewalks. For a while, I persevered in the open, for all to see, my yellow plastic shopping bag swinging from my wrist.
But eventually, I lost heart.
I explain my tragic defeat to Nikki.
She doesn’t understand.
– You know how people are, I say.
– Someone will get mad at me for picking up trash. And then they’ll circle me until someone throws a rotten tomato at my head and yells “fuck you, litter lady, fuck you.”
– That’s what I would do.
– “Who do you think you are,” they’d taunt. They’d think I was some snooty person telling them how to live. Insist that they like their litter just where it is. If they didn’t want the litter there, they would put it in the trash. A poet among them will say that kicking through trash is the urban equivalent of the crunching of dried leaves in autumn. I have to do it in ninja-style or not at all.
– Or maybe the bag idea would go viral.
I shake my head.
– I don’t want to be famous. I just like picking up trash.
In my holiday script, Santa Claus (NIck) is semi-retired in South Florida, the elf jobs have been shipped overseas, Mrs. Claus is running overseas operations. and many, though not all, of the stateside elves work at Rudemart Department Store stocking shelves.
It’s nearly Christmas, Santa’s slightly depressed. His sleigh goes missing off the streets of his gated community. He goes to find it. An innocent in a big bad world, he teams up with Duke Roughstone, the rightful heir to the Rudemart corporation who lost his controlling share to his brother during a game of Mousetrap when he was eight, to become a home appliance repo-man on a pre-holiday repo-race. The prize, a share of Rudemart stock, will tilt ownership of the store back to Duke.
Santa’s unique skill set ( i.e. he’s a whiz at packing and getting in and out of tight spaces) is an asset to the job. but when he finds out that he’s been conned, that he’s ruining a lot of people’s Christmases by repossessing their toaster ovens, he loses heart.
In the end, it all works out. Everyone gets their appliances back. Christmas is saved.
It’s a holiday story after all.
And I love Christmas.
Also, I love my dog so much it’s stupid.