‘Tis The Season

The three ghosts, Christmas Past, Christmas Now, and Christmas Future, aren’t coming to my manor for a visit this year. Not because I had some great change in my personality. I never did find my giving and loving self. Oh sure, I bought a turkey one time after my first haunting. A couple of farthings of supermarket turkey is hardly a profound change of demeanor. And the kid nearly lost an eye when I tossed the roll of farthings to him from the second-story window to fetch it.
I like those guys. I affectionately call them CP, CN, and CF. I ask around. I discover that the reason they aren’t coming is that they were let go. I asked CP what happened because he knows the past and if anyone could tell me what happened, it would be him. He told me, “Failure to successfully meet any of the mission objectives.”
So I figure this year, I will go and visit each of them. Maybe I will scare the hell of them for a change, it might just cheer them up.

I start Christmas eve over at CP’s place. I have to knock, of course. I don’t get to just pop into the middle of someone’s past like he does.
He’s in his usual black robe. It’s the past that’s dead, not the future, at least not the part we care about. He lets me in. The place is coated with cobweb and dusty memories.
“Ebenboooozer! Ebenbooooozer!” he wails. “Come in.”
“Hey CP. Nice place. Love what you’ve done with it.” I brush some cobwebs out of the way. They stick to my hand. I try shaking them off. I cough in the dust.
“You should get yourself a maid. You know, someone that can come around every once in a while and give the place a real deep clean.”
CP’s eyes would have rolled in his skeletal face if he actually had any eyes. “It doesn’t really work that way. You can’t just scrub out your memories,” he says.
“Anyway, sorry to hear about the job. Maybe I could write a five-star review for you or something. If you think it would help?”
CP wags his bony finger at me. “It wouldn’t have much credibility. I mean you still haven’t changed.”
“I feel bad about that. It’s not your fault. Look what you were up against. I mean sure, you have guilt and regret on your side. But how does that stand up against compound interest? You know I was watching a TV show on so-called financial advisors the other day and the show informed me I wasn’t just losing a few bucks here and there on every commission but because of compound interest, I was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in future earnings. The quarter I gave twenty years ago is costing me a thousand bucks today. How can I give when it’s going to cost me a million dollars? You want to scare the shit out of someone, you should go into that business. You really gotta up your game if you want to compete against compound interest, the most powerful force on the planet. Einstein said that and Einstein discovered gravity and quantum physics.”
CP sits down on a wooden stool. He looks sullen and defeated. “I would like you to leave now.”

It’s not a long stretch to get from the past to the present. I knock on CN’s door. I have to knock of course. I don’t get to pop in all invisible, like a peeping tom.
“Ebenboooozer! Ebenbooooozer!” They all say it like that. Force of habit I guess. “Come in.”
“Hey CN.” CN is in full holiday regalia, decked out as if he were jolly old Santa Claus himself. He is stuffing himself with cookies and milk, maybe from Trader Joe’s. He drinks the milk straight out of the carton. He offers me the carton and what little is left. He mixes it with an aperitif.
I refuse slightly disgusted. “Dude, have some respect for your body. You ought to get a personal trainer or something. You’re letting your body go to hell.”
“I don’t have a body,” he counters. “And turning you around was my ticket to the good place. But thanks to your stubbornness that didn’t turn out so well.” He puts down the aperitif glass and picks up a candle.
“I feel bad about that. I wish there was something I could do to help. It’s not your fault. Look what you were up against. I mean sure, you have compassion and altruism on your side. But how does that stand up against marketing? I mean the whole Christmas thing doesn’t even make sense anymore. You have to buy stuff to give and the people that you buy the stuff from are the ones that are guilting you into giving so they can make a profit. You don’t hold a candle to those guys when it comes to the fear of gifting. You should take some marketing classes or get some training. Maybe you could use some of that hypocrisy in your hauntings next year?”
CN puts down the candle shaking his head no. He looks a little paler than before.
“Can’t you bend the means a little bit to achieve a good end?” I ask.
“No. The means to the end matter. It’s in the by-laws.” He falls back onto the chair. He looks a little shaken. “I would like you to leave now.”

The path to the future is uncertain and I’m running out of time. The evening is almost over. I finally find CF’s place. Or one possible future’s place. There’s a bunch of them. I’m not entirely sure this is the right one. It’s not like I can see into the future. I knock on the door.
CF answers. “Ebenboooozer! Ebenbooooozer! Come in,” she croons, slightly more pleasant than her predecessors. Her appearance changes as fast as the thoughts in my head. Sometimes she looks seductively beautiful; other times she looks like she just rolled out of bed.
“Hey CF.” I enter and inspect my surroundings. “I thought you would have had a much nicer place with all your knowledge of the future. More futuristic. You know metallic and shiny and minimalist in an expensive kind of way.”
“Well that seems uncalled for,” she complains. “I might have a nicer place if I still had a job. No thanks to you.”
“Yeah, sorry about the job. Maybe I could write a five-star review for you or something. If you think it would help?”
“Nah, don’t worry. I mean this is just one possible future of many.”
“I wish there was something I could do to help. It’s not your fault. Look what you were up against. I mean sure, you have decency and hope on your side. But how does that stack up against marketing and capitalism? Did you know that if a group of people plays a game where you win 20% over what you already have or lose 20% of what you already have in every one-on-one encounter, only one person will emerge as the winner, even if they start under the exact same conditions. You’re lucky to win with a fair deck. And we aren’t playing against a fair deck.”
“Be quiet. I order you to be quiet,” she raises her voice.
“Order me? Really? You got to come with more than that. Haha. Order me. That’s kind of cute. This place may be one possible future but the other 99.9% of the futures look a lot like this one. Maybe you oughtta take a course in economics? You’d make a great professor. And you might learn some better tactics.”
Her image seems to settle on a beaten-down middle-aged woman. She takes a shot and lights up a cigarette. “I think you should go now.”

An apparition appears to me in the morning. I’m a little bit groggy. Usually, the apparition appears before the ghosts come. “You did it!” the apparition moans ecstatically.
“Did what?” I ask.
“CP, CN, and CF have their jobs back. I’ve never seen them look so terrifying and determined. They sent me to thank you. They’d come themselves but there is still time for a few posts- Christmas hauntings. What did you say to them?”
“I just gave them a little encouragement is all.”
“It was a very nice gift.”
“‘Tis the season.”

The Gift of Giving

Claxons blare and a red siren’s red light circles the room in earnest. The service dispatcher runs to the monitor, checks the screen, and says “Oh, my!” He picks up his microphone, depresses the button, and broadcasts, “We have a Christmas emergency over on Clayton Street. We still have a few hours before Christmas. Do I have a host that can run over there immediately?”

“What’s the nature of the emergency?” answers back an idle host.

“An old man writing down the ROI of his Christmas gifts.”

“Oh, my! What’s wrong with all these old men? I got this. I’m on my way. What’s his twenty?”

Continue reading “The Gift of Giving”

Christmas Spirits

It is Christmas eve. Three ghosts have RSVP’d to my card game. They come every year. In years past, they came with all the theatrics of time travel, teleportation, and chroniton phasing. At first, it scared the hell out of me. But over the years, I have adjusted to it to the point where I tried to feign fear and intimidation so as not to offend the egos of my ephemeral antagonists. I think my mock gestures just angered them. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just wanted to respect their talents. But, I came clean and said it just wasn’t working for me anymore. At first, they just redoubled their efforts and I continued to play along. Finally, the realization sank in. It takes a lot of energy to muck around with primal forces of the universe. So now they just come over and play cards. I am glad that they still come. It means that I still have lots to learn about how to live and they still think it is worth the effort to come over and inform me.

As usual, Christmas Past shows up first. CP wears the black robes, has the bony fingers, and a skeletal face. He is not much of a fashion leader. Most people mistake him for Christmas Future. But the future is not dead, the past is: you can’t undo it, you can’t unexperience it, or unlive it. I see life and death in the face of CP depending on the lighting. In a good light, the past breaths life into the future; in a bad light, the past suffocates us, drowns us, chokes us, keeps us from all the opportunities of the future. I sit him directly under the ceiling light and to my immediate left.

Christmas Now shows up next. CN is the spitting image of St. Nick himself. He wears a red Santa hat with its cottony ball hanging over the side by his ear. His beard is patched gray and his face just a bit more weathered than last year. He fills out his red suit nicely this year not with the fat of joylessness but with the stuffing of experiences. When he laughs, it is less like a bowl full of jelly and more like the shudder of a person strangely confronted with a very old memory that he would rather not confront.

Finally, Christmas Future shows up. CF is always late. As she walks through the door, her outfit changes faster than a genius Thaumoctopus mimicus eluding an underwater predator, as fast as the thoughts in my head, as fast as the actions I take. Sometimes she looks seductively beautiful; other times she looks like she just rolled out of bed.

My guests take their place at the square table. I pour spirits for the spirits. CP likes the hard stuff; CN like the beer; and the lady likes the wine. CF and CP face off against CN and myself. CF, sitting to my right, cuts the cards. I size up my card-playing friends. CP has the strange habit, whenever he wins a round, he keeps the cards face up. You can always see what was played. I have to keep a very watchful eye on CF. CF cheats. She knows the future, or at least a possible future. Better to keep her guessing. My partner is CN. We actually have to use observation, strategy, and tactics to win. If we don’t learn from the past, and keep an eye on the future, we will lose. Game on!

CP plays the first card. He plays the kid card. Christmas has many meanings, but to me, it has always been about either being a kid or providing a Christmas for my kids. Christmas might be one of the greatest conspiracies ever propagated on this planet. Adults the world over lie to their children. Eventually kids figure it out. If they are really clever, they figure it out and don’t tell their parents that they have figured it out so they can keep receiving copious presents. Kids grow up and most decide to propagate the conspiracy. I think back to my youth. I don’t remember any specific Christmas. I just remember that my mom always made sure the stockings were stuffed and the floor covered with presents for all. We had to take turns opening. On a good Christmas, it would take at least an hour to open all the presents. Jocelyn and I always have a live tree with plenty of presents. When Brooke was two, and I didn’t think she would remember what Christmas was because the last Christmas she was just one and two months old, I brought out the ornaments and I showed her a Santa ornament, she said “Ho Ho Ho”. I remember when Brooke was starting to question the conspiracy and getting savvy. I took a shoe into the fire place ashes and made a trail from the fireplace to the tree. In the morning, she followed the trail and I think Christmas survived for one more year. Damn. CP didn’t play the kid card. CP played the nostalgia card. I lose the first two rounds, one to my own childhood and one to the childhood of my children.

CF leads. She shows me a future of my friends sitting around with their families enjoying Christmas. I am not in any of these images. I am sitting at home watching Christmas specials by myself with no tree and no presents like it is just another day. It is a cold, lonely Christmas future. Her bright, white dress changes to dull grey sweats. She flashes to my friends. All my grinchy friends sit at the head of their tables, their hearts having grown three sizes that day, serving up Who Hash and Roast Beast, to a festive party of their children with all their grandchildren, caroling their Christmas songs hand in hand. Damn. CF played the self-pity card. I didn’t recognize it soon enough. I lose another round.

CN and I get the lead. CN plays. CN plays the Christmas card. I sit in a chair, by myself, saying Bah Humbug! Christmas! It looks a lot like the CF lead. I probably could of invited myself to someone’s house tonight. I’m pretty good at inviting myself over to my friend’s houses, taking the crumbs from my friend’s mouses. But I don’t. I would feel like an intruder on this day when they should be with their families. CN misplayed his hand. I will have my time, it just is delayed a little bit. Christmas is a time and a spirit. But the time is flexible and my family comes from all over. Soon Max, Brooke, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my nieces will all be here. Another lost round. These damn ghosts are getting the best of me, even the one that is supposed to be on my side. I fill up all their drinks to triple strength.

My play. I size up my opponents. The past and the present have a trajectory to the future. And the future has both the face of the trajectory that I am on and the trajectory that I want to be on. My hand has aces and trump but it requires that it must be played creatively. I want to chose a path where I don’t confuse alone with loneliness. I want to chose a path where I embrace creativity over security. I want to chose a path where I bring happiness and joy to the people I care about and maybe even people that I don’t know. I want to think outside myself. I want my ghostly spirits to befriend me, not haunt me. I want to live big not simple. I see CP in the best light. I see CF in a bright, beautiful dress. I see CN as a vibrant, creative, alive spirit that embraces the ambiguity of the future.

I pour myself a drink. And play the next card.