Worse Than War Criminals

I’m going to kill Santa Claus— cart him to the guillotine in a tumbrel, and then carry his head through town on a pike. I mean it. That damned red-nosed reindeer will be sausage. Why is his nose red? Because he’s a drunk. His real name is O’Toole. He emigrated to the North Pole under a forged visa.

I can’t stand it. The entire United States has become on vast elevator, with lame carols raining down like a musical sewage-outflow. Barely musical. There’s no escape. Ringdingchingading, Dingdingchingaring, Santa Claus is coming to…a bad end, if I catch the rascal. I’ll hang him on fish hooks.

Why do we put up with this saccharine compulsory gaiety? I’m dreeeem-ing of a …aaagh! It would drive shellfish to wear ear plugs. But we don’t just tolerate commercial leminghood. We congratulate ourselves on it. News reports tell us excitedly how sales compare with last year’s. Television clips show people pawing at bins in low-end slop chutes, dropping half on the floor.

I want to strangle something. Bring me a duck.

All that tiresome yodeling about things that most people wouldn’t recognize if they tripped over one. Half the public couldn’t tell a reindeer from a hat rack. A one-horse open sleigh? Probably nobody alive has ever seen a sleigh, or, many of them, a horse. It’s ersatz nostalgia for a world we never knew. Buy something.

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Actually there may be hope. Christmas (as it was once called) is the suicide season, when people get depressed and off themselves right and left. You could probably make money with a cyanide concession: Here’s your pill, now go into the alley, would you? Suicide suggests taste. It is a reasonable response to jollity contrived at corporate.

Of course people kill themselves. They’re lonely folk trying to engage in obligatory cheer that doesn’t work, while imagining that everyone else is simmering in the warmth and love that they see in the commercials. In truth people seldom like each other that much, which shows good judgement.

What you actually have is, on Christmas morning, bored and spoiled children opening package after package without interest. Oh yeah, a CD of Klok Mortuary and the Gadarene Swine, already got it from Limewire. A fluorescent iPod cover that changes colors when you turn it, whoopee-do. The whole thing is a fraud, a sad swindle, an ordeal.

It is, however, a splendid example of Pavlovian conditioning. Pavlov is usually revered for torturing dogs, but he should be placed in a larger framework, as an early marketer. Americans hear ringdingchingading and their eyes glaze over. Yes, they think…yes, must buy…something. Urg. It doesn’t matter what they buy: A ghastly sweater for Aunt Sally, reduced because it would embarrass an aboriginal in the Amazon rain forest; an espresso-maker for Cousin Richard, because…well, because it’s fifty-percent off, and, who knows, Richard might like espresso.

You see these automatons issuing from department stores groaning under things they didn’t want to buy, for people they usually don’t like, who don’t want whatever was bought for them. “What can we buy for Uncle Fritter, who we’d rather never hear from again but he just won’t die? Oh, look. Soap in the shape of a cute little burro. Just the thing.”

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What used to be Christmas, and was a joyous celebration of Mithra’s birthday, or the solstice, or something else reasonable, has become the Winter Holidays or, more candidly, the Winter Shopping Season. It no longer has anything to do with Christianity, which has gone flaccid in the suburbs and in the heartland consists of lunatics waiting to be Raptured up to heaven as by a giant godly Hovermatic. You can’t call it Christmas. We must observe the constitutional separation of church and retail.

This fool business has apparently become the foundation of the American economy. I have read that without Holiday sales, retailers of things nobody in his right mind ought to want would go out of business. That’s a lot of retailers. I’m for it. I mean, how many ugly ties can the Republic stand?

We’re in trouble, I tell you. You think it’s the sub-prime crisis? Nah. The holiday shopping season is going to do us in. We might stop doing it. The country is as force-fed as a pt goose with Holiday bottles of shaving lotion and remaindered blouses, and if people stop gobbling, it’s all over. Ask yourself: Without the Shopping Season and high-pressure advertising, who would buy much of anything? Suppose that Apple Computer couldn’t advertise, but just put its new hiss-crackles on its web site? Why isn’t this reasonable? If you felt a compulsion to own an iPod with thirty-seven buttons and a sonar-depth-finder, you could. But you’d have to want the thing enough to look for it. Ha. The economy would croak louder than an opera bullfrog. Wouldn’t need a fat lady.

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Actually I knew the world was coming to an end when I read a Holiday copy of Sky Mall, that catalog they put in the seat pockets of airliners. In these magazines they don’t sell watches. No. Watches are low-demographic, for people with protruding orbital ridges. In Sky Mall, the things are Time Pieces, a phrase redolent of toney elegance and upscale antiquity. This is so that an executive — actually a bulk-lot salesman of cheap suits, desperate to conceal lower-middle-class origins but not sure how — will buy a three-dollar Hong Kong watch for three hundred green ones, so as to distinguish himself from lower forms of life. If there are any. Trilobites maybe, or tubeworms.

“Time Pieces” was bad enough. But there was worse: a wooden box, with four holes in it. In it you put your collection of Time Pieces, which, being the superior sort of being that you are, you would have. (Was that a sentence?) There was a little motor under the box to rock the Timepieces back and forth. Remember self-winding watches? This thing would keep four of them wound. You know, your collection of antique gold Rolexes. You could put one on each wrist and ankle, I suppose.

That’s Christmas. A great mistake. I think the Romans had it right. Worship Magna Mater, drink yourself silly, and hold a tauroboleum. There’s certainly enough bull around.

Tell you what, people. I’m the crack of economic doom. I’m not going to buy anything. I’m going to spend Christmas — I still call it that, no offense to Mithra — at home, with Vi and Natalia, three useless dogs and four cats, a good blaze in the fireplace, and not one lone forlorn iPod. Maybe we’ll invite Tom the Robot and, well, other curious folk. Natalia makes a wicked margarita like she invented the idea. We’ll listen to Scheherazade and Loretta Lynn (well, Scheherazade doesn’t actually sing) and tell lies and if anyone comes near with a cute burro made of soap, just the thing for Uncle Fritter, we’ll feed the sumbitch to the dogs.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest book is Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit his blog.

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