I'm not Christian, so a fat guy delivering presents for Jesus was alway a difficult concept to wrap my head around as a kid. What's the deal with the North Pole? Jesus was from the Middle East. There were no reindeer in any of the manger pictures or lawn displays I'd see. Is the flying sled motorized? Christmas spirit? So Christians are only good in December when they're worried about some list that involves getting coal? What? What!
None of the kids I asked seemed to have answers to my questions that sounded at all reasonable.
I sat on Santa's lap only once when I was five. I pretty much decided he was bogus when I had to wait in line for 40 minutes to talk to him and he then didn't make good on my requests for a pony or a talking dog.
As an adult, I do believe that I have a friend in Jesus, but the whole Naughty or Nice secular aspect of the holiday continues to bug me. Is there any wonder why Christians continue to behave horribly if Santa's punishment for being bad is coal and onion-filled socks? If that's all there is to having no Christmas Spirit then I say bring it on, fat guy.
Recently, I discovered the joys of adult pen pals. I have sent books, Star Trek figurines and a pocket guide to the mercury content in common sushi fish to several people who I've met through my internet travels. In return, I've received Bakelite buttons, trash-picked yarn and a vintage sink from people who would be strangers to me were it not for our shared love of saving the planet from an over-packaged consumerist culture.
Today I'm sending the entire series of SISTER WENDY'S STORY OF PAINTING on videocassette to my pal in Bakersfield. For those of you who don't know who Sister Wendy is, she's a Consecrated Virgin (as opposed to all those nuns who are, apparently, getting action), who also happens to be a brilliant art critic. The two hours every day that she doesn't spend in monastic solitude and prayer, are spent enthusiastically lisping through her English bucked teeth (I know, "English bucked teeth" is redundant) about such things as "the wonderfully fluffy pubic hair" in one of Stanley Spencer's paintings.
I heart Sister Wendy.
My pal in Bakersfield is loyal to her VCR. She doesn't own a DVD player. She's also, by her own description, a "conservative Christian." It's these two reasons why I think SISTER WENDY is the perfect surprise gift for her. She really is a nice, Christian lady who is devoted to her grandkids and her church. But we really are very different. If I'd met her on the street, I doubt that we'd be friends. So I'm glad we didn't meet there. In cyber space we were able to put aside our generation gap, our religious differences, and our politics and have great conversations about environmental issues every day. So I think it's only appropriate, that on Black Monday, retail's biggest internet shopping day of the year, that I send my friend a not-so-secret Santa gift of lightly used videos. She's got Christmas Spirit year around.
NOVEMBER 30, 2009
I just got a thank you email for my pal in Bakersfield for the SISTER WENDY videos that arrived today! Those guys at the post office are on it. Unfortunately, her VCR now appears to be broken so she won't be able to watch the videos. And because she's a nice person and a good environmentalist, she asks if it is okay to send the videos to a friend with a VCR.
Of course this is okay. But I also happen to have an extra VCR in my house which I immediately offer to mail to her. And because she's a nice person, she insists on paying for my old, unused VCR. I flat out refuse. "Don't be ridiculous," I write back, "It's my treat." She refuses to back down. "Let me pay for the postage then. I INSIST." She fires back.
I'm sure the all caps is not a typo and this is my pal putting her foot down. Which I imagine makes a satisfying clacking noise as she stomps her sensible, low-heeled church shoes that I'm certain she wears.
Luckily, we're communicating via email so she doesn't notice the odd pause in the conversation while I contemplate her footwear and have the following tweaker conversation with myself:
TWEAKER SELF: "Well, if I let her pay for the postage for the VCR then that really does negate the whole point of the not-so-secret Santa gift of the SISTER WENDY videos. It's not a gift is she has to pay for it. "
TWEAKER SELF: "But if she feels guilty that I'm spending too much money on her, then it really takes the fun out of the gift too. Why does she have to be such a nice Christian lady?"
TWEAKER SELF: "Also she wrote "I INSIST" in all caps which means that arguing with her will also negate the gift so it will no longer be a nice gesture to her, but an annoying one.
TWEAKER SELF: "Why does my mental image of her include a red pant suit and white patent shoes? She's not Mrs. Clause. Or James Brown."
TWEAKER SELF: "At least the phrase "Conservative Christian" still evokes for me an image of Tammy Faye Baker and not Sarah Palin. What was I just thinking about? Oh yeah, the VCR."
TWEAKER SELF: "I can't count the not-so-secret Santa gift of the videos as a nice gesture because her nice gesture back to me about the VCR makes my nice gesture not so nice."
TWEAKER SELF: "I can't believe I just had that thought. Just having that thought means the videos don't count as my nice act of yesterday because I'm arguing with my pal just so I can still count it. That's so lame.
I email my pal in Bakersfield back and tell her that I'm going to mail her the VCR and have no idea what the postage will cost until I get to the post office (which is true). So, she will just have to wait until the package arrives to see how much she owes for postage, even though she totally does not have to reimburse me. Or anything.
I'm hoping at the post office they'll have a way of franking the package so it's impossible to tell how much the postage cost.
Is it still nice if I have to resort to devious ways of ensuring that I'm not out-niced?