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December 28th, 2010:

Tripwander: The Ghost of Christmas Presents


Christmas in Chicago is always aerobic, and this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and gather impressions, now that we’re packed and ready to hop a plane. In seven short days I chauffered, shopped, entertained small girls, repaired a planter that needed deck screws and Plastic Wood, fixed computer problems, wrapped innumerable presents, unwrapped (different) innumerable presents, and ate far, far too much sugar.

KongSnowman300Wide.jpgFirst bit of advice? Don’t mess with small white dogs. The Pack has been with Jimi this trip, but Carol’s sister Kathy has a ten-pound Maltese, and Wrigley received two dog toys for Christmas. One was a stuffed squeaky dinosaur that was all but guaranteed by its maker to be unshreddable by dogs. The other was a Christmas Kong snowman toy made of the same stuff that luggage straps are made of, and certainly looked like nothing short of a machete would take it down.

Ha! I use the word “was” deliberately and with emphasis. It took Wrigley less than 24 hours to chew the squeaker out of the unshreddable dino, leaving a hole that suggested an alien bursting its way out from the vicinity of the poor thing’s kidneys. The Kong snowman lasted a little longer, but 36 hours post-Christmas, its squeaky plastic core lay exposed, and Carol had to remove its innards to keep Wrigley from swallowing them.

We did a lot of visiting and probably more eating than we should have. On the way to see our nephew Matt’s flashy new apartment, I drove past my high school (Lane Tech) for the first time in over twenty years. The building itself hasn’t changed since I graduated in 1970, but the neighborhood is now almost unrecognizable. The “tech supply” stores where we bought drafting paper and bow compasses are gone, perhaps because Lane is less technical than it used to be, or perhaps because French curves are now draggable splines in a CAD document. The legendary Riverview amusement park (behind Lane Tech and still in operation until my sophomore year) is now a drab retail center.

Sic transit, and all that.

Transit? Uggh. The weather was hideous (clearly due to anthropogenic global whining, or perhaps unsustainable xenon dioxide emissions) and I had a rental car peculiarly unsuited to snow and ice: a lumbering Nissan Altima with rear wheel drive, grabby brakes, and a keyless key fob with an un-guarded panic button that will go off if left in your pocket with anything stiffer than a glob of rice pudding.

My nieces gave me a Pillow Pet shaped like a penguin, which I suspect will be useful for leaning on while I mark up manuscripts, or simply as a laptop cushion for a lap that doesn’t have much inherent cushioning. I can see it parked on the back of my big reading chair, staring down at QBit, but therein lies some danger: QBit, like Mr. Byte before him, doesn’t like artifacts with eyes, and we’re going to have to be careful that he doesn’t drag the plush creature off to his lair to shred at leisure. (At least the penguin doesn’t have a squeaker.) Like I said, don’t mess with small white dogs.

It was abundantly good to see family again, and partake of vigilia on Christmas Eve with my sister, Bill, and her girls, complete with piles of pierogi and Manischewitz sweet wine, just like we did it in the Sixties. Christmas Day at Kathy’s brought us cookies, key lime pie, ham, Hawaiian salad, potato bake, bean salad (which I heard was very good) apple and pecan pie, and much more.

It’s a little late, but better late than never, and no less sincere for that: Merry Christmas to you and yours from Carol and me and the Pack. There’s much to be said and done in the coming year, if we can get past this bruiser of a winter and remember what really matters: freedom, family, and friendship. I’ll give it my best shot if you’ll give it yours!