Change comes slowly in my home at Christmastime, as well it should. Bing Crosby, Mel Tormé, Perry Como? All welcome. Homemade Buckeyes? Don’t mention ‘em unless you’ve got ‘em. So naturally I had some questions when this Elf on the Shelf phenomenon foisted itself on me. I mean, fine for Christmas in Volgograd, but inviting a network of wooden spies into my home to report on my children’s behavior to some red apparatchik? Sounds downright un-American. My wife assured me the elves were collaborators only in good cheer, and you’ve got to trust the ones you love. She was after all right that Minnie Driver wasn’t sending me coded messages in the parts she picked.
So I relented. More than relented. I whispered lovingly to her that I myself would perch the elf somewhere once the kids were asleep. This was a big deal, my personally lifting a finger to deck the halls at a time when neither cable nor internet was out. Of course, I assumed the little pixie would be the Elf I Can Easily Find By Myself, and not the Elf That May As Well Be on A Bender With Three Vegas Showgirls For All I Know. But I owned this problem and I had to do something: soon my kids would be awake. I found the partially chewed lead from Toy Story and cloaked him in a smallish red sweatshirt. I think the little ones bought Woody in a Hoodie, my improvised Yuletide tale.
You know who wasn’t amused? The missus. It’s the little things you pick up on after years of marriage. The furrowed brow. The pursed lips. The phrase “you’re an idiot.” Her point was words matter, or they should, when spoken by responsible adults. She was unhappy. I could see it. Mr. Magoo could see it. When the kids left for school I was vulnerable to the dreaded hammer of marital justice. Like guy-in-a-bathrobe-who-opens-his-front-door-to-get-the-morning-paper-at-the-very-moment-police-at-the-wrong-address-force-entry-via-battering-ram vulnerable. But then a Christmas miracle occurred, right in our kitchen. Not the hammer of justice but the feather of mercy, in the form of a prescription drug commercial on television whose tagline – I have asthma, but asthma doesn’t have me — proved once and for all that nobody means what they say anymore:
Constance (well-heeled, middle-aged Greenwich type, walking through Central Park in autumn, always autumn): Hello there, Tyler.
Tyler: Constance, what a surprise! You look fantastic. (Stoops to end of her leash) What’s this – King Charles Spaniel?
Constance: Why no, Tyler, that’s my asthma. You see, I have asthma, but asthma doesn’t have me.
Excuse me? It seems that you are talking and I am listening precisely because asthma does have you. If this were a distinction worth making, wouldn’t doctors regularly diagnose patients this way, be done with it and onto the first tee at Burning Tree?
Tyler (at doctor): I don’t know what it is, Doc, but my lungs are just full of junk this time of year. My doctor said pneumonia, but I wanted a second opinion.
Doctor: A wise move, Tyler, but we don’t need an X-ray. For any fool can see that you have pneumonia, but pneumonia doesn’t have you.
So I couldn’t find the little Nordic fairy – not exactly the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand here. It was the right play-call, just bad execution, like naming your fists, but naming them Siegfried and Roy. And then, more verbal indeterminacy from the commercial: a list of possible side effects so long and daunting that no sickness could possibly be worth the cure. Why not simply assume every malady is a possible side effect except those expressly stated? By taking Wimpitor to treat your collywobbles, you won’t get crabs. I mean, you might get crabs if while on Wimpitor you carry on like a drunken sailor on shore leave, but that’s on you.
As for me, it seems better just to learn to live with life’s little aches and pains, and not take on massive downside risk. Nobody wants to end up like Chris:
Grady (lunching with friend Chris): Sounds like there’s a coaching change in the works at your alma…good heavens, what’s wrong with your eyes?
Chris: Is it that bad?
Grady: Your sockets are smoking.
Chris: My allergist prescribed something for the dryness. Turns out a side effect is heat vision.
Grady: Is it dangerous?
Chris: Not to me, although you should avoid eye contact. (Gesturing toward plate) You gonna finish that French Dip?
Grady: It’s all yours.
Chris (warming it with his eyes): Thanks.
All this trouble just for getting ahead of my skis over Elf on the Shelf, and then sweet, sweet deliverance by Big Pharma’s post-modern commercials. My takeaway? Head down and mouth shut through New Year’s.