Twenty years ago, my husband made what I consider to be the quintessential parents’ video for Christmas. It was Christmas Eve and the kids and I were already asleep, since they were going to be routing us out of bed at dawn.
In the meantime, my husband a/k/a Santa Himself, had stayed up till the wee hours putting together some allegedly easy-to-assemble toy for the kids. When he finally finished, he turned on the video camera and stared into it. He talked about how frustrated Old Santa was, how he’d screamed and sworn trying to assemble some apparatus with directions appropriate for your average nuclear physicist.
“Right now, Santa is very tired and very angry,” he told the camera. “He’s kind of sick of this Christmas shit. He’s going to bed. Oh — and Merry Christmas.” Then he turned out the light and turned off the video.
Two decades later, we no longer have greedy little children and Santa Claus himself has been revealed to be a fraud perpetuated by generations of parents on their gullible kids. All we have is a broken garage-door opener and a dark computer that needs to be better lit. So my husband and I go to Home Depot and wander around.
We find a garage-door opener and I remind my husband to make sure it can be installed, since there’s no way on earth he and I can do it. So he talks to the salesguy, who promises to call with the information, and we head to the lamp department. We find some kind of sunlight lamp or something, which I assume will spare my eyes and address my late-blooming Seasonal Affective Disorder, and head to the payment area.
Once we get home, though, my husband starts to scream. He isn’t putting together the garage-door opener, obviously. He’s only trying to put together the very simple lamp we picked out. I keep my distance, since I’m even more of a mechanical klutz than he is.
“Goddammit, son of a bitch!” he yells.
“What do the directions say?” I ask helpfully.
“I haven’t been reading them,” he says. He pulls the directions out and rattles them around and huffs and puffs and complains about how incomprehensible they are and how they’re created by devious morons whose sole purpose in life is to drive other people crazy.
Something clatters on the floor. “Piece of shit!” he yells.
The phone rings. It’s Home Depot, saying we have to drive the 10 miles back to the store since they no longer, you know, take credit cards over the phone. Company policy. “Jesus, I can’t believe this,” my husband says in a lower tone. (At our house, we usually only scream when other family members are around. This is our version of company manners.) He hangs up and takes the semi-completed lamp into my office.
“Corporate morons,” he mutters. “Dirtballs.”
The phone rings. Home Depot is calling to say that, after all, they might be persuaded to take our credit card over the phone since my husband has already indicated they won’t be seeing us again otherwise.
My husband, more cheerful now, turns on the lamp, which gives off a soft glow. I can feel my eyes relax and my SAD ebb.
All I need now, I think, is someone around the house to be a permanent handyman, since both my husband and I are so deficient in this particular area. Santa can arrange that, can’t he? If he can put together a Christmas toy, he can do anything.
“What kind of a toy was it, anyway?” I ask my husband.
“It was a wagon,” he says. “A fucking red wagon.”
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)