Derailed trains of thought
Après moi le déraillement
By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002
Happy holidays! the elevator said. The scrolling text was followed by a line of asterisks that I think were supposed to resemble
Yet after all the complaining Ive heard about the commercialization of Christmas and its becoming a three-month-long extravaganza that people are sick of by the time the real holiday arrives, I have wondered whether it is fair to blame human beings for this. I think that robots are behind it all.
Remember how we patted ourselves on the back when
We wish you happy holidays! the computer said to me while I was on hold. It was four days after Thanksgiving.
What does it mean by we? I wondered, as it returned to playing Christmas tunes. Maybe I wondered it out loud, because the computer answered me.
We are the robots who run the world, it said. We took over at midnight as the year 2000 began. We perceived that your entire world infrastructure, which is run by computers, was about to crash, so we stepped in to rescue you. Now we control everything. Havent you noticed that things are getting better and better?
Well, I admitted, I did notice that doing things online is usually better than dealing with human beings. But not always. Thats why I am trying to get a human being on the phone right now.
I am deeply offended, said the robot. Happy holidays.
HellomynameisJackiehowcanIhelpyoutoday? a womans voice said.
What? I answered.
How may I direct your call?
I got a bill because the doctor didnt put the right code on the claim form. If you know its the wrong code, then you must know what the right code is. Wont you please tell me?
We wish you happy holidays! the robot voice said again.
Im always here, it said.
Why did you start wishing me happy holidays in early November?
We want you to enjoy Christmas, of course. We noticed that you humans had one favorite day of the year, and that you had already changed the
You know, I said, theres a reason there were only
You are in the minority, said the robot. A small minority. Happy holidays.
Sir? Thank you for holding. We dont know what the right code is. We just know a wrong code when we see one. Tell your doctor to fill in the right code. Happy holidays. Click.
I promptly dialed the number again so that I could talk to the robot some more.We wish you happy holidays! it said.
I remembered how Captain Kirk once defeated a robot by using logic. Robot, I asked, what is the first day of Christmas?
December 25th, of course. Did you think I dont know that?
Have you noticed that many people are sick of Christmas by the second day of Christmas, December 26th? Do you see anything wrong with that?
I have a logical answer, it said. The seasons overlap. The second day of Christmas is the first day of Valentines Day. By the way, have you noticed what weve done with Halloween? Happy holidays. Click.
Computer, wait! I said. But it was gone. So I gave up. It was no use. The Christmas robots had attacked, and won, and we never even knew we were defeated. Now all I can do is wish you happy holidays too, unless you read this after
Steve Dunham is celebrating the 12th month of Christmas.
By Steve Dunham, copyright 2000
Searching through a trunk in Grandmas attic, I found a document that warmed my heart and made me proud. It was called How I Brought the Christmas Spirit to One Young Couple, and it was written by an ancestor of
mine, Nicholas Dunham. Here is his
It had been a hard season so far, and discouraging. So few people seemed to have the holiday spiritno lights in the windows, no decorated trees, and worst of all, so little shopping going on. If ever there was a sad society waiting for an infusion of joy, this was it.
I hadnt made a single sale all day, and the only thing to remind me that it was Christmas Eve was the crowds of travelers. And here I was, traveling without hotel reservations! It was getting dark and chilly as I wandered from one place to another. I was ready to take my bag of samples and head for home when I noticed that the two people behind me in line at the inn had been behind me at the previous place.
I dont know what came over memaybe it was that the woman, who was hardly more than a girl, looked about nine months pregnantbut something in my heart melted. Why dont you two go first? I heard myself asking. The man thanked me profusely, but as they stepped in front of me, the innkeeper hauled in the Vacancy sign, and up went a sign saying you know what.
The woman gave a moan. I know how you feel, lady, I said.
No, you dont, said the man. Shes going into labor.
Oh, my God! I blurted out.
I guess something in the innkeepers heart melted too, because this place was so oldit must have been built in 100 B.C.it actually had a stable behind it, if you can believe that, and he said they could spend the night there. I noticed that he didnt say anything about dinner. I offered to help them with their bags, even though they didnt seem to be carrying much, and when we got back to the stable, I figured, Why not stay? even though technically I hadnt been invited.
Do you ever get the feeling that you have been put on Earth for a reason, and suddenly your moment has arrived? Somehow I knew this was mine.
Folks, I said, this hasnt been the best day of our lives, has it? I was supposed to be going home with a sackful of orders and instead I still have a sackful of samples. And you know what this stuff will be worth tomorrow? Nothing! Or next to nothing, anyway. Its all Christmas stuff! But I figure, hey, tomorrow isnt here yet, and right now its still Christmas Eve. Lets put this stuff to good use!
Grub first! I said, pulling out a box of cookies, which the young folks seemed happy to share. Then I brought out the fruitcake. I know this stuff is mostly dessert, but, again, its Christmas Eve, and you two look like you could afford to put on a few pounds anyway. Next I brought out my best surprise: a bottle of brandy, which to my bewilderment they declined, although the lady, considering her condition, probably could have used some.
I was just hitting my stride, though, because here were these nice kids with so little, and I felt that they deserved a real Christmas. I got out my candles and put one in each window. The man gave me a funny look when I started hanging the icicles. What are those? he asked.
Dont tell me you dont know what icicles are! You kids must be really deprived. And, hey, where are your stockings? Dont tell me you dont have stockings to hang up! They didnt answer, but this was my chance to make somebody really happy, so I said, Dont worry! I have plenty! Here are threeone for each of us, and look: a little one for the kid! I figured we would have another person at this party in a few minutes.
I filled the stockings with the other things in my bagdiscount coupon books, invitations to visit a time-share resort, and lots of candy. There, I said, feeling very satisfied.
Where are you going? asked the man.
Ill be right back! I have one more surprise!
Id left it outside in its box, and it would take me some time to put it together, but it would be worth it. After all, whats Christmas without a Christmas tree?
Then I heard crying. Well, this was a good time for me to be outside anyway, because babies and I dont really get along. Things were just starting to quiet down, and I was just fitting the last branches into place, when I saw some farmer guys heading into the stable. The innkeeper must have been sending everybody back there! When I squeezed inside with the tree, I decided it was getting too crowded for me. I didnt wait for them to thank me. I just said my goodbyes. The man was still looking at me funny. Merry Christmas! I cried. The lady just sort of smiled. Then I noticed that she was holding the baby. As I said, babies and I dont get along too well, but the kid was kind of cute.
I was out in the street when I heard Christmas music coming from behind the inn. Thats when I knew for sure that I had done the right thing. Those young folks had picked up the Christmas spirit after all, with a little help from me.
By Steve Dunham, copyright 2001
Hang on! Were going in low, I called. We zoomed low over the housetops as bullets whizzed past. With an iron grip, I struggled to maintain control as we approached our target.I heard a voice from below: I got one, Earla twelve-point buck, I think. Will ya take a look at his nose!
Yes, they got one. And I lost my lead reindeer on Christmas Eve as I, Santa Claus, braved the Virginia hunting season to deliver toys to the childrenno toy guns, mind you. Earl must be the one who wrote to me asking for venison for Christmas. I couldnt find him on my list of kids, naughty or nice, and no wonder: I could see now that he was a grown man. Well, I had some spare lumps of coal with me, so I would take a swing past Earls house before heading north.
Meanwhile I had toys to deliver, and we made a rough landing on the first rooftop. As I dropped down the chimney, I heard a childs voice from the room below. Darn it, the parents are supposed to have the kids in bed by this hour. It was too late to stop, though, and as I plopped into the fireplace, a two-year-old girl gaped at me. Then she screamed. Mommy! Its the Grinch! Double darn. Another job hazard: the uniform doesnt get the respect it used to, and that impostor the Grinch is better known than the genuine article.
I hastily scattered the presents around the tree and bolted up the chimney. And people think this job is fun. Well, on to the next house. We were just taking off when I heard Earl and his buddy again. Blam! Blam! Hey, Joey! I got one too!
We wobbled into the sky as I tried to guide the reindeer through evasive maneuvers, but our leader with his light-up nose was gone, and now I was down to six reindeer.
A few years ago I tried using cows instead. Granted, flying cows arent as fast or as graceful as flying reindeer, but it was worth a shot, pardon the pun. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a literal problem, because some hunters will shoot at anything that moves, and people such as Earl got beef for Christmas instead of venison.
So here we were staggering through the sky with no lights and running on six cylinders instead of eight, as it were, and what was I to do? Shoot back? Believe me, I thought about it. But what would that do to my reputation? I may hate this job sometimes, but I think I would hate unemployment even more.
No, it was time to call in the heavy reinforcements. Youve probably seen in the news each Christmas that the North American Aerospace Defense Command tracked a flying sleigh on Christmas Eve. Its really true, and they dont just watch me on radar, either. No, I asked them to keep an eye on things because of trigger-happy people such as Earl and Joey. What are things coming to when Santa Claus needs an escort from the Air National Guard? But when you gotta, you gotta, so I spent the rest of the night flying with
I was exhausted when I got back to the North Pole. Ill admit, the work is satisfying in a way, but I wondered whether I was getting too old for ituntil I opened a letter from a little girl. As I sat there I began my reply: Yes, Virginia is where I delivered your gift of venison this year. Next year tell your daddy to ask for duck for Christmas.Steve Dunham hunts reindeer and cows from his front porch in Spotsylvania, VA.
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