’Tis the season to be jolly. Fa la la la la and commercial folly.
I was recently in a jewelry/knickknack store that was trying hard to be eclectic, waiting for a silver chain to be repaired that belongs to one of my sons. (I spend an inordinate amount of time in this shop – which has excellent jewelry repair technicians – comfortably ensconced on campus, enjoying the pursuit of knowledge and studying the biochemical relationship of barley and hops.)
On this particular trip, I came across a collection of Christmas prints. They were done on some kind of ersatz canvas and unframed, boxy and obvious like Thomas Kinkade paintings. I found them rather perplexing until I noticed a small orange sticker in the bottom corner of each one that read “Press Here.”
Which I obediently did, and guess what? The darn things lit up like ... well ... what else? Like Christmas trees, blinking, multicolored lights on some; twinkling, white lights on others.
It was quite a menagerie of kitsch, a garish presentation of 1970s tacky elegance, like those old Elvis portraits painted on black velvet where his eyes seem to follow you back and forth across the room.
I was entranced.
My attention was captured by one that depicted a white church with a white blanket of snow all around and a starry night sky above. There were two pine trees decorated in Yuletide splendor, one on each side of the church, while a red cardinal sat on a bush admiring the scene.
When the button was pressed, white lights blinked on and off, giving the impression of snow falling. I kept pushing the button and was having a grand old time until a woman stopped by and said, “I wouldn’t buy that thing.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because birds go south in the winter,” she replied. “They must think we’re pretty stupid.”
What a buzzkill … like a bag of coal falling out of Santa’s sled and landing on my head.
As I finished my morning errands, I was fixated on the image of that scarlet-feathered anomaly and the intrusive cold shower of the woman’s accusation.
What chicanery, I thought. What crass commercialism, like Alfred laments in “Miracle on 34th Street,” “There is a lot of bad-isms floating around this world, and one of the worst is commercialism.”
I had to get to the bottom of it. As soon as I got home, I Googled “do cardinals migrate,” and guess what? They don’t.
That’s right; they often are seen in winter, their beautiful red down brightly contrasted against a field of snow.
Ha, ha! Another low-information busybody.
And aren’t we virtuous troubadour-peddlers of righteous goods and services taught to never assume, because when we assume, we make an … well, you know the saying.
Nevertheless, we often find ourselves once again kneeling at the altar of the unholy church of assumption, where we, too, buzzkill deals every day by making rash and low-information conjectures.
Like I did in the early days of my career. I cold-called a restaurant that was getting ready to open for lunch. There was a great deal of activity as workers scampered around getting the room prepped.
At a table near the kitchen, sat a man in a coat and tie counting money. I approached him and said I’d like to talk about advertising. He said OK, and I sat down and started selling him on my advertising product.
After a while – the man was shaking his head up and down – I told him I’d put some creative ideas together and get back to him.
I was sure I had a sale. When I returned a few days later with my presentation (that took hours to put together), he seemed duly impressed.
“So what do you think?” I finally asked.
“I like it,” he said. “Let me get my wife.”
“Your wife?” I sheepishly inquired. “Why do you need to get your wife?”
“Because she owns the restaurant and makes all the decisions.”
I had a bad feeling. I got excited when the man showed interest and I skipped some of the important steps of the sale, like qualifying the buyer. Instead, I made a dumb assumption.
His wife came out of the kitchen attired in chef clothing. “What do you want?” she asked with no hint of a smile.
“I’ve been talking to your husband about advertising …” I almost got it out before she cut me off.
“We don’t advertise,” she said. “We get all our business from word of mouth,” and she turned and went back to the kitchen. End of story.
So don’t make assumptions, like the one you made about me not buying the cardinal painting. Of course I bought it, and it’s hanging between the Christmas tree and my black velvet portrait of Elvis. It’s a festive sight to behold, as now we don our gay apparel and enjoy the company of family and friends.
And I’m not talking about stylishly expensive designer wear you get on Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive.
No, I mean “uncool,” as in the popular vernacular of middle schoolers. I’m talking about the garish, sequined, flashing attire we put on during the holidays that goes perfectly with my new Christmas treasure.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.