It is the day before Christmas Eve here in Retirement Acres. Errands are being run. Grocery stores get emptier by the moment. Arguments spill forth from houses over why the stupid son in law decided to park the right there. Obviously the minivan should be over there, which would be perfectly plain if he ever paid attention to anyone but himself. Christmas lights that have not blinked once all season are flashing out messages to either aliens or passing aircraft; nobody, not even the electrical engineers, can figure out why or make them stop.
At the mall, underpaid retail workers are gritting their teeth through another round of “Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time” while questioning their life choices and bracing for the inevitable late day onslaught of old men finally arriving to buy presents for their wives. A life of poverty, they think, doesn’t sound so bad at this point. In many cases, it would be a step up.
“You had one over there,” the old men will exclaim loudly. “In July! What do you mean you’re sold out? I want to speak to your manager!”
Managers are hiding, knowing full well that they sold out in July, trying to encourage their underpaid associates not to say “Then you should have bought one in June, you crazy old fart!”
And there’s a thunderstorm, because this is how we do Christmas. The interstate is a parking lot of tired people with children on the way to visit parents, wondering why the grandparents (who are both retired) can’t bloody well drive themselves somewhere for once mixed with people who thought they had at least one more weekend to get to the mall. State troopers strongly consider just declaring anarchy and letting the chips fall where they may while they sit on the side of the road observing. On the road to Knoxville, surly dads who are UT fans diligently block surly dads who are Alabama fans, because everyone knows the football playoff system is rigged and it’s going to be at least two years before UT is a contender again and why are there Alabama fans this far north anyway? Both lanes are traveling well under the speed limit as they approach an impasse. Meanwhile, relatively sedate Georgia fans think it might have been nice to just skip the holidays and use the money for Rose Bowl tickets, but given the current state of the Atlanta airport, they might not get to Pasadena before this time next year. Auburn fans sit in stone still Atlanta traffic caused by the ongoing addition of what surely must be an expressway directly to hell, wondering if they should have taken that last exit after all. They should have. Impossibly, every station in Atlanta, even the talk radio stations, has “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” on at exactly the same time. The inescapable Beatles have driven more than one car full of Holiday celebrants to just play the license plate game, while hostility simmers in the front seat between one person who didn’t see the need in paying for another year of SiriusXM and one person who would give up a kidney just to listen to the blessedly Christmas music-free Hair Nation for three minutes.
The mall parking lot is a quagmire of hostility and SUVs. Chili’s is doing a booming margarita business. Patrons who won’t see a table for at least an hour are standing in the lobby drinking, listening to a cover of “Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time” and hoping they can make it through the afternoon without tapping out on Whamageddon.
“Top shelf?” the bartender asks hopefully.
“Good lord yes.”
A line of wet cars wraps around the bank, which only has one drive through lane open. They were supposed to have two, but the new teller has been crying in the bathroom for an hour. She got in a fight with an old woman this morning over hundred dollar bills that resulted in the old woman shouting for a manager because the teller tried to pass her counterfeit bills (she didn’t.) and the old woman’s little dog peeing all over the floor right in front of the teller’s shiny new kiosk. They couldn’t even make her come out when another much less insane customer brought Starbucks hot chocolate (grande) and extremely fresh thumbprint cookies in for everyone.
At the bakery, the line stretches out the door, past the hair salon, past the Weight Watchers, almost to the Goodwill. The insurance salesman, now retired, is waiting for three pies, two bags of rolls, and the imminent arrival of his daughter and her family. His wife has gone to the bank. A box of thumbprint cookies has been opened and is being passed up and down the line while an old man who did not preorder his holiday baked goods equivocates. He finally chooses four danishes and is shamed into buying a box of thumbprint cookies. The weary cake decorator hums “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” absently as yet another mostly-iced cake is snatched from her work stand and boxed up for someone who arrived four hours early for their holiday preorder.
“What happened to the Small World lines from last year?” a patron asks the harassed cashier.
“The fire marshall said they’d close us down if we tried to crowd that many people in here again so the owner asked how the fire marshall would like to be blackballed from every bakery in the county and then the argument really got ugly. So now you have to stand on the sidewalk.”
“Is it really hot in here?”
“Shut up,” the cashier explained.
Despondent golfers who should be home entertaining grandchildren watch from the clubhouse as the water level steadily rises on holes four, seven, ten, and thirteen through eighteen inclusive. The land was cheap. Too cheap, they realize as lightning strikes near the fifth green.
The post office is a morass of people frantically trying to overnight packages to far reaches of the globe, arguing over deadlines as they doggedly ignore the calendar. Postal workers have been making two runs per day for the past ten. The phone rings unheeded in the post master’s office. The radio has been shut off, as Post Master Tim said he would throw it away if he had to hear “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” again. After last year, the believe him.
“Did we buy our daughter anything?” gets shouted up the stairs from basements all over Retirement Acres.
“Y.E.S.” comes the response for the third time today. Usually this response is shouted from the kitchen, which has been in full operation since Wednesday. “Why don’t you run out to the bakery for me?”
“What are we having for lunch?”
Moms sigh, looking around kitchens stuffed full of food to be consumed later. If they have to cook one more thing, either they or the oven will explode.
The phone rings at the Chinese restaurant unheeded. They’ve heard one Christmas Story joke too many. That movie, they think, is really objectively terrible. And nobody says “fa-ra-ra-ra-rah” even as a joke.
“Is your phone broken?” harassed dads ask when they come in to place a to go order.
“We’re from Cambodia,” the old man taking orders explains. “Twenty four hours of A Christmas Story is thirty too many. And we aren’t from China.”
“How long will this take?”
“Multiply the number of fa-ra-ra jokes you just made by the number of cars in your driveway. Then add 13.”
“Doesn’t matter. Your order will be ready in an hour.”
Wishing you all warm and organized thoughts, readers.