- One might naively suppose that with adequate food, clothing, shelter, security, and health any human would be happy and satisfied. Of course, such conditions might also describe a prison cell. When we add freedom and pursuit of happiness to the mix, the actual level of contentment seems to drop precipitously.
- Never is that more evident around here than during the end of year holidays, stretching for several months, culminating near New Years. Folks are told how lucky they are and how much they should strive to please everyone else until they are ready to puke. From their usual overcommitted daily frenzy, no one has time to add on shopping and cleaning and decorating and planning and worrying. But they are told, by others and themselves and ubiquitous blasting commercial media that they must.
- So no other season is quite so grim. Drivers become maniacs. Shoppers retreat into cold hard little shells, elbowing everyone else out of the way. Laughter is all too uncommon _ a waste of precious moments. And _ greatest crime of all _ moments slip away, consumed without notice by attention spans fixated on the near future and an occasional nostalgic wisp of past memory that only causes greater angst.
- Oh, I know. Scrooge here. Yet I am content with the season, just disappointed with its effect on others. In fact I feel more like Tiny Tim surrounded by legions of cloned Scrooges. Bigger, better, more, not enough, I’m more important than anybody, rich, fat but mostly _ and this is what disappoints me most _ profoundly unhappy and unaware Scrooges.
- So Happy Holidays anyway. But try to remember it is really really good to have food, clothing, shelter, security and health. Throw in a dollop of freedom and pursuit of happiness, but don’t overdo that dessert.
- Even though true winter arrives in a few weeks, this remains a fat time for wildlife. All seeds that will be produced are exposed in hearty abundance. Berries load trees and like a natural buffet gaily reflect orange and red and white back through bare branches, or needles or fat greenery (like holly). Most migrating populations have passed by, leaving residue of the feast for animals that remain. Those are frantically fattening up for harsh weather around the corner.
- I’d say it is a fat time for local humans also, except that it is always a fat time for our particular local humans. We live in an abundant society, and tales of destitution and hunger are basically problems of distribution and quality, rather than actual shortage. Most of the denizens of Huntington have long ago blown through Maslow’s chart of escalating needs, into stratospheric conceptions of what is required for success and demonstration of success to others during the holidays.
- In fact, I tend to think of our overblown consumer society as somewhat akin to Darwininan selection, where a characteristic is exaggerated for sexual or domination reasons, until it becomes a handicap. Holiday shopping can look like useless (from the point of survival) gaudy male peacock feathers. Or apocryphal stores of saber tooth tigers with tusks so long they can no longer open their jaws and thus starve to death. Shoppers with so many packages …. Well, you get the idea
Time just is.
Our knowing hours separates us from every other creature.
- Dante cleverly built a Hell in which punishment fit the crime so absolutely that in fact punishment was simply an eternally exaggerated repetition of the sin itself. Those tossed about in life by emotional frenzy end up in an anchorless whirlwind, perpetually rushing by those they would like to meet, torn apart by the gale. Teams of Hoarders and Wasters scream while randomly crashing boulders. Angry people desperately claw at each other to get ahead while wallowing in endless filth.
- His point remains valid. Whatever our eternal destination, sin and temperament can punish us throughout life. That allows me to smile at the impatient drivers all about, stewing in their own chaos of not getting where they must go as quickly as they think they need to. I wonder if the circles of Hell have added specialized technological niches, maybe one for cell-phone addicts. Glowering visages of those tramping malls in forced quests only make me smile, grateful that I do not inhabit their nasty enclosed universe.
- I suppose it is perverse to associate end of year mirth with Hell and damnation, although in that observation I simply join many others such as the Puritans. I know that there is a fair amount of joy and happiness out there, even in the malls, even as people drive. But most folks hate to show it, and many of them seem truly overwhelmed and miserable. I try to step back a bit and realize how fortunate my society and I myself have been and continue to be.
- At the height of holiday madness, an escape to a local park is still possible. Temperatures are often less than bitter, and snow cover usually does not arrive until later. But it is in winter that the limits of these preserves are fully displayed. Without intervening leaves and
vines, bordering houses are clearly shown, sounds cut through the woods without muffling, and other visitors are visible a long ways off. Woods and fields seem to shrink, and it becomes impossible to pretend this is a glimpse of wilderness.
- Everywhere on Long Island the presence of others is more defined. Trees along parkways no longer screen nearby developments. Traffic and leaf blowers and chain saws and jet engines provide constant murmurs at all hours. Our human beehive is nakedly visible, and palpably present. My real escape for the next few months is at a few local beaches, which are frigid, windswept, usually deserted, and still present open vistas of water, wildlife, and distant hills. Wind and wave sounds drown out civilization, and I can still find myself happily solitary. Perhaps even humming a carol to my inner self.
I’d been blindfolded at the airport, and driven to this remote beach on some Caribbean island. Also forced to leave my phone and all recording equipment behind. My report of this interview would have to be from handwritten notes alone. I blinked in dazzling sunlight and finally focused on the large bearded man sitting in front of me, as smallish waiters brought drinks.
“Ah, Mr. Claus?” I began.
“Ho ho ho,” he responded heartily. “Here, have a Polar Vortex _ Bubbilo invented these just for me.” I’m handed a white drink dusted with sugar resembling snow.
“It seems retirement is treating you well.”
“Can’t complain. Should have done it years ago. But, you know, it took technology. Couldn’t have managed it at all in the fifties …”
“What technology do you use, anyway?”
“Well, we handed the sleigh off to Norad a while back, of course, and before that I had the clones in the department stores _ before we even knew about DNA, mind you. But now the naughty and nice list is sorted by Google on the cloud, delivery is with Amazon and UPS, and guest appearances are via hologram and Artificial Intelligence generating media events. All me and the boys need to do is sit back and watch the show.”
“Don’t you even answer letters?”
“All done electronically _ most come in email anyway, but the rest are scanned. Logoli fixed up a nice chatbot that handles all the responses. Now I can just sit back and watch the sea life.” He sighed happily. “Better than a blizzard, I’ll tell you that. Right dear?” he asks Mrs. Claus, coming across the courtyard.
“Don’t you feel just a little guilty?”
“Why? I put in my time.”
“But how can you possibly afford all this?
“Royalties, you know. Markak trademarked us years ago. And anyone who doesn’t pony up gets to meet our ‘protection services’ in the form of Gremanon and her flood and fire brigade. Ho ho ho.”
“Aren’t you even going to ask me …”
“What do you want for Christmas? Don’t be silly. This interview is all you ever wanted. Ho ho ho! Have a great holiday!”
They blindfolded and led me away, but it was true. Once again, I had to believe in Santa.
I’m wealthy, you know, get out of my way
Don’t bother to speak, I won’t hear what you say
I’m busy and anxious and quite out of time
I need what I want without reason or rhyme
I deserve every penny, no second is free
The world as I know it revolves around me
I’m not very happy, I don’t have that skill
Just hard work and hard play and a fabulous will
Have left me quite bitter, but that is ok
As I said, I must hurry, get out of my way.