Before our first glimpse of Thanksgiving turkey or family, my long holiday weekend kicked off after work Wednesday when I arrived home around 4 p.m. to find Thursday morning’s newspaper already delivered, articles and all. The largest physical edition every year, Thanksgiving Day papers are coveted for their Black Friday ads, more or less the official Christmas season launch. Shoppers can’t wait to get started on it — hence more and more stores reopening on Thanksgiving itself, hours ahead of the Black Friday starter pistols. It stands to reason our carrier couldn’t wait to get past it, to unload this newsprint behemoth as soon as possible.
No, not the song. Egad, no. No no no no no.
Once again it’s the season for family making the visitation rounds for the sake and spirit of Christmas. Our largest family gathering every year is at my father-in-law’s place, where this year over three dozen relatives and plus-ones convened on Saturday morning, though just to brag for the record, Anne and I were among the three (3) people who could be bothered to arrived on time.
One of the major house rules is shoes come off at the front door, because older couples who think white carpet is a splendid decorating choice are finicky that way. By the time everyone arrived and got down to eating and mingling throughout the afternoon, the entryway was a cluttered war zone of castoff footwear. No heels, no Manolo Blahniks, nothing you’d wear to a shoeshine stand. Neither our families nor our gatherings see high rollers like that. Anyone who would object to such carefree shoe storage would be recognized right away as Not One of Us.
And yes, I see you number-crunchers out there scrunching your nose because you count two dozen pairs at most in the photo. Several more pairs were offscreen to my left. It’s also possible that a few of the toddlers were allowed to keep theirs on. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t looking because no one assigned me to Christmas Shoe Police duty.
The shoe pile is emblematic of our gatherings themselves, whether it’s holidays, kids’ birthday parties, or the annual reunions where we’re joined by a few extra strangers of shared blood. Everyone who’s a citizen of our tiny microcosm nation agrees to throw in together and make one big mess. At the end we agree to retrieve the parts of the mess that were our fault, one by one, family unit by family unit, until order is restored and my in-laws have their foyer back.
It’s Christmas. It’s what we do. In our finer moments it’s how we can be as a family in other matters as well.
Merry Christmas to you ‘n’ yours from us here at Midlife Crisis Crossover. May your days be merry and bright, may your celebrations of our Savior be blessed and comforting, and here’s hoping the circles you belong to will set aside their reservations and come together in happy, sloppy, love-filled pileups of their own.
Among the many commonalities my wife and I share, one of them is an Indianapolis childhood that saw precious few opportunities for traveling beyond Indiana state limits. My wife was part of a large family that would go broke quickly if they had to feed and accommodate every member on the road. My family could only afford vacations to other relatives’ houses. Like many adults, we vowed to do the opposite of what our parents did. We found reasons and means to get out of town. It’s rarely easy, but we’ve made it happen without carrying years’ worth of debt.
A few of our basic secrets to success:
1. Save up as much as possible in advance. For too many people, “save” is a four-letter word. In our household, “debt” is a much harsher four-letter word.
2. If the vacation savings weren’t enough, spend the autumn paying down the rest. Pay it down hard.
3. No expensive air travel. We don’t fly. Ever. I’ve never set foot in any plane that wasn’t docked in a museum. It’s not fear of flying; it’s fear of expenditure. I’m aware that ticket prices have dropped in recent years. They can keep right on dropping as far as I’m concerned. It would also help if there existed a single tale of post-9/11 air travel that was blessed with unhindered grade-A customer service at every single footstep through the process.
Hence our annual road trips. On a dare from the WordPress.com Weekly Writing Challenge, I present three maps outlining our life in road trips to date.
The amusement-park phase of my life has been slowly wrapping up over the past few years. My son has decided amusement parks no longer offer him sufficient intellectual incentive, and also they’re just not cool. My wife has never been a fan of any fun-time vehicle that exerts greater G-force than my interstate driving. My mother’s requests to visit such places have receded as she’s very, very slowly realizing that such devices will be the death of her.
In recent history I’ve been willing to handle death-defying contraptions as a Family Quality Time function under a few controlled circumstances. I haven’t minded the occasional steel roller coaster, remarkable when they achieve a proper balance of speed and smoothness, as long as I remember my Dramamine dosage and the coaster track contains not a single upside-down segment. I’m also still a fan of any construct that gently lifts me through the air to tremendous heights and returns me safely to the ground without a single rotation or revolution. Beyond that, any excitement and eagerness I ever had for this group-outing genre has faded nearly to black.
As my wife and I spent this afternoon at a location with a couple of low-impact thrill rides, not only did I feel zero temptation, I also felt relieved that no one expected me to climb aboard. The toll on my body, the disruption of my equilibrium, and the loss of general control may be part of the experience, but I’m no longer fond of the compromise. I might feel differently if I were allowed to steer the coaster, sit in more accommodating seats, or even control the brakes and accelerator. I haven’t found a theme park benevolent or magnificent enough to grant me that power or luxury yet.
Within another decade or two, I expect my tolerance to worsen and my stodginess to know fewer bounds. Should relatives or employers suggest another engagement at one of our local mechanized wonderlands such as Indiana Beach or Kings Island, I expect to be slow to consent and slower to avail myself of the ride options…unless, perhaps, they might be willing to accept some of my suggestions for new, calmer, gentler, barely mobile “thrill” rides tailored to meet the wishes and fussiness of those disinclined against disorientation. Examples in my new, personalized ride demographic could include:
* Gently rotating teacup ride, except with broken motor so there’s no actual rotating.
* Antique autos driven by chauffeurs and stocked with elegant snacks.
* Perfectly motionless lazy river, three inches deep and using state-of-the-art technology to prevent any kind of current or even the slightest Brownian motion.
* Sensory deprivation chamber, with inside walls lined with pictures of cute kittens. No lolcat captions, though. When they’re unfunny, they angry up the blood.
* Amazingly lifelike “Mattress Firm showroom” simulator.
* Out-of-order video games that require you to imagine you’re playing the game in your head.
* The Happy Fun Park Mascot Presents the Wonderful Wacky Padded Benches for Sitting and Watching Other People Ride Rides.
* TVs. Enormous ones everywhere, like up-close drive-in screens.
* The lines for the concession stands, but with extra neon lighting so they look more like rides than chores.
These could be great couch-potato-ey fun for the whole family. Or at least for me.
If I ever have grandchildren who want Grandpa to take them to Kings Island, I’m in deep trouble. If I’m lucky, they’ll be willing to settle for an hour’s drive at top speeds along the nearest interstate. I don’t expect to tire of that sort of action anytime soon.
As I write this, millions of hearty moviegoers in the EDT zone are high on anticipation of tonight’s midnight premieres of Marvel’s The Avengers. Part of me wishes I could join the party and stay ahead of the curve on the online chatter and spoilers. Unfortunately, the majority of me has a full-time day job and a finicky attitude toward use of my vacation time. I’m weak like that.
Even if I’d taken the time off, my family would also like to see it, but they aren’t in a position to drop everything and go nocturnal. Sure, I could hit a midnight showing solo and plan my second screening with them at a later, mundane hour. That would be a boon if I love it enough for multiple showings. That worked for Chronicle, but what if something goes wrong? What if the movie is constructed entirely within the framework of the common Joss Whedon motifs of All Fathers Are Monsters, All Corporations Are Evil, and Destroy All Couples, all of which set me on edge? What if I hate it and find myself forcibly sequestered at the shunned contrarian end of the Internet next to Armond White and Cole Smithey?
I shudder to imagine enduring an encore for the sake of family quality time under those circumstances. I’m reminded of my final theatrical viewing of The Phantom Menace, in which I slept through the entire Tatooine sequence, even the podrace, as a defense mechanism. Knowing that I blew actual money on an extra ticket for that avoidable privilege added insult to injury.
Most problematic for me: my body can no longer handle gallivanting around town till 3 a.m. anymore. In my youth, I knew the occasional evening that ended with bedtime after sunrise. Today, retiring at midnight is normal for me (if not for others my age), but if I push too far beyond, the following day is made of regret, stupor, and double the normal assault of old-man muscle aches. Braving those hours of discomfort is not as fun a dare as it used to be.
I’ve had to learn to be patient and resist the temptation. For the sake of recognizing my limitations, I accept my geek demerit and will bide my time till Saturday without grumbling. I wish all the best to those superfans lining up hours ahead of the rest of us to see the best Greatest Film of All Time of the year.
Before you exercise your bragging rights too brashly, keep in mind: if you were a true hardcore Marvel’s The Avengers fan, you would’ve arranged to catch it last week in Australia. Waiting till it’s cordially escorted to your spoiled American front doorstep is weak.