Christmas again. Every year, without fail, I think of Laura Ingalls. Humble Laura Ingalls, who was so ecstatic to receive as gifts a tin cup, an orange and a penny. Each item a treasure, and all thanks to good old Ben, who crossed a stream filled with piranha and fought an army of brain-eating zombie monkeys to get the loot.
To Laura Ingalls, nothing in the entire world gleamed so brightly as that penny. Nothing in all of God's kingdom tasted as sweet as that orange, which was the most succulent thing she'd eaten since that time they came across the Donner party out in yon woods.
At least that's how I remember it from the book-on-tape I was forced to listen to at gunpoint. The point, of course, is that appreciation is relative. When you're living on a prairie, walking a mile in 20 feet of snow just to reach the pee bucket, having your own tin cup is the very definition of lavishness. It's akin to one of today's children receiving — oh, I don't know — a 90-inch, 3-D television screen on which to play video war games with a virtual community.
Tin cup, massive TV screen. It's practically the same thing if you adjust for inflation. The difference being that sweet Laura Ingalls probably did not complain to her father that her tin cup was too small — Nellie across the crick got a pewter cup twice the size, after all. I hate you, Paw! I wish you weren't my father!
I apologize for that ugliness. It was necessary to make the point. The point being that today's kids — and adults, too — are selfish, self-centered dolts every bit as spoiled as the Donner party come spring. If someone were to write "The Gift of the Magi" today, he'd have to make major adjustments. A watch chain and some combs? You'd be laughed out of even the tiniest literary circle, chump. Poor James Dillingham Young would have to sell his blood and maybe some prescription pills to get his beloved much more substantial things. Try some diamond chandelier earrings, a Keurig, the latest tablet — which I believe is 2 feet wide but no thicker than a sheet of paper — and a certificate for a year's worth of pampering at the day spa. Start there and then we'll talk. You should probably start thinking about selling additional body fluids.
We have too much and we want more. Imagine, for instance, how you would react if your true love gave to you a partridge in a pear tree. You'd get to bawling and you'd connect with all the BFFs on your smartphone and have them spread the word on what a cold, unfeeling lump your true love really is. In the spirit of giving and goodwill, we will beat a stranger bloody over the trendiest toy on the shelf.
Well, not me, peeps. I'm eschewing greed and self-satisfaction this year in exchange for gratitude, with a capital "G" and a lowercase "ratitude." My Christmas stocking runneth over. All I need for good cheer this holiday season is to step back and take a look at how the rest of the world is celebrating.
I always wonder, you know. After I stop pondering whether the Ingalls had to share a pee bucket or if they each had their own, my thoughts turn to the holiday traditions of others.
How do crack dealers celebrate, for instance? Does the enforcer known on the street as Freckles relax his collection techniques around the holidays? Does he break only your thumbs instead of your arms if you owe his boy seven large? Do crackheads rush home with a fresh bag of rock and find, to their squealing delight, that there are a few extra clumps at the bottom? Along with a Santa Pez dispenser, some aftershave and a partially eaten candy cane? Do they hang tinsel on their crack pipes?
And what about tweakers, who spend their days in hot, cramped apartments strung with booby traps so they can manufacture enough meth to get them through the hard, cold winter? Is all they want for Christmas their two front teeth, which fell out around the Fourth of July? Do they exchange gifts?
"Here. Got you this."
Squeals of delight.
"Three boxes of Sudafed? How in the world ... ?"
"My sister's baby sitter's hairdresser's niece. She's not on the alert list yet. Merry Christmas."
They hug. And then claw at each other's faces, because each is hallucinating badly.
Do hookers take the day off? Do deranged loners watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and enjoy someone else's delusions for a change?
Christmas is everywhere, from the prairies to the ghettos, and it will be here in just four short days. Which means you probably should get your butt to the mall, my friend. Because, who are we kidding? We talk loftily about how it's all about the spirit of love and appreciation. But if we don't get those seven swans a-swimming wrapped and under the tree, we're apt to get five golden rings right to the face.
Seriously; go now! And don't trip over the pee bucket on your way out.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can share your visions of sugar plums at firstname.lastname@example.org.