2004 Christmas Letter

I started thinking about this year’s Christmas letter earlier today while driving around Fort Collins. A small nativity scene caught my eye as I maneuvered my truck through the various industrial complexes which had become the all consuming focus of my life since the beginning of the year. By any type of measurement—metric, standard, or nonstandard— this representation of the birth of Christ was quite modest. No live animals or people were harmed in the making of the scene. It lacked a well planned dramatic lighting setup. And despite my best investigative measures, it appeared to be completely devoid of any animatronic functionality. The simplicity of these three foot tall molded plastic characters witnessing the defining moment of Christianity (Jesus, Mary, Moses, Adam, Eve, a couple of wise guys, representatives of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and a curious time-traveling scientist from the future, who, by most accounts, completely spoiled the moment by repeatedly tripping over various livestock) made quite a statement.

I stopped for a moment to get a better look. While I’m not a compete stranger to this type of religious display, I did note a few unusual points about the situation. First off, I’m writing this down in the middle of July—not exactly prime nativity scene season. Secondly, the display was set up behind a barb-wire fence in the far corner of an industrial lot used to store compressed gas and compressed gas accessories. And finally, after some unspecified amount of time, the mouth on the baby Jesus started moving and I heard a voice say, “Omar… Omar… this is your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Listen to me; I have something very important to tell you that will change your life: You are hallucinating! I suspect this is due to moderate dehydration and overall poor eating habits. You need to drink more water during the day. And lay off the glazed doughnuts in the mornings. That is all. Now get back to work, you slacker!”

Well, it’s a lot closer to being Christmas now, so I’m hoping enough interesting stuff has happened to me to allow me to write a respectable length letter. And if that’s not the case I’m sure I can add marginally relevant material about obscure mathematical theorems and/or recent programming on the History Channel.

If the whole nativity scene part was confusing, maybe I should rewind and attempt to start at the beginning of the year and proceed, in more or less a linear manner, until I get to the end. I’m not a neurologist, but I suspect that, in terms of higher brain functions, my brain works in whatever the opposite of linear is. While I’ve never actually seen my brain, I suspect that it is grey, squishy, and topographically similar to a hopelessly tangled ball of Christmas lights. So, I “started” the year off by becoming a full time driver at UPS. Up until that point I worked the way-too-early shift loading packages into delivery trucks. So instead of setting my alarm for three in the morning, I start work at eight-thirty, which is much better. With this promotion, I am forced to be clean shaven each day, which is much worse. Finally, I have to wear the official brown UPS uniform, which, well, I don’t have any strong feelings about one way or another.

Being a driver, well, it’s interesting. Every day is a learning experience. For example, I quickly discovered how many people think they are funny/witty/insightful when I deliver a package and they ask me, “Hey, what can brown do for me? HA HA HA!” I’m not sure why, but it just grates on my nerves– kind of like the commentators at the New York City Thanksgiving parade spend a total of thirty-seven minutes explaining how much helium is in each of the floats.

Moving hundreds of packages a day at work really helped prepare me when I moved into my new townhouse in June. To be honest, I actually hired movers for a few hours to get all of my personal belongings across town. It’s not so much that I’m lazy (well, that may have factored into the equation somewhere), but I just didn’t feel like having to go through the joy of renting a truck and then cornering a handful of friends and associates to get the job done. To my surprise, the movers were on time, friendly, and reasonably priced. And if they stole anything of mine, it must not have been very important since I haven’t noticed six months later.

Once all of my worldly possessions found their way into my new dwelling, I began to realize that a major life-changing decision was fast approaching. One refreshingly crisp morning, while casually reading through the original text of The Iliad after having flawlessly completed the latest New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle, one of Homer’s insights gave me pause– “The glorious gifts of the Gods are not to be cast aside.” Later on that very same day, while rummaging through the irregularly damaged merchandise in the electronics department of the neighborhood Kmart department store, Homer spoke to me once again. “I am not crazy. It’s the TV that’s crazy. Aren’t you, TV?” I looked up to thirty various makes and models of television sets playing, in perfect synchronicity, episode 7F03 of “The Simpsons.” I put down the slightly cracked battery-powered clock-radio that just a moment earlier I was contemplating purchasing, walked over to the television display aisle, and yelled out with unwavering resolve, “No man should have to live without premium quality digital television broadcast for three consecutive weeks as I have done. Homer has spoken to me– not once, but twice! I have cast aside the glorious gift of syndicated situation comedies and late night infomercials for far too long. I was crazy to think I could live without its warm glowing warming glow. I NEED CABLE TELEVISION! Or possibly a satellite dish—whichever is better suited to my needs.”

I got some very helpful advice from Jerry (the security guard at Kmart) as he made sure I left the premises in the least disruptive manner as possible, given my current state of excitement. He recommended that I get the Dish Network and a digital video recorder so I wouldn’t miss any of my favorite shows that have been rather inconveniently scheduled during my regular working hours. I took his advice, and in a few days I was connected to some state-of-the-art electronic gadget hovering in the sky hundreds of miles above my head.

After everything was hooked up and functioning correctly, I went out on my patio where the actual satellite dish was mounted and tried, without any luck, to locate the satellite up in the sky. I know it’s there because I was just watching Chen Kenichi prepare trout ice cream on Iron Chef. I suppose as a mere mortal I can only sit back and appreciate the glorious world it has created around me and have faith in the master plan that is sometimes beyond my limited understanding. Oh, sure, I get angry at the satellite at times. Why did it take from me the six-thirty episode of Seinfeld? I loved it so. But then I soon see a bigger picture—yes, I will miss Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine, but “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” has been added on channel 107. Before I know it, I have been made aware of an entirely new comedy genre. I guess it’s sort of like God in a way. And, of course, when either of them come crashing down to Earth the world as I know it will be over.

After I finished contemplating the religious implications of the Dish Network, I needed to test out the digital recorder. Having just seen a commercial for the ABC Family’s made-for-television movie, “Pop Rocks,” I decided this would be the first broadcast to be stored on my DVR. Despite not having any relation to the candy it is named after, I found the movie moderately entertaining. Gary Cole (better known from “Office Space” as Bill Lumberg. “Ahh, I’m going to have to go ahead and ask you to come in on Sunday, too…”) plays a seemingly responsible father and husband who neglected to tell his family that he was the lead singer in a high-profile 80’s metal rock band. Who hasn’t forgotten to mention some small aspect of their past to a significant other? Having said that, I cannot comment on any of my personal secret rock bands, past or present, due to legally binding legal documents I may or may not have signed.

Well, that about wraps things up for another year. I’ve managed to keep myself busy with a new job, new house, and new electronic gadgetry. So, for no particular reason other than it makes me laugh whenever I watch it, I’m going to end this year’s letter with the epitaph from the movie “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

Royal O’Reilly Tenenbaum (1932-2001) Died Tragically Rescuing His Family From The Remains Of A Destroyed Sinking Battleship.