Exasperated, he calls. The box will not fit inside his car. This is a van-sized mission. I must meet him in the parking lot of Home Depot.
I turn off the JFK special on the History Channel. Yep. That’s a surefire holiday rouser, watching a bitter assassin stalk a president.
Meanwhile, I hear Kirby, our dog, pawing at the back door and let him in. While I’m in the bathroom, the doorbell rings. I yell for my children. They’re playing computer games.
“ANN-SWERRR THE DOOR!” Jane Wyatt never screamed like this in the 1950’s TV classic “Father Knows Best,” but this is “Mother Knows Mess.”
Some kid is leaning against our doorbell like he wants to fuse with the aluminum siding. The moment my kids’ friends see pink terrycloth and my white calves hit the carpeted stairs, they scatter like Japanese scientists when Godzilla approaches.
Eventually, I locate clothes, two mismatched socks and Nikes. The clock is ticking. Never have I been more aware of the risk, the danger. My husband’s alone on that parking lot, and might be have to be civil to someone.
Before I can embark on my journey, the trunk must be clean. I raise the trunk door. My heart sinks. The kazoo from “The Sanford and Son” song begins to play.
Straining every muscle, I hoist a box containing about two thousand reams of paper. The Egyptians would have never needed to invent papyrus if they’d had me and this box around. We could have kept those half-naked scribes hopping for at least twenty dynasties.
After popping two Aleves and swigging some eggnog, I see the next item to remove: a garbage bag straining with hangers that I intend on recycling. Several sharp metallic angles threaten to poke through the bag. It may burst at the slightest jarring. I reach for the eggnog again.
Now I hear a whimper. Kirby paw-signs P-O-T-T-Y. I let him back out.
By the time I drive into the Home Depot parking lot, I’ve got a hanger around my ankle, terrycloth wisps in my hair and my right eye twitches. Other shoppers are loading items into their vehicles, the blush of holiday cheer pinking their cheeks.
My eyes scan toward the left. One lone figure glares from underneath a street lamp, clenching and un-clenching his hands. Pulling the van along side him, I begin to hum: “Oh, the husband outside is frightful…”
He greets me by pointing at his watch. “We live five minutes away, and it takes you a half hour to get here.”
I now feel compelled to render testimony, a la the Warren Commission, as to why I couldn’t beam myself there the moment he called.
A blaze of labels adorns the box, which is the size of Rockefeller Plaza. “HASSLE-FREE! PRE-LIT!”
Assembled, this thing wouldn’t clear a cathedral ceiling. My theory: men buy giant Christmas trees so they can recreate Sherwood Forest in their living rooms. It’s some lumberjack manifesto. O Tannen-bomb. My eyebrows are raised.
“The mayor coming over for a lighting ceremony?”
He heaves the gigantic rectangular box into the van. “I could be dying on some road,” he mumbles. “And you’d be late, because you had to let THE DOG OUT.”
“No, out of fear for my personal safety, I’d have the dog call Highway Patrol to come and get you. C’mon. Where’s your holiday spirit?”
“With the woman who ran over my foot with her cart.”
Most six-foot-three grouches respond to hugs, so I give him one.
“Crowded in there?”
“No stores for me. I’m buying gift cards from Walgreen’s check-out.”
Great. Another iPod songs gift card and I don’t even own one.
“Well, Santa’s helper, you’ve got an even more life-risking task ahead, more daunting than crowds, buying a tree or dodging carts.”
He looks at me.
“Hanging the Christmas lights.”