Monday, December 14, 2015

Brighten the Christmas of a needy child, damn you!


     "I wish you wouldn't say that," my wife said.
     "Say what?" I replied.
     "Say, 'I'm not a social service,'" she said, mimicking some pompous dope's voice; me, apparently.
     A favorite phrase of mine when I'm ducking some do-goody task somebody feels I ought to do.
     "Well, I'm not!" I blustered. Helping people is a fool's errand. 
     When I saw the table set out in the newsroom for the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust's Letters to Santa program this year, my first, unvarnished thought was: Hell no! Not AGAIN!  I've done that in the past. Talk about a hassle. You have to track down some obscure toy for an anonymous child. One year I was late getting it, and was forced to drive to West 123rd Street to deliver the gift. I bet you didn't know Chicago has a West 123rd Street; it sounds like it should be in New York City, and by the time you drive there, it might as well be.  I ended up being pressured into meeting the recipient at a shelter, face-to-face. It was awkward and ate up half a day.
     Besides, it costs money. I've got two boys in college. I'm helping kids plenty already.
     And then I would have to write one of those stiff Letters to Santa" columns trying to gull others into joining me in perdition. Who reads those?
     Well, I do. At least I read Dan Mihalopoulos' Nov. 17 article. I noticed his name and picture and figured, "Maybe he's blowing the lid off the whole Letters to Santa scam. The toys end up being burned into the fireplaces of Bruce Rauner's nine homes, because the sight of flaming toys intended for underprivileged kids is the only thing that can bring a smile to his thin, cold, lipless face....
     No. It turns out that Mihalopoulos was merely promoting the program, how it's "making wishes come true" for impoverished kids at Christmas.
     Fuck you, Dan, I thought. If you think you're better than me, you have another thing coming.
    I marched over to the table, intending to grab a letter. But which letter? Not a girl's letter, obviously—outside of my skill set, maybe even creepy. I'd end up lingering by the Barbies, trying to find the specific outfit demanded by my tyke, only to catch the paranoid attention of some gimlet-eyed mom and, trying to explain my mission find myself arrested.  "EX-COLUMNIST NABBED LOITERING IN BARBIE AISLE."
     The first letter off the boys pile wanted a pair of soccer shoes and a soccer ball and a soccer net and maybe an entire soccer team, too, for all I know. I stopped reading and tossed it back: too expensive. The next few seemed similarly unpromising, until I hit upon one from Diego O., age 7, a second grader from the Burroughs School. He did not, like other kids, begin his letter "Dear Santa," but "Dear santa's helper." As if the boy saw through the entire charade. He knew he wasn't appealing to the supposed good nature of some ludicrous aged elf who, despite his morbid obesity, nevertheless brings presents to good little boys and girls in one physically impossible orgy of global generosity each Dec. 25. He knew he was trying to touch the heart of some anonymous henchman who, like himself, was trying to navigate a harsh social structure maze built on guilt and lies. A kindred spirit.
     He continued: "tonk you for the gifts I will receive...."
     I'd offer that "tonk" as an indictment of the Chicago Public School system, but I distinctly remember taking a spelling test in 2nd grade where we were asked to spell "of" and, stumped, I wrote down "ove." Another commonality; we were also brothers in poor spelling. 
     Diego went on:
I hope you have a great christmas with your family. I would like you to bring me toy soldiers, minecraft legos or a sniper nerf gun. may god bless you and all your family? I greatly appreciate it, you are truly a nice person for thinking about the child from school.
     Laying it on a bit thick, aren't we kid? Still, I admired the fulsome praise in return for expected benefit—he could have a future in Chicago politics. And "thinking about the child from school." The third person, it was, well, somehow touching.
     There are no toy stores anymore, but Target had a whole section of Minecraft Legos, ("Minecraft," I assume, is a video game where the play constructs roadside bombs). Minecraft Lego sets topped out at $110, I noticed with stomach-dropping dread. But I found a set that didn't look too paltry for $21, and then went over to the armory of Nerf weapons. No designated "sniper" gun, so I picked a long rifle that looked like something Oswald left behind in the Texas School Depository, only with orange parts to encourage member of the Chicago Police Department not to shoot him if he's bold enough to play with it outside.
      It only set me back $15, which left room for the toy soldiers, not that Target had any. American servicemen fighting all over the world, yet parents dab a perfumed hankie to their lips in horror at the thought of their kids playing with soldiers. 
     Now all I have to wrap the stuff, and get it to whatever staffer at the paper has been saddled with this task, assuming I don't end up having to drive it down to West Pullman again.
    Cynical? Sure. But I would draw your attention to one germane point: I did it. A Jewish agnostic who never celebrated Christmas in his life, who thinks of all organized religion as dueling fairy tales. A bitter alcoholic whose entire life is an ash heap of disappointment and failure. Yet, somehow, out of a vague spark of professional jealousy toward Dan Mihalopoulos, I roused myself, and helped make a child's Christmas a little brighter, assuming the gifts don't end up as Yule logs at Bruce Rauner's ski chalet.
     If I can do it, so can you. but time is short. Go online at twww.suntimes.com/santa or call 312-321-3114 and asking for a Letter to Santa. You can be a solipsistic bastard concerned with only your own comfort the rest of the year. Who knows, it might even make you feel good. It didn't do a thing for me. But it might do something for you. Stranger things have happened. 

14 comments:

  1. "are there no workhouses..."

    You did the right thing.

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  2. Great heading for this. I'm hoping you were kidding about the no toy stores. Toys R Us is still around the city isn't it? I've gotten little green army men there for my son, Toy Story brought them back big time. I think American Science & Surplus has them too. The Minecraft Legos are cool sets, did you get the Nether? It's extremely kind of you doing this, those could be the only gifts that student gets, as opposed to the UK mom who posted photos of the 300+ gifts for her kids. It doesn't take much thought to figure which child will appreciate their gifts.

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  3. I've enjoyed this program for years, especially since my own kids grew past the toy store years. Lest anyone be discouraged by the costs our host incurred, a $25-30 gift limit is encouraged, so "no one will feel slighted by Santa." This year my letters were from kindergarteners, so the lack of eloquence and legible handwriting were more than made up for by the artwork.

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  4. Christmas should be like the Olympics. Every four years.

    That's how we get excited when tiny women twirl around huge mats with ribbons on a stick. If you saw that stuff every year you might open a vein. At a minimum you would be cynical. Like most of us are regarding the annual Christmas consumer orgy.

    If people waving ribbons on a stick can be scintillating if we are forced to wait 4 years, imagine how mind blowing Christmas will be if we only do it every four years. If you don't like this proposal, remember, they laughed at Fulton.

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    1. Yeah, we can pretend Christ was born in a leap year. We're already pretending that he was born around the winter solstice.

      John

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  5. The Scrooge-ish tone does my cold, withered heart good.

    My friend Janine, who's a fellow grammar-and-language nerd, asked me just the other night about the phrase "You've got another thing coming" and asked if I'd ever seen or heard it expressed as "You've got another think coming." I said I hadn't and she told me that was the original phrase, and has changed over the years to the point the original has been mostly lost. Not that I didn't believe her, but I do like to look these things up to see for myself, and sure enough, she was correct. It probably changed because the original sounded, and was (intentionally, as it turns out) ungrammatical. The things you learn swilling booze at a holiday party...

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    1. Oddly, I've only ever heard the "think" version.

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  6. Brings to mind what Oscar Wilde said about Dickens' "Old Curiosity Shop:" "One must have a heart of stone to read about the death of little Nell without laughing."

    You're right that the original saying is "another think."

    Tom Evans

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    1. I'd never heard that, but I changed it, just to stop people from emailing me about it.

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  7. Corrected for spelling...Do something good for others this holiday season because you want to; not because you feel you have to. It's not just about toys for the needy. Donate to food pantries and why not buy a gift card for a deserving family?

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    1. The other spelling made me smile.

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    2. Damn, I thought I caught it before anyone noticed! :-)

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  8. Your wife is right, don't be cheap. There are people with kids in college who make less, yet not poor enough to get aide, that manage. You are better off than you think.

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