The Red Suit Conspiracy – believing in Santa

WARNING:  THIS BLOG MAY MAKE FOR AN UNCOMFORTABLE CHAT IF LITTLE ONES READ IT.

As a kid, I was pretty gullible.  I tended to think that what anyone told me was the truth, otherwise, why would they say it?

I also spent a lot of time getting sucked in to things.  Maybe that’s why I hate gambling so much.  Not that I have a moral stance on it, but just because I’m lousy at it.

When you’re really little, like pre-school or Kindergarten aged, Santa is like God to you.  What an incredible being, who rides around at night in a sleigh being pulled by flying reindeer, leaving presents under the tree for every kid in the world. It’s no wonder kids run screaming from him at the mall.  He’s super human!

Of course, toddlers don’t think in practical terms.  We are told about Santa, we see the gifts, so therefore, Santa is real.  Simple.

As you get a bit older, you start to see some cracks in the Santa story, though.  Mostly, it’s from older kids laughing or beating up some poor sucker who blathered that they still believe.  Who wants that kind of Christmas gift?

I remember when I lost my ‘Christmas Virginity’.  It took a while, much like my rea…..never mind.  Anyway, it started out with little things like opening the gifts with Santa’s signature on them, then going to our cousins house to see similar Santa gifts with different hand writing on the presents.  That sure seemed odd.

Then there would be Christmas Eve when we were tucked not so neatly into our beds, and I’d hear what sounded like Mom and Dad stumbling down the stairs with something big.

I spent some serious time contemplating this dilemma.  I mean, on one hand, for every Christmas up to now, the manifestation of the great and powerful Santa was clearly evident.  Shopping malls had him on display, Christmas specials confirmed his existence, and our parents and older family members assured us that he was very real.  Then, as sure as the sun would come up, presents were littered around the tree.

Being the gullible kid I was, and knowing I was gullible, meant that I had to take serious stock of things.  I didn’t want to be that kid getting beat up in the school yard for believing – especially if it wasn’t true.

So, I weighed the evidence before me.  The gifts showed up as promised every year, with no trace of them in the house before I went to bed, and all the television, radio, and adult conversation said he was real.  It’s what I was raised to believe.

On the other hand, the idea that one man could circumnavigate the entire globe in one night flying around with magic reindeer, stopping at virtually every house on the planet, and little elves making cool toys like etch-a-sketch and rock-em-sock-em robots didn’t seem very likely.

So, it came down to one key factor.  Was the Santa story a magical truth or an elaborate hoax?  When faced with this at the age of 8 or 9, I decided that the only logical explanation was that he must exist, simply because I concluded that there was no way an entire adult world could support such an elaborate ruse for that long.  Not a chance!

I was happily resolved with my results until one day when I was playing at a friends house, and he said to me, “I don’t believe in Santa.  Do you?“.  Gulp!  The acid test.  Could I stand behind my conviction?

No!  Of course not.  I blurted out, unconvincingly, “No, I don’t either.

Just then, my friend’s mother walked in and scolded us for telling the secret when his little sister was just in the other room.

Wait a minute.  I was lying when I said that I didn’t believe.  Now, this lady unwittingly confirmed my worst fear.  Santa didn’t exist after all.

I was quietly heart-broken.  All those dumb adults really could keep the secret.  So much for logical deduction!

Through adolescence and early adulthood, I was wise and smug about Santa.  I would mentally criticize parents who tried to convince their kids that the jolly old elf was working hard up at the North Pole, so they’d better be nice…..or else!

That is, until I had kids of my own.

When you have children, your cynicism about things starts to soften.  You start to immerse yourself into their wonderful little fantasy worlds.  And along with that, you begin to rethink your stance on the whole Santa conspiracy.

I took a logical approach to Santa, just like I did when I was 8. Putting aside for a moment, just who Santa is, lets look at things:

  • He still comes late at night, delivering gifts to children – CHECK
  • He works all year in his ‘workshop’ so the kids will have gifts under the tree by Christmas – CHECK
  • He brings joy and amazement to little children on Christmas morning – CHECK

I think that if you put a few details aside, like the little reindeer, and the North Pole, Santa is every bit as real as us.  I think we, in our smug, all-knowing youth, had it completely wrong.  The little kids were right after all.

Santa does exist.  There is no conspiracy after all.

Great, old St. Nickolaus, the Bishop of Myra in Turkey who is said to have given gifts to children at the time, was only the first in a very long line.

Now, those honoured enough, and who have a hint of that childhood belief, work all year long in their own ‘workshops’ (office), along side the ‘elves’ (co-workers), and deliver gifts on that magical night to their little children.

What an awesome job to have.  Being Santa Claus. If all those parents slogging away all year, then standing in line at the mall don’t believe in Santa, they are as lost to the magic as any child who stops believing at an early age.

Let me stress that Christmas is NOT about giving and getting presents, or going into debt while burning through your credit limit at the mall.  Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  In that spirit, however, bringing joy to children seems like a pretty nice way to celebrate God’s love for us.

Don’t give up on Santa.  He’s real, and he’s in each of us.  The sleigh and red suit may be gone, but what he did, and what he represents is as real as ever.

Merry Christmas!

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The Awkward Shopper

I’ve been out doing back-to-school shopping with my kids.

Now that they’re older, with one in university and one in her last year of high school, the old list has changed a bit.  No more backpacks and colored pencil cases.  Now it’s modular shelving and office chairs.

We still managed to drop almost a hundred bucks at an office supply store, getting stocked up on extra paper, binders and pens, just for old times sake.

Today’s shopping was with my wife and daughter – my son, thankfully, was spared (and we were from him) from being subjected to ladies fashion and shoe stores.

While they happily browsed racks and racks of various sizes and styles of outfits, I was in charge of purse-holding, and rack leaning.  The rack leaning becomes a fine art after about 20 minutes of standing next to your ladies while they hold up outfits and say “‘what do you think about this one?”.

Leaning on the rack is the only thing that keeps you from falling over altogether, since these stores are clearly designed as a shopping marathon, and not a shopping leisure event.  No comfy couches, no televisions, no coffee machines.  This is ALL business, mister!

The endless line of clothes that dizzy the eye and the hours of standing on your feet, trying to stay engaged in the shopping process is not the worst of these outings, though.  It’s not even heading to the cashier with an armful of garments to hand over your credit card, or holding the purse – does any guy know how to hold a purse properly?  Really – I’m asking.

The big challenge is knowing where not to look.  Wandering eyes for any man in a ladies clothing store has to be the trickiest part of the process.  Standing there in the store, holding up another rack of clothes (hopefully not underwear), you have to refocus your eyes so that you don’t slip into unconsciousness.

It’s during this ‘refocusing’ that things can get dicey.  You look out, further than the rack directly in front of you, trying to recalibrate your vision, when you realize that you are looking directly at a woman holding up some slinky little number against herself.  This is coincidentally enough, the exact moment that she catches your nonspecific gaze at her.

Nothing can feel more creepy for either parties.  You’re trying your hardest to quickly look away, like you were never looking at her in the first place (which you really weren’t), and she, I assume, realizes that there’s a creepy dude staring at her while she sizes up outfits.

Awkward.

If you’re really lucky, you might catch the eye of another poor male soul, trying his best to look natural in this most unnatural of settings.  There’s a common bond in these unspoken connections – brothers in arms, fighting the good fight for the sake of our precious relationships.

There’s sometimes a silent nod – ‘Hey, brother, I feel your pain.  Hang in there.  You’re taking one for the team’. Somehow, we find comfort behind those desperate glances.

At least we know that we’re not the only creepy stalker dudes hanging out near the undergarments.

Of course, when your lady heads to the change rooms, there’s a whole other level of awkwardness going on.  Now, you’re standing outside the change rooms where ALL the women come out to get opinions on their finds.  You don’t know whether to quickly look away, or give a thumbs up on what they’re wearing.  You’re busted – no way out of it.

That’s one area of the shopping process that you can’t skip out of either – they want your feedback.  They need your feedback.  So, you have to standby and wait, again trying to look natural, leaning against something you shouldn’t be leaning against, hoping that when you hear that change room door open, it’s for you.

If the people who design ladies apparel stores were smart, they’d set up ‘Man Cave’ zones, where we could be within sight lines of our lovely shoppers, but sit in comfort – maybe they could have a TV set up somewhere – heck it doesn’t even have to be on a sports station – the Weather Channel would be better than the alternative.

I know this all sounds rather sexist, but I tell you, it won’t work in a Men’s store, because men don’t shop – they buy.  We pride ourselves not on the great purchase, but the great speed at which we made the purchase.

We’re not in there long enough for anyone to get sore feet or stand awkwardly against a rack of ties.  And we don’t try things on, either.

“Hmmm.  This plain white shirt seems okay, and it comes in large.  I’ll take it”.  Done.

When we get home, and put it on, it might fit – it might not.  If it doesn’t, that’s okay, because the old one was perfectly good – just a couple of stains.  We’ll just keep wearing the old one, kind of like our underwear.

It’s a wonder that the fashion industry hasn’t figured this all out yet.

The Great Divorce

Don’t be alarmed!

This is neither a re-write of the famous CS Lewis novel about our eternal relationship with God, or news of tragic events in my 27 year marriage.

This divorce has to do with my home service providers – phone, internet, and television.  Although our relationship started out as a passionate affair, it ended, as many unions do, in bitter resentment, expensive bills, and angry words.

Like most failed relationships, mine started out with an indiscretion.  A curious glance in a store.  Eyes slowly move down to the curvacious sign,  ‘Unlimited Internet’.  A flirtatious smile turns into a conversation, and things just happen.

It’s not like I went out looking, and I wasn’t entirely unhappy with my previous provider, but you know, sometimes the internet was a bit slow, or I couldn’t get the hockey game because of local blackouts.  Unexpected charges showing up on my monthly bills that weren’t easily explained, and being denied ‘services’ on my e-mail account all began to cause a rift.  You get the picture.

Nothing to throw it all away over, but there were definitely some problems at home.

I got contact information at the store to ‘give them a call’ or check their website for details.  I was flushed.  My heart was beating a little faster with the idea of what might happen.

Back at home, I quickly engaged in a ‘chat’ online.  It was salacious;

“Hi, this is Patrick.  How can I help you today?”

“Hi Patrick.  I think I want to talk to you about switching over my home services.”

“Sure – I can definitely help you with that”.

From there, I was past the point of no return.  Patrick’s slick pitch, his nearly perfect typing, and his promises of a lifetime of crystal clear TV reception had me hooked.

But now came the awkward conversation with my current company:

“Hello. I’m calling to cancel my subscription with you”

“Why?  What did we do wrong?  We can change….please don’t leave”…or something like that.  Once they know it’s over, though, the tone changes in a hurry.  Hell hath no fury like a service provider scorned.

“There will be a 30 day cancellation fee charged to your bill”. Ouch!

“This will commence when you have returned the equipment, in good working order, along with all power connections to one of our local offices”.

“Aw, don’t be like that.  I’m just not happy any more.  I’m sure you understand, right?”

“You should have read the fine print on the contract, Sir!”

“Fine! Charge me whatever.  I just want you guys out of my house”.

And with that, we separated.

Now I could look forward to my shiny new relationship, along with all it’s promises of quiet nights on the couch, channel surfing in High Definition, phone calls with call display, and oodles of limit-free You Tube videos.  Beautiful!

Things began to unravel quickly once they moved in, though.

The first sign that it wasn’t going to go well, was when the installation guy showed up at the door, unannounced, in a competitors uniform.

“Hi, can I help you?”

“Yeah, I’m here to set up you phone.”

“But we signed up with someone else”.

“Oh, don’t let the uniform confuse you – your new company uses everyone to install their service”.

“Really? They don’t do it themselves?”  I felt a little unclean, knowing that my new service provider would use just ‘anyone’ to send to my house.

“How come they didn’t call first?”

“I don’t know, sir.  Do you want me to install it or not?”

“Sure! Come on in”.  I mean, what else am I going to say?  It’s not like the old company would take me back after all the bad blood, and I’m not one to grovel.  Besides, I was still excited about our new relationship and couldn’t wait for them to ‘move in’.

After the service guy hooked up the new phone line, I asked about the internet.

“Where’s your new modem?” he asked, in a rather unfriendly manner.

They never sent me one.  I thought you’d bring it with you”.

“Figures!” The guy says. “They’re always screwing up like this.  Nothing on my work order about setting up internet”.

Oh, boy.  After the guy left, I called my new service provider for some sort of explanation.  Had to be a one-off oversight.  They’d never do this to someone after such a great first encounter.

I sat on hold for over an hour.  Finally, I got someone on the phone, but the phone line was so crackly, that I could only make out part of what they were saying.

Somewhere in the conversation, they apologized for messing up, and assured me it would never happen again.  We’d soon get over this little spat and live happily for years to come.

A new modem would be rushed out right away.

Days go by, and I noticed that not only does the phone not work properly, I don’t have call display.

If you’re like me, call display is the only defense against telemarketers.  Without it, you are doomed to listen to 5 minute pitches on why you need more life insurance, or that your ducts need cleaning and they have someone working in your neighbourhood already.  They can come by for a quote.

This is bad!  I called them back:

“Hello – I’m getting a bit frustrated with you.  First, you forgot to set up my internet, then your new phone line is so bad, I have to use my cell phone to talk to anyone, and now, I’m stuck having to fend off every telemarketer who calls because I can’t screen them.  Do you know how many telemarketers there are out there?”

“Yes, I see you are having some problems.  Unfortunately, we cannot fix your line until tomorrow”.

“I see.  Well, this isn’t a good way to start a relationship, but I’ll give you one more chance.  Please have this fixed tomorrow.  And while you’re at it, I still don’t have my modem”.

Fast forward 3 days…

On hold again – this time, I was on hold so long, that my cordless phone actually ran out of juice, and I was forced to hang up.

At this point, the honeymoon was officially over!

Another attempt.  By the way, if you ever get caught in one of those voice-mail loops, just keep hitting ‘0’ until someone picks up.  Doesn’t always work, but sometimes you get lucky.

“Hello, this is Sylvie.  How can I help you?”

“Hello, Sylvie – I want Patrick.  We had a thing, and he’s the only one who I can talk to.  Where’s Patrick?  He knows my needs”.

“I’m very sorry, but Patrick is not available today.  Can I help you?”

“Sylvie, you’re not going to like this very much, but I’ve had it with you”.

I went on to unload all my frustration on poor Sylvie.  She was a professional, and maintained her composure.  I wish I could have said the same about me.

By that afternoon, I decided to end it.  This one was just not going to work out.  Too many lies, too many broken promises. I was scarred too deeply.

I wanted so badly for this to work, but I just couldn’t do it.  It was tough on the family, of course, and the kids take it the worst.  In the end, though, I had to get out of this relationship before any more damage was done.

After hours of on-line searching, I found my new companion.  Bright, shiny, tons of HD.

I clicked on the ‘chat’ button:

“Hello, this is Daniel.  How can I help you today?”

“Hi, Daniel.  I think I want to talk to you about switching over my home services”.

“Sure – I can definitely help you with that”….