Saturday, 24 November 2012

Christmas: Less about sentiment, more about the hunt

My life has changed in the last few weeks.
First, I lost my Kindle. Then my computer caught a virus. Then I saw the dreaded red blink on the printer – no more ink. And finally, my iPhone started dropping apps.
I found myself in a technological dead zone.
It’s as if God gave me a time out.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the high-priced coffee machine my son bought me started exploding and then died. We sent it along to a Wall-e style graveyard where all the old Cuisinarts and Kitchen Aids go to die.
The coffee machine isn’t that big a problem; the fact is, I don’t really like coffee, if I were to be perfectly honest, so I’m back to tea, and not the expensive kind, either. The kind you buy at the ethnic food store, two dollars for three hundred bags of Darjeeling.
In past days, I’ve realized I’m in need of a complete technological retrofit.
I need a new phone. Will it be an iPhone 5 or a Samsung Galaxy? I need a new computer. Will it be a Mac or a new PC with Windows 8? Then I’ll have to find a new Kindle. Will it be a Kindle Fire or a fancy tablet which will also teach me how to speak Spanish and play the piano?
I need, I need, I need.
No I don’t.
I want, I want, I want.
I can dream, of course. But I’m getting none of those. With Scott out of work and me barely making a living as a magazine editor, I can’t even afford to go to Starbucks anymore.
You can’t live a caviar life when you’re on a sardine budget.
But you know what? Something strange happened.
With the computer on the fritz, I’ve been forced to stop checking Facebook every ten minutes and sharing every silly joke. Without 24-access to the world media, I’ve stopped worrying about the Middle East and the plight of the poor folks on the Rockway. NOT having access to the media means you don’t know what’s going on around you, so you pretty much stop worrying about things you can’t control.
Two other things happened. We’ve had to stop drinking and I had to give up my gym membership for a few months. No more bottle of wine, maybe a cocktail at dinner. Now it’s soda water and tea. No more pounding the elliptical for an hour. Now I’m having to break out the old fitness DVDs and body ball and settle for walking the dog.
Now some of you might think all of this is bad, but I’m beginning to come to terms with it.
Without the wine, I sleep better. Instead of looking at grimaced and determined faces dripping sweat in designer togs, I’m laughing at Finnigan chasing Lilly the poodle around the forest. 
A life stripped of perks and gadgets has become a quiet and more peaceful place. I’m reading books again. I’m reading my deeply discounted newspaper which is delivered to my door every day again.
In short, I’m savoring the simple life.
Watching Black Friday, I can’t help but feel sorry for those people who are chasing bargains and fighting among themselves for the last LCD or gaming system they don’t need. I feel sorry, too, for those trying to haggle for a new SUV so they can drive their entitled adolescents and sit in $200 seats to see Justin Bieber.
Just a bunch of rats in Ralph Lauren chasing and eating their tails.
I’ve been there, had lots of money and wanted more. I worried about my portfolio.
Years ago, I’d have been the first person in line to buy the newest tablet or phone. I’d trade in my car every three years. Why, I still have a closet full of designer clothes I bought what seems like a century ago.
But today, I’m learning to make do. I realize I don’t need a five dollar coffee every single day when a hot cup of Chai will do just as well. My 14-year-old Subaru works perfectly fine, better in winter than most new-fangled cars. And I don’t need a smart phone to speak to stupid people.
I was thinking last night about my childhood on the farm, and magical Christmases when I would get a doll or a pair of skates and be thrilled by it. I used to stay awake all night at the prospect of seeing Santa come in his sleigh to my public school to give me a bag with a few little treats and an orange. Man, you know what? I can still smell that orange.
It was never the gift or the bag of treats that mattered. It was the anticipation and the sparkle of the magical season, with Frosty the Snowman and Andy Williams and a Charlie Brown Christmas all playing on the black and white. You have to watch these shows in real time; you couldn’t TIVO them.
And we cherished our little presents from relatives and we savored the candy canes on the tree.
Nobody does that now.
Now it’s less about the sentiment and it’s all about the hunt.
No matter.
That’s another world, a world that I do not live in.
Today, we will put up our fake Christmas tree, the perfect artificial tree we found gently wrapped at the curbside last year with a note “free” attached to it. I love that tree more than I have ever loved any Christmas tree, not because it was free but because we were able to give it a new home.
Today, I’ll make some muffins, maybe some cookies, maybe some vegetable soup to stretch a dollar.
We’ll take Finnigan to Conroy Pit and watch him duke it out with a fierce poodle or rollover a French bulldog.
Maybe, I’ll sit down with one of the books I found in the basement, a book I bought months back but never got around to reading.
Or maybe we’ll make some popcorn and watch a movie on Netflix.
And in honor of Christmases past and the people who worked hard to make them special, I’ll have an orange and a sweet.
Life is good, God.
Thanks for the time out.

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