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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
A funny thing happened to me on the way to the sofa.
Alright, it wasn’t as funny in the ‘ha-ha’ sense as in the ‘funny-peculiar’ sense.
I should point out that the sofa was my chosen destination after the Thanksgiving meal, as it should be for every grown man in America after he has helped clear the table and wash the dishes, and is the place of belching repose for the next few hours while something noisy or sporty plays on the television.
Alas, it was not to be.
Once the meal had been successfully demolished and various foamy pies mercilessly butchered, I was coerced into a large vehicle for a trip to an attraction in San Antonio that – I was told – would be a delightful must-see and to which we might as a family make it a tradition to go each year.
Well, hold your horses there, everyone. Not only can I not fit my belly into this seatbelt, but I haven’t yet seen this marvel of the holiday season, so my vote on its becoming a tradition has yet to be cast.
Off we tootled, then, happily and flatulently bouncing along the narrow country lanes that still wend their way between some suburban neighborhoods on the outskirts of San Antonio, until we crested a rise and spotted two boys in reflective stripes lurking beside a tree in the early evening gloom. As I wasn’t the one driving, I had little say in whether we should slow the enormous vehicle to quiz the pair on whether this were the entrance to the attraction about which I still knew woefully little.
It was, the lesser bearded of the pair said while the other puffed on a vaping pen, and if we would just drive into this field – he pointed with his chin because apparently it was too cold to withdraw his hands from his pockets – we would soon be met by others similarly clad in shiny orange.
We dutifully obeyed (well, wouldn’t you?) and rode on very soft springs over ruts and bumps until we spotted a string of Christmas lights between some trees. This was followed by another and another for a considerable distance until I was certain we’d been led in a lot of circles and should at any moment return to the shady lurkers.
Eventually, the chain of lights led us to a vast open field of the type on which you’d expect the army to demonstrate tank maneuvers, and more shifty looking characters emerged from the darkening night.
Forty-five dollars per carload, we were told, would give us access to a fantastic festival of Christmas, an extravaganza so overwhelming that we might spend weeks trying to regain our whelm, something about which we’d tell grandchildren years hence, trembling in anticipation of the marvel.
There’s a word I can’t print here.
For the next twenty minutes or more, traveling at an annoying crawl dictated by the taillights of the vehicle in front, we followed a trail of lights so bright and gaudy that I could see dots for hours later. Whirls of laser-lit kaleidoscope formed tunnels around which penguins leapt in gay abandon, clapping their beaks in time to the lyrics of a pop song that played on the radio in our car. Starbursts flashed on either side in red, white and blue; enormous sparkling snowflakes of rainbow colors loomed out of the night at our sides or dangled from poles; perfectly conical trees made of wire became jets of light darting into the heavens; patriotic flags and stars and boots and eagles leapt at us from every direction; something oomphty-oomphty blasted out of the radio speakers… and it just seemed never to stop.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a multi-sensory assault quite like it in my life.
To see one tunnel of flashing lights and say “Aahh” is quite alright… but I’m at a loss for what to say after the fifth. The twentieth, thirtieth or more, dancing penguin no longer thrills me in the way the first might have done, had I been five or six years old.
I remember Christmas lights all dainty around someone’s window, perhaps draped across some shrubbery or illuminating a plastic shepherd, camel or rosy-cheeked Messiah… but I cannot for the life of me see what these penguins and eagles and laser darts have in common with that most special night on the Christian calendar.
“Dad, did the shepherds bring penguins to Bethlehem?”
Somewhere along the way, a portion of the message must have been lost.
It’s still out there, I’m sure, along with my forty-five dollars, twisting painfully in the blinking brilliance, vibrating to the oomphty-oomphty.