A few christmas parties ago our techie neighbor gave us a robot alarm clock….you set the alarm and when the time hit it would go berserk and roll around frantically, bumping into things, racing about, its alarm screeching and whooping and generally being absolutely awful. He set the time for 11 pm or so, wrapped it with pretty christmas wrapping paper and put it under the tree. By 11 pm the party was truly happening, packed and loud and not out of control but threatening to. A good party always threatens to. The sofa facing the tree was full of pathetically stoned people. It’s like they showed up, sat down, and hadn’t moved since. They couldn’t. They’d melted into it, become one with the fabric. It was almost zen.
Suddenly our neighbor’s present began thrashing about in its wrapper and screeching and whooping. No one noticed but the stoners, since they were staring at the tree and had been for hours. All the pretty lights. Now one of the presents starts thrashing about and bleeping and screeching and whooping. Ummm wow, that’s fucked up. Fuck. Dude, yeah, that’s fucked up. Then stoner paranoia set in. Maybe it was terrorists. (It had only been a year or two since 9/11.) Dude, terrorists at Brick and Fyl’s party. Fucked up. The whooping and thrashing suddenly stopped. Someone fired up a bowl.
Five minutes later the clock goes off again. Same thing, whooping, screeching, thrashing. Stoners are creeping out bad. Someone came out on the deck and got me. There’s something making noise under the tree, she said, laughing, and it’s freaking out the stoners. When I went inside there were all these traumatized stoners on the couch, trying to ignore the crazy package under the tree. I reached down and picked it up and knew immediately what it was. I unwrapped it and put the thing on the floor and it raced around bumping into things and the stoners stared, bewildered but relieved that there were no terrorists at the party. Dude, they said. Dude. Then someone fired up another bowl.
At our Christmas party a year or two later I walked into the living room and the same pathetically stoned people were sunk into the couch and melting into chairs. Again, they could barely move. But this was no zen moment. Because on the desk beside them was a Singing Christmas Tree. The cheapest, ugliest, tackiest Singing Christmas Tree you can imagine. Nobody said a word…the tree was silent, the stoners just couldn’t speak. I asked if it was still singing and was shushed. Uhhhhhhhhhh yeah, they almost whispered, fuck it’s awful ummmmmmmm hate it never shuts up non stop ehhhhhh fuck I hate it yeah who idea was that? They looked at it with this impotent mix of disgust and fear and hatred. If there was a Christmas hell they were in it.
I clapped my hands and it started singing again, the eyes moving horribly. Christmas bulbs and a smiling Santa—someone had decorated the thing—swayed back and forth. The stoned victims squirmed helplessly and cringed and tried not to look at it. This was the most un-zen moment ever. I laughed–how could you not laugh?–and asked if anyone had tried to turn it off. Uhhhh no uh no ummmmm how? So I went up to it mid-dance, reached behind, found the switch and shut it off. Instant silence. The stoners looked at me like I was Jesus performing a miracle. I had saved them. Their faces glowed. They muttered thanks. Then one of them fired up another bowl.
My wife wouldn’t let me throw the thing out after. I guess it seemed sentient and so it was somehow criminal, even murderous to chuck it in the bin. I sighed and packed it away with the Christmas stuff. B\ut at the next year’s party I banished it to the sundeck where it greeted people as they came up the steps. Everyone hated it. Someone turned it off. When I cleaned up that night I forgot it was out there. The next day the rain began. It rained and rained, a cold, soaking rain. When it lifted, and the sun and dried everything again,. I went out and found the singing christmas tree. I flipped on the switch and it came to life, barely. It croaked out its song and twitched and shivered in a sad semblance of a christmas tree dance. Branches were missing and broken ornaments hung from what remained. It was like some kind of science fiction christmas tree, a dystopian Christmas tree, a singing christmas tree that emerged from ground zero a hideous radioactive zombie christmas tree. From Hell It Came. I was astonished that it was still alive at all. I felt a ridiculous kind of guilt, so I took it down to the trash bins but damn if I couldn’t get myself to toss it in. So I left it on top. The next morning it was gone. Someone had taken it.
Dude, that’s fucked up.