Yesterday, I took my weekly shopping trip into town, a word I loosely use to define the small commercial district in the village outside of Chicago where I live. "Town" is never particularly busy, except for the beauty shops and banks, since most Americans of the suburban-persuasion tend to prefer shopping in malls. But amongst the beauty shops and banks there is a good grocery store, a movie theatre, two bookstores, a yarn shop, and an amazing thrift store run by the local church ladies. Thus my Saturday ritual is generally quite pleasant, and succors me in the dark moments of suburban thralldom when I want to trade my house for a ticket to Tasmania.
But as I was approaching the main drag, dreaming about making some pasta fazool, I saw a festively adorned horse-drawn wagon conveying happy, red-cheeked families through the square. Startled out of my reverie, I noticed that Santa Claus was across the street from me, with an entourage of elves.
I reflexively reached for a cigarette. (NO! DON'T! Don't smoke in front of the elves!)
I heard caroling. A group of teenagers was singing four-part harmonies in front of a store. Sleigh bells were ringing. Chistmas lights were blinking...Christmas was upon me...
...and there was no place to hide.
Yes, my initial reaction was to flee.
And then I got it. The Christmas Spirit. Or, more accurately, Christmas Anxiety which how I once heard it described.
Up until that moment, I had been happily (and I might add, somewhat smugly) ignoring Christmas. I had even been successful in tuning out the Christmas music that my boss has been playing non-stop since November 1st, a Jedi mind trick I learned back in my retail days. This year it worked too well. It was now December 3rd and I HAD NOT BOUGHT ONE SINGLE CHRISTMAS PRESENT. Or put up a tree. OR baked cookies.
I went right to the thrift store.
There, I hoped to find a sweater suitable for "Ugly Sweater" day at the office. It did not disappoint.
"Ugle Sweater" occasions are an American phenomenon which has its roots in the propensity of American women to wear ugly sweaters with holiday themes. Apparently, there is no amount of ridicule that will make these women see the light and stop wearing them. So a backlash tradition has emerged as a non-violent solution to the problem.
I am proud to say that, until yesterday, I was not in possession of an ugly sweater. Well, some of them may be unattractive but, certainly, none of them have holiday themes. Fortunately, I was able to score an ugly sweater without spending a significant amount of money. And, let me tell you, it's a hummer!
First of all, to give credit where it is due, my new ugly sweater is a well-constructed vintage cardigan, made in Hong Kong, possibly hand-knitted, of a very good Shetland wool. Genuine shell buttons. In mint condition.
That being said, how could they go so very, very wrong? (Or right, in my case.) The sweater design is of two sizes of checkerboard plaid in the three ugliest colors in existence: rust, tomato red, and ecru. Knitted into the plaid are snowflakes and around the borders of the sleeves and waist are...
...are you ready?
Flipping brilliant. And truly, truly hideous. I am of the opinion that the sweater is - in spite of the snowflakes and the red - not strictly Christmas, unless there is some story about Christmas Cats with which I am not yet familiar. But, on Ugly Sweater Day, I will incongruously place a large crystal brooch on one lapel to drive the message home.
Expect the unexpected.
One more incident from yesterday worth noting. As I was on my way to buy ingredients for Christmas treats, I saw an elderly (i.e., older than me) woman standing in the middle of a busy street, acting confused, and frightened by the passing cars.
Filled with The Spirit, I hurried to her side and took her elbow. "It's okay," I said in a soothing voice.
She slapped my hand away. "What's the matter with you, lady?" she yelled. "Don't you think I know how to cross the goddam street?"
Just what I needed. I took out a cigarette.
Screw the elves.