Hot toys, cold nights

by Brian Clarey

You know how I feel about cold weather? I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.

So I’m predisposed to grumpiness lately, what with the mornings spent shivering over coffee while trying to get the kids on the school bus, days trapped in an office cold enough to store meat in and occasional forays into the bitter outdoors for resentful acts of cigarette smoking.

The season, too, usually chafes me— particularly because of the grand mass-marketing hustle being sold to you as “Christmas,” wherein you are encouraged to disperse a goodly portion of your disposable income in celebration of a misrepresentation of something that may or may not have happened a long time ago.

For parents the holiday can be brutal. Children have all sorts of expectations about Christmas, fueled by a mythology that dictates that “good” little boys and girls see all their Christmas wishes come true and everybody else gets lumps of coal.

Even my own children have become inured to the grandiosity of Christmas giving, as evidenced by lavish request lists to Santa that have absolutely no basis in our family’s economic reality and, frankly, make them look like greedy little bastards.

So when my wife asked me last week to venture out — into the cold, I remind you — in pursuit of a “hot” toy that she had been unable to track down, I thought, “Here we go….”

The toy in question is an appendage to our existing video game console, one with a camera capable of recording the player’s every move and, for all I know, broadcasting it on the internet.

This is a ridiculous item, by the way, and one totally inappropriate for the two boys in my house who love video games — for many reasons, not the least of which is that their slophouse of a bedroom has too much dirty laundry on the floor for them to have a place to stand.

They would be better off if I got them a rake to clean it all up with, honestly.

Also, this is a new product, in its first generation, which means it is the most scarce and most expensive it will ever be, has the most glitches and bugs, and the least amount of compatible games.

And let’s be real: This thing could turn into the next laser disc player by spring.

Grumbling and grudgingly I set out to find one of these devices, starting with a round of phone calls that I surmised would take all morning. I even started a log at 8:59 a.m. to record what I was sure would be a hilarious misadventure with a Scroogian theme.

But then…. By — no joke — 9:10 a.m. I had secured one of these machines, drove off to get it and had it back in my office before 10. Easy peasy. It wasn’t cheap by my family’s standards, but when I swept my debit card to pay for it, I was struck with the realization that the price was not a huge issue: We’ve had a good year in our house, unlike many of our friends around the country, and as a result we had some loose money rolling around in the checking account. Despite my repeated claims to the contrary over the years, it really did make me feel good to… buy something… something nice and new, something that my kids really wanted, something that, if it truly works as advertised, looks like it might actually be a lot of fun for all of us.

And then it started to dawn on me: I am truly looking forward to Christmas this year — and not just the parts of it that have to do with alcohol and time taken off work. I’ve got a yuletide hankering for all of it: spending time with family, overeating, blowing through the bank account to buy presents for the people we love, generating shameful piles of garbage from packaging and wrapping, booking impossible-to-fulfill schedules of parties and events, listening to the same 20 Christmas songs over and over, lying to my children about where their presents come from.

And whereas I usually spend this time of year complaining here in my column or on the phone or anywhere else I can find someone to listen, this year things are different. Things are… better… for me, for my family and for lots of the people we care about.

As much as it goes against my nature to admit it, I have got the Christmas spirit, got it in spades, and while there may not be a Santa suit in my near future, I wouldn’t say no to a pair of reindeer antlers and a well-laced cup of eggnog. Even the weather this Christmas season, colder here in North Carolina than any other year in my memory, I’ve been keeping at bay with layered clothing and an ample supply of firewood. If we do get snow on Christmas Eve, a definite possibility, I’ll be right out there with the rest of the fools, singing children’s songs in the freezing cold.