A Christmas story for our time


The annual holiday card arrived from Jess Brownell and Sbirley Conlon, longtime Guardian friends from Milwaukee. As usual, their message was timely, relevant, and laden with insights.  B3

Dear Friends,

      It’s been a memorable year, which is way too much like living in interesting times. 

     But enough sordid details.  The holiday season is here, when fantasy always trumps reality.  We can pretend, pretend that our wins outnumber our losses, pretend that wisdom and decency prevail, pretend that peace and benevolence are ascendant, pretend . . .

     . . . that Ebenezer Scrooge is in his counting house, busily making trades for his billion dollar Merry Christmas to Me hedge fund when he is visited by a delegation of Santa’s elves.  The elves explain that in the digital era Santa has no need for the simple toys they used to make so he has outsourced manufacturing to China and sent them packing.  They are now desperate for work.

     “You’re very small,” Scrooge points out.  “You’ll have to work for a lot less than the people I’m employing now.”

     The elves, unable even to see over the counter at McDonalds’s to take orders, agree to his terms.

     “Excellent,” says Scrooge.  “Now go crouch under desks and hide behind heating vents.  Get some inside information.  Make me some money . . .

     . . . I want a Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas,” says Ralphie Parker to the department store Santa Claus, “You know, the pump-action kind with the compass and the thing that tells time.”

       “They don’t make those these days,” explains Santa wearily.  “That takes elves.  What you want is this Grand Theft Auto video game.”

     “Noooo,” Ralphie wails.  “You’re not the real Santa . . .

     . . Sorry, but we don’t do that anymore,” the Ghost of Jacob Marley tells the inquisitive novelist.  (They always come around this time of year, craving material.) 

“I mean, look at us.”  He jabs a finger at the Spirit of Christmas Past, dozing fitfully in a chair in a corner of the retirement home rec room.  At a table near the window the Spirits of Christmas Present and Future are engaged in an extremely slow-moving cribbage game.  “We’re past it, man.  Besides, Scrooge’s insurance only covered one intervention.  He’s on his own this time . . .  

(And you thought Cloud Atlas was hard to follow.)

 . . . I’m busted,” says Scrooge, standing hat in hand before Mr. Potter in his Bedford Falls office.  “Those elves ruined me.  They made a huge gamble on sleigh bells, shorted coal, and took an unnatural position in red-nosed reindeers.  I’ve lost it all, and I need a job.”

     “You’re in luck,” Potter tells him.  “Our Building and Loan manager, George Bailey, just jumped in the river.  You can take over.  Go sell those mortgages.  Make me some money . . .

     . . But I am the real Santa,” insists the real Santa to the judge.  “I had to take this job at Macy’s because somebody hacked into my computer files, erased the Christmas list, and transferred all my funds into an anonymous account in the Cayman Islands . . .

      . . . I’m not responsible for what happened,” says Mr. Potter with chagrin, addressing the dark-suited gentlemen from the SEC.  “I bought the mortgages, yes, but it was that idiot Scrooge – you know, the guy who just jumped off the bridge -- all our Building and Loan managers seem to jump off bridges, for some reason -- who bundled them.  How was I to know that ninety percent of the loans went to insolvent elves?  He said there was big money in little houses, really little houses . . .

     . . . I just love it here in the Cayman’s,” says George Bailey to his computer whiz guardian angel, Clarence, who has helped him fake his death.  “And I think everything just worked out great.  We got all the money, and the kids all got their presents.”

      “That’s right,” Clarence replies.

      “Even that dumb kid in Indiana.  We sent him his BB gun.”

     “He’ll shoot his eye out.”

     “Well, we can’t control everything.  It’s a pretty wonderful life, I’d say.”  George chuckles as he watches the elves frolic in the surf.   “Are those little guys having a good time or what?”

     So have a good time or what.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Shirley and Jess