The people at the end of our street still have their Christmas decorations up and even the decorations are resentful. The centerpiece of the display, a large, light-up Cookie Monster dressed as Santa, fell over last week, passed out face first in the mud.
“See what Cookie Monster is doing?” I told my son. “They did that a lot in the 1960s. It’s called passive resistance.”
“I thought it was called ‘drunk,’” the boy replied.
How can you not love this kid?
And he was right! The furry blue fellow did look like he was on the tail end of a bender. You couldn’t blame Cookie Monster for his transgression, either; his holiday ended three months ago.
There is little that offends me more than the sight of Christmas decorations up past the third week of January. I just can’t comprehend how something so obvious — so on display — could be ignored for so long.
I love Christmas, but once it’s over, it’s over. I make sure of it. When New Year’s Day rolls around, the Allegra house is abuzz with Christmas purging. Boxes are pulled out of the attic, promptly filled, and shoved back in. The tree is denuded and dragged to the curb. Within hours, my house returns to its simpler, un-tinseled self.
I don’t expect this level of discipline from everyone – sadly, we all can’t be persnickety, anal-retentive neatnicks – but I do expect everybody to pack up their outdoor mangers before Easter arrives. Whenever they don’t, it takes all of my willpower to not roll down the car window and bellow, “Jesus isn’t a baby anymore, doofus! He’s in his thirties and about to be murdered!”
My wife, Ellen, agrees with me in principle. She does not, however, share my passion. When I discuss our neighbors’ crimes against the neighborhood, she tries not to roll her eyes too often.
Alex, on the other hand, has reached an age where he likes to stir me up. He takes pleasure in parroting my outrage. When I drive him to school in the morning and we pass The Christmas House, he is the one to get the ball rolling.
“They have their candy cane lights out!” he shouted, aghast, as if seeing this eyesore for the first time. “When are they going to put them away? It’s March!”
“I know!” I shouted back as if this conversation hasn’t happened at least 30 times before. “Those people should be arrested!”
“They should!” Alex shouted again.
He then grew thoughtful. At that moment, I spotted a glimmer in the boy’s eye.
A few weeks before before this particular conversation, I borrowed a set of DVDs from my parents. It was the first season of an old TV show I was certain my son would love — and I was right. Hardly a night went by when Alex and I didn’t watch an episode.
I soon heard the show’s iconic opening line.
“This is the city,” Alex said in a gruff monotone. For what it’s worth, no eight year old on earth does a better Jack Webb impression. “Los Angeles, California.”
“Or New Jersey.” I interjected in my own Jack Webb voice.
“Or New Jersey,” he said. “People live here. They go to work. They go to school.”
“They put up Christmas decorations,” I added. “When they stay up too long, that’s when I come in. I carry a badge.”
“Dum Da Dum Dum!” we boomed in unison. “Dum Da Dum Dum DUMMM!”
My outrage was replaced with unbridled joy. I couldn’t help but weave a wonderful fantasy in my mind: My son and I were partners — Dragnet Holiday Decoration Detectives — running people downtown to answer for their long ignored twinkling lights and loitering Santas.
How awesome would that be? And what a great father/son bonding thing!
“We could maybe even send them to Guantanamo,” I heard myself say aloud.
“What?” Alex asked.
“Oh, nothing,” I replied absently. Then a smile crept across my face as the bombast of our theme song echoed in my brain.