Family and/or Autobiography

Crime Doesn’t Take a Holiday

Even this guy has his limits.
Even this guy has his limits.

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.

Family and/or Autobiography

Fathers’ Day Find

My new hobby.
My new hobby.

When Fathers’ Day rolls around, I always feel a little left out. I don’t feel this way because I don’t embrace my fatherly responsibilities, because I do. The reason is because I can’t relate to any of the gifts that stores say are “Perfect for Dad!”

I don’t like football or watch a lot of TV, I don’t drink beer or want to learn how to brew it. I don’t wield barbecue tongs. I don’t camp. I don’t want to read thick tomes about Eisenhower. I have no desire to bench press anything. And I avoid neckties at all costs.

See what I mean? I am a dad, but I don’t do anything stereotypically dad-ish.

Until now.

I play golf!

Well, not really. What I mean by “golf” is that on my lunch hour, I stroll on a nearby course in search of lost or abandoned golf balls. It’s kind of like fishing in a stocked lake; as soon as I’ve plucked the course clean and head back to my office with my pockets full, new foursomes of lousy golfers tee up, thereby seeding the field for tomorrow’s search.

I recommend this hobby to anyone. You get good exercise and fresh air, you don’t have to drag a big ol’ bag around with you, and the quality of your walk is not at all dependent on how well you tap a little ball into a little hole. Also, there are hardly any rules to follow; I have only two:

1. Cracked or broken golf balls are not collected, for they are garbage.

2. Balls still “in play” are off limits, for I have no desire to spoil anyone’s game.

This activity also relaxes my body and mind. And when your body and mind are relaxed, some marvelously creative ideas can come to you. So I reserve a small space in my pocket for a notepad and a pen. You just never know when inspiration will strike.

But even without the mind and health benefits, I’d probably still collect golf balls. I’m not sure why, exactly, but if I were to guess, I’d attribute my newfound fanaticism to a childhood trauma:

Every year, my two cousins and I would take part in The Family Easter Egg Hunt, which was held in the cramped quarters of my grandmother’s living room. Cousin Celeste, who was only slightly older than me but alarmingly muscular for a girl, was very competitive on all matters large and small. (“I have never lost a game of Scabble!” she often boasted when we were kids. This was true, but the reason she never “lost” a game of Scabble was because whenever her competitor managed to wangle a seven-letter word, she would fling the game board Frisbee-like down the hallway.) Celeste saw Easter egg hunting as a full contact sport. Before my Great Uncle Bill would even finish saying, “On your mark!” Celeste would hip check me into Grandma’s coffee table.

My other competitor was my cousin Jason, who was younger, smaller, and fleet of foot. He could outrun anyone and had spent the bulk of his young existence learning how to dodge Celeste’s attacks.

To add insult to Celeste-inflicted injury, I was also a pretty crummy egg finder. This is a genetic flaw that my son has inherited. Fortunately, Alex has not had to suffer for it. Today’s kids live in a gentler age; The Family Easter Egg Hunt, now held in Auntie Susie’s finished basement, is no longer the free-for-all gladiator sport of the past. Now there are four jillion eggs to find — plenty for everyone! Every participant ends up happy and far, far richer for the experience. (Literally! Auntie Susie sticks dollar bills in some of those eggs!)

Back in the 1970s, however, the eggs numbered maybe a dozen and I was lucky if I could get three. Ever year I reaquatinted myself with the agony of defeat. I must have carried this agony into adulthood.

As I now patrol the golf course for stray balls, I have evolved into a sharp-eyed finder. Not only do I effortlessly scoop up the balls that had disappeared into the tall grass, but also the ones ground into the dirt by cheaters who didn’t like the look of their lie.

I have uncovered evidence of a lot of cheating, actually. Knowing that so many adults cheat at a game kind of disgusts me, but I’m also kind of glad the course is home to so many cheaters. Do you know how hard it is to find a half-buried golf ball? Those cheaters have turned me into a Finding Master.

All this leads me back to what I want for Fathers’ Day. It’s not a gift that one would find on a store’s “Perfect For Dad!” table, but it’s a gift that’s certainly perfect for me. I want another egg hunt with Celeste and Jason.

I have trained. I have become formidable. I have the eyes of a hawk. I have the Fire in the Belly. I no longer wear orthopedic shoes.

Better yet, I now have a desk drawer full of small, hard, and wonderfully hurl-able projectiles.

Game on, suckers.