Here's how to entertain people without lifting a finger:
Call Eastern Onion, who will send a man in a top hat and red tails, a stuffed, cymbal-clanging monkey dangling around his neck, to caper about and sing someone your message.
Or call National Onion (formerly Western Onion and soon to be National Singing Telegrams), and they will send one of their messengers, dressed like a 1930s bellhop and looking as though he's about to Call for Philip Morris.
Town Clowns will help out, also, with a bewigged and painted messenger, blatting away on a kazoo or miming the words while a tape recorder plays the chipmunks singing Happy Birthday.
All this is much more giggly than even the funniest birthday card. Costs more, too, but it may be cheaper than the party you didn't feel like giving.
Most of the organizations will produce a messenger on 24-hour notice, though with the holidays, longer is smarter. They all suggest the message be delivered some place where there are lots of people -- it's funnier -- and the sender is responsible for notifying matire d's or office guards that the strangely dressed person is expected.
Two days before the last election, National Onion delivered a good luck telegram to Jimmy Carter. It worked, so perhaps other campaign staffs should budget money to send one to their candidates. National Onion-National Singing Telegraphs charges $30 for delivering one of their songs. (There is a $5 sur-charge for a 24-hour rush delivery.) They'll also do phone deliveries anywhere within the continental United States for $15, and anywhere in the world for $15, plus phone charges. They have a toll-free number (800-227-4702), which is fun to call because they sing to you while you're on hold.
Eastern Onion has 40 original telegrams and will deliver them for $28 inside the Beltway; beyond that, travel charges are added. Money will buy you Super Onion Boy, who appears dressed normally and then -- presto -- strips to reveal his Super Onion costume. There is also Mr. Wonderful in a white tuxedo and red tennis shoes, or a singing and dancing cake. Eastern Onion's phone: 652-9443.
A clown bearing three balloons will deliver a gift for $17.85 in downtown Washington; further out there is a $5.25 charge inside the Beltway, $10 beyond it. Town Clowns also provide special gifts like heart-shaped helium balloons holding marzipan figures of Frosty, Santa Claus or Rudolph for $23.10. Or simply a dozen balloons for $19.95. Or not so simply, they have two holiday specials -- the Six Days of Christmas, with a gourmet gift delivered by a clown each day, for $525; or the Eight Days of Hanukah for $456.75. Town Clowns: 296-4455.