I got a Christmas card this morning from Marty. Yesterday I got one from Dick. I have gotten one every year from Marty or Dick or their predecessors.
These are the two people in my life assigned to make me happy by delivering the newspaper to my doorstep. Because of them I do not have to don my snowsuit in order to find out what's happening in the world.
This is the theory.
The theory, as they say on "Saturday Night Live," is so funny I forgot to laugh.
I've never actually seen Dick, but I envision him as a short stoop-ball player who, operating on foot, manages to hit the landing five mornings out of seven. Holds the record in my block, having inherited his route from a guy who only worked on days certified by his astrologer.
Marty, on the other hand, is the Walter Mitty of the news-carrier world. The way I figure it, he cruised through the town in this station wagon, slowing down to roughly 20 miles an hour at my corner. Then, the fantasy takes over. Suddenly, he is Vince Ferragamo, and my shrubbery is the end zone. The guy can hit any laurel at 100 paces. In fact, the bushes have been known to visibly quake at the sound of his tires.
Now, getting a greeting card from Marty and Dick is like getting one from Uncle Sam. Right away you know they want something from you.
Here's my problem. I don't mind getting hit for the Christmas gift by Dick. But Marty? I'd rather send him the psychiatric bills for the rhododenddron. I want him to pay me for the mornings I expose my ankles to the elements and the entire street in order to dig the morning news out of the soil. Rewarding Marty would be like tipping the waiter who dropped chocolate pudding on your new white suit.
But if I don't give this dude his due, I may be picking the paper out of the trees. I'll find easy-to-read confeti-size peices scattered like mulch across the front lawn.
So I'm stuck with what you have to call your better basic Christmas black-mail operation.
Into every life this week will come at least one Christmas card that isn't bearing joy to the world but a warning: "Ante up pal. Or else."
Our only question is this: do we fork over the Yuletide as a holding fee, admitting that we are powerless in the grips of some local-service ayatollah, or do we rebel, leaving ourselves vulnerable in the guerrilla warfare between the server and the servee?
I have a friend who lives in an apartment ruled by one of the seven surliest doormen ever employed in a city that shall remain nameless because she is paranoid. Last October this man stood there doing his duty -- holding the door open -- while she lay prone across the threshold with her groceries rolling all over the lobby. However, this same doorman does open her apartment when her son forgets his key.
Should she grease his miserable little palm with what is euphemistically called a Christmas bonus? If she gives him the old lump of coal, what will happen the next time her son forgets his key?
I have a neighbor who is a free-lance writer. The relationship between a free-lance writer and a mail carrier is nothing short of umbilical. But somewhere over the years, this particular cord was cut with a machete. According to the writer, the only thing his mail carrier leaves at the door now are rejection slips and notices of non-delivery.
Should he wish this torturer a Marry Whatever" If not, what will happen the next time he gets a mailgram?
His problem is nothing compared with that of an executive friend of mine who gives a gift to the head of the stockroom every year just so he can get his supplies.
All this is humbling. I'm sure. 'Tis the season when we remember exactly how much we are at the mercy of people who really run things. It occurs to most of us that fighting those who "serve" us is about as good an idea as firing the only plumber in town. Sooner or later, things will back up on you. f
The Xmas tip used to be an old-fashioned reward for service above the call of duty. Now we merely hope that it will slow the decline, and appease hostility. Talk about your pitiful giants.
As for me, I give up. Marty, you win. But I'm gonna leave your Xmas present someplace you'll never find it. On the doormat.