Telluride Daily Planet, Monday, December 7, 2009
I’m worried, favorite superhero of mine. Because yesterday when I flashed on your face — which I do quite often during the holidays — my mind’s eye went directly to your mustache, and sure, it was white all right, but in place of those infamous soft whiskers was a handle-bar polycarbonate swirl from pre-Pixar days. It was plastic!
And as the mind’s-eye cam panned, the rest of you came into focus, and it was all red, white and black polymers as well, and some of the belly paint was chipping off revealing a bare-bulb light source (?!) beneath. That was when I realized you’d become one of those three-foot light-up Santas, a front yard escapee, dragging a cord and power strip behind you.
What kind of mixed metaphor would you call that, when Santa (you), who looks a lot like Freud (or vice-versa), wanders off dragging his disconnected source of power behind him? Well. Anyway. Even though it’s been about 42 years since my last letter to the now melting polar ice cap, I’m compelled, at this point, to write. Make you real again. In my mind’s eye.
Let’s see, where to begin. Well, first of all, I mean, wow, you’re a survivor. I think part of the reason you really are a superhero and not just quasi is that you’ve endured all manner of brutish assaults on your dignity, identity, and place in history. You’ve been in beer commercials and flamingo parades and cast as countless drunks in red fat suits. You’ve even survived being a character in actual superhero comic books, which you probably even had to drag down chimneys and deliver at some point — which must have felt like being in an Escher drawing or a Borges short story. By the way, do you read fiction or nonfiction, or is there no distinction where you’re from?
I guess one could argue at least we haven’t forgotten you, however perverted our focus. You continue to spawn novelties year after year after year, from mugs, acrylic sweaters, and doormats to corn-syrup confections, screen savers, and giant light contraptions hoisted onto house fronts. I mean, you name it. Personally I think it should be your face on a brand new nickel: you’ve influenced more people than any buffalo, and you seem to be just as much in danger of extinction.
Hey, remember my father? Resolutely opposed to anything remotely smacking of what he felt was the willful suspension of disbelief? Remember that spindly seven-foot Christmas tree we bought every year for $1.99 — that he’d immediately cart to his workshop and reconfigure by drilling holes into the trunk and sticking other branches into until the illusion was one of perfection? Do you remember me lying under that tree, staring up at the little gazebo-shaped ornaments with propellers that twirled if you placed them directly above the old-fashioned lights? Can you feel me lying there, willing you into my heart?
Though superhero historians might lump you in with the Rider archetype (mounted upon either powerful vehicle or animal, or, in your case, both), I continue to see you more as a Mentalist, gifted also with superpsychic empathy. Deconstructionists might continue to argue that you are the anthropomorphized version of the amanita muscaria mushroom, the polka dot red and white one that humans ingest in order to see men and reindeer fly across the dark void. But we both know — obviously, right? — that children see this (you) without chemical alteration of any kind.
A couple of years ago, I saw something that made me feel like you made me feel long ago. I was in our little Town Park, schussing along quietly on my cross-country skis, on one the outer loops, not far from the river. I looked up and saw a lynx and her two cubs about 20 feet away. Luxuriant white-furred bodies, long legs, and fringed feet. They were punching through the deep snow silently, calmly, utterly at peace with their surroundings and my presence, which did not disturb one fiber of the quantum field. They stopped and we all stood there, deep inside the magic and beauty of the world. So in the spirit of this letter, I’m asking for the lynx metaphor this year. That feeling. The same one from under the tree.
In parting, I’d like to thank you for tirelessly saving humankind year after year, even amidst all our ruthless consumer shenanigans. People don’t realize how important it is that that children grow up believing in belief. We forget that children are holding the world up and that you are one of the pantheon of spirits in turn holding them up.
Thanks for doing all that. Here’s what I promise to do in return: I’m going to turn Sigmund Freud’s mustache to plastic — in my mind’s eye — and you back to jolly old flesh and blood. Should be good for both of us.