"You can see it from space!" Kirby complained about his next-door neighbor's Christmas lawn display. In his living room, at 9 p.m., with the curtains drawn and the lights off, it was as bright as daylight. The only difference was that daylight doesn't twinkle and blink in different colors.
"Did you see the six wise men?" he asked.
"I thought there were only three wise men," I said. "And I thought people were smaller back then. These guys are two feet taller than I am. I thought maybe they were the three wise men's bodyguards."
"It started out with three -- until another three went on sale right after Christmas last year. Next year there may be nine. Who knows? And what did you think of their camel train?"
"Is that what that is supposed to be? I thought they were creatures from 'Star Wars.' I wondered what that had to do with Christmas."
Normally, I like Christmas lights. It gets dark so early in the winter that it's cheery to see the outlines of houses, the multicolored lights in the shrubberies, a roly-poly Santa waving at me as I drive through town in the evening. As ever, some people do more decorating than others and some are more tasteful than others but this -- this was what Liberace would have done if he had had the money.
"Did you see the manger?"
"No, but I liked that big cutaway of the Mall of America. You could park a car in it. What does that represent?"
"That's the creche. Didn't you see the holy family gathered around a T-shirt display in a Gap store on level 2B while shop clerks gathered around to celebrate the blessed event?"
"Well, shop clerks are kind of like shepherds."
"Don't tell me you're buying into this. Doesn't it bother you that Jesus, Mary and Joseph didn't even have electricity and we celebrate his birthday by ..."
There was an earthshaking thud. I ran to get under a doorway, thinking the house was about to collapse around us. Kirby just sat there. I yelled at him to run for cover while he still could.
"It's not an earthquake," he said. "It's the 'Little Drummer Boy' segment starting up."
"That's isn't a drum, it's artillery."
"No, Barry's turned his entire roof into a speaker. Wait until you hear 'Silent Night.' It's done by a marching band of life-size mechanical tin soldiers."
What I had mistaken for a natural disaster was starting to vaguely sound like a booming pa-rum-pum-pum-pum. From inside Kirby's house, it sounded like one of those cars that go by with the music blaring and the windows up so all you can hear is the DNA-splitting bass. It was very hard to nail down any melody.
"I know this will sound as if I don't have any Christmas spirit, but can't you put out a hit on your neighbor? Just have somebody whack him?"
"No, because then I'll look like the bad guy."
"People can be so judgemental."
"Especially this time of year. Do you want to sleep on the sofa?"
"Why would I sleep on the sofa? I'm going home to get some peace and quiet."
"I don't think so. Take a look outside." There was a solid line of cars snaking slowly through his subdivision past his house at 2 miles per hour.
"That's all right; someone will let me through."
"Really? I sat there for two hours last night before I was able to get out. But only because some woman who was taking pictures with her cellphone dropped it and stopped for two seconds to look for it."