It’s forty-some degrees outside and there is an idiot sitting on my porch. I can barely make out the shadowy figure but he appears to be wearing a leather jacket, hoody and has his legs covered in a fleece blanket. I bet he’s sitting on a heating pad too in my comfortable beach chair. Oh, and do I smell a good cigar… I do. His features are bathed in the incandescent light of the laptop he is fervently moving his fingers across. What sort of idiot would be outside doing such heinous and unknown acts at this time of night, especially since the wind chill brings the temps into the mid to high thirties. Oh, that idiot would be me.
Why am I out here writing? Because it’s what I do and where I do it, weather be damned. Rain, sleet, snow or close drenching humidity and heat are almost always ignored when I need to purge my brain with you kind folks. I’ve tried writing inside my home and it normally fails. Too many distractions, besides, I like my semi-private outdoor office, it is quite peaceful to me. But, now that the hints of winter are brewing and the sounds of crickets and cicadas have been replaced with the noise of heat pumps of my fellow residents, it can be quite eerie at times.
So, what thoughts are racing through my mind, besides the joy of digesting some luscious turkey in a week? Simple, work, food and family, also known as “The Holiday Season”, now it is no secret that I’ve been steadily working on this year’s Christmas display for, oh, let’s say, since January. This is the tenth straight year we’ve set this particular display up for my adoptive city and there are some changes that have been made. For starters, instead of just two people doing most of the work, we had five. Which helped immensely in saving my buddies back as well as mine when it came time to move a lot of the heave props and sets, also, we have rebuilt several sets from scratch and they look better than they did when they were purchased new.
Along with the new sets, we have dusted off and repaired dozens of broken figures that have been sitting in storage for many years. Each room received a makeover to the “N’th” degree, with the exception of the “Sleeping Santa” room. That room scene seems to be sanctified in the minds of the visitors young and old who make their yearly pilgrimage to the “Winter Wonderland and Coleman Collection” that is displayed from Thanksgiving through the end of the year.
I can’t even imagine how many new twinkle lights have been stapled to wood, fiberglass and plastic over the past week but I do know that on more than one occasion either myself or one of my co-workers would take a trip to the local mega-hardware store and purchase every box they had on their shelves. We also laid down uncountable yards of new snow, had umpteen hats, mittens and scarves made for penguins, straw-heads, Victorian folk and creepy trolls. We used every extension cord we owned and even bought dozens more when we ran out and it still wasn’t enough. We used paint by the oil drum load and chopped, sanded and destroyed a small forest in our attempts to make the tenth anniversary of “Winter Wonderland” a success.
But through all that hard work and tireless hours of frustration, laughter and brian-storming sessions we never truly looked at the project as a whole. At least I didn’t. Instead we tried to stay focused on the task at hand, whatever that task was. And, we tried to make sure we were proud of what we had accomplished, so much so that in some cases, we scrapped the project just before it was complete to start over from bare wood and metal. Our view as a collective was myopic at best. Our endeavors were rarely interrupted because we are known to be a surly lot when asked to divert our efforts to a task somewhat less important. Even people whom my department has little to do with knew better than to try and steer us off course, but a few times, we were sidetracked. Usually because we had been ordered to from someone higher up the food chain, in those rare instances, we did what had to be done and did it quickly and quietly.
Although, this one time, not too many weeks ago, some guy with an expensive camera, a nice set of clothes and a cameraman showed up and started to interview us peons. Yes, we are peons. We don’t make the decisions on a grand scheme, we work for others and at the will of others. We rarely are asked for input, just given an idea and when the task should be done. Then we go to work, like the shoemakers elves. No one ever really sees us doing what we do and we like it that way. Less interruption and more work. It keeps us happy, and we get to listen to whatever music we want. I usually choose AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Ceann or Bruce Springsteen. Others pick Dropkick Mruphy’s, Flogging Molly, Weird Al Yankovic, Bob Dylan and in one rare and disastrous attempt at humor, show tunes.(We almost mutinied when that happened but it only lasted for one minute, but it was an excruciatingly long minute.)
Consider everything I just wrote a prologue, if you will… now on to the meat.
This past Monday, like every Monday ten days before Thanksgiving we held our Annual Winter Wonderland Training session. A day that most of us in the Exhibit Department dread for the simple reason that we have spent at least five weeks setting up the display and months working on. The last thing we want to do is sit around and listen to others interpret what we’ve done. We feel, ok, I feel, that our work speaks for itself and stands alone.
Everyone in the museums was invited and they all showed up promptly and descended like a hoard of locusts on the minor refreshments that were supplied. But, since my team had arrived first, we managed to stuff our faces and pockets like ravenous hoards from a failing third world country. Matter of fact, today I just finished off my last purloined granola bar and I must say, purloined granola is as delicious as it is nutritious. So, when the niceties were finished the people started talking. I found my mind wandering to the bullet list of minor chores that needed finishing and I made myself as invisible as I could as I walked through the crowd of fellow workers and did the tasks that needed to be done. This of course is nothing new to me, I’ve done this for the past nine years and no one seems to think anything of it. Besides, how many times do I have to listen to the history of how the collection was amassed and obtained before I can recite it drunk, face down in a gutter outside a bar I’ve just been thrown out of in a foreign country?
By the time I returned to the group they were getting ready for the walkthrough. My supervisor, myself and the other members of our team, rushed ahead of everyone and tuned on all the power strips to activate the lights, animatronic figures, disco ball, and trains of the second floor part of the tour. (Yes, I said DISCO BALL!) When the first members of the staff walked into the room with the sounds of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” blasting on the snow covered speakers their shocked expressions and look of awe and wonderment was uplifting to me, but I did not let it show. They all filed into the cavernous room that looked as if Christmas itself had vomited every kitschy idea it ever had into one space. The twinkle lights were twinkling, the trains were moving, the figures appeared alive and in some cases, the scenes themselves looked as if they had just been plucked out of a Currier and Ives print.
I strolled behind people and listened to their comments, words like “Amazing, Awesome, Wonderful and Shocking” seemed to be on every ones lips. When everyone had walked through and over dosed on Christmas, the speeches started yet again. I knew what was going to be said so I tuned out most of the verbiage. If you want to know, then I will tell you as succinctly as I can “We’ve rearranged the second floor and tried to make the visitors concentrate on one scene at a time while maintaining a flow of BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH…” Ok? You get the gist of it too.
We then headed down to the first floor, exhibits in the lead so we could get the scenes fired up and working before the rest of the staff poked their curious heads into what we had accomplished. The snow babies looked pristine in their white on white set with blood red cardinals perched gently on the white trees as the refurbished ferris wheel slowly turned. The penguins in their hats and mittens looked out of place with the eskimos as they built igloos to protect them from the walrus’s and seals that seemed to invade the South Pole. The elves looked busy building wooden toys as a giant rubber band airplane glided overhead and in the corner a wooden yo-yo the size of a birthday cake lay somewhat forgotten. Behind the busy elves, wooden blocks that spelled out “Send Cocoa” seemed to be a clear message to one and all that while work is important, hot cocoa cures the arduous long hours.
Across from the busy elves, a hoe-down band of elves and trolls appear to be read to strike up some music to help alleviate the tension that comes from trying to fill want lists from good little girls and boys from around the world. Not too far from them, you can see some of Santa’s chosen few busy decorating a revolving tree that is being encroached upon by presents and dolls from another nearby tree. Off in a quiet corner, if you peer through squinted eyes you will see Santa fast asleep while a classic tin train slowly makes its way around his bed. He is guarded by many elves and a couple of bears so be careful not to wake him.
All these scenes were greeted with the same joy and enthusiasm from our staff. I left the room and went outside. My quiet reverie was soon interrupted by the multitudes as they also came outside to get yet another speech from our gift shop manager. There, they learned what was on sale, what crafts they were going to do and of course watch a video on the history of the “Winter Wonderland and Coleman Collection”. I stood in the back and tried to be invisible. I failed.
About twenty minutes into the video I head my voice and when I looked up I saw my face on the large flat screen monitor. I tried to make my way to the door but was stopped by several people. So I moved to the back of the room behind everyone only to discover that the people that were supposed to be watching the television were now looking at me in person and not me on a pixelated device. I scowled at them and they quickly turned around and finished watching the video.
When the video was finished several people came up to me and said “Skip, I didn’t know you had a sentimental side.” Or “Wow, I didn’t expect that from you.” And “I don’t think you’re such a mean person now.” Those are things I don’t want to hear. My mind quickly hatched schemes to burn the disc, or lose it or even pay some crazed serial cat-burglar to come in and steal it, but I knew that it would only be replaced by another copy.
The rest of the training… well, I can say this, I had other pressing matters to attend to so I missed it and any embarrassing mentions of my name associated with what was done. But I did come away from the training session with a very interesting perspective… People get what we do when they view the finished product and the look of amazement is all that I need or want from them. I don’t need platitudes or thanks. I just want them to enjoy the fruits of my labor and the labor of my fellow co-workers.
Have a great Holiday Season and gorge yourself on turkey!