The windows were ads. They were always ads.
The Christmas memories and holiday cheer of that some-years winter visit to Chicago where we would bundle our way to the Marshall Fields windows, we were bundling there to see ads.
Maybe it was a little more direct now that Marshall Fields is Macy’s, but they are and were ads, I thought to myself as I stood amid awestruck children and adults capturing the memories on phones.
The Walnut Room, Tiffany’s, Frango Mints, “Miracle on 34th Street” — the ads were for a mishmash of Marshall and Macy miscellany. Each one promised Christmas joy and love and peace as long as you bought specifically this brand name and no others because that wouldn’t be our Christmas ©®™.
It wouldn’t be the Christmas you knew.
It wouldn’t be the Christmas you loved.
And, I realized with a thick sigh, that’s how it always had been. My childhood memories nothing but brand recognition.
At this point in the Christmas special, a mysterious old white man teaches the cynical young one a bit about the Yuletide spirit with a nod and a wink and a maybe-maybe-maybe it’s brand-name Santa Claus ©®™.
There was an old man who brought back a bit of my joy, but he wasn’t Santa Claus. He was disgusting.
He was old and white, sure, but with the puckered pores and ruined skin that indicated a life hard-worked. There was a fold of Scotch tape keeping one of the thin wire arms of his glasses attached. When he smiled, he opened up a row of decay interspersed with teeth.
The cause of that smile was in the pocket of his heavy brown jacket. He would pull it out occasionally as he waited for the bus on State.
A yo-yo. He would bring it out and slowly make it go up and down.
“It’s better than a cell phone,” he said, chuckling after I called it cool. “I can play with it and I don’t have to have a computer on me 24 hours a day.”
He showed me the brand name of the yo-yo company and told me the website where to find it.
“They got all sorts of them,” he said. “They got ones with brains in ‘em and ones that come back to you on their own.”
“I don’t do tricks,” he said, making it go up and down by way of emphasis. Up and down. Just something to toy with because he didn’t like cell phones.
I bid adieus, wished Christmases merry and made a silent vow to floss more in 2014.
I was thinking about this strange man when I got on the train. He didn’t like cell phones. A yo-yo was better.
Then I started picturing it. Every person on the Red Line who was toying with a phone playing with a yo-yo instead.
The heavyset woman with the purple headphones and silver nose ring, walking the dog. The young guy next to her in the white suit and the black shirt with the flaired collar, looping the loop.
The old guy in the corner, going ’round the world. Brain twister. Tsunami. Chop sticks. Boingy boing. Every person spending a moment thinking a tweet, text or song selection was anything more relevant than fidgeting just taking that energy out with a yo-yo trick.
Adult toys traded for children’s ones.
The old guy wasn’t Santa and I learned nothing about the Christmas spirit. But the conversation made me laugh in the end. It made a sad thought happy. It turned our cultural disconnect into a funny joke.
That’s all we can ask for in this world of gleaming shiny. In a world where our screens and windows try to makes us buy buy buy, all we can ask is a moment where we see how silly it all is.