Monday, December 03, 2012

Paper or Plastic?

Ladies and gentleman, the Amberstrong family proudly presents their fifth annual Christmas Joy Display! Over one-point-five million lights and sounds of the Season, guaranteed to give you the Christmas spirit!
Night exploded into artificial day and a shockwave of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” caused the crowd to take an involuntary step back. People shielded their eyes as they watched the Amberstrong house and grounds come alive with over twenty artificial Christmas trees and at least that many real ones. Dozens of plastic Santa Clauses, candy canes, reindeer, penguins, elves, gingerbread houses, and other items twinkled, blinked, and flashed, a plastic jungle synchronized to music that I could actually feel in my chest.
            My eyes could take only about a minute of this assault before I had to turn away. A man next to me appeared to be shouting into his wife’s ear. She stared at him, then shook her head and pointed to her ear. I knew exactly what she meant. A 747 could have landed on that street and we wouldn’t have heard it.
            As I walked a few steps away from the throng, I saw directly across the street a small, rundown apartment building. It was only six apartments, three on each floor, each door marked with a rusted metal number. Each apartment had one small window next to its door, some covered with curtains, some with what appeared to be bath towels. Obviously a low-rent place, I figured it was a source of embarrassment for the Amberstrongs.
            The door in the middle of the first floor especially caught my attention. It appeared to have a large brown smudge across its front. Being curious and reluctant to turn back to the gaudy display going on behind me, I walked across the street and partially up the broken sidewalk. As I drew closer, I saw that the smudge was in fact a simple manger scene, cut from what appeared to be brown paper like that of grocery bags. Definitely not high art, the pieces seem to have been cut out in a hurry, the edges jagged, rough, and not quite within the penciled lines.
            I counted Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, two cows, three goats, two donkeys, a camel, and what seemed to be a dog. The internal light coming through the peephole on the door made a perfect Star of Bethlehem for the scene. I became enraptured by the crude artwork, completely forgetting the Amberstrong’s display. The simplicity called to me, drawing me in both body and spirit closer to the door. I reached out and ran my fingers over one of the cows, feeling the rough smoothness of the paper, the jagged cut edges, and wondered who had created the little door masterpiece.
            I’m not sure how long I stood there, but sudden silence and darkness brought me out of a pretty deep reverie. I was aware of the announcer telling the crowd that the next show would start in half an hour. I started back down the sidewalk, heading for my car. I had missed the Amberstrong’s light show, but I really didn’t care. In fact, I was happy I had missed the ultra-modern, ultra-chic, ultra-gaudy show. I don’t associate any of that stuff with Christmas. I guess I’m just a simple guy at heart.
            As I reached the road, I turned back and took one last look at the door. A smile bubbled up inside me and I felt my heart leap. The Amberstrong’s announcer had been right about one thing: I had found the Christmas spirit in front of their house.