I know the season is over, but I think it is going to be necessary, after all, to deal with the matter of Christmas letters.
The subject might have been dropped -- I was willing -- but, then, a couple of particularly elaborate updates arrived way past deadline. You get one shot at this sort of thing, as far as I am concerned. Stick the letter in your holiday card or wait until next year.
Double submissions or those delivered anytime after the Christmas tree has been dragged to the curb -- Jan. 1 at my house -- will be viewed as provocative acts demanding unilateral, pre-emptive action. Usually, I don't think in military terms, but everyone has a breaking point.
Even letters arriving in timely fashion cause symptoms of an agitated state -- itchy nose, ringing ears, an irresistible urge to pound the table and shout, "Who cares?"
One letter was from a friend in San Diego. Like most everyone writing in this genre, she has grandchildren certain to win Nobel Prizes, Olympic gold and Cabinet nominations. But, not satisfied with hyping the grandkids, our friend informed readers that holiday dinner would be held at the most expensive restaurant in town and that Grandpa was covering the bill, and wasn't that just the sweetest thing?
Well, yes, unless the family made like "The Wolf of Wall Street" and ordered Kobe steak platters with extra truffles and bottles of Bordeaux at $300 a pop. When the credit card bill arrived a month or so later, and with the mortgage payment suddenly in doubt, the old man may have seemed more dithering Daddy Warbucks than benevolent party host. Holy cow! I guess we should have skipped the brandy and Cuban stogies.
Other brag-o-grams recalled trips to Costa Rica and cross-country ski triumphs and diving in the Galapagos. Offspring received nifty job promotions, paid internships with big-time investment firms, citations for nature photography, appointments to blue-ribbon panels. Amazingly, every granddaughter was a ballerina or leading lady in the high school production of "My Fair Lady," and every grandson a fireballing ace on the baseball team who, in off-hours, did something brilliant on his computer and now earns more than his father.
With so many high achievers, you begin to long for another lost generation -- a slew of lovable ne'er-do-wells who devote themselves mostly to dart games and pints of English ale. Where are the bumper stickers that say, "My grandkid's only average, but I love him, anyway"? Ordinary folks, rise up!
I know, successful children can't be blamed for their achievements and, OK, here's to the smarty-pants small fry. But parents, and especially grandparents, just can't seem to resist playing press agent. Friends, if you haven't justified your own existence by now, a granddaughter singing "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" won't do the trick.
My wife, Wink, thinks so. She says maybe the letter writers just don't understand the way this stuff sounds.
"Amy is on the way to Oxford for another graduate degree."
"Rory was named top earner at his firm and moved to a corner office -- youngest account manager ever!"
"Chelsea is in Buenos Aires studying tango and training for the triathlon."
"Prentice earned his private pilot's license at age 10. Sky's the limit!"
Too much. Am I wrong?
We have a snarky Midwestern friend, George, who sends sort of perverse Christmas letters, which I enjoy. You know: "The dog died, and we had him stuffed and screwed to the floor in front of the fireplace. Older son, Sam, is leaving the wife and kids for an ashram in Tibet, and his sister, our entrepreneur, is cultivating a marijuana farm in Colorado. Mom and me? Celebrated our 50th on a cruise to Mexico but ended up in Galveston after the engines quit. No air-conditioning, no bathrooms. Memorable."
That's more like it, I say -- a little irreverence and humility. What a relief. Me generation? It's not the kids. It's us!
As I was delivering another lecture on self-absorption and the impending downfall of civilization, Wink hinted gently I might not be examining my own motives carefully enough. Buried deep in memory was a relevant quote by writer Aldous Huxley. "There is something curiously boring about someone else's success," said the author of "Brave New World."
Worth considering, said Wink, nodding. "Don't be such a grouch," she suggested.
So, all right, I'll try to mellow out when next year's letters arrive. "Oh, look," I'll shout to Wink, "the Rumsons' granddaughter, Cordelia, is booked for an all-Rachmaninoff piano recital at Carnegie Hall. Great news!"
I'm still reserving some rights, however. All bets are off when it comes to those glossy, preprinted "Season's Greetings" photo cards with shots of the gorgeous family on Utah ski slopes or Caribbean beaches but with not so much as a real signature or personal holiday wish. You can push a guy just so far.
SHARE YOUR HOLIDAY NEWSLETTER EXPERIENCE
'Tis not the season -- yet, but you can weigh in. Are holiday newsletters a nuisance or a nice way to catch up with friends or relatives you rarely call? Do you read them to the end or put them on a "later" pile? If you write one, when do you start making notes and how many do you send? Share your holiday newsletter experience. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY11747. If you still have a holiday letter from last year, we'd like to see it.