Was Scrooge misunderstood?
Like the ornery old accountant, who hasn’t been tempted to grunt "bah, humbug" as the Christmas frenzy gains Category 5 hurricane force?
Maybe Bob Cratchit’s boss was just ahead of his time — Comandante Zero in a revolutionary movement that, had it not been thwarted by the angelic twerp Tiny Tim, might have liberated desperate holiday shoppers nearly two centuries later from chucking air fryers and gravity blankets into the shopping cart to make certain there was suitable abundance under the tree.
Joy to the World? Who says?
Steady, I tell myself. Remain calm.
Every year, this happens — I wander the house saying the whole thing is nuts, I won’t be part of it, I am boycotting the mall, I am freezing our bank accounts, I am blocking Amazon, I am taking off for parts unknown and will return only when the tree is bare and left for mulch.
"Chill, for goodness’ sake," says my wife. "It’s Christmas. It’s the U.S. of A. You can’t do anything about either."
How did this happen, my Yuletide derangement?
Once, I loved Christmas.
In our little "Honeymooners"-sized Brooklyn apartment, a tree, draped with tinsel and lit with candy-colored lamps, filled a corner of the living room.
Below, a Lionel steam engine and passenger cars ran round and round, bypassing a miniature station and leaving plastic commuters to wonder: What gives?
Somewhere, there is a home movie reel — black and white, available light, Dad, the household Cecil B. DeMille, squinting into a 16-mm Keystone camera.
And, look. It’s me!
I’m maybe 6 or 7 in onesie pajamas. Blond hair, already thin, hint of a future demanding neither comb nor brush.
There are presents under the tree. I am pointing at one or another.
Something special, right over there.
Here’s a secret: It’s a doll. And carriage,
Yes, Santa dropped off a little, rosy-cheeked fellow in blue suspenders — Petey — and simple wooden stroller.
"Our boy needs company," I can imagine Mom saying with a nod toward me, her only child.
"Next year, the cap gun," my father might have replied.
Petey and I were friends for keeps. I walked him on the street, Mom along for security.
Down the line, I did get a cap gun — two, in fact, six-shooters with leather holsters.
Likewise, Tinkertoy, fishing rod, two-wheeler and, at last, a baseball bat that allowed me to mimic, in our living room mirror, the stance of Campanella or Robinson or Reese or Hodges, beloved Dodgers, and, in imagination, swat historic homers, again and again.
We opened gifts on Christmas Eve.
Just before 12, Mom would wake me and say, "He just left," and I’d be up, all in wonderment, looking under the tree and searching the sky for St. Nick. Probably all the way to Staten Island by now, advised my mother. On the table, only cookie crumbs and an empty milk glass.
Time flies even faster than eight airborne reindeer.
Before long, I was the parent. Four kids, all amped up and dizzy with anticipation. By Christmas, I was exhausted, broke and desperate for Fourth of July. Wink had the vacant look of the living dead.
Then, of course, I got old. There didn’t seem much magic in ads for luxury SUVs or wall-sized televisions sets.
"C’mon," says Wink. "Relax."
For her, I try.
This year, came an early bit of holiday cheer.
Hours apart, I heard from both our sons.
"Gil’s in," said one.
"He made it," said the other.
Gil Hodges, the Brooklyn first baseman, decent man, superb player, boyhood hero, long had been denied the Hall of Fame. This round, he got the votes — justice at last, though Gil was many years gone.
"Terrific," I tell my sons and think of Brooklyn, the living room mirror, the tree aglow. And, wow, underneath, a Louisville Slugger, Gil Hodges model.
I settle in, tighten my grip, hold the bat high like Gil.
"Here’s the windup and pitch," I say, radio voice. "Hodges connects and, oh brother, there it goes. High and deep to left center. Way back, way back — that ball is gone. Hodges homers. Brooklyn wins."
The crowd roars, and so do I.
At the end of "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens redeems Scrooge.
There’s always time.