Jesus! Murder! High-five!

Last Saturday, my daughter and I and our mother-daughter friends Rachel and Ruby enjoyed a lovely tour of the White House, which I have dubbed Crafting Versailles. Everything is perfect there, from the life-size Bo made of pompoms to Jackie’s portrait.  Fires blaze in the fireplaces, cleanly. We didn’t want to leave: we lingered, listening to the New Amsterdam Singers and smiling at our fellow Americans on pilgrimage. Everything, for a moment, was right.

Of course, outside of the Maison Blanche, we were met with great imperfection everywhere. A guy was yelling into a mic about hell being real, and the need to accept Jesus to avoid eternal torture, loudly and longly.

Rachel and I looked back at the girls, who were walking behind us.

“Ruby is not having that,” said Rachel, alluding to their being observant Jews. “He’s not really winning the hearts and minds with that approach,” I said.

“Does anyone ever stop and say ‘Could you please give me a pamphlet? I’d really like to learn more.’”

“Jesus, eh? I’ve never heard of this fellow, but I dare say, I’m intrigued,” I said, scratching my chin, chomping on my imaginary pipe.

We walked on and I pondered the fact that there wasn’t even a token menorah anywhere in sight in the White House.

“They did do a menorah lighting somewhere else,” Rachel said.

“Ehn,” I said. We kept walking, and were threatened with various sorts of doom. I was wishing that someone would zoom by and grab the mic from Pastor Threats, but I knew that, sure as the Resurrection, he’d just get out another one.

We walked in silence until I hissed “I don’t need to be ‘saved.’ I’m fine just the way I am!”

candy caneAll we wanted to do was get to the end of the block so we could cross the street and visit White House Gifts for all our White House charm bracelet and Bo Obama magnet needs. As Pastor Threats receded from earshot, we were treated to a long series of large images of bloody fetuses on the sidewalk, and the voices of men talking of “murder.” We tried to look straight ahead and keep our eyes on the Jimmy-Carter-pencil-prize.

Then Christmas revellers began to appear, which seemed kind of cute and festive. At first. As we got closer to the corner, their numbers increased. I began to feel a little edgy, caught as we were in a bloody-fetus/people-in-costume zone. It became quickly apparent that these weren’t sincere mall carolers in old-timey capes. I spotted beads. I became aware of growing air of forced, desperate jollity. I looked down and someone had handed my daughter a discount candy cane—one of the little broken ones in flimsy plastic wrappers. I snatched it with a terse “Candy? Strangers? I don’t think so.” Margaret shrugged her shoulders saying “it just happened.” As we got closer to the corner, their numbers increased. Adults kept trying to hand our children candy and then they began to demand high-fives, which our daughters refused. We were caught in a crowd, swarmed by Santa Bros and their semi-slutty Brosephines. We clenched our girls’ forearms. I flashed on the end of  Blow Out, when John Travolta gets stuck in a 4th of July parade. “C’mon, just give me a high five! C’mon!” Grown men in Santa suits with their arms poised can be a little threatening. That afternoon, Old Saint Nick began an inexorable slide into the “clown” category for me. As in “avoid at all cost.”

Why was it even happening? Is there anything tawdrier than roving gangs of liquored-up fully-fledged adults in cheap polyester costumes in broad daylight? When did Christmas  become an occasion for New Orleans-style public “celebration?”

We finally made it across the street and away from the melee. Jesus! Murder! High-five!

“I don’t know why they kept trying to make us give them high-fives,” my daughter said.

“They’re just drunk,” I muttered. “You two were absolutely right not to if you didn’t want to.”

Rachel added that the girls don’t have to touch or be touched by anyone, ever.  “You are your own girls,” she added. “You don’t have to let anyone do anything.”

I nodded, vigorously. I felt taken aback by the entitlement of people getting right in our kids’ faces and expecting to be greeted with glee instead of furrowed brows and polite “no thank yous,” and then insisting that the girls reverse their ‘nos.’ It’s like they didn’t think our children were actually human.

“It’s kind of hard to say no when someone wants to give you candy,” said Margaret. “It’s awkward.”

“Yes, but if you say no politely, they should hear that and not keep trying to give it to you,” I said. “It’s best to avoid people like that who have been drinking, especially if there are crowds of them.”

“Someone should call the police,” said Ruby.

“Someone really should,” said Margaret. “They shouldn’t be allowed to bother children like that.”

All around us, flags drooped at half-mast because of the Connecticut Child Massacre.

Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.