Ebeneezer Snark by Ken Harmon
You know the type. ‘Tis the season for the too-cool-to-yule to make snippy comments all holiday season long instead of just getting figgy with it for a couple of months and join the joy or, if that is too much to ask, simply keeping their snark lockers shut. They hang wet blankets on the hearth. They are the sour pusses under the mistletoe. Posed disillusionment is their carol and unsolicited advice is their Christmas card. They are the Ebenezer Snarks, and, in many ways, they succeed because the spirit of the season usually frowns upon anyone telling someone what they can shove up their chimney.
Fortunately, I was too young to know better.
It was 1968 and I was five years old and ready for my close-up in the church Christmas program, The Road to Bethlehem. Several church rooms depicted a scene from the Christmas story: Sunday school kindergarten was Mary getting the big news from an angel suspended above the toy bins (they were behind potted plants and a couple of cardboard camels, but there was something natural about Mary learning about her baby with a Fisher-Price bonanza just steps away). The secretary’s nook was Mary and Joseph and some poor, old deacon in a donkey suit. Where the choir changed was Herod’s palace, complete with a golden rocking chair and so on. I was in the music room – scene of the shepherds and the choir of angels.
I had finally graduated to shepherd boy, a big deal because not only were you done with the boring angel choir, but because you also got a shepherd staff. If you have ever been or have little boys, you know how important having a stick to wield is. From lances to light sabers to Louisville sluggers, it is in our DNA to covet a stick and swing it.
My shepherd’s rod was, in reality, some old man’s cane from the lost and found, but it was solid hickory, easy to grip and a good weight. It would make me a star.
The angel choir was no place for a kid with ambition or a progressive awareness of science and danger. As an angel, you were in an oversized choir robe with a halo made from repurposed wire hangers and tinsel twisted onto your noggin. You were given a paper plate to hold to your face. Taped to the paper plate was a naked, white Christmas light that, by way of a cracked, old string of wires, connected to the light in a paper-plate that the kid next to you was holding. All of us stood on a bed of cotton.
The idea was that when the shepherds looked to the heavens, someone would plug in the lights and the reflection in the paper plates would give us a holy glow as we sang GLOOOOOOOORIA! However, my father sold insurance and I knew the angel choir was a firetrap.
Just by looking at it, I knew the string of lights was from the first Christmas. Patched with strips of electrical tape, the lights hissed and crackled and sometimes you got a shock you could feel in your halo. I knew we were a bomb and I wanted out before my sweaty palms set us off.
So I was happy to get kicked to the other side of the room as a shepherd boy. I knew where the exits were and all the other shepherds were old guys in long robes. No way they were outrunning me.
Everything was fine until Ebenezer Snark sauntered in.
He was a big kid, maybe 14 and had in spades every hellish feature adolescence could heap on a punk. Chapped lips curled over a set of choppers cast in enough steel and wire to pick ham radio signals from behind the Iron Curtain. The amount of zits on his face let you know that the rest of his skin had enough pus pellets to cause a toxic accident and his personal funk let you know that momma still thought of him as her little boy, so deodorant had not yet been applied.
When he entered the shepherd room and saw our motley crew keeping watch over our fields by night, he laughed, hard, and pointed at us like a rube at a freak show.
“Can I have your sheep?” he’d ask in between our lines. “I need a sweater.”
“Hey shepherds! I saw a wolf!”
“Do you cat sit too?”
The heckling was throwing some of the old shepherds off. Mr. Kiser dropped his lines and Mr. Starnes felt obliged to fill the silence with an extemporary speech about how shepherding used to be better in the Old Testament, even though the New Testament was really just getting started. Mr. Starnes blabbered on about unions and how the shepherd huts used to be cleaner and had a radio, and how the sheep used to be better behaved. “Not like the know-it-alls we have today,” he fumed. Mr. Wooley had to give Mr. Starnes an elbow to the ribs to get him to shut up, but Mr. Kiser never fully recovered and just went straight to “What’s happening in the sky, yonder?” and pointed in the direction of the angel choir.
When they plugged in the string of Christmas lights and the angels lit up, our Snarker screamed like you dropped a snake down his back. He pointed and shrieked and carried on enough to raise the dead. If you didn’t catch a wicked smirk every now and then, you would think he was having a fit.
But I caught the Snarker’s smirk.
Now everyone knew that little Cindy Abernathy’s bladder had a hair trigger. Any shift in mood and Cindy’s kidneys would find liquid somewhere and send it on the express train out. It didn’t help that Cindy guzzled Tab like her dad drank Schlitz. When the Snarker started screaming, I knew there was more than a good chance that Cindy would leak, and she was standing right over the string of lights.
I looked and other tourists blocked the door. The Snarker kept screaming and Cindy’s kidneys were sending an SOS, so I had to do something.
So I hit the Snarker.
In the hands of a five year old, the symbol of pastoral passivity is as lethal as a broadsword. I swung my shepherd’s staff and caught him at the knees and then, with the hook, yanked his feet out from under him. He hit the floor with a flat splat and it knocked the breath out of him. I took another swing at his ribs and was rising up to go for the head when the rest of the shepherds pulled me back.
I dangled in the air, kicking and swinging wildly at the shivering heap on the floor until the overhead lights came on and the party was over. They took me to the kitchen. They took Cindy to the little girl’s room. And they took the Snarker to the door and put him in the dark to lick his wounds.
The next year, I made to the main sanctuary for the manger scene, but I was banished to being a camel. I didn’t get to do anything but stare at the Christ child and stoically chew cud. It was the part where I could cause the least amount of trouble and I was told specifically that I could not spit, despite what I had heard about the camel’s one offensive weapon.
I like to think that the Snarker learned his lesson. That he gives carolers a wide berth and sweats a little anytime the Muzak rips a GLOOOOOOOORIA! in the mall.
The point is, smart-asses, is that we’re out there and your snarking is getting old. Gripe about the bell ringers and you could end up with a mouthful of ding-dong. (I mean, it’s the Salvation Army, so they are combat trained.) Be snippy with the lady in the office who wears Christmas sweaters and reindeer antlers (there’s always one) and don’t be surprised if they find porn on your work computer. Mutter about crowds and lines one time too many and your face could end up on the side of a milk carton – or just to be mean – a carton of egg nog. It’s not about you. It never has been and it never will be. If you can’t be happy, if you’re here to cause trouble, keep it to yourself. You’re not entitled to everything and you’re not a victim, so just clam it. You better not pout. You better not cry. You better not shout and here’s why: Christmas has been hijacked, looted, swindled, bastardized and bled of a lot of its good and about all we have left is being nice to each other. So just try it for a month or two. It won’t kill you.
Otherwise, we have to play reindeer games on your terms.
And we have all the toys.
And he who has the most toys wins.