Working for the man (in the red suit)

...and other jobs of Christmas Past

"Lady, there is no such thing as a perfect tree. They are all flawed, just like everything else in the world. What the hell is wrong with you?"

This last one is what I wanted to say. What I really said was: "How about this one?"

Like I said, I've lived in the Caribbean for 23 years. I sometimes play music in the hotels, and people from all over the world have asked me "What made you move to Barbados?"

Except for Minnesotans. They never ask. Instead, it's taken as a given. --Lee Sorenson


New Year's Eve at the Chapel of Love in the Mall of America

The bride wore a gown of ivory embroidered with gold thread. Her curls were piled high in an elaborate up-do. She looked stunning.

"When is your baby due?" I asked.

"Next month," she grinned, the size of her belly ensuring there was no "is she or isn't she?" on my part.

It was New Year's Eve at the Chapel of Love in the Mall of America.

This bride was one of several getting married that day. Each couple had different answers for why she chose New Year's Eve. One groom said he wanted to be sure to remember his anniversary. Another bride said they picked the date for tax purposes. A news crew had come out because of the holiday.

The couples on that New Year's Eve were pretty typical of people who got married at the Chapel of Love. Some were young, some were not. Some were pregnant, some were not. Some had been married before, some had not.

When I worked at the Chapel of Love, the question most people asked when they walked through the door was, "Do people really get married here?"

"Yes," I replied so many times. "They do."

The question they meant to ask, though, was probably, "Why do people got married at the Chapel of Love?" I wondered the same thing before I worked there.

Most people assume that the couples who get married there specifically want to be married in a mall, or in this case, THE mall. While I was there, I didn't find that to be true. Sometimes a couple didn't belong to a church. Sometimes they did, but their church wouldn't marry them.

Often a couple wanted a simple ceremony, but didn't want it in the impersonal chambers of a judge.

Lots of different people get married at the Chapel of Love. What made working there interesting, on New Year's Eve and on so many other days, was being able to move beyond those boring questions of whether couples really got married there, and why. I got to know, if only briefly, the people getting married, like the lovely, eight-months pregnant bride.

That wasn't only interesting; it was actually a pleasure. --Kristin Boldon


What's Depressing Isn't Realizing That You Can Be Bought, It's Discovering Just How Low Your Price Is.

Like the guy who delivers your morning paper or holds the door open when it's raining, as a teacher I get presents at holiday time. Which makes me feel a tiny bit condescended to but mostly grateful. As a friend once pointed out, what's depressing isn't realizing that you can be bought, it's discovering just how low your price is. While we try to display properly adult indifference to the whole thing, it turns out that teachers' little-kid side, if anything, gets amplified by spending 40-plus hours a week around teenagers.

You can get jealous over what the somebody gave the teacher at the next desk (irritatingly, female colleagues get snazzy scarves), or creepily anxious about prospects from the kid who gave you something as a freshman but might not as a senior. And woe betide anyone who returns to the office after the holiday assembly ("Hallelujah" chorus, Sandler's inevitable "Hanukkah Song" from the Jewish kids) to discover a desk without at least a token gift atop it. It's worse than a lump of coal.

And it's too often a seller's market for me to get complacent. Even though I wrote a college letter for one of her daughters, I missed getting on Danielle Steel's list. Her personal assistant sends out boxes of candy (the big ones, with the full assortment, not the little ones with a few basic pieces) to those who've been nice and apparently purges the rolls only every five years or so, which makes for a nice perk as long as it lasts. (I did, however, score about three gallons of homemade kimchee my first year, which served my spicy-condiment needs well past their eat-by date, resulting, three months later, in a congealed brew of astounding potency.)

To my chagrin, somehow I've tended to attract mostly givers of conceptual presents, which sound snappily ironic in theory but feel poutingly insufficient in practice. I've amassed history-measuring rulers, little ceramic apples (for, y'know, the teacher), both Democratic and Republican plush mascots (made in China), and lots of doodads that say "teacher" on them. Can I subtly convey an unspiritual grubby desire in this area without losing credibility? --Jesse Berrett

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