Stalking Stuffer: Plotting a Diabolical Christmas Binge in Chicago

December 13th, 201311:39 am @

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Malcolm Logan at the Santa Hustle 5K plans a Christmas in Chicago sure to make his wife gag.

Christmas in Chicago can be a ridiculous exercise in overindulgence – if you plan it properly.

They have a name for me. They call me a Grinch, a curmudgeon, a Scrooge, and a grouch. The number of words available to describe me, and others like me, says something about how common we are. We are legion. And for good reason.

Christmas is an overblown, garish exercise in overindulgence. It promotes stress, reduces civility and encourages greed.  Still, most people go merrily along with it, enduring its many horrors, and because people like me have the unmitigated gall to call it like it is, we are labeled as sourpusses. Hum bug!

Yet for every Ebenezer Scrooge there is a Bob Cratchit, a winsome, guileless optimist who retains the joyous naivete of a six year old when it comes to Christmas. These people are nearly as annoying as repeat playings of Feliz Navidad. The only problem is that, for me, this person is my wife.

Marianne Grisdale loves Christmas in Chicago.

Marianne loves Christmas. But this year I found a way to persuade her of the absurdity of the holiday.  Little did she know what I had in store for her.

Stalking Stuffer

Marianne loves Christmas. And as is symptomatic of her disease, she wants others to love it too. For years she has been trying to persuade me of its pleasures, to no avail, while I have been trying to break her of her pathology. Each season it’s a tug of war. First, I gain a little, and then she pulls back – hard.

But this year I hit on a solution. I found a way to persuade Marianne of the absurdity of the holiday while appearing to be all bought in. My plan? To stuff so much Christmas into her figurative stocking she would choke on it, to stalk her with an overabundance of joy.

We went for a Christmas cruise on the Mystic Blue party boat.

Marianne’s employer had rented the Mystic Blue for the office Christmas party.  The evening got off to the usual rocky start.

Here in Chicago we have a cornucopia of Christmas attractions on which to feast. But like candy canes and gingerbread taking on too much can be nauseating. It was my plan to go whole hog, to take on more than could be reasonably stomached, and to do it in a short period of time, just one and half days. We would see how much the wife liked Christmas then.

Cruising for a Bruising

Our ill-advised Christmas binge began on Friday night when we boarded the Mystic Blue, a Lake Michigan party yacht docked at Navy Pier. Marianne’s employer had rented the boat for the annual office Christmas party and the evening got off to the usual rocky start when Marianne, in her haste to leave the office, forgot the tickets.

The Chicago skyline off Navy Pier at Christmas time

From the boat off Navy Pier the Chicago skyline looked nice, all made up for the holidays beneath a sickle moon.

In the past this was the sort of thing that would’ve caused me anxiety, but given my devious plan, this was a winner no matter what. For if Marianne’s co-workers failed to discover her oversight and bring the tickets, we would not be permitted to board, which meant we would get to go home and skip some holiday cheer. But if they stepped up and saved her, she would be taking the first bites of what would soon become a gut-busting glut of Christmas indulgence, enough to break her.

Dancing at the office Christmas party aboard the Mystic Blue in Chicago

The boat was actually pretty fun. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, dancing and partying in the Christmas spirit.

They came through. We boarded.

The boat was actually pretty fun. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and Marianne seemed at ease, enjoying the company of her colleagues, basking in the holiday glow. I snapped some pictures of the Chicago skyline at night, which looked nice, all made up for the holidays with red and green accents beneath a sickle moon. And as we headed home Marianne seemed content, pleased with her Christmas so far.

I reminded her, “When we get home we have to go to bed right away. We have a big day tomorrow.” She had no idea.

Frosty the Snowman and friends at Solider Field for the Santa Hustle 5K

At a frigid 7 degrees it was fine weather for Frosty and friends near the starting line for the Santa Hustle 5K at Solider Field.

Running Around on the Holidays

We rolled out of bed at 6am and drove to Soldier Field. The temperature was 7 degrees. In the shadow of the stadium more than a thousand Santas had gathered. I was one of them.

I was participating in the Santa Hustle, a 5k Christmas themed running race in which each runner wears a Santa cap and beard while running up and down the lakefront. Near the starting line Christmas music blared. Snowmen and elves cavorted. Hot cocoa and candy canes were to be handed out at the relief stations along the way.

Malcolm Logan approaches the finish line at the Santa Hustle 5K in Chicago

As I crossed the finish line, I expected Marianne to be gone. But she was there, all smiles, snapping pictures.

Marianne was not participating but had come along to take pictures and provide moral support. For 30 minutes or so she would be standing around outside in the frigid weather, immersed in a sea of silly Santas, subjected to a barrage of relentless Christmas music. Surely she would feel the unwarranted nonsense of it all and begin to bend under the pressure.

But as I bounded through the starting gate there she was, happily snapping pictures. The route was an out-and-back. It was cold as hell. I was a full mile into it before the numbness in my hands and feet began to subside. I could only imagine how my poor wife was faring, standing there, huddled against the chill, enduring Burl Ives singing Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.

When I crossed the finish line, I expected her to be absent, escaped to the car, seeking some semblance of warmth and normality, but she was there waiting for me, all smiles.

“Aren’t you cold?” I asked, huffing and puffing.

“Freezing,” she said through chattering teeth, and then offered to assist a group of sweaty Santas who wanted their picture taken near the finish line.

A miniature train winds through a Poinsettia display at the Lincoln Park Conservatory

At the Poinsettia Show in the Conservatory at Lincoln Park model trains wound through miniature villages set amidst bright flowers.

On the way home she confessed, “I’m looking forward to a hot shower.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “But make it snappy. We have a lot to do. It’s the holidays and we are going to have fun, lots of fun.”

Poisonous Poinsettias?

After showering, we hustled over to the Lincoln Park Conservatory to take in the poinsettia show. Each year the 1920’s era hothouse in Chicago’s prettiest park features a colorful array of Christmas spurges in their characteristic bright red, as well as orange, cream and pink varieties. Winding through the flower arrangements are model trains, and nestled between them are miniature buildings set amidst whimsical water features.

Marianne Grisdale and Malcolm Logan at the Poinsettia Show in Lincoln Park

We paused to have our picture taken. I encouraged Marianne to relax and take her time, but she wriggled off the hook.

We strolled along. I encouraged Marianne to take it all in, to take her time, knowing that soon the pressure of our overstuffed Yule Tide schedule would begin to weigh on her, making her anxious and out of sorts, the way I usually feel around the holidays.

Marianne likes flowers but she preferred not to linger. She reminded me we had a lot to do. We needed to buy a Christmas tree and Christmas decorations. After all, I had big plans.

As part of my scheme I had suggested going full bore, decorating the house with Christmas lights and a festive figure. At first Marianne had hesitated. We had never decorated the house before. But I pointed out that perhaps my lack of holiday spirit had to do with the half measures we had employed in the past. “We needed to really get after it,” I told her. “Do it up right for a change.”

She cheerfully relented.

A grazing wire deer Christmas display, a forlorn festive figure

“A grazing wire deer?” I said. “Who puts out a grazing wire deer?” There was nothing festive about this figure.

A Forlorn Festive Figure

So we headed over to the Whole Foods Market, but Marianne didn’t like the trees there, so we went to the Home Depot. This was good. She was fussing over the tree, which would waste time and create pressure leading to stress that would expose the ludicrous futility of it all.

But once she found a tree she liked she seemed appeased and happy. Even the prolonged search for a proper festive figure couldn’t unnerve her. “I want a plastic snowman,” I said.

“I prefer a wire deer,” she said, “but you get whatever you like.”

“Don’t just brush this off,” I grumbled. “We should to do this together. It’s Christmas.”

Marianne Grisdale putting up Christmas lights outside her home in Chicago

Back at home we tackled the outdoor lights. This was vexing and pushed Marianne to the brink.  Here was my chance to nudge her over the edge.

“Okay,” she said. “I would like a wire deer.”

“They’re all out of wire deers,” I pointed out.

“Here’s one,” she said. “It’s a grazing wire deer, with its head down, as opposed to an alert wire deer, with its head up.”

“A grazing wire deer?” I said. “Who puts out a grazing wire deer?”  The box had been opened and retaped.  Someone had returned it.  The whole thing was sort of forlorn, not festive at all.

“It’ll be fine,” she said. “We’ll be different.” She gave me a sweet smile. My annoyance melted away.

What did I care, anyway? The festive figure was her thing. Christmas was her thing. I should be taking it all in stride. She should be the one cracking under the pressure. Only she wasn’t.

Malcolm Logan struggles with Christmas lights on the steps of his home in Chicago

Marianne had bought icicle lights, which feature an extra strand every six inches. They come out of the box like a tangled rat’s nest.  Arrgh!

Frustration on Display

Back at home we tackled the lights. Marianne had bought icicle lights, which feature an extra strand every six inches that hangs down. They come out of the box like a tangled rat’s nest. She saw me struggling with them and showed me how to straighten them out and get them to hang right.

Then the twist ties were too short for the porch railings. Then we were short on outlets. Then the plugs didn’t work with the extension cords, and the whole thing was beginning to grate on us. Even Marianne was beginning to become vexed. To make matters worse, we still had to put up the Christmas tree and decorate it before heading back downtown to go shopping on State Street before heading out to dinner and the ballet. The pressure was on. And then the wire deer fell over.

Plug doesn't fit socket on Christmas lights

The twist ties were too short for the porch railings. Then we were short on outlets. Then the plugs didn’t work. Who does this anyway?

Marianne snapped. She complained bitterly about the festive figure and the uncooperative lights and the Chinese workers who made them. She denigrated the American consumer who demands cheap Chinese junk and the American businesses that kowtow to them. She was a hair’s breadth away from condemning Christmas and the whole idiotic self-flagellation of the thing. I could sense it. She was trembling on the edge.

Here was my chance to nudge her over the edge, to provoke a full blown tirade and get her to see the folly of her ways and end this Christmas nonsense once and for all. But I couldn’t do it. She had been such a good sport, going along with me on all of this. I didn’t want to make her sad.

I went over and crouched down and stood the wire deer up again. I resumed trying to stake it to the ground. Marianne came over and helped. She noticed that the wire stems at the base of the neck were not fitted into the sockets at the top of the withers. She fitted them in and just like that the figure was stabilized.

She suggested we postpone putting up our Christmas display until the next day and I went along with her. After all, we still had a lot to do. We had a big day ahead of us.

Marianne Grisdale hanging Christmas ornaments on the tree

Marianne has about a million ornaments and loves hanging them on the tree. Usually she does it all by herself. But not this time because I had an agenda.

Orna-Mental

We went inside and put up the Christmas tree. Marianne has about a million ornaments. She loves hanging them on the tree and does not really require the presence of anyone else to get pleasure out of it, although she likes it when others join her, others with the right spirit.

Usually I decline hanging ornaments. It strikes me as sort of mental,  just another Christmasy waste of time. But since I had already scheduled it as part of our overstuffed agenda, I lent a hand.

Before long Marianne’s frustration faded and she was as happy as a child, enchanted by the ornaments, delighted by the memories they evoked, touched by my participation.

Christmas tree at the home of Malcolm Logan and Marianne Grisdale in Chicago

I must admit it wasn’t entirely a downer. It was nice to see her so gratified and the tree did look nice when it was done.

I must admit it wasn’t entirely a downer. It was touching to see her so gratified and the tree did look nice when it was done. What’s more, the combined effort sped the process along and we were done in no time, ready for the next item on the agenda.

We took a cab down to State Street and got out at Macy’s. I am a Chicago guy, born and bred, and have therefore surrendered to the tradition of viewing the Christmas windows on State Street at several points over the years.

The windows are decorated with colorful mechanized figures that draw throngs of tourists, craning their necks, lifting up their children, trying to see past each other.

A father shares a tender moment with his son before Macy's Christmas windows in Chicago

We enjoyed watching the parents with their children almost as much as the displays themselves. Here a father shares a tender moment with his son before Macy’s Christmas windows.

Usually it’s cold and crowded, and in this day and age, with CG animation and lifelike animatronics, the displays are awfully dated. But I insisted Marianne participate, hoping she would find it aggravating, yet another stress-inducing Yule Tide obligation.

To my surprise, however, the windows were easily approachable. The displays were colorful and fun.  We paused in front of each one, pointing things out and laughing. We enjoyed watching the parents with their children almost as much as the displays themselves. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. The Salvation Army Band played.  Drummers drummed.  A group sang Christmas carols. Marianne reached over and held my hand. She is really such a sweet woman.

Marianne Grisdale on State Street during the Christmas season in Chicago

On State Street Marianne showed no signs of bending under the stress. My plan was running out of steam.

Warm and Winsome

Inside the store it was the usual frantic mayhem but we had already bought our gifts online so there was no need to feel pressured or stressed. It occurred to me that I had missed an opportunity here. Surely Christmas shopping at Macy’s would’ve driven Marianne around the bend, but by now my plan was running out of steam. We just strolled through the store, taking in the decorations. In one side and out the other.

We crossed Washington Street, turned south on Michigan Avenue in front of Millennium Park, where the ice skaters were going round and round, and headed down to the Gage restaurant.

The Gage is located in a gorgeous old Louis Sullivan designed building.  The interior features mosaic tile floors and warm wood accents.  The food is top notch, which is unusual for the Loop.

A crowd gathers to watch the drummers outside the Macy's store on State Street in Chicago

A crowd gathers to watch the drummers outside the Macy’s store on State Street. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.  Where were all the curmudgeons?

Marianne ordered a richly deserved glass of red wine and we tucked into a cozy repast of seared duck breast and spiced pumpkin soup. As for stress, there was none, even though we had to watch the time, as we had a 7pm curtain up for the ballet.

Marianne was buoyant. She thanked me for spending the whole day with her doing Christmasy stuff. I graciously accepted her thanks and gave her a kiss, forgetting that by now she was supposed to be groaning under the weight of so much Yule Tide cheer, ready to reject the whole thing. Even I was feeling a little winsome. But the last thing on our agenda was sure to ruin that.

Christmas decorations in the atrium at the Macy's store in Chicago

We just strolled through Macy’s, taking in the decorations. In one side and out the other. No stress.

A Tedious List of Gifts and Goodies

I have never liked the Nutcracker Suite. The story is insipid, the dancing rote, the music like wallpaper. Year after year the Joffre Ballet mounts the production in the same way that people line up to get their licenses renewed, because they have to. Yet year after year everyone gushes over the magic of the show and prattle on about how moved they were by it. Marianne loves it. For me it’s a struggle to stay awake.

One consolation is the Auditorium Theatre, which is one of Chicago’s premier performance venues. Built in 1889 and designed by Adler and Sullivan, its richly detailed vaulted ceiling and gorgeously accented galleries hearken back to an earlier era. It’s a pleasure just to sit there, soaking it in. But then the lights go down, and if it’s December, the Nutcracker comes on.

Nutcrackers

I have never liked the Nutcracker Suite but I was willing to give it one more try for the sake of Marianne and my agenda.

Little Clara is just one of several children at a rather tumultuous and overly long Christmas party. For some reason the rather diabolical Dr. Drosselmeyer shows up and gives all the children presents. Clara gets a nutcracker, which seems like an odd gift to give a child. Then she goes to bed.

The house is infested by mice. Lacking the services of an exterminator, all Clara can do is dream that the mice are vanquished by the nutcracker and a company of toy soldiers. In the event, however, the nutcracker is killed, which ought to end the play right there. But it keeps going. The nutcracker is resurrected and transformed into a prince with a singular talent for ballet, which strikes me as convenient. Then the prince and Clara dance.

The Auditorum Theater in Chicago before a performance of the Nutcracker Suite

Built in 1889 the Auditorium Theater is one of Chicago’s premier performance venues.

After the intermission, the story takes a sharp turn into unexpected territory and suddenly Clara is being entertained by all the toys and candies handed out at the dinner party. While Clara is blissfully dreaming, I am shifting in my seat. Finally, after working through the entire tedious list of gifts and goodies the story comes to an abrupt end with Clara confused about whether she was dreaming and most of us not really caring.

As the curtain came down, the audience bolted to its feet, applauding enthusiastically. Marianne was exhilarated. I pretended enthusiasm.  I could’ve sat sullenly in my seat with my arms folded but I was beginning to realize that pretending to be enthusiastic about Christmas can pay real dividends.  So I played along.

The Nutcracker Suite

The nutcracker is transformed into a prince with a singular talent for ballet, which strikes me as rather convenient.

Feeling it in my Stomach

We walked a few blocks and got a cab. On the way home Marianne apologized for my not liking the ballet. “It’s not your fault,” I told her. “You’re not Tchiakovsky.”

She leaned over and put a hand on my arm. She looked me in the eyes. “Thank you for a wonderful day,” she said. “Thank you for doing all that stuff with me.  You’re so generous.”

I studied her face. “So it wasn’t too much for you? You’re not sick of it all?”

Malcolm Logan dressed as Santa Claus at the Santa Hustle 5K in ChicagoShe smiled sweetly. “How could I be sick of it, I got to do it with you.”

Aw, what the heck.  What could I say?

My plan had gone down in flames, but it wasn’t so bad. Deep down inside, somewhere in the pit of my stomach, I was feeling a warm glow.

If I hadn’t know any better, I might have mistaken it for the spirit of Christmas.

 

 

Check it out…

Mystic Blue Christmas Cruise

 

The Mystic Blue Christmas Cruise
401 E. Illinois Street, Suite 310
Chicago, IL 60611
(866) 391-8439

Website

 

 

Santa Hustle 5K Chicago

 

Santa Hustle 5K
770 Industrial Dr, Unit A
Cary, IL 60013
(847) 829-4538

Website

 

 

Lincoln Park Conservatory Poinsettia show

 

Lincoln Park Conservatory
Poinsettia Show

2391 N Stockton Dr.
Chicago, IL  60614
(312) 742-7736

Website

 

 

Macy's at Christmas

 

Macy’s State Street Store
111 N State St
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 781-4483

Website

 

 

The Gage restaurant in Chicago

 

The Gage
24 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 372-4243

Website

 

 

The Nutcracker Suite at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago

 

The Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker Suite
at the Auditorium Theatre
50 East Congress Pkwy
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 922-2110

Website

 

 

My American Odyssey Destination Map

Previous stop on the odyssey: Pikeville, KY //
Next stop on the odyssey:  Chicago, IL

View My American Odyssey Destination Map in a full screen map

 

Image credits:

All images by Malcolm Logan and Marianne Grisdale, except for State Street crowds, ChiLleica; Nutcrackers, 8thcross; Nutcracker Suite, Jeff Rau