To: [email protected]

11:31AM Dec 11, 2009
( )

From: [email protected]
Subject: Yule be surprised

SC: Look, I know I wrote to you last year for the first time in—well, a long time, but I think I wasn't sincere enough or something because much of my list was obviously lost or ignored. So let me say up front, my skepticism about your existence is way down—and for good reason.

A funny not-so-funny thing has happened. Many of the things that I believe in, such as my 401K, General Motors and the 10-day forecast, have let me down. So I'm not just suspending my disbelief, I'm cutting the rope.

As I remember, the initial part of these letters consists of an Annual Report, so here goes.

  • I have been a relatively inoffensive boy this year. I am unindicted, for one thing. This may seem like a low standard but not in Illinois (The Home of Great Football and Clean Government). I am not under surveillance or being stalked by former spouses, adversaries or creditors.
  • I have kept my living space clean. To be precise, I have avoided making it messier, which strikes me as the same thing. When home alone, I eat sandwiches over the sink. I achieve 85% to 90% accuracy with the laundry hamper.
  • I haven't fought with my brother in years. I do owe him for several restaurant dinners, but he's a doctor, so my understanding is it doesn't count.

With those preliminaries out of the way, here is what I would like for Christmas. Please.

1. A clue. It appears that this is something I no longer have. I can only assume that at one time I was "clueful” but no longer. Let me illustrate.

My son and I watch The Big Bang Theory. We're engineers and love to rag on physicists, the only species less adapted to the human society than we are. Plus, we almost get the quantum mechanics jokes.

Anyhoo, a recent episode featured pounding music and quick-cut camera shots that apparently have some precedent in modern film/TV culture. Aaron had alerted me to this episode, so I was paying close attention for the incredible hilarity he had described.

I didn't get it. Nope, nothing. I was virtually context-free, drifting into the dreaded Void of Irrelevancy. I saw my own Dad go gently into that black hole, and I think I could avoid it if I just had a clue.

At the same time, I can no longer casually toss aside instruction manuals and rely on native technological instinct. Not that there are many useful or even readable manuals. An upgrade to my fading "figgering out” skills would be a welcome addition to my clue inventory.

2. A break. I know, we all think we never get one, but in the past few years I have found close calls bending slightly further away from happy results for me. Rains either miss when needed or drench when not. Don't even start on my marketing.

I would appreciate it if just once, I could get the benefit of the doubt, for example. The current economic situation has made this a scarce commodity, as we have been walloped by hidden problems, but the paranoia is wearing us all out. Of course, we may start trying to trust each other simply to save time and because we're too exhausted to be defensive. So a nudge in that direction would be great. If I got a break, I promise I'd pass it on. Maybe even preemptively.

3. Peace. While this is almost a required entry on a Christmas list, this year I'm beggin' ya, SC. The seasonal "Peace on Earth” would be awesome, but I'm willing to settle for scaled back results, such as a little peace of mind or peace and quiet.

Maybe if I disconnected from my electronic implants that would help. However, I think the problem is there is not enough peace to go around.

I could meet you halfway—I'll try to scale back my intrusion on the peace in the lives of those around me by occasionally keeping my big mouth shut, and you can install an irritation-dampening field around me. OK?

4. Something I can do. I swear, I have lamented a dozen times this year, "I wish there was something I could do,” when confronted with the problems of my friends and family. Oh, sure, sometimes about all that is possible is to be there and offer a shoulder to lean on, but any inspiration for new comfort skills I could deploy would make me feel less incompetent. At the very least, it would keep me trying.

I understand if this list doesn't match your inventory, but thanks for listening. I feel better. Maybe this letter shtick isn't as corny as I thought.


John Phipps farms in Illinois and is the host of "U.S. Farm Report.” Visit for station listings. To view past columns, visit or