While Rome burns

Dear Friends:

Well, what with all the excitement, I am only just now getting around to writing my annual holiday letter. Walter and I received an incredible number of intimate family letters this year, neatly folded and tucked in Christmas cards — often from people we hardly even knew. The truth is, I was feeling a little bit intimidated and wasn’t so sure I could measure up. But then Walter reminded me that our lives are every bit as interesting (and, in most cases, far more dramatic) and actually convinced me that I should go ahead and send this cheery greeting to all our friends, even if it is a little late. So here goes…

Life in these United States began peacefully enough late in December of 1999, when Walter and I talked a lot about the potential problems that might result from the Y2K warnings. So we invested in a great deal of foodstuffs, including a couple of gallons of water glass (Walter remembered storing eggs that way back when he was a kid, during the Second World War). Unfortunately, the 80-dozen eggs he bought were too old to survive without spoiling. Add to that the cost of the frozen chicken parts we bought at auction when the chicken-finger drive-in business down the road (called Plucky-Lucky) went bankrupt. It wasn’t a good investment, because they all spoiled the minute they thawed out.

It was a year ago in January that we found out Walter’s brother Randolf (you remember Randolf, the one who retired from the Air Force after that shipment of expensive sauna baths turned up in a major hotel chain) had taken his wife Denise and their twin pre-teen boys, Justin and Jason, to a survival camp in upstate New York. Happily, they lived through the tunnel cave-in and the flooding after the dam at the camp’s reservoir broke (it was later discovered that the job-lot concrete they used had not set properly). Well, when the news leaked out that Randolf had lost his entire savings, a few of the immediate family kicked in enough cash to give them a new start in a little town outside of St. Catherine, Ontario. But if you do write or call, remember not to mention Camp Superior or somebody named “the Captain.”

And speaking of flooding, when little Denny (one of Denise’s kids from her first marriage, to Ivan) put his foot into the toilet at Florida’s Disney Land and flooded the men’s room, quick action by cousin Bart (who is attending a Baja California law school on scholarship) not only guaranteed the flooding of the entire room, but enabled Bart to sign on a disgruntled employee as an agreeable witness to a lawsuit against the Disney firm for endangering the life of a minor.

Walter, of course, has been a ton of fun ever since he ran that office-supply store that sold over a ton of very expensive, embossed stationery to an airline trying to set up a retirement community for bankrupt lawyers. He drove his newly imported Land Rover to the local mall just minutes before an ice storm swept through the area. But being unfamiliar with four-wheel drive (not to mention the fact that he was wearing his new wading boots), he actually drove off the concrete ramp leading to the third level, totaling his own car along with one Cadillac and one Mercedes, and breaking his leg as well.

Being immobile for two months actually helped, as it gaveWalter time to get his tropical fish tanks ready for the piranhas he imported from a small town in Brazil. The fish are doing fine, but Walter had to learn the hard way about the importance of using long-handled pliers when feeding steak to the little fellows.

In March, my sister Ellen had her gall bladder removed, but her doctor used the new modern method, so she recovered beautifully. Unfortunately, her husband, Brad, chose that time to run off with a financial consultant. Upon arriving home from the hospital, Ellen found a note pinned to their pet parrot, telling her that Brad had finally found true love and they moving to a retirement community just outside of Las Vegas to start a big family.

My other sister, Marsha, was lucky enough to find a job as a pin-spotter in a local bowling alley after she went though detox to kick the addictions she picked up while working as an orderly at a nuclear-power plant over in Tennessee.

Our daughter Tinker was next in line for surgery. She had both her tonsils and an ingrown toenail removed at the new outpatient clinic, called Operations-R-Us, funded by the HMO she signed on to when working as a carhop at our big new fast-food chain, Ton-o-Burgers. You’ll all remember that Tinker and her third husband, Trent, made the headlines when they visited distant relatives in Brooklyn and their camper stalled in the middle of the Holland Tunnel, after all four tires went flat. Trent was working for a big bowling-ball company but took early retirement when the company went bankrupt after they put all their resources into a Web site called Emonsterbowlingball.com.

The summer went reasonably well for us, our only problem being when Walter, in order to save money for his aquarium hobby (you know how much water costs these days), tried to hook up a secret valve to the city water system. But he forgot about the water pressure and not only destroyed our front porch but caused a whole section of our street to cave in.

We did have a sad letter from my Great Aunt Dora (she’s a tax collector in Austin, Texas), who is being sued by her next-door neighbor after the neighbor’s pedigreed golden retriever was buried alive by Dora’s pet armadillo. But Dora has a will of iron and the patience of a saint, and she believes she can recoup a great deal of money from “having the goods” on some kind of clandestine clinic called Friar Tucks that deals with face-lifts and liposuctions for the rich and famous.

That little debacle with the Water Department cost a lot of money, so during August I took a job with a new accounting firm that recently relocated a few miles away in an abandoned shopping mall. All went well at first, until I began asking questions about a container shipment from Hong Kong that was supposed to contain sweater yarn destined for Gastonia, N.C., but turned out to be an illegal shipment of pets (including mongooses and cobras), destined for a big pet chain operating out of Newark, N.J. Turns out the mongooses were not a problem, but they did manage to eat all the cobras; and when customs officials opened the crates (it was late at night), the little furry loves attacked a whole line of prize dogs destined for the big Westminster dog show and the lawsuits bankrupted the company.

Thanksgiving was a real family treat, as Walter’s sister’s ex-husband, Salvador (from her second marriage), stopped by to help us rebuild the porch in return for our putting his wife, Kitty, and their four kids up for a week before they drove their caravan to Brandon, Mo., where Salvador had a bit part in a traveling magic show and Kitty had a secret job at a big motel just outside of town.

This past Christmas found things back to relative normalcy. The new year has been pretty quiet so far, and the only problem on the horizon is the possible return of Randolf and Denise, who called last night to tell us that the twins had been arrested in a Web-site scam (something to do with credit-card fraud), necessitating their leaving Canada as fast as possible.

Let’s hope all is super at your house!

Love,

Alicia and Walter

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