‘Toe Jam

December Men's Room column

It’s after 5 p.m. on a Friday, and you stick around the office because you’re a team player, committed corporate material. Or, maybe you just didn’t think up a believable excuse to weasel out of this obligatory get-together: no medical emergencies, no relatives in need, no snowy weather to force you out the door.

So here you are in your holiday red, making small talk with coworkers and wondering who’s singing that song – Bing Crosby? Michael Bublé?

You chat past the bigwigs and their bored spouses. You marvel at the tree that sprawls across the carpet where the copier and coat rack usually go. To your relief, you discover that your Secret Santa is your best work friend, so you got a sensible pair of gloves instead of a Frosty sweater with I’m Chillin’ stitched across it.

You check your watch. You can make a respectable exit soon.

Then, as you clutch your glass of chardonnay in one hand and your plate of celery sticks in the other, you see some guy – it’s always a guy – wearing a Grinch-like grin. His gaze meets yours, and he nods like he knows the answer to a question you haven’t asked. His eyes slide upward, and so do yours. Do you see what he sees? A green, leafy strand tacked to the doorframe and drooping like a feather boa.

Directly. Over. You.

Bigtime blunder. You have paused beneath the mistletoe at the office holiday party.

As he knocks back a cocktail and heads your way, two questions flash through your mind: Did I bring my merry Mace? And, who came up with this ridiculous mistletoe thing in the first place?

For that last one, start the blame with those wacky Celtic druids, who believed mistletoe possessed healing powers and even foretold the future. Then, the ancient Greeks associated it with fertility, and the Romans took it as a symbol of peace. A Nordic myth twisted it into the kissing tradition, and the Victorians of England wrung the fun out of it, pressuring girls to accept a kiss or risk public snubbing.

All that from a seedy parasite. Which brings us back to your puckering co-worker. You wonder if he’s had his flu shot.

’Tis the season for dragging stuff into our living rooms: mountains of presents, of course, along with wreaths and nativity scenes that gather dust in the attic eleven months of the year. We stack pine cones by our fireplaces without a thought about the hazard. We haul trees indoors – oversized firs, pines, and cypress – and live in cramped conditions for weeks. We’ll never get the needles out of the carpet.

And, then there’s the mistletoe, an evergreen freeloader that gloms onto the branches of healthy trees and goes about sucking them dry. It grows in clumps known as witches’ brooms. Its berries are poisonous. And, because it’s found where birds do their business, its name translates as “dung on a twig.”

So, we stick it over a door and use it to lure people into kissing us.

This is where you are now, seconds away from a nonsensical and uncomfortable holiday tradition. Any other time of year, you’d have grounds for a human resources complaint. But, it’s Christmas, so all you can go is close your eyes and wish for a chimney, a rooftop, and a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer waiting to take you far, far away.

Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.

To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to markweberart.blogspot.com.

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Categories: Culture