It's Christmas Again!
Or was, about three weeks ago. I'd have posted my usual effusively gushing report of merrymaking and excessive consumerism in a World Gone Mad but stuff got in the way.
Christmas Eve was the usual family affair, with Mrs Stevie at work, The Stevieling making herself scarce and me, having taken the day off, trying to make a dent in the crap strewn about our house in an attempt to achieve scenic congruence with Bikini Atoll shortly after the Castle Bravo event.
I shoveled and vacuumed and swore until about 4pm, when The Stevieling swanned into theater, announced she was going to her grandmother's and demanded to know my own ETA at that venue of in-law reunion, once yearly catching-up and loot exchange. I may have been a little short in my response, as I was feeling a bit out of sorts having been waiting in vain for her to join me in removing her crap from my Xmas Eyeline.
In any event she hotly denied any of the stuff on the kitchen table was hers1 and stomped off leaving me searching my lexicon for the exactly apposite Word of Power to express my lack of confidence in her denials of ownership.
Some time later Mrs Stevie hove into view, her attitude somewhere south of "Blitzkreig" owing to a day long surfeit of idiots and Starbux Xmas Cinnamon Triple Clawhammer Latté Grandes, which it appeared she'd been hitting continuously since around 11 am in defiance of good sense and medical advice.
We exchanged a few desultory insults and got changed, she into a Christmas-themed sweater and me into a golf shirt and the same jeans I'd been cleaning house in, and I drove us over to the Mrs Steviedad's house, parking behind The Stevieling's car.
From the fleet of cars parked in the driveway I could see that BiL the Younger was there with the crew
They had driven down from somewhere barely not in Canada that day, so his kids (all grown up into late teens and early twenties) were all tired and shagged-out after having gotten up in the middle of the bloody night in order to get here.
Now it had been asked of us that we get together at four, but no-one who had a job could manage that, not Mrs Stevie, not BiL the Elder, and not me either given that my day off had been spent working twice as intensely as I would have if I'd gone into the office - and if I had they'd have been lucky to see me before 8pm. So we'd apologized and said we'd get there as soon as we could.
I could understand that the Northeastern Maritimes crew would want to get started on dinner and present exchange etc as soon as possible as they would be dead on their seats by 9pm, but the scheduling is all their own doing and is predicated on their not wanting to spend more time than absolutely necessary with Mrs Stevie's side of the family.
I can sort of understand why, my Mother-in-Law having been a little more critical of my Sister-in-Law than Pope Paul III was of Henry the Eighth, but the time squeeze and long day was, as in previous years, not of my doing and I have little patience with being given a hard time by whoever is out of sorts this time, which turned out to be the middle daughter, who gave us the bounty of about two whole sentences the entire evening and avoided returning my greeting to her by playing Minecraft at me.
Oh well, maybe she'll have come around by next Christmas, though the reasons for meeting are becoming less compelling as the years go by and it may be this was the last we'll see of each other. Her loss.
BiL the Elder and spouse rolled up eventually and the adults enjoyed themselves having fun while the various younger "adults" interacted or not with each other and sometimes everyone else. I felt sorry for The Stevieling, who was at one time inseparable from The Minecrafter and who was probably feeling the snub harder than anyone else.
Eventually it was time to eat, then time to exchange gifts. Now the kids are grown this has become a much shorter ceremony. It used to take about an hour as each person took it in turns to open up something and show it off. This time we were done in about twenty minutes - gift cards are not as time-intensive as Easybake Ovens or Barbie Doll RV Campers or whatever else the kids got over the years. At some point in the proceedings Mrs Stevie passed the camera, which she'd schlepped over there after ascertaining that my interest in playing Lord Snowden this year was nil, to BiL the Elder and asked him to take a picture of me, The Stevieling and her as we sat in an obviously contrived pose of family unity.
A sad mistake.
BiL the Elder is no stranger to digital SLR photography for he has a top-of-the-line SLR gifted to him by his wife some years ago. He was, however, completely thrown by the fact that my SLR is a bottom-of-the-barrel model that does not offer the facility to swing the viewfinder mirror up in order to allow the rear screen to act as a viewfinder itself. My camera requires you look through the viewfinder, which contains more dials, indicators and flashing warning lights than The Predator's Space Goggles do, and press the shutter release like you used to do on a film camera.
The conversation went like this:
Mrs Stevie: Would you please take our picture?
BiL the Elder: Sure. How do I get the screen to work?
Mrs Stevie: You don't. You use the viewfinder.
BiL the Elder: But how do I get the screen image?
Mrs Stevie: You don't. You need to use the viewfinder.
BiL the Elder: What? You mean you can't use the screen as a viewfinder?
Mrs Stevie: No. You have to use the viewfinder.
BiL the Elder: So you can't use the screen as a viewfinder on this camera?
Mrs Stevie: You can't use the screen as a viewfinder. Use the regular bleeping viewfinder!
BiL the Elder: But on my camera ...
Mrs Stevie: JUST TAKE THE PICTURE!
Which he did, grumbling about screens and viewfinders the entire time. Apparently, BiL the Elder doesn't know that the mirror swing-and-lock feature (which also enables the taking of movies as a free extra benefit) is only available on very expensive SLR cameras like his, and is not available on cameras like mine that cost about a third of what his did.
I considered telling him but then realized that he would press me for the reason why this feature is such an expensive option, and given that I have no idea why swinging the mirror for viewfinding is so much harder than swinging it for taking the shot (which has to happen anyway, just like in a film SLR) that it should cost one arm and most of one leg, and that I would be trapped in a second never-ending exchange, so I let it slide.
Later that evening I discovered my camera under a side-table where someone had placed it. Why it wasn't on the side table was a bit of a puzzler, so I picked it up and was rewarded by seeing the front element of the lens wobble from side to side.
"When did this happen?" I asked Mrs Stevie, as an experiment in prediction.
"It's always been like that" came back the entirely expected (and entirely ridiculous) response.
I was disappointed. Mrs Stevie has been known to ignore wobbly steering wheels, strange noises from the engine and flames shooting out of the air vents of her car, and to respond to my queries as to the length of time the car has been exhibiting signs of immanent catastrophic failure with vagueness or outright denial of the visual evidence of same six inches from her nose, but she has a background that includes photography and I expected more acumen concerning cameras.
I expressed extreme doubt as to the normality of the main light-gathering and focusing mechanism of the camera having always waggled a quarter of an inch from side to side, then switched on the camera and pointed it at something, pressed the shutter and watched all the lights, dials and flashing indicators in the viewfinder die.
"what's the matter with it?" she sweetly asked.
"I can't say for sure" I replied. "It's either been dropped or kicked. It may even have been drop-kicked. Either way, the lens is now a casualty of The Family Christmas. Let's hope the body comes back to life when we get home and I plug the other lens into it. As for now, we have no camera. You are going to have to use your phone for recording any more happy memories. Why didn't you put it back in its case when you were done using it?
She then deployed Spouse Ploy #1 : I gave it back to you which I countered with a hearty and firm No you bloody well didn't. The camera was your responsibility. You brought it. You were supposed to take care of it. I told you that in so many words before we left home and I hold you responsible for the damage and refused to discuss it any more. I knew that I had just been handed a $200 bill for expenses and was not a happy camper.
It infuriates me the way the women in my family treat expensive technology. They casually deal out all sorts of biffs, bangs and clangs to stuff, then have the brass nerve to look surprised when it breaks.
We scored this camera as a "freebie", inasmuch as I got it using the frequent spender points from a credit card to obtain gift cards that I used to buy the camera, but I at least am always aware that it cost about $500 in real terms. It isn't a toy, even though it is the low-end-of-the-range model. It is a very good quality camera as suitable for the budding shutterbug or photojournalist as for a point-and-shoot clod like me. It is stuffed with features that make life unbelievably easy compared to what I had with my Minolta SLR film camera. The lens alone is a technological miracle, with autofocus and an outstanding vibration reduction feature that lets me take hand-held non-flash pictures at speeds four times slower than I could with a film SLR2, and it has an 18-55mm zoom range that makes picture composition a doddle.
Not that night, of course. It had been turned into a bunch of scrap metal and glass by a passing foot.
We grabbed some more food and chatted a bit more and then it was time for people to start leaving. BiL the Younger's crew was assembled and they departed into the night, yawning. We did some tidying and then BiL the Elder and Wife left.
The Stevieling took the tablecloth out to the front garden to shake off the crumbs, came back in and said "Dad, come outside please". I figured she needed help with the spinnaker-sized tablecloth, grabbed my shoes and walked out into the cold. "Uncle BiL the Elder has hit your car".
I was unprepared for this and so without thinking shouted an incredulous "How?" to the neighborhood reflexively. You see, BiL the Elder had moved his car so that BiL the Younger's convoy could leave earlier. As far as I could see he must've then been parked alongside The Stevieling's car. To hit mine, he'd have had to swing directly into it as the first thing he did. To miss it all he had to do was drive back one car length to the clearly visible road. I couldn't see how it was possible to have a direct collision between his car and mine.
But when I got there, indeed he had done the impossible and put a deep dent in the fender I had replaced only some months before when some other clod in an SUV had backed over me in a spectacular demonstration of driving with all power to the brain switched off3.
BiL the Elder was making noises about paying for it, so I waved him off and told him we'd sort it all out later, no, it wasn't important so long as no-one was hurt and so forth. Then I went back inside before my natural tendencies became too much and I deployed some totally deserved class four Words of Power in his direction. The car was, after all, driveable, so other than a spectacular inconvenience to come and some steep out-of-someone-else's-pocket expenses, there was no real need for a family feud.
So: one Minecraft-themed snubbing, one destroyed camera and a thousand-dollar-or-I'm-a-scotchman4 ding in The Steviemobile; not a bad haul for Xmas Eve.