'Tis that special time of year, The Holiday Retail Purchasing Season, a time when we traditionally print heartwarming human-interest stories designed to make you feel better about running up a level of debt normally associated with Mexico.
I have such a heartwarming story, which was published by The London Times and sent in by alert reader John Nicholls. The story, which I am not making up, concerns a man named Neil from Devon, England, who discovered an owl nesting in his garden. Each night, Neil would go outside and hoot to the owl. To his delight, he'd hear a hoot in reply; then he'd hoot some more. This went on night after night, month after month; Neil even kept a log of his conversations with the owl.
Then one day Neil's wife got to talking about this with a neighbor, who said that her husband, whose name is Fred, had also been going out every night to hoot to the owl. At this point the women realized that their husbands had in fact spent an entire year hooting to each other. The owl was not involved at all. The owl was probably inviting its owl friends over to drink owl beer and listen to these two hooting twits and laugh until they fell off the branch.
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I admit that this heartwarming story is not directly related to the holiday season, but doesn't it make you feel better? You can say to yourself: ``Maybe I will go broke this holiday season, and maybe I will wind up hospitalized with injuries sustained in hand-to-hand combat with other parents over who gets to buy the last Beanie Baby at the Toys Sure `R' Expensive store, but at least I will not be spending my evenings standing in some cold, damp English garden exchanging hoots with a man named Fred!''
Yes, this is a time of year to count our blessings. Here's another one: Thanks to science, we may soon have a new, mutant Christmas tree. I have here an Associated Press article, sent in by many alert readers, about a plant scientist at the University of California at Davis who has isolated a certain gene from a fish that glows in the dark. The scientist's idea is to put this gene into a Christmas tree, which would result in -- you guessed it -- a Christmas tree that eats worms!
No, seriously, it will be a Christmas tree that glows in the dark. Isn't that wonderful?
No, it is not. I speak on behalf of every person who has ever attempted to put a Christmas tree into a Christmas-tree stand, only to wind up on the floor, covered with sap and thousands of pine-needle stab marks. Because the Christmas tree is the most vicious predator in the entire tree kingdom. You know how sometimes hikers disappear in the forest, and their decomposed bodies are found months later, and the authorities blame it on ``exposure''? Did you ever stop to ask yourself: Exposure to what? I'll tell you what: Christmas trees. They travel in packs and can strike like lightning with a variety of weapons.
FIRST CORONER: What do we have here?
SECOND CORONER: It appears to be another victim of ``exposure.'' Take a look at this.
SECOND CORONER: Wow! I've never seen a pine cone there before!
But as dangerous as Christmas trees can be in the wild, they are far more deadly when you corner one in your house and try to put a tree stand on it. So here's what I want to know: If scientists are going to impart a new quality to Christmas trees, why would that quality be the ability to glow in the dark? What we consumers want in our Christmas trees is the quality of not poking us in the eye, combined with the quality of not always keeling over like fraternity brothers on Intravenous Vodka Night. I say if we're going to inject genes into Christmas trees, let's take these genes from some rigid, immobile organism, such as Robert Stack.
Maybe what we're dealing with here is a scientific fad. I say this because of another AP story, also sent in by many alert readers, concerning scientists at Osaka University in Japan who have, using DNA obtained from a jellyfish, managed to create -- I am not making this up, either -- a glow-in-the-dark mouse . Why would they do this? Do they think regular mice are not already alarming enough? Do they think we want to come into our kitchen at 3 a.m. to enjoy a nutritious snack of congealed pizza, only to be confronted by glowing rodents scuttling around like something out of The X-Files ? And what will happen when -- it's only a matter of time -- some scientist has one too many glasses of sake and decides to put some jellyfish DNA into a Christmas tree? Good luck getting THAT thing into a tree stand!
FIRST CORONER: Take a look at this.
SECOND CORONER: Wow! Looks like that pine cone was inserted with some kind of tentacle!
I've run out of space here, so let me just close this heartwarming holiday column by extending my sincerest generic wishes to each and every one of you, especially Neil and Fred, to whom I say, from the bottom of my heart: Hoot.