This Christmas, I’ve been “elfing.” As everyone knows, this is the gerund form of “to elf” which, in turn, is the infinitive verb form of the noun, “elf.” (Don’t you wish now that you hadn’t nodded off in high school grammar?)
The noun “elf” is not capitalized. To capitalize it would be improper since “elf” is not a proper noun…and anyway, as everyone knows, elves (the plural of “elf”) are little folks, so capitalization would be wasted on them. They’re like leprechauns, only they wear red in addition to just green, and show up in the winter, not the spring. In the winter, leprechauns hibernate. Being Irish, they’re “sleeping it off.” Elves, on the other hand, come out when the winter weather is at its worst. This is because, unlike leprechauns, elves are hopeless idiots.
But they are big-hearted idiots. Whenever Santa gives them a break (which, at this time of year, ain’t often), they venture out into the cold ringing bells at local shops and markets to raise money for good causes, of which there is no shortage. They ring bells because, on account of being very short, this is the only way they can get noticed and keep from being trampled by hurrying shoppers with visions of sugarplums (whatever they are) in their heads instead of paying attention to where they’re going.
Their diminutive stature notwithstanding, try as you might you can’t ignore these elves. You can’t for example, shift course and use a different store entrance because they’ve got them all covered. Plus, they’ve got you both coming and going and, while elves are idiots, they have very good memories (this is in part due to the fact that they are not the aforesaid drunken leprechauns). They’ll remember that you said you’d contribute on your way out. They’ll remember your coat, your hair, your silly reindeer-printed holiday socks.
Now, becoming an elf does not take a lot of brains (see “idiot” above). All you have to do, when asked, is say yes. If you have a soft heart and even softer brain, yes comes easily. Thus it was that I became an elf. I would say “unwittingly,” but that would assume I had wits in the first place.
I confess I have some disadvantages as an elf. First, I am six feet five inches tall and do not fit the usual elfish image. A kid came up to me and actually said, “You’re not an elf; you’re too big.” It was everything I could do to keep from giving him a swift kick. But that would be un-elflike. Second, I am a wise-guy former New Yorker which, if you think about it, is not your most ideal set of credentials for garnering good will…and money. But when times are tough, elf recruiters will take any idiot who says yes. Like me.
I’ve watched elves. They smile a lot, are polite, and ring those dreadful bells which, let’s face it: you’ll pay almost anything to stop. Maybe being nice is a good technique, but I wasn’t buying it. Not my nature.
To me, being an elf is like being given a stage for stand-up comedy, New York style. You gotta get shoppers’ attention. You gotta stop them in their tracks. You gotta give them no choice but to contribute to the cause. I start out with my most gentle New York approach: I say, “Don’t even think about walking in that door without making a donation. You got kids maybe? You still like them? You think Santa isn’t watching you at this very moment?”
And then there are the hard cases, and you just gotta make their perilous situation very clear to them: “You think you’re gettin’ in here without a donation?! Fugeddaboudit, pal! Wise up! Don’t make me bring in Big Guido with his baseball bat. You like those knees of yours? How much? How much are they worth to you? Hey, Guido!”
I have found this technique very effective, if only because shoppers know the next step with an elf from New York is a mugging, which is so unseemly at Christmas. The elf, who is doing “good works,” has the upper hand. You, on the other hand, do not…unless you donate. See? Get the picture? Don’t make me tell you this twice.
Okay, okay, so this is all in good fun, but let me tell you, it ain’t easy standing out in the cold, ringing annoying bells, eyes watering from the wind, wishing you had a flask of bourbon, and begging for worthy causes. Thankfully, where I live there are a lot of idiots willing to elf, and lots of others generous with their contributions.
It is great to be an elf. This year, help those who need help most, because, you know, Big Guido’s watching.