essica is perched precariously atop a three-step kitchen ladder. I glance over at her from the couch where I'm watching football. I'm concerned she might fall. If she falls, then I'll have to do the decorating.

"Be careful," I call over my shoulder.

"Jim," she says. "Would you hand me that?"


That is over there. In a box. Across the room. Up, in other words, from the couch.

"Yes. That."

I exhale a large nobody-knows-the-trouble-I've-seen sigh. I stand up in my best put-upon standing slouch. I drag myself over there.

As I hand her a framed painting of a beaming Santa, I wonder if there is any other kind. Isn't Santa always beaming? For once, I'd like to see a pensive Santa or a melancholy Santa. I was lucky enough to see, in person, a drunk Santa. It was in Florida on Christmas Eve, Santa after-hours. He was weaving down the late-night street, spotlit by the hazy light of overhanging street lamps, mumbling something that didn't sound remotely like "and to all a good night." I've also been privileged to see a cigarette-smoking Santa; several of them, in fact. They're all over the place in Italy. Cigarette smoking and hair the color of cigarette ash, worn slightly askew, a look that is less jolly than it is kind of Santa noir.

Jessica takes the painting, leans forward to slide it down the wall onto a hook, and wobbles. I quickly grab her legs.

"I'm okay," she says, steadying herself.

"That's okay," I reply. "Wouldn't want anything to happen to you."

Jessica and I approach holiday decorating in our own separate ways.

She decorates. I grouse.

It works pretty well, all things considered. Except that no matter how much I grouse, the house still gets decorated.