It is early Friday evening in Scripps Ranch. My wife and I look forward to a weekend of rest and relaxation (or perhaps of gardening projects that require multiple trips to Home Depot and run way over budget.)  We fill "to go" cups with a favorite adult beverage, zip our coats against the cool breeze wafting through the eucalyptus, shut down the garage door, and head off on a stroll of the neighborhood.
Crimson begins to dominate the sky as we skirt along Hoyt Park. The park is a community facility that offers something for everyone: grassy field for exercise, jungle gym for kids, summer concerts for families, out-of-the-way cubbyholes for nefarious nocturnal teenaged activities, and, of course, benches for momentary stops along the way.
As my wife and I take advantage of one such bench we are visually reminded of yet another use of the park--ample running room for local dogs that have been cooped all day. Upon release into the "yard" these fine canine inmates temporarily lose their minds!  We sit transfixed by the amazing flips, flops, dodges, dashes, slips, slides, jams and jumps performed by these acrobatic quadreupeds. Meanwhile, sadly, many of their owners stand by absent-mindedly apathetic or worse yet, gesticulating wildly and conversing with people no one else can see (just because you have a Bluetooth doesn't mean you don't look and sound insane to the rest of us!) The last bit of daylight fizzles as we leave the park and its Alpo-loving source of cheap entertainment.
"Let's head for Vons and splurge on a DVD." I suggest.
"Big-spender!  My Hero!"  She swoons. I make a mental note--that bit of sarcasm should cost her the price of a movie rental.
Before long we come across a residential structure pulsating with colorful light. After a quick check of the ol' mental calender, I confirm that we are indeed past the yuletide season, several months past. I am just about to point out the tenacity of our neighbor's pursuit of exterior illumination, when my tongue is stilled by the springing forth of said neighbor from behind a hedge. 
"Saw you admiring the display." He ejects. "She's a real beauty, huh?"
"It's gorgeous." My wife admits.
"It really is something." I add. "Are all eight of those hanging reindeer life-size?"
"You better believe it." He turns to survey the display then continues. "Each of those bad boys weights a good forty pounds. But I'll tell you..."  he pauses.  "I'm really most proud of that streaming sleigh up there on the ridgeline." Gazing at the flying machine, hands on hips. "Breath-taking and dangerous." A tear wells in the corner of his eye. "Beauty."
"Sure is," I agree. "I'll bet you had to call in the Wright brothers to clear that one, huh?"
"Yeah? Which one?" he asks. "Wilber or Frank Lloyd?"
I chuckle until I notice his stoic silhouette and realize this comment was not built for chuckling.
"The spinning stars are a nice touch." I recover and gesture to the house.
"Wouldn't do without 'em" He says as he bends and picks up a partially coiled string of lights.
At this point I wonder if he is winding them up for storage or winding them out to join this shrine to a day that has long receded over the holiday horizon.
After a moment I say, "Seems a shame to have to take it all down."
"Yeah..."  He shakes his head slowly and heads for the backyard without another word. Our last sight of him is the trailing string of lights disappearing around the corner.
"Well, looking on the bright side," me wife offers. "He only has about eight months to go."
"The 'bright' side, that's a good one. I get it." I smile. We stroll on.
A new slivered moon greets us as we crest Aviary Dr. and cross the street to the Village center. Overhead parking lot lights create random islands of clarity as we walk towards the stores.  Suddenly my wife, like a suburban ninja, drops, tucks, and rolls behind a Prius parked nearby.
"What the...?" I interject intelligently while spinning an unsteady 360.
"Get down here," she growls. "There's no time. Just do it!"
Despite the shock that I have apparently missed all evidence of my rapidly-approaching, chain-saw wielding, single-minded, blood-thirsty, revenge-driven, homicidal nemesis, I quickly respond to her demand.
"O.K. We're down here. Now what?" I ask.
"Look..." She points a single trembling finger.
And there, right out in front of Vons, right out in the open is a pack of miniature, cookie-pushing, green-skirted, capitalist guppies. The large one without a uniform appears to be the leader. She sits at a folding card-table and finalizes all sales.The little ones, caught in a selling frenzy, pool about the store entrance.

They confront each passing shopper. They surround their target. They apply the vocal thumbscrews with a rally-cry for the all-mighty, over-priced, box of chocolate-covered diabetic nightmares. We are defenseless. With a chosen movie and a box of sugar-coated dum-diddies and roasted gooey hoo-hoos tucked under each arm, we head for the safe confines of home.

                                                Daniel J McAuliffe

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