How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Or At Least One Small Part Of It)

From: Chris Reuter
Subject: How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Or At Least One Small Part Of It)
Organization: Zygon Invasion Force Advance Scouts

    As I write this, I'm sitting in the right-middle seat of my
parents' mini-van, my trusty Thinkpad[1] on my lap, as we travel
through the outskirts of Flint, Michigan.  We are on the way back from
a weekend spent attending the wedding[2] of my step-brother David
followed by a couple of days of getting acquainted with the step-inlaws
and their personal watercraft[3].
    We are also heading away from the town of Frankenmuth, Michigan,
where we had lunch and where the 'rents stopped to sight-see.  It's
the sort of place my stepmother describes as "quaint", so those of you
who know her[5] can pretty much write it off right now.  For those of
you who don't (i.e. all of you, I expect), let me describe it for you.
    It's as though the Hand of God (or a rift in the space-time
continuum, take your pick) took a small German town and transported it
whole and intact to the middle of Michigan, where flocks of developers
immediately razed it and covered the scorched earth with tourist
    Among these are the wooden covered bridge and the traditional
European paddle-wheeled Mississippi riverboat named (I am not making
this up) the Bavarian Belle.
    But the worst (or best, if you're into this sort of perversion) of
it all was Bronner's CHRISTmas[6] store.  To get an idea of what
it's like, imagine it's November 1[7] and you're wandering through a
drug store[8] looking for marked-down Hallowe'en candy.  Only, as
inevitably happens, the Christmas decorations are out.  Bad holiday
music is playing through the speaker systems and the the shelves are
stuffed with all the green-and-white kitsch you can think of and lots
that you can't, and you have to wade through all of this crap just to
find the candy.
    Well, Bronner's is like that, except that there's no candy, it's
like this all year 'round, and IT GOES ON FOREVER!!!!11!!  It's like
Hell for the discriminating consumer.
    I wasn't doing too well either.  Fortunately, I was able to start
channeling Kibo before the kitsch reached toxic levels.  [Sorry Kibo,
but it was an emergency.  I hope you weren't doing anything important
at the time.]
    This was perhaps the first time that I truly regretted not owning
a digital camera.  In fact, if the shop had sold green-and-white
Santa-encrusted digital cameras, I'd have bought one then and there
just so I could provide a visual record of my dazed wanderings through
the place[9].  If I go again, I'm definitely bringing one, as well as
a portable tape-recorder, in order that I may place them on my web
page accompanied by witty commentary.
    I _did_, however, have my Visor and I was able to take notes as I
explored.  I shall therefore attempt to recreate the experience using
only words.  If you wish, you can pretend that this is a web-page,
you're viewing it with lynx on a text-only terminal and I've written
very good alt= tag descriptions for each of them.
    Let's begin:

             A Virtual Tour of Bronner's CHRISTmas Store

                    By Chris "Kibo Wannabe" Reuter

    Seen from outside, Bronner's CHRISTmas Store looks like quite a
lot like what I imagine Paminifarm's[10] front yard would look like
were she rich and Catholic.
    [Three or four different life-sized nativity scenes sitting in a
well-maintained, perfectly green lawn.]

    Inside the entrance, we see the first abomination. [A life-sized
animatronic Christmas tree, with saucer-sized eyes and a mouth big
enough to bite the heads of small children, is singing Christmas
songs in a voice reminiscent of Barney the Dinosaur.]  After dark, it
wanders around town and eats stray dogs and the occasional tourist.

    Once inside the store proper, we learn a vital fact: [
Sign reading:
            The silverbell garland
            will lead you to the

                  REST ROOMS
].  If only every store had one of these.

    [Here is a display case of Hummel figurines.  Hummel, BTW, was the
German nun who originally designed them.  They tend to be cute and
wholesome representations of everyday German life, sort of like what
Norman Rockwell would do, were he a German nun.
    Up close, we can see a particular model figurine, a young boy.  He
has blue eyes and blond hair and is wearing a brown jacket and shorts.
One arm is at his side and the other is held out in the air, waving a
handkerchief.  There are three of them side by side, priced $173
each.]  Like every well-equipped store, Bronner's has a wide selection
of Hitler Youth action figures.

    Bronner's carries four _different_ varieties of "humourous"
singing fish.  I am not making this up.

    Since Frankenmuth is a German-themed town, Bronner's carries a
wide variety of German-style beer steins.  [A table holds a few dozen
identical tall clay mugs, each with a hinged pewter lid on which
stands a cast eagle, wings outspread as though it were about to take
flight.  A fluorescent-pink label in front of them reads "Hot New
Item".]  I asked my father why these things have lids.  He didn't know
either.  My best guess is that it's supposed to double as a travel

    [There is a narrow display rack with three shelves holding two
steins each.  Each stein is decorated with a wraparound painting and
text showing a particular American endeavor.  The top-left is Air
Force themed, the top-right Coast Guard, the middle left is basketball 
and the rest are other sports.  Each is also prominently decorated
with the "Budweiser" logo.]  Make your own joke here.

    [Picture of a stein with lid, decorated with an art-deco pink

    [Rectangular stein, with matching ceramic lid, shaped like jukebox
and covered with pictures of Elvis.]

    [Shelf holding three steins.  From left to right: A semi-realistic
bald eagle with the head for a lid, a goofy cartoon super hero labeled
"Bud Man" and the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, complete with a bottle of

    I love how they've kept them authentic.

    They also have a lot of balls (ha ha).  [Glass ball Christmas-tree
ornaments.]  My favourite one looks like this: [a red reflective
glass-ball ornament, ordinary except for the white inscription:
"Ho-Ho-Ho/The Big 5-0".]  It's good to know that Bronner's is making
inroads into the forty-nine-year-olds with birthdays on Christmas

    [A fake Christmas tree filled with plastic birds.  Underneath
hangs a spherical ornament.  It is made of chromed injection-molded
plastic in a faux lacy pattern.  A black electrical switch protrudes
from the bottom.  It is emitting a hideous, loud electronic "birdsong"
that fails to match the audio fidelity of my digital watch.]  And, of
course, they have the obligatory Star Wars toys.

    [A stack of Irish-themed ornaments.]  Unfortunately, my closeup of
the candy-cane pipe bomb got erased.

    [I have no joke here.  I just like saying: "Swinging-Hips Santa."]

    And speaking of using technology for evil, there are the singing
birds. [A pair of cardinals, molded plastic but with separately-molded
heads, sitting in a fake Christmas tree.  As I approach, they start
making bird-noises, moving their beaks and swiveling their heads.
Then, after a while, they begin singing "Winter Wonderland."]  If you
find them packaged in the original boxes, you can try them by poking
your finger through a gap in the box's clear plastic front and
pressing one of two buttons.  Pressing one button starts the bird
noises.  The other button starts the song.  If you find a stack of
them, you can start them singing, each about a second after the one
before it, until the whole stack of them is emitting a (more)
cacophonous racket.  Then you can walk away nonchalantly.
    Not that _I'd_ do anything like that, of course.

    They also carry a wide variety of Christmas trees. My favourite of
these is the radioactive french poodle.  [Picture an evergreen shrub
that has been attacked by mad gardeners.  The middle is bare trunk and
above and below it are two spheres of foliage.  Only, the "needles"
are made of optical fibers and their tips cycle between blue, green
and red.]  It's probably a bad idea to come here without a Geiger

    Other pictures:

    [A plush cow-head, protruding from a mocked-up cattle stall, bobs
up and down.  It's labeled "Animated Cow Head" and is wearing a Santa

    [A display of blown-glass ornaments, all clear, in various
intricate shapes.  A sign by the display reads, "Mouth blown glass".]
At least we know where they've been.

    [A statuette.  From a white ceramic base looking a little like a
rocky outcropping, a pole extends to support the main part of the
sculpture.  This is Santa Claus, dressed in fishing gear and with a
fishing rod slung over his shoulder, sitting astride a giant fish.  
Reins, made of string, run from his hand to the fish's mouth.]

    Finally, now that you've read all of this, you're probably
wondering how such a ridiculous, tacky place ever came into existence
and, while we're at it, how it manages to stay open.  Well, here's
your answer: [Sign on the exit door:  "Until next time,".]

    So now I'm left with a dilemma.  Do I get a digital camera and go
back there or do I just stay home and cherish the remaining shreds of
my sanity?  I'm not sure yet, but at night, I've started to get these
vivid dreams of green and red and white....

                              --Chris deepest N'orthp'ole Santa sleeps...

[1] 486, 16 Mb RAM, 1Gb HD, Linux (Redhat 6.0) and XEmacs 21.1.  You
can do a lot with an old high-end laptop without paying ludicrous

[2] Not the actual wedding, though--they did the civil ceremony part
of it months back.  This was just the big party part of it.

[3] It turns out that SeaDoos R0XX0RZ, D00D!!!!!11!!  Sitting on a
chunk of Plexiglas with a gasoline-powered (water) jet engine
attached and flying it across a man-made lake at 56 miles/hour[4] is
serious fun.

[4] As a True Canadian, I should have given this in kilometers/hour,
but I can't be arsed, even if I do have a copy of "units" one
mouse-click away.

[5] I should state for the record that I hold a huge amount of love
and respect for my stepmother.  It's just that we have significantly
different interests when traveling.  And it's not just her--for some
reason, everybody I know from the previous generation seems to have a
fondness for tourist traps.  I don't get it.

[6] Yes, that's right.  This is a "Christian" business.  And who
knows, they might even be sincere. There's an embryonic rant in me
about this disgusting Disneyfication of all that is true and holy, but
this isn't it.

[7] In Canada, Hallowe'en comes after Thanksgiving, so US residents may 
need to adjust the timing a bit.

[8] Known as a CVS in 'Merkia, although I don't think they'll sell you 
drugs that can revert your mind to a previous state.

[9] I'm rather glad that the shop doesn't sell green-and-white
Santa-encrusted digital cameras.

[10] A net.kook who regularly posts to talk.bizarre claiming to be
America's Sole Christian Activist.  She once called me a Communist
Censor.  I'm so proud.

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