"What!? Who's there!? What do you want!?"
"Ebenezer, I am the ghost of Christmas past."
"A ghost? But why have you come to visit me? What have I done?"
"It's 2000, Ebenezer, the last Christmas of this millennium... or the first Christmas of the next... whatever. Either way, you have to account for all of those bad gifts you've given."
What do you mean, bad gifts? I've always been exceedingly generous, with family, friends, business associates..."
"Have you, now? Well, let's look back and see, shall we? Do you remember this holiday?"
"What's that appearing in the mist? It's.... it's... me! But I have long hair. And a peace necklace and bell-bottoms and a fringed vest. My, I must have been just a teenager...."
"Nineteen, to be exact. The time was 1971. And you came home on Christmas day to be with your family. Do you remember?"
"Why yes! Mom had a turkey and all the trimmings. And Dad had a pitcher of eggnog and the football game on. They were so happy to see me! I remember bringing presents and everything... though I don't recall exactly what they were."
"Indeed. Isn't it amazing how you remember some things so clearly, while others... Well, keep watching."
"I see Mom unwrapping the present I just handed her. Gee, it look's like... like...an apron with Richard Nixon and a B52 on it?"
"Uh huh. And..."
"And dad is holding up.... a tie with... is that Fidel Castro?"
"Yes it is. A real beauty, don't you think?"
"Trying to make a statement, there, son?"
"Uh... I know at the time... I mean, they seemed like the right things to..."
"Well, let's not dwell on that. Let's move on, shall we?"
"Why? Where else are you taking me?"
"Just a little jump on the calendar forward... recognize the setting?"
"It looks like a classroom...and there's my daughter, Lucy. Why, she can't be more than five."
"Six, to be exact. She's in first grade. And that's her teacher, Mrs. Apple. Do you remember her?"
"Yes, she was an old bat. She was nice enough to Lucy, but always seemed cold to me in conferences. I always wondered why...."
"A good question. Can you see what she's doing?"
"Well, it looks like the kids are having a Christmas party in school, and she's opening presents that the kids are giving her. Yes... that's it. And there goes Lucy with... what is that? An envelope?"
"Well, I don't remember exactly, but I'm sure we gave her tickets or a gift voucher for Bloomingdale's or... no!!"
"What do you see?"
"Not a McDonald's gift certificate! We couldn't have!"
"You did, indeed. You're lucky that she didn't take it out on Lucy."
"But she did so much for Lucy in reading and math... and we gave her a Big Mac????"
"Not even. It was a $1 certificate. Big Macs cost more."
"Oh, I'm so ashamed...."
"Let's make one more stop before we return home, shall we? Tell me what you see...."
"I can't quite tell. It... it seems to be an office."
"It is... but not just any office. You spent a lot of time there. Ring any bells yet?"
"Well...those cubicles look familiar. Wait! That's it! It's my first management job. My, those were simpler times. But what a great team I had. In fact, there's Bob and Judy and Sanjit and Wing Lu. We spent many a late night trouble shooting that system. But I don't see me...I wonder where I am."
"Again, your memory is a bit selective. You're not there because you never really worked late, did you? You always left at five and told them to have it ready by morning."
"Well, I.... I was always there when they needed me! And I always showed them my appreciation!"
"Did you, now? Let's listen for a moment...."
"... there was nothing in my paycheck. How about yours, Sanjit?"
"Not an extra cent. That son of a bitch didn't give anybody a bonus... even Wing, who saved his ass on the rollout. Right, Wing?"
"Yeah. All he ever did was send in one of those tins of popcorn with a 'Happy Holidays!' note on it. He walks off with a couple of grand, and all we get are cavities from munching on caramel corn...."
"...a different take, huh, Ebenezer?"
"But they said they LIKED caramel corn!"
"You were their boss... what were they supposed to say?"
"I... I...just thought..."
"Well, you thought wrong. Any lessons you might have learned?"
"My God, what have I done? I have to be more generous. And give people gifts I would want myself. Let me start with you. But wait...you're fading away!"
"Just remember....remember... remember...."
"I will remember. I must find Tiny Tim and get back that mouse pad before he opens it. I know he wanted a Palm Pilot...."
Marc Wollin of Bedford apologizes profusely to Charles Dickens. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.