In November of 1983, while I was still in the womb, a film was released that would completely destroy both my childhood, as well as every holiday season for the rest of my life.
That movie? A Christmas Story. The worst movie in the history of cinema.
Early 1984 just wasn’t a good time to be giving a kid the name Ralph. I’m sure my parents had already settled on naming me Ralph prior to being made aware this film existed, and of course, to avoid the confusion of sharing a name with my father, I was (and still am) called “Ralphie” by my immediate family.
Peter Billingsley’s character in the film A Christmas Story is also named “Ralphie.” I suppose this makes sense. A Christmas Story is supposed to be set in the 1940’s, when just about every little white kid was running around with names your generation will usually only ever see on a Christmas card you receive from your great grandparents- Frank, Roger, Larry, Walter, and good ‘ol Ralph. The first names of the greatest generation. Names they should have kept to themselves.
So here I am, growing up in the shadow of a cult classic in the making. A film that would find itself ensnared into the American consciousness of Holiday tradition and folklore, much in the same way that pesky little Elf on the Shelf is becoming something engrained into your idea of what a holiday tradition is supposed to be. The holiday season always seems to be a time when you’re meeting new people at an alarmingly higher rate than the rest of the year, and every time I was forced to sheepishly introduce myself by name to a new acquaintance, their eyes would light up, and they’d say…
“Ralphie, huh? YOU’LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT KID. MERRY CHRISTMAS! HO HO HO!”
Every damn time.
You see, I’ve never actually even seen the movie A Christmas Story. Never. Not once. When it comes on, I leave the room. I’ve read “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” which inspired large portions of the film. People don’t care about that though. Instead, when I tell people I haven’t seen it, they gasp, grab me firmly by the elbow and clutch their chest with their other hand while coaxingly whining “But it’s SUCH a GREAT mooooooovie!” That’s when they proceed to quote it for 10 consecutive minutes. It’s precisely this interaction that has ensured I don’t need to see it- I know the entire film by heart.
Sometimes, because the details have been brought up so frequently, I confuse them with details from my own childhood.
Was the kid who bullied me from time to time named Scut Farkus?
Did my parents ever make me dress up as a pink bunny?
Do I personally know anyone who’s ever been killed by a falling icicle?
I’m pretty sure my family actually did have an Oldsmobile when I was around nine years old… or did I just invent that memory from all the times people asked me if my father was “an Oldsmobile man.”
Sometimes I’ll be talking with a person and they’ll just blurt out the words “LEG LAMP,” like verbal diarrhea, letting me know that instead of listening to whatever brilliance I was espousing at the time, they were mentally vacationing in Hohman, Indiana.
So why am I complaining to you three about this? I don’t really know. Maybe I’m just venting out holiday stress. Still, I suppose it’s important that I recognize out loud that the unearned connotations about who I am annoy me sometimes. The reputation others earn for you, whether through personal associations or pop culture, can provide some with a disadvantage, and others with an advantage. The nice thing for me is that when you take into account the famous Ralphs, whether it be Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Cramden from the Honeymooners, Don Most’s Ralph Malph from Happy days, Beverly’s Cleary’s Ralph S. Mouse, the village idiot Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons, and even Ralphie Parker of A Christmas Story, I’m never without an icebreaker. It could certainly be worse.
When your mother and I named you three, we hoped we could avoid some of the more obvious pop culture references so that you could forge your own identities. As I know all too well, you can’t plan for what might happen after you have your name- but you can certainly make a life for yourself in spite of it. As I’m writing this, the current President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, was actually elected to office with the middle name “Hussein.” Based solely on the time in history he was elected, his middle name might as well have “Bogeyman-Warlord.”
I guess what I’m saying is if Barack Hussein Obama can become president, a guy named Ralph can make it through a couple of Christmas parties each year without losing his shit every time someone gleefully exclaims “YOU’LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT!”
So pretty much, this is a letter about overcoming obstacles.
Yeah, that sounds right.
Merry Christmas boys.