The 300-pound beagle is in the yard as we speak, howling at the universe.
At 14, he has doggy dementia and thinks he is a rooster. The beagle quivers when he yodels, the bark traveling from his triple chins to his ugly spud tail.
I sense that it is the arrival of Christmas he is announcing, as if it is something we should fear. And it probably is.
So, top off the tree water, double-check the single-malt Scotch. Wonder if there's a blizzard or a blackout or an alien invasion?
Or worse, a potluck at your sister's place. In any case, it pays to be prepared.
I always figured that if aliens invaded during the holidays, they'd immediately turn and flee. I mean, they'd never find a place to park. And have you ever seen a Target two days before Christmas? Deeply disturbing. As are all those bizarre seasonal sweaters.
At Christmas, we seem to embrace our dorky alter egos, the B sides of ourselves that we usually prefer to hide.
Now, I'll admit that if I were 10% more insufferable, I'd be totally insufferable. I write about the holidays way too much, enjoy every single day.
Know how? I embrace the imperfections — the horrible lines at the Honeybaked Ham store, or the blowups over a parking spot at Trader Joe's.
To me, Christmas is like a giant comedy club.
I embrace the imperfections because I learned a long time ago, from reading Dickens, from studying Charles M. Schulz, that perfection is a fool's gold. Chasing it leads to disappointment and stress, especially around the holidays, when expectations are so high.
Christmas is also like a snake bite that you suffer every year. As long as you carry the antivenom, you'll be all right.
My antivenom is a bloody Mary, decorated like a tree. My antivenom is snarky friends, Capra flicks, Peanuts classics, skis strapped to the top of an old Porsche heading north.
Here's the thing: If you get Christmas 60% right, you've still got a lot of Christmas; you've still created a sleigh load of smiles.
Don't get your tinsel in a tangle if every little thing doesn't go quite right – and I'm talking mostly to the moms. Your stress becomes our stress. More than anything this holiday, we love to see you smile.
Besides, a perfect Christmas is virtually impossible. Oh, once in a while, you nail one. To swing for the fences is commendable, a sign of parental devotion. I've always had the urge — if not the resources — to fly the family to Vermont or Hawaii, though I tend to think snow, not sand at the holidays.
So I set my sights lower. I like a good cheese platter, for instance. I like the way Nat King Cole sings "Es-KEE-mos." I like the way Chevy Chase falls off a ladder.
Bethany: "Is your house on fire, Clark?"
Clark: "No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights."
I like the simple sight of shoppers with their arms piled so high with packages that they can barely see to walk.
In the Hallmark version of that, the woman bumps into a stranger, drops the packages, spills her Starbucks. The apologetic stranger insists on treating her to coffee, then shopping, where she explains that this is the first Christmas without her husband and he explains that he recently lost his very best dog.
Then they realize they knew each other in high school, though not well, because he was a little chubby and she was a bit of a brat, and they wind up under each other's sweaters on the perfect Christmas Eve.
In the real-life version of that? The shopper steps off the curb and gets creamed by an Amazon truck.
That's why I don't get my hopes up. I've seen way too many malls.
If you can't manage Vermont, there's a gritty little ski chalet in Mt. Baldy, about an hour's drive from L.A. They have chili, burgers and bloody Marys dressed like trees. There's a moose head with a Santa's hat on the wall. Or it might be a former bartender, hard to tell.
I just don't want you to say I don't offer practical advice at Christmas, even though my aim is mostly spiritual.
See, I want you happy. I want you warm.
I want a candle in your window, and a song to soothe your soul.
I want you to have a holiday that fits you like a Christmas sweater — soft and silly.
Now go ahead, howl.