The art of feeding those red kettles

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 8, 2012 - 5:05 PM

If you don't hit the kettle on the way in, you want to say, "Get you on the way out." But if you hit it on the way in, you want to say, "Got you on the other side!" as you walk out.

The Red Kettle Bell Ringer sang Christmas carols in a voice that carried to the end of the asphalt tundra. She only sang the first few lines, which made her sound like a commercial for a Time-Life compilation, and she was mixing up the lyrics as she went along. Frosty the Reindeer / had a very jolly hat / Then one foggy Christmas Eve / Santa came to life one day and so on. Then:

The weather outside is scary and the fire is so delightful, so as long there's a red nose, please no snow please no snow please no snow. (I'm paraphrasing.)

I thought: NO SNOW? This is the only time I want snow. Please, a thick blizzard with a slantwise shrieking wind that feels like someone fed sewing needles into a jet engine, and accumulations throughout the night so you wake and find every individual hue and sharp shape of the world erased, as though the clouds had descended and laid down for a long winter's nap. If ever we wanted snow, it's now.

Won't give her any money.

Just kidding. I fed the kettle, because that's what we do. It's the right thing. But there's an art to doing this. If you don't hit the kettle on the way in, you want to say "Get you on the way out," but the ringer probably hears that all the time and finds it difficult to trust anyone these days.

But if you hit it on the way in, you want to say, "Got you on the other side!" as you walk out. "Just didn't want you judging the back of my head and thinking, 'Thanks for nothing, selfish orphan-kicker' as I walk away!" That's prideful. It's not about you.

"It kinda is," you say. Fine. Set your hair on fire on the way in and right before you leave the store. Oh, right, you're the guy on fire, I remember you. God bless you. You might want to put some salve on that.

That's if they care. Some stand by the kettle like stone-faced statues. They ring the bell with all the joy of someone pulling a cart that collects bubonic plague victims. If the bell-ringer's happy, though, I'll bet it boosts contributions 10 times. And if they're singing? Even better. Let it noel! Let it noel!

By the way, don't put in a buck and ask for a quarter back. They don't make change. Except for the part about changing someone's bad Christmas into a better one.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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