Checks and balances 

The mailbox is overflowing. If it isn't overdue bills (and I do wish it wasn't, but anyway), it's gift catalogs from all the major mail-order retailers and a number of minor ones. And if it isn't either of those, it's card-sized envelopes, usually plastered with those little decorative stickers that declare the sender has donated money to some charitable cause or other.

Holiday cards. Holiday letters. Holiday greetings of various types. It's the kind of thing that makes some people (including me and writer Todd Pitock) cringe (see related story), and the kind of thing that makes others glow with all the seasonal wattage of a 300-foot set of icicle lights.

"Heck with that, is there any holiday money from your grandma?" asks the Lizard of Fun, tearing hopefully though the pile of mail. "That'd make me glow a bit, too."

"Doesn't look like it. But here's Victoria's Secret."

The Lizard pulls the catalog out of my hands and fondles its glossy paper, drooling a little. Finally, it looks up. "Say, is it my imagination, or are you getting fewer cards this year?"

"Fewer cards?" I ask, flipping through the envelopes. "It's pretty likely. We're on an off year."

"Which means what, O inscrutable one?"

"An off year. We didn't send a whole lot of cards last year, so I think a lot of people have taken us off their lists. If we send cards this year, we'll get back on their lists, and thereby increase our volume of cards received next year."

The Lizard nods, understanding. "I get it. It's the law of returns for investment, kind of like the new system they're gonna have at the Motor City Casino. They'll have encoded cards that keep track of the amount of time you gamble. The longer you gamble, the more important you are, and the more comps they'll give you."

"Right," I say. "And if you don't keep up your averages, in terms of gambling time, your status slips."

"So, the more you lose, the more you win?"

"Well," I say, "compare it to holiday cards. Do we really need to receive any?"

"Hell no," says the Lizard. "But I sure like to. Especially when they contain money. It proves how important I am."

"Well then, my pal with the overstuffed ego, you'd better get licking some stamps, or you'll be off the lists."

The Lizard scurries to the computer and starts tapping away. "If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it all the way. How do you spell 'righteous'?"

I sort the bills into "pay now," "pay later" and "ignore until final notice arrives" piles until the Lizard looks up from the computer. "I think I've got it. Tell me what you think."

I read.

The Lizard of Fun's Holiday Newsletter:

1999 was a heck of a year here in Funland (also known as downtown Detroit, but that doesn't sound as exciting). The Lizard of Fun has been kept busy with an endless stream of social engagements, drinking parties, celebrity encounters and Internet day trading. It's invested in several business ventures, including a little coffee company called Star-something-or-other. It expects to become fabulously rich by February, at which time it will be buying Canada.

For her part, Freak Girl spent much of the year considering a new career as an Internet auctioneer, but has decided to focus on her exotic lingerie collection and the pickle-of-the-month club, which she considers a better use of her time — that is, when she isn't volunteering as a research subject for substance-abuse studies or creating new dance trends at the nation's most influential clubs.

But the most exciting part about 1999 wasn't the multimillion-dollar Powerball winnings or the dream cruise around the world. It wasn't even the Hollywood debut of the blockbuster Lizard of Fun: The Movie.

Absolutely not. The biggest thrill of all was, after losing all our money at the new casinos, coming home to find a holiday card from you, our dear friend / aunt/ uncle (fill in name here). Although the check must have fallen out of the envelope in the mail, we're truly convinced that that's not important. Really, it's the thought that counts. But if you should feel so inclined, a small financial token of your affection would be welcomed.

With warmest regards for the new millennium,

The Lizard of Fun.

"You got rich and then lost everything, so you're asking for money?" I ask, after reading the letter.

"Well, no," says the Lizard. "It's fiction. But if enough people pay for the story, I really will be fabulously wealthy."

I look at the letter again. "Exotic lingerie collection?" I blush. "Oh, someone's gonna pay," I growl at the Lizard. "Believe me, someone's really gonna pay."

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