I’m not sure if this is a popular or an unpopular opinion but: Mistletoe is both corny and desperate and I love it. It’s a parasitic plant you hang from a ceiling and then stand under, hoping some poor sucker will venture forth to kiss you.
In my mind, it is associated with two things: meet cutes in (non-tragic) Lifetime movies and my childhood.
I have some fond memories of my parents hanging it for their annual Christmas party and me subsequently trying to trick everyone in the house to stand under it with me. A fun game, to be sure. My mom needed no convincing, but my younger brother was a little trickier (why I was so hot to kiss my brother is a story for my therapist). According to her, my technique was simple but effective. I would tell him there was candy in the living room and when he greedily ran to devour it, I would block him in the door and plant a big one on his cheek as he tried to run away. (“YOU BELONG TO ME NOW!” is what I imagined I screamed, but nobody can confirm this.)
Fast forward 20-plus years and I still have a little leaf-shaped hole in my heart that can only be filled by that magical poisonous plant, so when my editor asked if I would would be interested in bringing a mistletoe drone to holiday parties, there was only one answer. The drone keeps mistletoe creepy and rude and potentially actionable while somehow also removing whatever serendipity came from “accidentally” pushing someone under the tiny leaves. Yes.
But where does one even find a mistletoe drone? Who would make such a thing? I procure the flying contraption from Hammacher Schlemmer— the bizarre gadget emporium with the impossible-to-spell-without-Google name that you only know about because you were on an airplane in the ‘90s. The mistletoe drone will, according to their website, “impart whimsical cheer to holiday gatherings when hovered remotely over celebrants’ heads (requires six AA batteries).”
The video on their site should be required viewing for all humanity. Seriously, just scrap our subpar sex education and replace it with this video and nobody will ever procreate again.
Look at that thing. Just look at that fucking thing.
I can’t get over it! It’s like a crown of thorns, only bigger and levitated on its own as if possessed by the devil. Glorious.
Before I attend any parties, I decide I need some rules and general guidelines because this isn’t Sodom and Gomorrah: 1. I must swallow all pride and fly it with the blind confidence of your average inebriated frat bro. 2. Even though I double check to make sure my drone isn’t the same design of the one that cut a man at TGIF Fridays, I decide I still need to keep it safe and only fly mine outdoors. No blood will be shed in the name of a holiday puff piece, my friend. A line has been drawn and I am a hero.
Before the first party of the winter season, my husband/co-pilot and I decide we should practice with the drone. Unfortunately for all involved with this experiment, we both find it nearly impossible to operate.
I push the remote control gently to the left, the drone shoots into orbit. I push the remote control ever so slightly to the right, the drone zig zags in a triangle shape. I try to make the drone hover, the drone crashes to the ground. Like my college boyfriend (zing), it’s somehow both too sensitive and not sensitive at all. Also like my college boyfriend, this shit is straight-up difficult.
I quickly learn that if I ever want to master the drone, I must train like [Star Wars spoiler] Luke Skywalker; living in a swamp and only hanging out with a very wise Gremlin. Would it be worth it? Maybe, but I’ll never know because I’m only willing to practice for like 10 minutes before it’s time to hit the first party with whatever meager skills I already possess.
And “hit” is the appropriate verb because at my first holiday party, I hit someone on the head almost immediately upon activating the drone in my friend’s back yard. I profusely apologize to the woman, starting to explain that it’s for a story I’m writing but I stop mid-sentence because, well, that’s a cop-out and I want to own this stupid decision, you know? Thankfully, the victim is more annoyed than actually hurt and I can tell she just wants to get the hell away from me, so that’s fine.
Kiss count: negative one.
However, looking around at the other partygoers after the accident and I’m overcome with embarrassment, suddenly realizing I’m the Sad Weirdo With a Mistletoe Drone at a Gathering Where People in Their 30s Just Want to Drink Wine and Talk About Bernie Sanders. I’m pretty sure this isn’t worth it, but I soldier on because that’s what drones do.
Why the angst? I’ll tell you what flying the mistletoe drone feels like. It’s like being a dude with a parrot on his shoulder or a snake around his neck, but without any of the exhibitionist pride from creating a whole personality around the live animal affixed to your torso. Some folks are looking at me and grimacing; I’ve never had so many people avoid eye contact as when I’m holding this remote control. And yet, I continue on. This must be what believing in yourself is all about?
I fly it around the party for a minute trying to get it to stay still in one place. It refuses. I then bump it into a tree and it careens to the ground. I run up to it and find it still in working order, but when I try to fly it again, it again refuses to make it off the ground. It’s useless and I don’t have the mini-screwdriver present to make it work. Ugh!
I spend the next hour asking people to just hold it over their heads and see what happens. This doesn’t go GREAT and eventually the host invites me to return the drone to its packaging and to stop making everyone feel uncomfortable.
Not ready to give up, I grab my drone and go outside where I make some people heading into the party hold the drone over their heads. I convince a few people to do it out of a pity or maybe because they think they’re on the hidden camera show, What Would You Do?, and this is some ill-conceived social experiment designed to test the limits of compassion toward your fellow man.
Either way, empathy will only get you so far and nobody lasts more than a few minutes with drone atop head. It’s a cold night and there’s no real incentive to ruin their evening.
The rest of the party is me standing near the entrance of the shindig, holding the drone over my head, and praying that none of my exes show up to see the bullet they so clearly dodged.
That said, I’ve been to worse parties. Maybe the next one would be better, and hey, at least I tried to have the blind conviction of an underwhelming bro for one night. That’s not nothing! Maybe I’ll look at parrot rescue when this is all through.
For the drone’s second outing, I select a smaller affair with younger adults (a pizza party with kids) and so hopefully the littles will be less disdainful of my special brand of funk. After all, the drone is basically a shittier, rounder remote control plane and kids are all about that garbage.
(It should be noted that at this point, I scrap my dumb second rule when it’s proven that this thing cannot actually fly outdoors without either going up forever and ever to join the moon in congress or, alternately, hover approximately a foot above the ground which is fine if this is mistletoe for ants but it’s not! It’s for humans!)
As I take the drone out of its box, the kids circle around me. Already the situation is better—these kids are picking up what I’m putting down! “What’s that?” one asks. “Oh, it’s just a DRONE,” I respond smugly. “Like the ones they use for war?” another child asks. “Yes! But this one is for ROMANCE!”
This elicits “ewws” all around because romance is way worse than war when you’re a sociopath or a six-year-old. Still, I have their attention.
I place the drone on the ground and flip the on button. I slowly attempt to hover the drone but I’m not getting much air; with each sputter, I can tell I’m losing the crowd. I panic as one kid gets distracted by a Storm Trooper Lego (Fucking Star Wars! I can’t compete with that!) and the others turn to see what she’s doing.
In a last ditch effort to re engage the children, I grab the drone with both hands by its sides and immediately regret it. “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Fuuuuuuuck!”, I scream at the kids.
The blades whirl past my fingers again and again, attempting to slice off my digits. Luckily, it’s plastic so we don’t have another TGIF Red Wedding-situation on our bloody hands, but I’m not gonna lie and say it didn’t make me cry a little. Because it did make me cry a little. (And also curse, for which I received several hostile glares from various parents.)
This is when a mom friend invites me to return the drone to the box. Party’s over, kids.
Kiss count: negative 10, at least.
At this point, I’ve given up on bringing my fickle drone around people who could (and probably would) invite me to never return. The only logical next step? Inflict this mess upon my family.
When I arrive at my parents’ house, the drone and I are slightly worse for wear, but basically functional. I hand the remote over to my mom, my dad, and random other family members, to little effect. None of us are able to get this thing to straighten up and fly right!
My mom even volunteers to sit in a chair while my niece crouches nearby, ready to pounce the second my husband is able to maneuver the beast into position.
Here’s my mom excitedly waiting for the mistletoe drone to work:
Here’s my mom bored waiting for the mistletoe drone to work:
Here’s my mom, giving up:
No dice! The drone refuses to stay aloft, and my dad tells me the sound of the drone is interfering with his Christmas viewing of Bones. Nobody cares about this stupid thing anymore, and I’m starting to think I’ll never feel the same flush of mistletoe magic that I experienced when I trapped my brother under it in the ‘90s.
That might be because I’m no longer so craven for attention that I need to physically trap someone in a doorway to beg for affection (again, definitely gonna cover this in therapy) and/or it might be because I’d have to be an actual sorcerer to operate this drone.
My question for Hammacher Schlemmer is this: Do you need to be Poe Dameron to fly this thing? Or am I just so inept at a working a remote control that I can’t even get a mistletoe drone (the lowliest form of drone!) off the ground? As someone who is VERY good at Super Mario Kart, I think the former may be more correct. And even if it flew like the Millennium Falcon (relevant), the humiliation of being the clueless goofball who walks around a party flying a green plastic mistletoe drone is too much even for me.
Next year, I’ll stick to the analog version. It’s bad enough.
Welcome to No One’s Watching Week, the time of the year when the readers are away and your tireless editors have run amok. For this week only, Atlas Obscura, New Republic, Popular Mechanics, Pacific Standard, The Paris Review, and Mental Floss will be swapping content that is too out there for any other week in 2015.