26 December 2016

Reflections on the day after Christmas

Not a thing in the US. But it could be.
About half of everyone I know gets some kind of sickness or injury around the holidays. My wife has the eternal cough and I am fighting what may be some insidious form of bronchitis. It’s the kind when just when you think it’s gone it returns like a Trump tweet.

We had a nice Christmas in that is was without issues. I guess it was kind of an introvert’s Christmas. We went up to the ex’s and saw the kids, exchanged gifts and headed home – 8 hours max outside the house. But my wife’s cough was an issue and I didn’t want her too far between breathing treatments. And then I started up with the wheezing.

I make strange noises when I wheeze. I woke up with it today. It’s like there’s a little mouse inside of me tweeting. It’s almost funny.

I won’t go to the doctor. I was there earlier in the week and while they were very nice (gave me tea) I’m not going to waste any more time or money to be told things I already know. My lungs were clean then; they are not now. Hot showers are the best treatment.

Back to Christmas. It’s always mournful to remember the festivities of my youth and when my kids were little. My wife and I, I must reiterate had a very pleasant time together. All was calm, all was bright. We had a nice ham. It was probably for the best that neither of us has big extended families to deal with.

I read a number of Internet message boards both Facebook and others. A lot of angst and marital strife is engendered when couples fight on how to parcel their time between each other’s families. 

This really gets serious. I don’t have to worry about that. 

And yet.

Something’s missing. Even my wife messages her cousins remembering how making the ham and such reminds her of Christmas was a long-deceased Aunt. I remember the way our family home was decorated. We have no tree now because we have a cat.

I put up lights the first two years we lived here but not the last two years. I just don’t feel like it and I have nary the energy anyway. 

We have an 18-inch pink tree on top of a bookcase. Other than that, you’d never know that it was Christmas in this house. We enjoy other neighbor’s light displays. 

Again, we had a VERY pleasant Christmas together. I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression. We enjoy each other’s company more than anyone else’s. 

And yet.

I know I’ve made this observation before but I must again for this is my blog and a peek into the lives those of us lead with various mental conditions, mild or otherwise. 

I have four relations left that I am aware are still alive. Due to various family disagreements, none of us are speaking to each other and no one make any effort to do so, me included. One thing I have yet to learn, but am working on, is that some doors, in fact, most doors, are probably best left shut.

You open those doors at your peril. Life is not a Hallmark movie. Instead of forgiveness and warm feelings, more often than not, all the anger and bitter resentment you’ve tried to forget gets dredged up again.

Of the remaining relations, two are cousins on my mother’s side who are still nursing grudges having to do with old family spats between our mothers. One re-connected with me and then broke it off relatively quickly when I failed to be Christian enough for her. One I cut off for the sake of my own mental health. 

Everyone else is dead or long dispersed and lost to history. One I suspect who is still alive, would rather remain alone in his eternal grief. I feel great sorrow for him but I respect his right to live in his own world. When he dies, I’ll probably not know. Those two cousins on my mother’s side? When their father (my uncle) died, they didn’t even bother letting me know. I found out months later googling his name and finding his obituary. 

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Facebook is not a drug for many people. It allows one to look into the lives of others and, for the most part, measure your life against theirs. We all try (well, except me, but I’m crazy) to put our best face on the book (see what I did there?). But everyone’s different and the luck of the draw can be very destructive to some people and their families through little fault of their own. 

These are the people who should stop looking at Facebook and the Internet in general at the holidays. 

But I can’t. I like that people are happy with their extended families this time of year. Their pictures bring a smile to my face. 

But also, they bring a twinge to my heart. I try to pin it down what exactly I’m missing and what I come up is the feeling of togetherness, of belonging. 

Even those Christmas Eves when there was family intrigue going on that as a child I was unaware of, I had the feeling of being part of an extended family where all the kids were accepted as God’s gift to everyone. We were doted on, we were spoiled to an extent but more than that, we were home. Whichever relative’s house we were in, we were at home. It was a wonderful feeling. 

I suppose that’s why I don’t leave my home much anymore. This is it – I feel at home here. It’s like the last outpost. My wife and I are here in a home we love. Since moving in, in the last three years, we have entertained guests exactly twice and one was my wife’s work friends. It’s not that we don’t want to – we just don’t have anyone around here that lives close enough and are friendly enough with.

So we have this house, with a basement for entertaining, one that I once decked out for Christmas with authentic 1950s aluminum tree that would be perfect for the kind of holiday family get togethers I used to know and. . . we have each other. 

It seems like a shame. 

I wonder if the excitement of throwing a party, which I used to know, would gain me the energy to do it – to clean and ready the house for guests; to have a big party and a wonderful time. I used to. I was quite a party thrower. 

Surrounded by all the memorabilia of my past in the basement, I do feel like I am entertaining the ghosts of my past. It’s probably why, for all my pride in creating this space, I spend so little time down there alone. After a while, it’s discomforting. I could pour myself a nice drink and stare at pictures of my dead parents, my high school classmates and my original name tag from McDonalds. 

Perhaps I fear if I do that too long, I’ll land up in my own Twilight Zone episode. 

And so it was Christmas and everything was sedate. No drama, no worries over getting the right gifts or burning the dinner or whether uncle so and so would go on a drunken tirade, etc. 

In my present state of physical and mental health, I am grateful. 

And yet.

21 December 2016

Merry Christmas before the deluge

I know, I know, I should write something.

After all, it’s three days before Christmas so something profound should be written.

Perhaps something Dickensian to keep with the spirit of the times as certain people contemplate the return of the work-houses, although the feeling may be in some quarters on Wall Street that they pay their workers too much.

Keep Christmas in your heart, as it were, but keep your hands in the till. 

What a wonderful world this will be; what a wondrous time to be free.

My wife and I sit in the living room this afternoon, both dealing with our own illnesses – hers far more severe. She has a 24-hour cough and fever and, only with the weight of medical opinion, will she be staying home the rest of the week.

Christmas, of course, is not only the time to say I love you, but the time to come down with some illness you’d never get the rest of the year.

We both look like haggard refugees from the convalescent home. She will stay home and I will finish out the week at work. Somehow, my five days off were not filled with restful contemplation of the season but at least the shopping and wrapping is 90 percent done and we have clean clothes.

You can measure your age on a continuous line where Christmas slowly changes from being the most fun time of year to a challenge to your sanity and pocketbook. Here in middle age, I only have to buy for a few grown children, my wife and my ex-wife. The other ex-wife gets the satisfaction of knowing she rid herself of me before I was diagnosed. Merry Christmas, enjoy the house.

Hopefully not that bad
As we age further, the Christmas holiday becomes, much like Shakespeare’s seven ages of man, back to people shoving rum balls down our gullet in our dotage. Older people either become festively drunk or reclusively bitter. Since I already have liver disease, I can guess where I’ll land on the scale.

Of course, there are those who will insist that Jesus is the reason for the season and they mean well until they scream at you for the temerity of saying ‘happy holidays.’ Perhaps they could start a new campaign where they get very literal about the whole thing and force people to enthuse ‘Merry Jesus’s Birthday! Hallelujah! 

Of course, even Bible scholars know that Jesus could not have been born on Dec. 25 because no sane shepherd would have been out tending their flock in the Holy Land in late December – it gets cold enough there. And, of course, the date was chosen to co-opt the Roman celebration of Saturnalia and you can throw in the Pagan celebration of Yule. The early church, concerned with converting souls, had to replace the old holidays with something to celebrate.

And yet, in America, our Puritan forebears forbid anything other than a solemn nod to Christmas until well into the 19th century. Then, Thomas Nast invented Santa Claus (as we know him), Sears and JC Penney found a great excuse to move merch at a traditionally slow time of year, and we were on our way.

By the way, most Bible scholars believe, based on Scripture’s own recording, that Jesus, if you believe in him at all, was probably born in late April. But being so close to Easter, we couldn’t have that.

In any case, this year I am pleased to say there was less bloodshed and fisticuffs at the malls and Wal-Marts this year and the ‘hot toy’ whatever it is (something that hatches from an egg and has to be fed – good God, who would want that kind of responsibility?) has not been immortalized in videotape of young mothers and fathers beating the crap out of store managers they believe are ‘hiding some in the back.’

And yet, this is the Christmas I’ve always feared: the last one. No, not necessarily MY last one, although who can tell about these things; but the last before our country perhaps undergoes a radical transformation that leaves it looking like a day-after Christmas scene in the aisles at K-Mart by the end of the year.

Gather with your families, buy expensive toys for the kiddies, get really drunk and go to Midnight services (not necessarily in that order) and THIS year you may REALLY be praying to the baby Jesus that you get to keep your health care, job and respect for your fellow man intact by this time next year.

One of my favorite secular Christmas songs is the oft-maligned and over played ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ which the avoidance thereof has become something of a mean-spirited game. Released in 1958, my parents had the second or third reprinting of the album by 20th Century Fox records (yes, there was such a thing) by the time I arrived in time for Christmas 1962. So I grew up with Harry Simeone and his Chorale.

This is the one we had
Many cover versions of the song have been recorded from the tender rendition of Bing Crosby and David Bowie to the more impassioned version of Bob Segar. This year I seem to hear the traditional version of the song, lilting and graceful, but punctuated by louder and louder drums in almost a martial cadence, as if something unknown is approaching, marching in unison, with a purpose that belies the lyrics’
And with that, Godwin's Law strikes

Peace on Earth, goodwill toward mankind. Yet, it seems more like Weird Al’s ‘Christmas at Ground Zero.’ What has happened in Berlin reminds us how far we've grown distant to goodwill.

On January 20, everything changes. How much, how soon and how severe one can only guess. But we have this one last holiday season whether you’d like Christmas, Hanukah or Yule (or Festivus) before the change.

Put aside your worries for a few days. Try to make this season memorable because, in the end, it may be the memories of Christmas past that will keep our psyches warm in coming times. Heck, even give your alt-right uncle a drink. Pour one for yourself – you’ll both need one eventually.

The game is to drink until you can't see the red stripes
More than this I cannot say. The year 2016 took from us a whole host of luminaries including the aforementioned  Mr. Bowie. In addition, Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer died as well, leaving us with, perhaps, the most perplexing secular Christmas song of all time – tinsel and fire mixed with an almost unbearable disillusionment. Such is life. I leave you with his lyrics.

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
Hallelujah noel be it heaven or hell
The Christmas we get we deserve

14 December 2016

Dad, you ever hear of The Tubes?

I always prided myself on thinking on my feet. In my family, it was a survival skill and often the result of the mercurial nature of my other three family members. 

It was a fine summer afternoon back in 1976 I was 13. Dad was firing up the grill in the backyard and turned on the radio for some summer tunes.

Unfortunately, my sister had tuned the radio to WMMS which other than being a Cleveland legend, earned it’s chops by playing music other stations wouldn’t play. 

I was up in my bedroom reading some random history of the Second World War when I heard the music start – it sounded like some kind of gothic biker anthem from the 50s.  

Oooo baby,
Move closer to me
I've had all that I can stand
Take hold of me with your hands

Ahhhhhhh, shit. 

My dad compounded the frightening embarrassment I was feeling by striking a pose with his arms spread wide pretending like he was singing to my mother – who was looking out the kitchen window at him, no doubt smiling. 

Dad obviously thought this was a forgotten oldie from his time with the greasers.

Oh baby,
You give me the chills
Whisper low in my ear
Let knows how it feels
just to know you are near

Aw, FUCK! I knew I had to get down there and distract both of them before they listened really close to the lyrics and found out what this song was really all about.

We probably wouldn’t be allowed to listen to the radio for the rest of the summer.

I flew down the steps, my fevered brain putting together a plan. I raced past mom, out the side door and must have looked like Secretariat rounding the home stretch at Belmont as I reached the backyard.

Your body gives me a thrill
as it leans against mine
I love how it feels
with your jeans against mine


“Kid, why are you shouting,” said dad. “I’m not deaf.”

The smell of burning leather
as we hold each other tight
As our rivets rub together
flashing sparks into the night
At this moment of surrender darling
if you really care. . . 

“WHOOPS, SORRY I KNOCKED OVER THE RADIO,” I said sounding like a frenzied Kevin Arnold. “HERE, I’LL TRY TO GET THAT STATION BACK.”

My dad just looked at me. “What the Hell is wrong with you kid,” he asked.

“Sorry, just a little clumsy dad; too much reading in bed,” I said as I surreptitiously cranked the dial over to nice, safe, teeny-bopper G-98. 

“Ah, too bad that song is over, here’s another one,” I stammered. 

Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight
Gonna grab some afternoon delight. . .

I paused and my heart skipped a beat. Nah, they’ll never figure that one out.

The other song I stopped just in the nick of time?