Calling All Angels

The tree lies at the curb like an abandoned corpse. Let us pray.

It’s a leaky ship, this house. I fix it a little, and then run across some broken pipe, or a softness in the kitchen floor. The house even lists, as a ship will, from starboard to port (you can see it in the tilt of your wine).

Some houses have names: Greystone, Graceland, Hearst Castle. Ours? The Edmund Fitzgerald.

The captain wired in he had water comin’ in…

The other morning, dreading the disrobing of Christmas, I went down in the basement to fetch the ornament bins and discovered water dripping from the ceiling. I’d hoped it was hard cider or moonshine, as per Stephen King. Or even a mid-priced Chardonnay, as per the local moms. But no, it was water, plain and stupid water.

So now, instead of just taking down the tree, I had a soggy basement to mop and a pipe to fix.

I’m not all that cool in an emergency, so I decided to take the tree down first, as originally planned, then deal with the other stuff.

Taking down the decorations is a big chore in itself, of course. There are 10 big Tupperware bins, and some of the delicate items should be wrapped, and some of it I just end up dumping in the bin, the way men will.

Women and men take very different approaches to packing. But the results are the same. Stuff is put away.

By the way, I saw it as a sign that Rapunzel cried as she pulled out of the driveway after her long holiday visit. I think family and friends see me and Smartacus waving goodbye from the porch and think to themselves: “How will those two ever survive the night, without the benefit of reason, without some female guidance?”

It’s a valid question.

Yet, somehow we manage, living more conventionally than you might think: home-cooked meals, lots and lots of laundry…occasionally we even vacuum.

Somehow, we also manage a modest, primal Christmas, then pack it up a little too fast.

Once we’d finished, Smartacus and I lugged the tired old tree outside. The way we hoisted it to our shoulders was funereal. “One, two, three,” I said, and we dropped it near the curb, where this symbol of all that is holy and good will be crushed by a roaring trash truck first thing Thursday morning.

Winter is only good for poets and ski bums, though you can’t hide from it.

There really should be more decency to this annual rite.

When I was a kid, my hometown – a hardscrabble little mining camp on the outskirts of Chicago — collected all the trees in the park for a giant post-holiday bonfire.

Some civic group, probably the Lions Club (they were socially aggressive), served hot chocolate. The volunteer fire department stood by in case things got out of hand, in the cream-cheese prairie snow. By the light of the fire, you’d see the glint of their flasks.


Indeed, it was a tremendous bonfire, four stories tall, and it lit the clouds. Some years snow would fall and swirl with the ash in a furious storm.

The blaze was almost nuclear, and the crowd gradually shuffled back a few steps, then another step, till they found a level of disfiguring heat that they were comfortable with.

That seemed a fitting end to Christmas, just burn the whole thing down.

It was a communal undertaking, though, and there was something grand in the crackle of those Christmas trees and the chlorides of melting tinsel. It seemed an apt cremation.

Then all the ruddy-faced townfolk got into their Buicks and Fords – foreign cars had yet to be invented – and full-blasted the heaters all the way home, while thinking, “Gee, kids, that was fun, that towering inferno, that big fragrant pyre. It’s as if we live in Norway or something. Anybody hungry for some brown cheese?”

Of course, the bonfires no longer take place in my hometown. Like most bonfires, they are a keepsake from the past.

The residents of my hometown now dump their trees on the curb and noisy trucks swallow them and eventually turn them into a kind of corn-flaky mulch they serve at vegan restaurants.

So…with Christmas put away, the house had an empty-nest vibe. Smartacus and I shun self-pity, so I quickly turned my attention to the busted pipe. Such joy in making things better.

At seven PM, a main hatchway caved in, he said
“Fellas, it’s been good to know ya…”

Winter is only good for poets and ski bums, though you can’t hide from it. I’m finding myself more and more reluctant to go out. I think a side effect of isolation is that it invites more isolation, so I think we need to make a conscious effort to crawl from our bunkers and into the sun.

A fellow writer was whining the other day how she was at the end of her rope, and everyone she knows was also at the end of their ropes, blah, blah, blah.

I just shrugged and thought: “That’s a lot of damn rope.”

“Besides, we’re not exactly in death camps,” I thought. “You’re probably binge-watching ‘Queen’s Gambit’ all day and chugging Chardonnay from a giant flower vase. Life could be worse. You could be in the office, for example.”

I suppose I need to work on my empathy.

I do understand the growing frustration with it all. That very morning, I’d taken White Fang to a canyon braided with small creeks, and she splashed through them, then shook herself dry with ferocious abandon, like Tina Turner in a car wash.

It was a good trail, still damp from rain, with bridges and canyons, a fine roaming ground for Hobbits like us.

Weird how White Fang and I can embed with nature. The week before, we’d fallen into a rainbow after a raging rain. That was right after I – the hopeless romantic — proposed to seven Fed-Ex drivers, one a dude, wa-OOOOPS. (I mean, from the back…)

Anyway, I thought things were dicey then – the rainbow, the multiple weddings – and then the bathroom pipe broke at this most inconvenient time, just as we were about to deconsecrate the house.

Always thought the Bible should have a how-to section in the back. 1) How to dispose of a Christmas tree. 2) What to say at funerals and retirement parties 3) How to patch a broken pipe inside a hallway wall without losing your mind.

Speaking of the Bible, when White Fang and I finished our hike, we stopped by  our handsome church, bringing along donuts, coffee and a fat Sunday paper.

Parking was a breeze. There were no sermons that morning, except on your computer, which is how far we’ve come in the year 2021.

We took a little table in the shade of the sycamore trees out front. Pastor Chuck came out to say hello, carefully hiding his surprise. Then my buddy Miller stopped by for a few laughs (he sees church – and life — as a kind of comedy club).

“Women don’t get us,” he starts.

“You know, I’ve never really had any problems,” I say.

Our church has an opening for lead pastor, and Miller told Pastor Chuck he was interested. I seconded the motion; “I think the Presbyterians could really use a guy like Miller,” I said, though I’m not sure he’ll survive God’s background checks.

“If it starts raining frogs, take that as a hard no,” I told Miller.

Just let the record show that, one Sunday morning on the cusp of winter, Miller and I went to church, with our coffee and a Sunday paper dripping with lousy news, a bonfire of another kind.

We were two angels, in search of mercy and a prayer.

Thanks to you, the Gin & Tonic Society glasses sold out. The good news is that we’ve ordered another round of them. Cheers! Ball caps and t-shirts honoring the Happy Hour Hiking Club are also available, as are copies of my new book, “Lavender in Your Lemonade,” described by one fan as “a cross between a COVID survival guide and a long-term appliance warranty.” For gifts, books and a calendar of coming events, please go to:

18 thoughts on “Calling All Angels

  1. Leaky pipes, bonfires, church….What CAN’T you tie together in some way that always makes a strange kind of sense? Amazing. Just the tonic needed for Epiphany. Calling all Angels!

  2. Another lovely bead in the necklace of holiday stories you’ve put together for our enjoyment and sanity. I had a nice moment of imagining myself, along with a small mob of your other buddies, standing around in the basement like Hank Hill’s neighbors, beers in hand, watching you work on that pipe and offering sage advice like, “oh yeah, you’re gonna need some WD 40 for that wrench,” “careful, you don’t want to over-tighten,” etc. But we’ve got months to go before that glorious day comes… although, now that I think about it, you could live stream the repair, maybe get a sponsor, monetize it. With Smarticus filming, you could become the Julia Child of home fixit, monologue-ing your way through, a gin and tonic nearby as we watched, placing side bets on how long before the job and the drink lead to smashed fingers, a forehead gash and an aria of cursing. This could make you a fortune. And as your producer, I’d only take a small percentage. My way of thanking you for the gift of these stories. You’re welcome.

    1. Except for the filming part, that’s almost exactly how it happens, my friend…the gashed fingers, the aria of cursing. Hugs to Susan. Tell her I’m waiting in the bullpen for when your arm get tired!

  3. Another column that brings a smile, appreciate that; however I find myself humming The Edmund Fitzgerald over and over and over.

  4. Your writing may be even better now that you are “out of office.” All so true – isolation, winter, Chardonnay. . .

  5. Owning an older home can be like a Gordon Lightfoot song. Always something to fix. Mine’s Sundown. “Sometimes I think it’s a sin. When I feel like I’m winning but I’m losing again.”

      1. One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite songs: Also this one: “She’s been looking like a queen in a sailor’s dream and she don’t always say what she really means.”

    1. Hi Bonnie, or this line: “She’s been looking like a queen in a sailor’s dream and she don’t always say what she really means.” Those were always the ones I fell in love with too. Cheers!

  6. Calendars ! ! that’s it ! You can add them to your swag to sell ~ especially at this time of year when we need to hang new calendars ~ ~ remember when the newspaper boys gave you one free at Christmastime ~ ~ anyway ~ you could easily sell these with pages full of your photos and pithy sayings ~ you’re welcome ~ Lady K

  7. …like Tina Turner in a car wash…you can still do it with ease, Chris. Like needles falling off a downed Christmas tree, you keep raining the good stuff on us. Thanx; and we won’t lug you to the curb: the pungent scent of talent keeps your needles on the mantle, the scent of their language aromatic and memorable,

  8. Solvang, 30 minutes north of us here in Goleta, still has a Xmas tree bonfire. Might be postponed this year, but always a New Years tradition of ours. New Netflix binge watch…Cobra Kai. If you liked the Karate Kid you’ll love this

  9. Discarded Christmas trees are very sad, the culmination of a Season relegated to memories. But these trees were chosen,like “The Little Fir Tree” venerated, decorated and feted for a time. The sadder story are the ones that were never chosen. A number of years ago, after my sister and I had both been widowed, we were driving very late ,one very cold blustery night down Sunset Blvd I don’t remember why we were there looking for a place for a hot toddy, but there we were. All of a sudden ,we came across an abandoned Christmas tree lot, the poor trees that had not been chosen earlier in December were tossed about , undressed and unloved. We started crying for the pathetic things, then laughing, then crying again.(We tend to anthropomorphise things) Anyway, I guess we were crying for our own losses. The moral; better to have been decorated and loved for a time,then never at all. Everything you write about, soooo true!

    1. Marguerite, such a cool story about the tree lot. There’s used to be this little forlorn lot downtown that I used to drive past, in a sketchy neighborhood. It was like a flawed diamond. But there was something resonant about it. Always liked tree lots. Worked in them a couple of times. They are full of hope. Never thought about the unchosen trees. Best, Chris

  10. Thank God I’m old enough to remember bonfires. When you have seven children, your parents become experts in fun things to do for free. I felt that punishing wall of heat reading this. Now I hear a mad scientist has invented a new weapon to repel unwanted assemblies. It projects heat but somehow doesn’t destroy tissue. His parents must be proud. We’re going to need more angels. 🙏

Leave a Reply