When Words Are Gifts

Do me this one favor: Listen to Streisand’s “Grown-Up Christmas List” sometime this week. Just if you get a chance. No pressure.

Curl up on the couch and watch “Wonderful Life” too. Or “Elf.” Or “Love Actually,” whatever cheesy Christmas delicacy you prefer.

Spike your coffee. Gather some buddies for a boozy feast.

Call a faraway friend. Say: “Let me ask you something: If Jesus was so perfect, why did he serve red wine with fish?”

See if they laugh. Maybe not. But try. I don’t ask much of you, but hope you’ll do at least one of those things. For me. For you.

As you know, words can be bourbon, words can be gin.

I try to remember that at Christmas, when sometimes we’re more focused on designer brands and luxe cars.

Mere words can be gifts: A heartfelt note on a Christmas card; a surprise call to a forgotten friend…the timbre of your voice, the special time signature, the chord changes that a text message doesn’t offer.

“Hey, how ya been, you big dope?”

Remember, we’re in that time of year where “darkness sticks to everything,” as the poet Tom Hennen observed.

So, we light up the phones, the trees, the mantels, the fireplaces, crazy Uncle Jack.

On dark days, we light up anything with a wick or a liver.

I mean, have you seen Monrovia lately? Have you seen the Palisades? All glorious. All full of wicks and livers.

You know, to the rest of the nation, LA must seem an odd and trippy place to spend the holidays.

It certainly is, though I like to point out that Hollywood added much to how we celebrate Christmas, from the glorious movies to Sinatra’s madrigals.

Without Hollywood, there would be no Charlie Brown, no Grinch, no Kevin forgotten in Chicago.

Clark Griswold wouldn’t fall off that ladder, and Flick wouldn’t lick the light pole.

Garland’s eyes wouldn’t glisten like ice rinks when she sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”; a guardian angel would never get his wings.

For almost a hundred years, Hollywood has mined the myths, the lore, the spiritual glories and kindnesses of a good Christmas.

Sure, LA is weird and trippy. But it sure delivers on Christmas. Back then, Hollywood had a giant heart. It gave the holidays resonance and texture.

And before there was Hollywood …

“He was conscious of a thousand odors floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten!”

Before Hollywood, there was Charles Dickens.

You know, most folks think Christmas was a huge continuous hit right out of the box. It wasn’t. By the 17th century the pagans had pretty much dismantled it.

By the 1840s, Christmas was making a comeback, propelled in part by “A Christmas Carol,” which restored the holiday’s values, the traditions and the simple family joys.

Like today’s tech titans, Scrooge was a humorless and greedy grind (traits that often trickle down to the general populace).

“Darkness is cheap,” wrote Dickens. “And Scrooged liked it.”

Even in LA, it’s as if the sun barely winks at you this time of year before heading back to bed.

So we light up the streets with wreaths and trees, string the storefronts, in part because of winter, in part thanks to Dickens.

Words matter.

I was watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” again the other night – I study it like scripture. There are no wasted lines, and the music is almost a dual wistful dialogue.

Hey, perhaps a tree? A great big shiny aluminum Christmas tree! That’s it! Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find, Charlie Brown. Maybe paint it pink!

Our own Charlie Brown tree, complete with blanket.

Note that the crummy little tree has 3 branches when Charlie buys it, and five branches later on. Otherwise, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is perfect – honest, occasionally hurtful and toasty warm, in the way an American childhood often is.

Can you imagine childhood without Christmas?

Or Christmas without a needy wolf/dog?

White Fang is my Snoopy. Her eyes are a little bluer in the morning cold. It’s as if someone turned on her high beams. Plus, like all of us, Christmas makes her a little nuts.

“Quit wolfing your food,” I scolded her the other day.

“Hey, quit hounding her,” Smartacus said.

“Was that a dad joke?” I asked proudly.

Soooooo proud! I’ve done it – passed my love of dad jokes on to the next generation.

Hey Smartacus, whadaya get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?

Frost bite!

In the evenings, which begin around 1 pm, Smartacus and White Fang drive around town looking at the Christmas displays.

Christmas makes her sleepy.

I’d insist they walk, but drivers are just insane lately. So they drive around together, marveling at the lights, Smartacus at the wheel, White Fang hanging on his shoulder, her sharp blues eyes guiding the way.

Speaking of goofs, the college kids are back, warm in their mangers, their musky bedrooms already a thousand odors, including overheated livestock.

Point is they are back home…isn’t it the greatest? We parents sneak side glances to see how they’ve might’ve changed.

Well fed and sleepy on the couch, it’s as they’ve fallen into a big box of mommy cotton.

(FYI, not exactly sure what “mommy cotton” is, but I like it as a holiday concept. Or maybe a nesty new type of pasta.)

Yet, for all our Christmas comforts, life is dissonance, life is distortion, life doesn’t let you get too comfortable or familiar.

Life is a blindside block. No one throws a flag.

So Covid is back. For many, this will be another strange, dark Christmas.

Come on, are you really that surprised?

Aren’t you aware by now how the bad stuff always circles back? Life is not linear. It’s a twisted Slinky. Or a nasty ball of tangled monofilament.

My sis has Covid (though she feels fine). My buddy Eugene has it too, also feels fine, but is trapped here while on a business trip to LA.

Eugene won’t get on a plane; he doesn’t want to infect others. So there he sits, in a corporate apartment in Sherman Oaks, 3,000 miles from his favorite pillow, his family (and his mommy cotton).

Sherman Oaks has become his weird and trippy Bethlehem. Honestly, can you imagine a more spiritual place? What a wonderland in the west valley, by the IHOP and the Gelson’s.

The other day I took him some homemade gumbo, a bag of cheese and a couple of my books.

“Hasn’t he suffered enough?” Bittner asked.

“I also took him cheese!” I explained.

Hey, words can be bourbon. Or they can be gumbo. In my case, they’re a marked-down supermarket cheddar.

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.

We’ll probably take a break Saturday, as I goof around with Catty Cakes, the only member of the family besides me who still believes in Santa. I may post some chestnut from the past, when the kids were young and Christmas was like a Broadway show. In any case, enjoy every moment. Happy holidays, from our home to yours.

11 thoughts on “When Words Are Gifts

  1. Yes! Please post a past Chestnut on Christmas. We cannot get enough of your uniquely warm and weird holiday observations! Mommy cotton will go viral, I predict. Merry Christmas to all!

  2. We are watching Elf tonight. Already did the boozy feast with my oldest, bestest friends. Also saw Joffrey Nutcracker with my dance loving daughters (one of our traditions.) Enjoying the moments. Your words are truly a gift that I open twice weekly. So grateful. Thank you. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from my home (also sunny but with a biting 7 degree windchill) to yours. Soak up the Catty Cakes Kodak moments!

  3. Perfect. The black and white as well as the lights. All there. L.A. in the dark of a solstice night shines, like the prose here. Like the wolf shines when the moon faintly howls. But you’re in bed, with the deep warmth on a chilly night that only that can give. And you think: Christmas’s; all of it. Words fail…except here.

  4. Big Daddy. The final scene where Adam Sandler proves to his dad, Joseph Bologna, under cross-examination, that he’ll be a good dad. That’s my Christmas movie without fail. “I wipe my own ass!” Then I stream the original SNL Adam Sandler Hanukkah Song. “So drink your gin & tonica, but don’t smoke marijuanica.” La la la la. Merry Christmas everybody!

  5. As usual, you touch our hearts. Merry Christmas to you and yours and keep that childlove of it in your heart.

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