So I’m watching the Kansas City Chiefs through my $16 martini. As it turns out, I don’t really need eyeglasses, just super-expensive gin.
I’m in some twinkly joint where the bartenders speak the truth. Like clergymen, barkeeps answer to a higher authority than the rest of us. Imagine if you could tip clergymen? That’s the exact dynamic I have with bartenders.
“You’re doing God’s work here,” I tell the busy bartender.
“What, you’re a pastor now?” he says.
Find me a droll bartender, with a car payment and a troubled personal life, and I’ll show you a novel that is better than most novels, which are too often written by English majors who never leave their kitchens.
Me, I get around. I was at the Huntington the other night for an elegant tribute to the “The Beauty & the Beast.” Of course, I relate more to the Beast, another existentialist looking for truth and meaning in a frosty and unyielding universe.
I was with Suzanne’s fam, and they are all beauties, every one – her, her mama, her sis — even her brother, who looks like a handsome Hungarian archduke.
I’ll be honest: In critical moments, my personality comes and goes, depending on what I might’ve had for lunch. A burger, a massive sandwich, and I become bookish and rather introverted. In any case, I try to keep my wits and maintain a Disney-like view of the things that soothe us.
Christmas, as much as anything, is a storybook into our childhoods.
I will never forget the whoosh-clunk of my boyhood front door, the thump of the oven, or the tick-tick-tick of the overworked radiators.
Look, I’m as simple as simple gets. I’ve always preferred Schulz to Shakespeare, sledding to sleigh rides. I’ll always have a place in my heart for Peanuts specials and snow play – the skating, the snowball fights, the forts.
My favorite sledding hill will always be the one near my boyhood home outside Chicago, up behind the cemetery. In summers, we camped in the nearby woods. In winter, we raced sleds and toboggans into the naked birch trees.
By the way, know how many kids you can fit on a typical toboggan? Fourteen. We discovered that if we stacked ourselves, as you do pancakes, we could get 14 kids on the toboggan without permanently killing anyone. To this day, it’s the reason I don’t have much of a butt.
I’ll never forget reciting the Lord’s Prayer on the bottom of that toboggan pile. Adding to the sense of impending mayhem, the suffocation, the organ failure: We couldn’t steer the stupid thing.
See, wooden toboggans don’t steer. They slide sideways like jack-knifing trucks. And if we timed a long toboggan run perfectly, so that it arrived at the bottom just as Mr. Houlihan was opening his front door to get the paper, we could all glide right through the Houlihans’ tidy house and zip out the backdoor before anyone really understood what the hell was happening.
Whoooooooooooa…Hi, Mr. Houlihan!!!! Hi Sally!!!!!!!!!
Honestly, that was a lot to expect from a toboggan with 14 kids aboard, a toboggan you couldn’t actually steer. But we were idealists back then, little kids with Disney dreams.
Another sledding hill I love: The one on that snowy stretch between Mammoth and June Lake, just off the 395 in the Eastern Sierra. My two sons and I stopped there once during a boys’ ski trip. A little hill, a snow disc, a dog … wet jeans … cold paws. Perfection.
Christmas is something you feel in your bones, especially if they’ve been fractured a few times.
So excited for this coming Christmas as well. Suzanne is knitting me a new mustache. And I have the most-amazing gifts for the lovely and patient older daughter – worthy of a cheesy Hallmark movie. Can’t tell you more than that right now. Stay tuned.
Sure, there can be a melancholy to the holidays, lots of reminders of your folks and my folks and the other loved ones we’ve lost along the way. Rich, wistful, moody. Gauzy memories of Christmas Eves in the Midwest, where houses are always too hot or too cold. Cheery thoughts of our 10 Christmases in New Orleans, where we restored an old Victorian, one splendid splinter at a time.
Our kids still had puppy breath. Posh was still in a breeding mode, so she wore extra-flattering sweaters. She was a lithe, pretty deer. Bossy and lovely.
And that stubborn, enormous old house, whoooooooooa. It had high ceilings and Dickens’ ghosts, plus wide, copper-colored floors that had arrived by riverboat 150 years before. At Christmas, Posh wrapped the whole thing in red bows and garland.
The tree stood behind front windows that still had the original wavy glass, refracting the tree lights, sending Technicolor shards back and forth like moonbeams.
I didn’t drink $16 martinis back then. Didn’t need to.
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