Category Archives: Holiday

A Small Story for Friday the 13th

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He didn’t relish the role foisted upon him.

He didn’t shy away from it, either.

His only concern was that each deserving soul met its end at dusk. Whether guilt or innocence played a role in each participant’s demise failed to register for him.

Life hadn’t altered its casual disdain for the perceived importance each player brought to his or her small part in the universe.

His tired muscles could feel the pull exerted by the thirst for endings, anticipating a busy nightfall. From off in the distance, he could hear the amassing footsteps of those unaware of the unfolding promise of the night.

Each of them expected a demon or the angel of death; none expected a fatigued man with a full face of worry lines and eyes burning with purpose.

He’d greet them all, while pushing them onward toward the great ‘next.’

We All Live In Nakatomi Tower

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“Hey, sprechen ze talk?” – Harry Ellis

The holiday season can be defined in any manner people see fit. For some, it is an intensely personal celebration of the cornerstone of their faith. For others, it’s an excuse to share time with family and friends. While this will cause a ruckus for some, those who disagree should look to history for an explanation, lest Hans Gruber and his merry lot of robbers burst into their lives and spoil their festive plans. There’s room for everyone to live and love the holiday exactly as he or she wishes. Even for nutjobs like me who love fruitcake or those weirdos who enjoy trees comprised of one single color. Luckily for all of us, our party requires no invitation or dress code.

“Welcome to the party, pal.”

If people love the movie Die Hard as a yuletide movie, it follows that it is, in fact, a holiday movie. Observance of a ritual makes it so. It’s for this reason that I abandoned most of my foolish insistence on orthography and spelling. People drive usage and customs, often at the expense of the comfort and sanity of those around them. As much as we like to insist on consistency, everything is always in flux. In a century, the words I’m using will feel awkward. There will be new traditions we never imagined – and many of ours will seem antiquated. Change is so constant and gradual that we allow ourselves to forget that nothing we do today was always done by our predecessors. Some of us get stuck in a feedback loop that traps us in the idea that our way has always been the way.

Traditions and customs ebb, flow and grow in a wild manner, with complete disregard for what preceded them. If you find yourself struggling with friends or family who disagree with the way you choose to celebrate (or not), ignore them. Don’t fuss or argue, even if you want to wrap them in a chair with Christmas lights, and drop them down an exploding elevator shaft with a note indicating, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.” Wave your hand in the air in frivolous disregard for their jaw-wagging. Sgt. Al Powell didn’t heed Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson, did he?

If you want pizza for Christmas dinner, enjoy it. If you want to play board games and drink fizzy margaritas, followed by a bacchanalia of present opening at midnight, jump in with enthusiasm. If you feel the urge to put up a tree in October, do it. A great number of non-religious people celebrate the holiday, a fact which riles a few of the faithful, as if another person’s choices spoils their own. There is no “one” way to celebrate the holiday. No matter what choices you make, I promise you that someone somewhere is making a twisted face about how you choose. Capitulating to nonsensical demands about a holiday lessens everyone’s enjoyment in life. You’ll feel like Harry Ellis with a hole in your head, after literally trying to negotiate with a terrorist.

If Die Hard is your favorite Christmas movie, then revel in John McClane’s adventures. Should anyone lecture you about your choices, unclasp your watch and let them fall away, like Hans Gruber from Nakatomi Tower. They’ll make the same face as he did when they realize that you can’t be swayed. “Happy Trails, Hans!”

The last thing you want to be is a Grinch, or as the eloquent John McClane puts it, “Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the a$$.” He also exhorted us to, “Take *this* under advisement, jerkweed.” Wise words.

The question isn’t whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie; rather, the question is why do other people care that you celebrate it as part of your tradition? Heathens and believers alike can rejoice that our world is one of crazy, infinite freedom. In a season of lovingkindness, so many lose their focus on its possibilities.

P.S. It could have been worse. There are those who think that “Christmas Vacation” is the best holiday movie ever made, which proves my point that all of us are crazy.

Yippee ki yay, melon farmers!

A Christmas Parade With a Shadow

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We lined Emma Street last night, each of us impatiently waiting for the bright succession of floats, lights, and hurled candy to pass us by. It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm late November night. Northwest Arkansas’ largest lit Christmas tree came alive slightly before 6 as those in the parade made their way from the rodeo grounds down the revitalized path to downtown. The people involved in the downtown festivities did an incredible job of organizing the various activities. The Shiloh Square was a diverse mass of commerce, shouting, and smiling. With so many children present, it was no surprise to hear the word “No!” at least one million times.

Earlier yesterday, I heard the rumblings of resentment on social media, as people whispered against the Sons of The Confederacy participating in the parade. I limited my commentary to, “I hope people don’t do anything stupid. Or stupider.” As we all know, it’s become increasingly difficult to be civil at times. Given my background, I know how easy it is to make a situation worse, even if we are ‘right.’ No fire burns as brightly as one fueled by righteousness – and none singes with such wild abandon. In the end, it’s hard for us to believe that much of our complaining is no more than the proverbial ‘fart in a thunderstorm.’ I’m not judging the motivations of those objecting, either, because if we look at the actions of each person instead of as part of a collective, we can better determine the impact of something on our lives. Much of our issues stem from piling people into neat baskets. Even though I also know that screaming, shouting, or typing in all caps not only does not advance my argument but weakens it, like so many others, there are times when my brain short-circuits and leaves me incapable of persuasive disagreement.

If the Sons of the Confederacy is a relic, then so too are our family members who subscribe to supremacy and the arguments of heritage. It is often tone deafness amplified to a shout; out of place, out of time. Many are proud to be Southern and I find myself conflicted at times attempting the impossible task of distinguishing between prejudice and pride in others. In my case, I don’t feel Southern or even Arkansan. So much of our life is tribalism. We identify with the people, places, customs, collegiate sports teams, and religions of our geography. Allegiance to and defense of things which are unchosen lead us to strange destinations. I don’t subscribe to any of their memberships.

As someone who has done a lot of genealogy, I’ve discovered that many of us share a mass of common ancestors. One characteristic of those who preceded us is that they did a lot of vile, ignorant things, just as many of us do. I vainly try to read the hearts of those I know to circumspectly decide whether they glorify heritage or hate. I’m not impartial. Even as I hate to find myself judged, I judge others.

If I find myself unable to distinguish motive, I look to my own past and to my own father. His demons fueled a fury that left a wide path of pain behind him. If I cannot separate his humanity from his actions, I’m left with nothing except the certainty of destruction. It’s impossible to elevate him or honor him in the face of his actions. Other people in my situation find a way to love the person in their lives, my father’s equivalent. Some are able to do the same with our national disgrace of slavery and the institutions which furthered them. I don’t know how some people compartmentalize their adoration for Southern heritage without being derailed by what fueled it. I do know, however, that I am foolish if I paint all such people as having hate in their hearts. Just as they can embrace violent fathers or remain in churches which institutionalize abuse, they also embrace an imagined way of life without associating themselves with the violence of slavery. It perplexes me.

Having said that, I squint at public monuments which seemingly glorify our collective lesser nature and past. I distrust by default those who wave the Confederate flag. I wonder what motivates a group of people to build a float that will probably upset the very people who want to be entertained. Even as I do this, I know that I’m making the mistake of generalization when I judge everyone who disagrees. My privilege as a white male does not benefit me when I attempt to add my opinion to the pile. As such, I leave the heavy lifting to those who feel emboldened enough to protest or resist their presence. In short, I’m lazy. Especially of late, it is inevitable that most things will morph into shouting. A world in which the Confederacy is important is not my world. But neither is a world which mobilizes to shout back at those who find value in it. For those who truly feel the need to protest, my heart is with you. I hope you resist the visceral need to shout down those whose arguments are shaded with subtlety. People will say dumb things such as, “No one was offended,” as if they know your heart.

As we leaned against one of the restored buildings along Emma, I told my wife that a controversy was brewing and that I dreaded the inevitable brouhaha on social media. I knew that the next day would bring teeth gnashing and recrimination. I told her I was surprised that such a float would be included in the parade, but that it wasn’t a last-minute decision and that someone had hopefully taken a moment to consider the implications of its inclusion.

As the floats passed, the only misbehavior I noticed was that of several young misfits who were diligently and insistently attempting to make their mothers lose their minds. That a mother might actually smack a child was the most likely genesis of violence. The best float was the one celebrating the movie “Christmas Vacation.” Eddie drove by in a decrepit RV, tailpipe dragging on the pavement and ahead of him, a tree-laden (roots and all) station wagon adorned with a thousand lights.

As the parade ended, my wife and I cut through Spring Street, then on Johnson. The floats had looped around on Johnson after traversing Emma. I was carefully making my way along the edge of the road, watching the uneven ground carefully. “Merry Christmas” enthusiastically yelled a young blond-haired girl. I looked up as I bellowed, “You too!” The float behind her held two of the men dressed as Civil War soldiers. I waved and said, “Have a good night!” They both waved and said, “You too!” Both floats were part of the Sons of the Confederacy. I didn’t wave to endorse any hateful ideology. I waved because those were people and any meanness on my part would serve no purpose other than to solidify the presence of more discord. Time will hopefully do its job and convince people that such affiliation equally creates discord. I waved and greeted the other float participants, too, as each passed me. Especially Cousin Eddie in his RV.

The picture in this post is of one last night. I chose it because while it captures the beautiful lights carefully placed along Emma, it also captures an interloper passing through the frame. A shadow, one not participating, yet present. Whoever that shadowy person might have been, he or she represents the stain of controversy in an otherwise beautiful Christmas parade. Even as we enjoyed the goofy pleasures of a community parade, I knew the shadow would linger in the hearts of many. Many people worked hard for the night we all shared. It’s important that we take the shadow in its proper perspective yet also be grateful that the Springdale we now share is infinitely better than it once was. I truly believe that.

When I write, I lay out my deficiencies in concrete, leaving people to bring their own misconceptions and lives to the words I write. Unlike many, I have ideas which do not reside on permanent foundations; they shift as my understanding changes. In short, I am often wrong. Interacting with people changes me, especially those who temper their knowledge through a filter which demands that we often give one another a huge benefit of the doubt – and to be cautious when we attempt to read the hearts and minds of those around us.

I left with much to think about.

I left hoping that thinking itself would prevail over shouting in the next few days.

Behind me, the enormous lit Christmas tree filled our Springdale downtown with colorful lights. If the Spirit of Christmas is something worth aspiring to, I hope those lights somehow made their way into the hearts of those who share our community, no matter what their hearts might already contain.
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X’s Realistic Thanksgiving List

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On this day, I’m thankful for the statute of limitations, for those things on the ends of liquor bottles which inhibit pouring with greater volume, hair chalk, cats who take the time to learn sign language, exploding birthday candles, sauerkraut, prank obituaries, going to sleep in my own bed and waking up in the middle of the lake, indoor toilets, fiberglass-stuffed pillows, maniacal laughter in the middle of the night, police who limit themselves to shooting me just once, large and flightless birds who get cooked, cranberry sauce (aka “the devil’s snot”), that “Twilight” has no more sequels, another year without me being embroiled in another sex scandal, fungus removal creams that also serve as sour cream, elastic waistbands, that intestinal gas isn’t colorful or visible, the relief I feel when they take the handcuffs off, when people think I’m George Clooney after a year of really bad luck, wool underwear, a wife who foolishly stopped looking when she found me, black licorice, Tab soda, fruitcakes, Weird Al song lyrics, a good book rendered even better by a good cup of coffee, the ability to write the word ‘Grammer’ incorrectly on purpose and not care, that my sister-in-law cuts her hair at least once per full moon, burned popcorn, chewing 17 pieces of gum simultaneously, feeding the squirrels until they can barely climb the trees in the backyard, living room campfires that don’t burn the house down, stories from people who take the time to share them, memories of hard rains against cotton fields on a wood plank porch, and finally, an irreverence toward every thing on the face of this Earth, the one which has tolerated me for half a century.
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P.S. I would never wait for a ‘day’ to be reminded.

Pitchforkkreeper Lives On: A Note of Thanks

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Since my friend Casey surprised me with a pitchforkkreeper-themed pair of socks, this will inevitably require me to wear shoes with greater frequency. She signed the attached note: “Merry Thanksgiving Christmas etc etc etc Love Casey.” I now have proof that not only does she know me, but that she shares a deep affection for me. Much like our ancestor’s decision to create credit cards, this might ultimately become one of the great missteps in her life.

Additionally, she used one of the tricks from my repertoire: she adorned the packing envelope with lovely pictures of me, ones which reflect the solemnity with which I live my life. I’m certain that the mail carrier enjoyed the spectacle of someone so handsome being ridiculed via the postal system. The picture on the front is noted as “Drunken Hula Dancer,” while the one on the obverse side endearingly indicates “The Pink Dreamer.” The former picture was taken after Tracy, Casey, and Dawn attempted to out-drink me at the Hot Springs Invitational Prune Juice Festival in 2014, while the latter was snapped by a photographer as I sat opposite of Casey at Karaoke night, enamored by her choice of hairstyles. (For those of you wondering, my wife didn’t get jealous.) Note: once you start putting people’s pictures on stamps or the mail, it becomes a frivolous and fun addiction.

As for the Pitchforkkreeper picture, if you’re unfamiliar with the lore and mythology of this picture, suffice it to say it is one which has forged a deep and unsettling bond for many of us. The original picture is one taken by someone’s trail camera in the middle of nowhere – and the person was never identified. Pitchforkkreeper abides in us, always, a symbol and beacon of untethered hilarity. I have a 16 X 20 plaque of him in my living room (which is true) to remind me that it’s more important to be weird than to be understood.

 

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Casey, thanks for much for the socks. I would have never guessed. (I’m surprised your husband permitted you to buy socks for another man. Socks are ‘the lingerie for middle-aged men.’)

May Pitchforkkreeper keep your Christmas safe and filled with laughter; the kind associated with shared times, not the kind you usually share with me when you note my fashion choices.

P.S. I included a picture of my cat Güino, in honor of Casey’s unfathomable love for all things feline. If you’re a friend of Casey’s, it’s important that you make an effort to adorn her life and house with as many feline knick-knacks as humanly possible. She’ll thank you, just as I thank her. The gift took some thought and effort.

 

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Our Elf On The Shelf Is a Dexter Fan

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Our Elf on the Shelf wants to be just like us. Knowing how much we have enjoyed watching “Dexter” again (America’s favorite fictional serial killer), Mistertoe created a crime scene tableau for us last night. (He’s learned the police lingo too, it seems.)

Weirdly enough, we don’t own a Barbie doll, so I’m not sure how he got to the store to procure one.

I hope my wife doesn’t have a stroke when she discovers the mischief Mistertoe got into last night!

A Christmas Parable

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“Your cheese done slid off your cracker, hasn’t it?” The recruiter stared across the table at me with a mix of contempt and bewilderment. “Say that again,” he yelled at me, his fists clenched.

“I was just wanting to know where I could enlist in the War On Christmas. I love elves and ornaments, not to mention Santa. And it’s only a day long, so that’s good.” I smiled, adjusting the new winter coat I had recently purchased in case I was drafted for the upcoming winter war, the one I’d heard so much about.

“First, we don’t fight it just on Christmas Day. It’s fought against Christmas, for a couple of months per year.” The recruiter seemed as if that explained everything.

“So, YOU are fighting Christmas, or someone else is? I’m not getting it.”

“No, we are NOT fighting Christmas. THEY are. Are you stupid?”

“Yes, I’m beginning to suspect that I am,” I said. “But what are they fighting against, exactly? Do they hate trees? Elves? Presents? Jesus?”

“They want to stop us from celebrating Christmas,” he added.

“So why do you call it a ‘War on Christmas’ then? Shouldn’t you call it a ‘War Against Christmas?'” I think I perfectly explained it. “I expected a one-day war, judging by the name of it.”

“No, they want to take away Christmas!” He was shouting again.

“I don’t think that’s what is going on here, sir, but I guess I’ll take your word for it. So, where do I enlist, for either side?” I was ready to strike a blow for yuletide merrymaking.

“You don’t enlist. You either celebrate or you don’t,” the recruiter sneered at me.

“So, we all just do our own thing? Isn’t that what we are doing already?”

I had never been thrown through a window before. Luckily, the snow was deep on that side of the building – and the window was only on the second floor. While I lay on the ground, I made a snow angel, because each of us is supposed to always find a way to relish all our moments, even the ones following being thrown from a high window.

I guess I was already fighting FOR Christmas, in whatever manner I wanted to celebrate it. It turns out the war was entirely imaginary and that each of us, in our own way, gets to celebrate, or not, exactly as we choose. Good people don’t tell other people how to express their joy and happiness, no matter how it is motivated.

If Christmas is indeed a celebration of spirit, then each of us should be open and free, with love in our hearts and a soft tongue for those who don’t agree with however we express our holiday.

Wherever you are, make a snow angel with me. Whatever we call it, it lies within each of us.
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Charlotte’s Hope

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Charlotte once resided in a modest house on the corner of Lilly Street and Shumer Way, nestled inside one of the many decaying towns in the delta area of Arkansas. While she hadn’t stepped foot inside the family home in decades, it was still an infrequent and lingering beacon, a place that once defined her. Her mom had departed this world unexpectedly just as Charlotte hit her stride as an adult. Though her own life was full, a little air exited her soul with her mother’s passing. She not only had buried her mother but a sliver of her own life as well. It remained in her hometown, cloistered and protected from the world.

The promise of life blossomed before her, of course, but the loss of the person closest to her heart would always be one characterized by that uneasy and painful feeling one experiences after swallowing too big of a bite. In Charlotte’s case, the bubble of discomfort failed to fade completely. Each new experience, every shared story, and all moments of clarity occurred with an invisible and almost indiscernible hand on her shoulder. As time marched forward, the hand would feel lighter even as the bruise on her soul deepened. If a kind soul such as her mother could find herself so ingloriously subjected to the injustice of unearned disease, it could writhe toward anyone, despite nobility, intention, or merit. It was a hard lesson to accept but her mother taught it with unimaginable and sublime beauty.

She’d find herself in her hometown, often without remembering the interstate or the quaint highways that brought her there, the same byways once traveled by her mother. The engine of her car would be thunderously ticking, even as the beads of sweat rolled down her forehead. After untold minutes, she’d lower the driver window. Her eyes would devour the familiar details of the small covered rear porch and door, the one almost everyone used. The front door was almost ornamental; someone announcing himself there invariably identified as strangers. She knew without looking that there were 18 rows of white clapboard ascending the side of the house, culminating in exposed painted soffits. Some nights she would slowly emerge from a dream and could still feel the rough sensation of those painted boards as she leaned against the house of her youth. In the summer, one could feel the heat from several feet away.

The cacophony of the summer insects would reach her ears, the hum of mosquitoes would play its summertime melody, and she would cry. In her hometown, most memories anchored in the perennial summertime of her youth. Her mother was so close and the echo of her voice was a lingering presence in the humid air. Whispers, languid syllables of laughter and love, all these intertwined and coalesced in the way that only occurs in Southern towns infected by the paradoxical need to move away.

The peeling paint of the place she once called home still called her name. The four side windows once adorned with light and familiar faces now blankly stared outward without regard. The lawn now screamed for someone to show it the attention it once took for granted. No children would dance in its hidden garden again and it was likely that no family would claim it as an anchor before the structure yielded to the inevitable neglect and gravity. This town and all other places like it are the observable results of entropy; all slide toward darkness and disorder without a guiding force to sustain them. She felt sometimes that her mother was the same dynamic demonstration of physics and that her growing absence was slowly accumulating in her own body as a void with a widening precipice.

The apparition of her mom walked the streets next to the house, idly chiding an unseen canine companion as it wandered in exploration. That her mother might indeed be slightly beyond the unseen membrane between this place of the here and now and the unknown seemed plausible. It was a spell without resolution, though. Hours of fondly wishing it to be so proved the fruitlessness of the endeavor.
“Claire,” Charlotte would cautiously whisper, her mother’s name a secret she dared not say aloud, all these years later. The name, once fallen from her lips, would unleash something primal inside her.

The expectation of her mother’s return was the closest thing to an afterlife that Charlotte could anticipate. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in a decade, she would also yield to this world’s demands and sleep one last time, to awaken in the place wherein her mother now resided. It was promise enough for her, beyond even the lofty covenants given to her in church.

Mother and daughter would join one another in raucous laughter, undoubtedly in the unassuming kitchen of her youth. Love would be on the menu, forever, accompanied by the foods with which her mother had so gracefully adorned the family dinner table.

For now, though, Charlotte experienced the heat, the buzz of insects, and the observance of the disintegration of the cradle and crucible of her innermost heart. She could feel the fingers of time furtively clawing their way up her spine, just as they were doing to the integrity of the house she once called home. Both she and the house would inevitably succumb.

As a bead of sweat coalesced against her neck, those same fateful fingers chilled her and she smiled the most secret and indecipherable of smiles that puzzled everyone who knew her.

Not everyone holds onto life with desperation. For some, hope lies beyond, away, and in lingering embraces.

Meanwhile, some of us, like her, sit in the gathering dark in our versions of curious little hometowns and wait. All of this, each detail, is temporary on a sufficiently long enough timeline.

Memories abide and love resists the void.

You Don’t Bring Me Flours Anymore

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Several days ago, I brought my wife Dawn a nice vase of flowers.

It was, therefore, a surprise when she said, “X, you don’t bring me flowers anymore,” a couple of days ago. (Much like the old Barbara Streisand standard…)

Later that day, as I was reading, it struck me that she was, in fact, using one of her favorite communication tricks: the homophone. I won’t bore you with a redundant reminder of what constitutes a homophone because I’m sure that you all, much like myself, spent a good portion of the weekend reading your “Obscure English Quarterly” magazine.

So, today, I granted her wish. Now, she can no longer say, “X, you don’t bring me flours anymore.”

Quizzical initial looks of consternation aside, I think she enjoyed the surprise.

When I bought this gift today at Richard’s Flourist Shop, he told me to not add water to these flours. Even if I was going to make bread.