Part fantasy, part truth, the best of both worlds sometimes coalesce.
Part fantasy, part truth, the best of both worlds sometimes coalesce.
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.
For some, it’s a white almost-Christmas morning. For others, Festivus.
Some are waking up with an ache in their hearts for absent furry friends or family, whose bark, meow or voice still resonates in their ears.
May the echoes diminish and laughter knock on your door.
These fun PrankPack boxes are awesome. I bought a few this year to wow friends and family. This “Create Your Own Earwax Candle Kit” is going to be a surprise for my mother-in-law.
She loves being pranked and nothing says “I cherish you” like a horrified smirk followed by a laugh. (She can’t see this post…)
This kit allegedly comes with an earwax collection hat and a collection reservoir for your ounces of nightly earwax.
I wonder if such a candle, were it possible to produce one, might waft a lightly-scented aroma of yuletide inner ear around the house for Christmas?
The company offers several styles. At least one of them will make you laugh. I promise.
P.S. If you want to order your own for a future bit of fun, here is the website:
My wife Dawn greenlit my enthusiastic wish to build a Christmas villa in the living room this year. Using several hundred pictures, 100+ boxes, innumerable lights, a couple hundred ornaments and bits of crazy, a universal remote to control it all, a Festivus pole (for the rest of us, of course), hidden gift compartments, a house cat who daily prays for a gift to fall from above, and a huge dose of yuletide spirit… we present the most unusually-decorated living room you can possibly see all year.
I shot this video with Dawn performing the role of director. I drank 17 cups of coffee prior to shooting and I now regret telling Dawn her version was too jittery.
P.S. I wrote this version of “Carol of The Bells” myself so that social media sites couldn’t claim copyright. I hope you like that part, too. Writing music is another one of my hobbies, one which requires a commitment of time.
My living room has a vaulted ceiling, so the drunken rectangle I created piece by piece is approximately 8′ high, 15′ wide, and 20′ long. It’s difficult to grasp the scale unless you walk through the front door.
A gallon of my patented Elf Juice, one which grants the imbiber the ability to decorate one’s domicile in the manner of Buddy The Elf.
To have the time, energy and ability to creatively express myself is a luxury which I don’t take for granted.
I have to admit, though, that this is a spectacle.
Also, the Grinch will have to depart with it all, as I took great care to conceal hidden compartments for gifts. I kept a treasure map, but I’m not certain even I was diligent enough to note them all.
Yesterday, returning home from our day of avarice and caprice, I opened the surprises which had arrived. It’s trickier during the holidays, especially when my lists are full of weird and half-forgotten surprises.
First, I tore open the cabinet knobs I had ordered on Amazon. Each was packed in its own little cube. While my expectations when ordering were low, the company doubled the quantity they sent and the knobs were notably beautiful. They are ridiculously prismed, each a nexus of colors. Naturally, Dawn and I both loved them. I offered to replace her bathroom set, the one I had just installed, but she insisted that I go ahead and install them in my bathroom. Recently, after much delay, I finally got around to putting cabinet pulls on the drawers and doors of the house. Believe it or not, the builder didn’t do anything to address the convenience of actually living in the house. Dawn and I spent hours yanking on the drawers expecting them to open, only to walk away with snarled and snapped fingers. While I gnaw and chew on my fingernails like a crazed bear, Dawn keeps her fingernails orderly – and didn’t appreciate random nails flying off when simply trying to get a teaspoon out of a kitchen drawer. I finally overcame my misgivings and started drilling. As expected, I needed 6 different size screws to address the builder’s wildly inconsistent approach to cabinet installation. I used my highly advanced piece of cardboard template to place the holes. To my surprise, I finished it without a major fire, holes in the ceiling, or losing an eye or finger. I’m pretty sure Dawn was surprised too. When I chose the sets of knobs, I asked myself what a normal person might find to be appealing and followed that instinct. Had I followed my own, I would have chosen from the less-popular “Epileptic Color Shock” line of hardware. If I were to be assigned a Contractor Rating, I think it could be best summed up as “Don’t.”
Second, my much-ridiculed set of 5 remote outlet switches arrived. Dawn had previously expressed specific and snarky misgivings about this idea. After seeing what Hobby Lobby and Lowes charged, though (with one of these almost requiring a mortgage application simply to afford them), I found a set on Amazon which was an incredible deal. I needed a set of these so that we wouldn’t need to walk around the living room and need to perform acrobatics to reach the outlet switches. (I had previously ordered a set of Belkin switches, which were awesome, too, by the way.) If you didn’t know, my living room is a feat of Christmas engineering. The entire interior perimeter is covered by vertical and horizontal columns of craziness. I planned the light sets so that no particular outlet would be overburdened and so that I could add additional lights easily. Having just seen “Christmas Vacation” again no doubt inspired me to avoid having 25,000 lights plugged into a single outlet. P.S. While I am no fan of the builder of this house, having a modern electrical system is a miracle. It’s true that I paid to install an advanced system at the last house before we sold it, but having an electrical system designed to work is a laughably overlooked privilege in this life. Because I’m blind and stupid, Dawn used the magnifying glass to read the ‘pairing’ instructions for one of the remote-controlled outlets. Once I’m frustrated with a piece of technology, I’d rather do naked cartwheels on the freeway than continue to attempt to make something work. Dawn, on the other hand, is OCD and any unfinished check on her to-do list will turn her hair white until she can address it. Luckily, she figured out the last outlet snafu while I snarled and moaned in the kitchen. With a ‘click,’ we can now turn on all four million lights simultaneously with one remote. As Dawn says, it is not as satisfying as the clapper, but it’s a delight.
Third, another surprise arrived from MarriedToTheMetal (an Etsy seller). As has been the case for all my previous purchases, it was spectacular. I had to be clever and evasive (not to be confused with the Grinch’s “joyful and triumphant”) with Dawn so as to not arouse suspicions. When I clanged the gift with a loud metallic bang on the kitchen table, though, she immediately jumped to the conclusion I had illegally bought her yet another Christmas present. For those who don’t know, Dawn is one of those unfortunate souls whose birthday is on Christmas Eve. She’s a good sport about it. However, I have to maintain the fiction that my gifts are in fact given in celebration of her birthday rather than the yuletide season. She growls about me for buying too much- whatever that means. I just pretend she is suffering from a minor head injury and do what I want anyway. It’s a delicate arrangement and one which seems to be working decently well.
During this morning’s walk, I was surprised to find the Springdale Christmas tree was still lit. It’s a good thing, too, otherwise, I would have been tempted to turn on the tree manually from the connection hanging just below the Shiloh Square overhang. (It sounds suspiciously like I’ve investigated this before, doesn’t it? You would be correct if you assume this to be true. I have to continue to remind myself that the city didn’t create all this just for me, even if it continues to feel this way in the early hours of the morning.) The moon above was indeed a supermoon, although still only intermittently visible against the cloud cover. The concrete trails, however, shimmered in a luminous white ribbon as I walked. Many of the houses along my walk were still lit with holiday cheer. Despite the unseasonable warmth of the December morning, it was a glorious way to start the day.
I took a detour down Emma. From the square, I was hearing an unusual and arrhythmic flapping. It reminded me of special effects from a science fiction movie. My imagination was running wild – and without a saddle. It ultimately turned out to be Tyvek fiber sheeting a contractor had stretched across the façade of the first floor of a building undergoing renovation. When I turned around, I jumped a little in surprise. Someone was standing on the rooftop of the buildings across the street, smoking a cigarette. I waved at him. I think he was surprised I had noticed him, even above the brightly-lit and festive street. He waved back. We shared our respective moment of sonder, each of us bound to continue our day.
P.S. The tree twinkling is exactly how I feel most mornings as I experience the mundane surprises.
Advisory: Possibly NSFW, depending on whether you like the smell of weird cheese or enjoy trying to clog dance after your leg falls asleep…
Before being sidetracked by frivolous detail, the picture is a 3-D one I made of my wife. Her eyes are googly and her hair made from a few dozen strands of ribbon slivers. It is a thing of beauty, even more so than the leg lamp from “A Christmas Story.” I’m certain that Dawn will grow to love it, as it hangs from the living room heater vent on the ceiling.
This is a story about a walk, but not really. I didn’t sleep well last night. Dawn had experienced some excruciating muscle cramps in her lower leg, the kind of erupting pain so intense that she would have traded a baseball bat to the elbow to lessen them. I’m not the best sleeper to begin with but the anticipation of waking up in a sudden sweat as the person next to me screams in the dark is not one to be enjoyed. Being unable to help except perhaps to be a prop to lean against only worsens the situation. My problem is that I want to do something clever, such as sing the lyrics to “Lean on Me.” To her credit, Dawn still hasn’t shot me in justified irritation, although I think I’ve mentioned that she keeps hinting that she wants me to buy her a crossbow and only one arrow to accompany it.
(We usually only scream in pain like that as we accidentally watch the nightly news, a feeling many of you might find to be familiar.)
I glimpsed the ominous orange supermoon only for less than a minute this morning. It was hanging low on the western horizon, somehow dodging the unexpected cloud cover. Even though I knew it was a fruitless attempt, I took a picture of it. It might as well be an image taken from an endoscopy procedure.
As I stood in the middle of Don Tyson Parkway, admiring the moon’s brief beauty, in the background I watched as a white dually pickup attempted to navigate the circumference of the double roundabout at high speed. As the truck rocked and bounced over the edge of the sidewalk, I hoped the driver was holding a steaming cup of hot coffee and that as he hit the obstruction unexpectedly, that the coffee boiled his nuggets as it spilled into his lap. Nothing evokes the spirit of Christmas like the sound of a reckless driver screaming from the consequences of his poor driving. (The best part of waking up is hot liquid in your cup, so to speak.)
I greeted this morning, along with the unusual soft brightness the obscured moon brought with it. The night hours had reset the monstrosity of the early part of my day yesterday. We all have our own issues and sometimes even when we do the right thing to correct them, they worsen. The trolls and sociopaths seem to be vigilant along the periphery of our lives. They wait, knowing they will be able to spread the opposites of happiness and joy, like sad black and blue glitter – or hateful holiday cards, ones filled with profanity and pictures of war and destruction. In my case, I wait, because no matter how idiotically people might behave, I will still have my keyboard. History will be written in farce, cleverly disguised as fiction. No matter what happens, I tend to say, “It will make a great story.” So far, time has given me a buffer to be able to laugh at everything.
Yesterday was also supposed to be the kick-off of phase two of the 2018 IBLCC weight-loss challenge. For reasons related to the last paragraph, that too fell through. Trolls are like the Stephen King’s Langoliers, except instead of eating time, they eat other people’s joy. I lost 30 lbs during phase one. In the interim, while waiting for my competition to catch up, I regained some of the weight back. (Which should be no surprise, given my insatiable urge to eat an entire pizza as if it were a fruit roll-up.) Phase two was going to both excuse and impetus to finally get to 200 lbs, which is still way too high for someone of my advancing years and historically untrustworthy arteries. Whiskey, salt pork and lard flow through my veins, at least genetically. None of these has fared well in scientific studies of longevity.
(I had an uncle who once insisted that he’d stopped drinking alcohol and eating bacon when they stopped tasting good. I think he meant it as a challenge.)
Once away from the absurd pseudo-rules of commerce, I had a fantastic afternoon. While Dawn was frolicking in Eureka Springs with her sister, I was adding a million yuletide touches to my massive architectural Christmas display. For those of you who are worried about the weight, don’t be; our house is on a concrete foundation. If I had to describe what it looks like, I would say it is a hybrid between what Will Ferrell as Elf did in the department store scene and how Steve Martin might design a children’s room for the holiday season if he ate an entire bag of magic mushrooms after browsing Etsy for 16 hours.
Before leaving this note, I’d like to tell all of you who were worried about the roundabout driver’s nuggets that he escaped injury. I waved at him as he passed. I could see his silhouette inside the truck cab due to the streetlights. He waved back as he went about his day, hopefully without further attempt to set a land speed record. Also, duallys are just about the ugliest vehicles on the planet.
Finally, I leave you with a poem, one written in a thoughtless moment of profane hilarity. This poem is much more enjoyable if you stand in the middle of a crowded room and recite it in a loud, raucous falsetto. If you have a special someone in your life who reminds you of this poem, stare into his eyes as you read it. Some hints require a little more effort.
Don’t Water the Asses
Attention is their nitrogen
strife, their air
Their fruit always bitter
their beds stony with despair
By the time you sniff them out,
your life, too, becomes a derriere