I wanted to do something at work, a something that included everyone. Christmas is upon us after all. My first idea originated with finding pictures of everyone when they were younger. I mostly succeeded and especially enjoyed a few that were very difficult to find. Erika prompted me to do something more ornate… which also coincides with my innate tendency toward ostentatious. It took on a life of its own. I loved the reactions of people who were tickled by both the display and the delight of seeing people differently than they had before. A reminder that we are not simply workers and that each of us has a road behind us. Each of us has our own idea of what Christmas means. I would trade it all if everyone substituted in its place a year-long effort to surprise people with small gifts and small affections. And yes, even pictures that make some people cringe at the way they once looked.
I looked at my Christmas column filled with pictures after I turned the warehouse lights off this morning to observe the brilliant color where such color is usually absent. A column of interconnected people. It might as well have been a tapestry of everyone on the planet.
I thought to myself, “I made that!” I took an idea and added a little work and made it a reality.
Driving around in the dark in an unfamiliar place on a cold December morning was an adventure and quite unsettling. My front tire pressure was a little low; when I stopped in an attempt to air it up, the valve cap wouldn’t turn. I proceeded onward with my Santa surprise into Farmington. Santa never lets a fatigued reindeer slow him down, so it seemed imperative that I continue my quest. That was the plan, anyway. The roads had other plans. I’m sure my Google Maps location history looks like a fifth-grader drew it with a penchant for circularity. As I found my way into the target neighborhood, it occurred to me that I was indeed behaving suspiciously. I laughed and crept up to the house in question and attempted to leave the Xmas surprise as quietly as I could. My laugh was a bit loud in the quiet, still group of houses. Though it wasn’t as loud as my hyperactive imagination led me to believe, I might as well have been clanging an old discordant set of cymbals outside the house. A light came on a couple of houses down. Adding to my suspicious demeanor, I jogged back down to my car, which I had left two houses down. I imagined the owner of the light calling the police: “There’s a brightly colored clown car on the street, and whoever is driving it is jogging around and laughing!”
Familiar streets were a welcome sight as I made my way back home!
Merry Christmas, Leigh. And Merry Xmas to everyone else, too.
Give anyone behaving suspiciously a moment to do their thing. Sometimes the weirdos bring gifts.
PS The picture is a designated Hug Zone I established at work. It’s obvious that many people aren’t getting the USDA-recommended number of quality hugs they need to be happy. .
When I went to the square, I got there early. There was only one street musician setting up to play. I dropped some money in his case and asked him if I could sing Feliz Navidad with him. “Hell yes, you can!” And so it came to pass as he played his guitar artfully, he sang the bilingual version while I accompanied him purely in Spanish. None of my co-workers, both current and past, had yet arrived.
Sometimes, getting there early makes all the difference.
For reasons I can’t explain, I think I will always remember standing there near the inside corner of the Fayetteville square on a weird, warm December evening. Singing.
Erika’s brother drew the original. I spent an inordinate amount of time meticulously creating and editing a png version of his artwork. I started with a picture I snapped of the artwork. There’s something intangible about this Santa, rendered with hundreds of deliberately layered scribbles. It seemed like I owed it to Chris, even though he’s gone and I never met him.
This Santa captures the unkempt fatigue of attempting to reward everyone with the Xmas gifts they deserve. (Much less the horror of knowing who has been naughty or nice.) I joke that Santa could make a fortune selling the naughty list to certain people!
As I do every year, especially now that it’s Black Friday… Don’t let the season distract you from enjoying it the way you want. For some, it is a religious celebration. For others, it is a social season, one punctuated by gatherings, bacchanalian feasts with friends, family, and events. Some sit quietly and simmer in melancholy of bittersweet remembrances of the people who’ve left them.
Xmas is what YOU want it to be. Not the traditions you don’t cherish, not the obligatory exchanging of gifts. You are housed in a body that is a gift in itself. Being yourself and radiating your wit, humor, and affection is more than enough for the people who appreciate you.
Of all gifts I enjoy, I like the goofy, surprising ones. And most of those are moments, not things.
Don’t get me wrong, I love someone surprising me with an ornate toilet seat, a collection of foul-tasting novelty candies, or even a ream of colored paper. It means that person likes me enough to have taken the time to surprise me. It also means that they are happy enough to want to share a sliver of that with me.
Giving people are rarely joyous. Have you noticed that?
Many people loathe that Xmas starts early, especially the music that often accompanies it. They complain about trees showing up in houses “too early.” The stores loaded with commercial offerings. I don’t understand that. To each his own.
The Xmas season is when people can surprise others without the pretext of a reason. Even a hug and a “Merry Xmas,” or whatever salutation you prefer.
I’ll put a picture below, one I made a long time ago – and one that surfaces on the internet with frequency.
Janus and Rob sang along to the Christmas music as they drove through the rural roads. They both disliked holiday music – except when they were together. They then caroled each other constantly, to their friend’s horror. Neither sang well. Their howling dog Sir Barkalot consistently voted loudly with a wail when they sang for too long. In the confines of the small car on a cold winter December 24th, though, they created the perfect repository for their mutual enjoyment.
Neither dared think about their destination. It was enough to continue the tradition, now unbroken for thirteen years. They woke up on Christmas Eve morning, drank a gallon of coffee each, and then wrapped themselves in warm clothing and drove to the same cherished spot.
Because they’d done so for thirteen years, Rob already knew he had to stop about halfway there; otherwise, Janus would howl in mimicry of Sir Barkalot until he did. As they sang “Little Drummer Boy” in raucous unison, Rob noted the mile marker that indicated he would have to turn off the main road in a couple of minutes. Janus must have noted the same thing. As “The Little Drummer Boy” ended, she mashed the audio button to “Off” as they neared the turnoff.
In the back seat, there was a small lunchbox. Inside it: two rocks, one from each of them. Each year, the lunchbox changed to something similar to whatever was popular.
Rob navigated the turnoff and slowed. The gravel road was rough, and almost no one traveled it. Luckily, this year, there was no snow to worsen it.
He recalled spending weekends with his grandparents, who had lived nearby. He accidentally discovered a deep, surprisingly clear pond on his adventure excursions. It was there that he proposed to Janus years later. She screamed, “Yes!” much to the dismay of all the nearby birds.
Rob drove to the poorly-maintained gate and stopped, turning the ignition off. “Are you ready?” he asked Janus. She nodded.
They both exited the car. Rob opened the back door and removed the lunchbox. He looked a bit absurd, he knew.
Despite the cold, he held Janus’ right hand as they passed through the gap in the gate and fence. Within a couple of minutes, they reached the pond. It wasn’t frozen over.
Janus leaned to kiss Rob, who was already expecting it.
He held the lunchbox out and opened it. “Don’t look,” he reminded her. “How am I going to know which rock is mine, then?” she asked. It was their joke each year. She peeked in and removed her rock.
Rob put the lunchbox down on the brown grass and removed his rock.
They walked to the edge of the pond, staring at the water.
Janus looked at her rock to read the name written there. “Jacqueline,” she whispered.
Rob read the name written in marker on his rock: “Suzanne.”
Some years, the names were both boys’ names; never had both been feminine.
Janus threw her rock first. It was an awkward toss but sailed halfway across the vast pond. Rob launched his rock, and it landed within a couple of feet of the other bank.
Janus motioned for Rob to come closer. He stood next to her with his left arm around her waist. She tilted her head onto his shoulder as they both stared across the pond. Both of them were considering a life that almost was.
A few moments later, they both felt the moment pass. They turned to walk back to the waiting car.
“Do you think your mom and dad are tired of Astro yet?” Janice laughed as she asked Rob the same question she’d asked him last night and again this morning.
“Duh! An eight-year-old wants everything. They probably have him tied up on the front porch rocking chair at this point.” He paused. “You know what, though? We should stop for breakfast on the way.”
They both laughed, knowing that they would indeed stop.
By the time they turned around to leave the old gravel road, both were thinking of the beautiful Christmas awaiting them. And how much they had spoiled their adopted son Astro.
They counted themselves among the lucky few. Loss? Yes? But life and love also.
Janus hit the “On” button to resume the Christmas music. They both wanted to howl and sing as one should on such a day.
Sunday evenings often provide me with encounters that other days don’t. I’m not sure why that is.
I was out and about, buying mismatched birthday/get-well/occasion balloons, a flutophone, spatula (all of which are of course traditional birthday surprises), and various ridiculous things for a belated work birthday shenanigan. A woman was at the register. She had only two dollars. “I’ll pay for the rest with my credit card.” She sweated a bit, waiting to see if it would be authorized. The clerk wasn’t the most sympathetic. He radiated irritation. The woman hid her embarrassment well but I watched her body language as she cringed at the treatment. It took her two tries to get it to go through.
Although I had entered with a light heart and a bit of joy due to being creative in trying to let someone know we hadn’t forgotten them, I have to admit a bitter flare of anger lit me up. I could feel it behind my eyes. I flicked my wrist and saw that my heartbeat had elevated considerably on my Fitbit. I wanted to shout at the clerk but then I reminded myself that I have a superpower that all of us have if I could just stop judging. Even the few one-on-one rapid self-defense sessions I had reinforced the idea that we owe it to each other to disengage before we act.
“Hey Janice,” I said loudly to the woman as she got her bag, a little red-faced. “Wait a second. I have that money I owe you.” Her name wasn’t Janice, but she stopped and turned. I held up a finger to ask her to give me a minute to check out. She was just confused enough to wait.
“Merry Christmas, sir,” I told the young male clerk.
“Yeah, ok.” He seemed unhappy. He looked at his watch.
“Are you having a rough day?” I asked him, smiling.
“You have no idea,” he said.
“What can I do to make it even a little better?” I asked.
“Let me go home. My girlfriend texted me and told me she was putting my stuff outside if I didn’t come home soon.”
That stopped me cold for a second. I was surprised by his honesty.
“I don’t know what you’re going through but I can see you’re stressed. I would be too. Take a minute and call her, don’t text, even if your manager doesn’t want you to. Tell your girlfriend you love her and you will talk to her when you get home. Trust me.”
“Just like that?” He asked.
“Yes, just like that. Assuming you do love her, she will give you a couple of hours to come home and work it out. And if she doesn’t, it wasn’t going to matter what you did now or not. If that happens, I am so sorry.”
He looked at me like I had burst into flames.
“Okay, thanks. I’ll try anything.”
“Would you do me a favor as a kindness?”
“Yes,” he said.
I softened my voice and leaned in: “Tell my friend Janice there that you are sorry for snapping at her and wish her a Merry Christmas.”
He did. Janice listened, stunned, as the clerk said, “I’m so sorry. I’m stressed. Please have a Merry Christmas, Janice.”
Janice smiled, still a bit confused by it all, but happy the clerk had acknowledged his rudeness. “Merry Christmas to you too,” she replied, her voice cracking a little.
I nodded at the clerk and smiled. “I wish you the best. Now go call your girlfriend and let her know how much you need her. Everyone needs to hear it.”
I grabbed my handful of bags and bundle of helium balloons.
I turned to Janice and pulled the ten-dollar bill out of my pocket and handed it to her. I’d been given the ten dollars to help buy a few goofy items for the birthday shenanigan. The person who gave it to me would have wanted it to go to Janice instead. Of that, I am certain.
“I know you’re not Janice. I just wanted the clerk to think we know each other. This is for whatever you need. It’s not a lot because I don’t have a lot.”
Janice took the bill from my hands as I balanced all the things I’d purchased.
“It’s okay. Don’t say anything. Just remember that sometimes the universe is listening, okay?” She nodded. I think she was a little choked up. I know I was.
I smiled and walked out of the store, my anger gone, and my thoughts filled with hope that the anonymous girlfriend was going to get a call to let her know she was loved. And that Janice forgot the embarrassment at the register and remembered only that someone wanted her to have a Merry Christmas.
P.S. I’m going to go wrap a flutophone and spatula. As we all agree, they are ideal birthday presents for someone who has everything.
The 30ish man sat on the grass next to the little pantry. Beside him was a box of Pop-Tarts that he had removed from it. As I walked up I couldn’t help but notice how dejected he seemed. A worn backpack sat to his right. Something about him radiated either loss or being at the end of his rope.
I put my unneeded jacket in the car. I remembered that I had an emergency $20 bill folded below my driver’s license. Removing it, I walked over to him and said, “Not that you need it, but this is for you and Merry Christmas.”
He looked up at me and at the $20 bill I extended to him. I can’t be sure what went through his mind but I saw it on his face. The $20 might as well have been a thousand and he was incredulous that someone was just giving him money. I’m not going to lie, but I felt this overwhelming urge to tear up.
“Merry Christmas to you too! God bless you.” He didn’t smile but his face registered a type of relief that I hate to see on someone else’s face.
“God bless you too,” I told him as I smiled and walked away.
I don’t write about these moments to make myself feel or look better. The moment already elevated me and gave me a boost that I didn’t even know I needed.
I hope the man remembers that life is sometimes good and surprising. I know I do. I wish I had a thousand to give him, no matter what he might do with it.
Because it’s Sunday evening, I went to the inconvenience store. Walking in, I realized I left my wallet at home. Having tried to do so before, I know they don’t accept good looks in lieu of payment. Even so, I’d still be short, according to popular opinion.
Arriving back home and giving kitty treats for the tenth time today, I hung my jacket up and decided to skip going back. I drank a protein drink and without thinking about it, found myself back in my car (with wallet) and driving. Going North on Gregg, I watched a white sedan weave and swerve for no discernible reason. Another intoxicated driver. Either that, or she was Tiktoking with an invisible phone.
I turned right to get away from her indirect line of direction and went to one of the fancier inconvenience stores. Outside, two men were arguing. To me, it seemed like one of the two had asked for money from the other. One was a younger man, dressed well; the other, not so much. I could have been wrong. Instead of hesitating, I walked up and said, “Hey Steve, I haven’t seen you in a long time!” The younger man looked at me and tried to figure out who I was. “Do I know you?” I laughed like a goof. “Yes, I’m X. Didn’t we go to school together at Fort Smith?” He shook his head. “No, I don’t know you and I didn’t go to school in Fort Smith.”
It didn’t matter. The spell had broken. He walked away, leaving the less well-dressed man standing there.
“What do you need?” I asked him. “Honestly. Beer, food, cigarettes, a ride, just ask.” I smiled.
“I’d like some smokes, honestly,” he said.
“I love Camels but will smoke anything.”
I grinned again to let him know I was okay and that he was okay. “Be back in a minute.”
As I entered, I recalled memories of my Dad smoking Camels. He died on November 30th, 1993.
I exited the convenience store and handed him a pack of Camels and a lighter.
“Have a good night. And be careful of people. Not everyone is as great as I am.” We both laughed. He could tell I was being funny for his benefit. “My name is X. What is your name?”