Walking the empty streets of Christmas
I was all set to wax rather non-rhapsodic about my poor, pathetic, butthurt Christmas, but then things just continued to whirl so laughably sideways that, well, what is your point, kind sir?
Yes, it’s been like that since the mists of childhood, perhaps: Me and Christmas just don’t get along all that well. I think I may have called a department-store Santa on his vodka breath or something as a kid and he put the jinx on me, or else something happened that still lies submerged in that cranial tank of hidden trauma that I haven’t a clue about. Or, well, your guess is as good as mine.
The past couple of years, being out of work, have really sucked come Christmastime. When you aren’t earning money so you can buy gifts for people, it makes it kinda hard to participate in a holiday that centers around so much gift-giving. Just today, I read that the big “hot” gift is big-screen flat TVs, which is so far removed from my current life experience that it makes me feel like a member of a lost tribe in the Amazon rainforest glimpsing a jet airliner for the first time. I mean, well, fuck me already.
And then there’s the social aspect of the holiday season, the warmth — forced or not — and all that. Now, I may have certain slight curmudgeonly tendencies, but I’m not some cold Teutonic automaton with a titanium core; really, I’m one of the biggest softies I know, and I get dewy-eyed from the stupidest things. Schmaltzy old movies make me well up like a rheumy, bourbon-fueled bombardier upon hearing a John Philip Sousa brass-band arrangement. Happy young couples make me poignantly threaten to leak with tears of saudade. Cats at play make me weep. But, shit, the holiday season has a really nasty way of letting me know how fucking socially inept I am, or how disconnected I am from the rest of you.
So today I got up, or woke up on the massage table where I sleep, after nodding off to another steady diet of wall-shaking rhythmic electronic flatulence from downstairs — which I’m not complaining about, mind you; I most likely could sleep through nuclear war, or a Hun invasion even. I’m like that. Anyway, after cleaning up, I walked up 21st Street over to K, and the thoroughfares were deserted. Occasional cars, yes, and a few street people. I got over to the ice-skating rink on 20th at J, and it was like I’d dropped in to visit from some distant city. I thought I recognized one person from Facebook, but she didn’t acknowledge me, even though I was munching from a big yellow bag of peanut M&Ms, so it was most likely a doppelganger. Otherwise, nothing but strangers.
I didn’t feel weird or anything; more like slightly amused. I walked down 20th, and a thin, pretty but slightly boyish woman passed me on the sidewalk at N: “Nice day, eh? Merry Christmas!” she said. “Yeah, it’s a beautiful day, ain’t it?” I responded, hoping for some kind of human connection, maybe a bit of conversation or something. But she was in a hurry, and power-walked the next block before disappearing into the Old Tavern. I guess my current lack of guido appeal may have contributed, as the shabby clothes and that slightly hungover mien bestowed on me by this cold — although I haven’t touched a drink since George Herbert Walker Bush was president — could make me unattractive to some women.
While I did get invited to one friend’s place for some Christmas camaraderie via Facebook (thanks, Glenn), I’d already settled on, or locked into, the idea of eating a traditional Jewish Christmas dinner, so I headed over to the Tea Cup Cafe instead. Which wasn’t a mistake, as much as it was the realization that I can’t taste anything. Colds are like that. I did kinda feel like a schnook because I had to ask three times for a Coca-Cola, and then I was sitting in a Chinese restaurant reading a Thomas Pynchon novel and watching couple after couple walk in and be seated, which kinda made me feel slightly alone and pathetic, but really, it was all right.
You fuckers had better give me a killer fortune cookie, I thought. “Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you.” Now, that’s the kind of specifics that make for a good fortune, as opposed to the usual vagaries I get (“You find beauty in ordinary things. Do not lose this ability” was a recent one), which keep me coming back with the hope that I’ll get an augury a bit more concrete. Like today. There must be some secret ratio of x willfully obtuse to y more precise fortunes, to ensure repeated Chinese restaurant visits by the fortune-cookie addicted.
Then, upon returning to the third-floor walkup where I’m currently staying, I found the electrics had gone all wicky-wacky, causing the lights to strobe. That’s not going to make for a delightful Christmas evening alone, indoors on a cold night, is it? Well, I could play guitar in the dark, or I could type this. So ….
So here’s the deal: I still can’t get Christmas right. Every year, save a few really nice ones I can remember (thanks, beautiful and sweet former girlfriend who shall remain nameless), I end up feeling horribly cut off and alone. I know it’s all in my head, that other people don’t have that problem and in fact have very warm and rewarding Christmases. But pretty much every year, I end up reliving the same script with minor variations. Christmas just seems to amplify my lack of social skills, and so it just isn’t the goddamn season to be jolly for me. And so I blow it. Again and again.
I wish Christmas was Groundhog Day, or like the movie at least. I wish tomorrow I’d wake up and it was Christmas morning, and then the next day it was Christmas, and so on, and every Christmas morn I’d be slightly warmer or more loving or open-hearted and slightly less closed off and inept, and maybe by, oh, February, I’d have this thing down, and I could tell the family and friends I feel alienated from today that Jacky Boy’s butthurt Christmas tradition is a thing of the past.
I know that isn’t too much to ask. Even for a Buddhist who shouldn’t care about Christmas. —Jackson Griffith