“It’s lights and glitz and pretty houses.”
“It’s about the culture wars.”
“It’s about who has the most bad ass tree.”
They talked over each other, sentences lapping over sentences like so many waves coming ashore, none complete or convincing, doing little more than disturbing his mental sand. He took the lapping as long as he could.
Then the boy took a breath and his blanket and the stage, since no one else was using it.
“And there were in the country some hardworking guys catching a breather. Something fell over them, a sort of irrational notion skipping across three minds, unspoken and inexplicable. They saw people with wings surrounding a little newborn baby. And one of the winged guys said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Here is a boy who will grow into more than a man, and he’ll be good to those who hate him, good to those who offer nothing, and maybe he’ll start a revolution, and maybe he’ll bring some people back from the dead. But he will never be about death, or revolutions, or fury. He’ll be about being. Go see him.’ The three guys looked at each other, not straight in the eye, each thinking he should pack a present.”
“It’s all commercial now.”
“We get twelve days in ours.”
“Jingle Bells makes me want to stab somebody.”
The boy dragged his blanket off the stage and out of the school and past the church and past the tree lot and past the condos, which were colorful but dim that hour. He joined his best friend in decorating the best tree they'd ever have. It was scrawny and slouched towards nothing in particular, except someone being born somewhere, because if you go far enough in any direction you'll find someone beginning. He wrapped his blanket around the base as a skirt, and his friend hung a red ball from the low thing's highest branch. It was ugly. It was the best they'd ever have.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Tiffany: It’s that movie with the ugly guy and the bitchy family. Uh, you should ask Ben.
Rodney: It’s a tie between Die Hard and Die Hard 2. It depends whether you’re more interested in blowing up an airplane or a skyscraper. Regardless, Bruce Willis has a lock on this.
Ben: I know what I vote for, but maybe you should ask Dad.
Aunt Sheena: We’re No Angels. I’d hang Humphrey Bogart’s stocking.
Gino: Toy Story! (upon being told Toy Story is not set on a holiday) Toy Story!
Dad: Ben says I know? Well, I guess you’re old enough for this story. Back when I first married your mother, Grandma was very rude to her. She picked on her whenever I left the room, and your mom never told me because she was trying to be a good sport. Grandma would complain about water stains on the silverware, or the brand of wine, or that food didn’t smell proper. Little things that can really hurt when they add up. I didn’t know about it until this one Christmas, when Grandma found out Ben was failing a couple classes and got it in her head that he shouldn’t get any presents until he shaped up. That’s what she used to do to me when I was little. Instead of bring this to me, she went to your mom and really tore into her about her parenting and your kids’ future, while your mother was struggling with the first turkey of her life. I came in with some firewood and found her sobbing, and Grandma acting insulted. When I asked, she bolted past us and locked the door to our bedroom. Ben let me know what was going on and, well, that’s the first and only time I ever kicked my mother out of a house. Even after that your mom wouldn’t let me into the room. Didn’t matter what I said. I could hear her crying and crying. It hurt to leave her like that, but I finished cooking and got you kids ready for supper. You were really little, probably don’t even remember any of this happened. We couldn't eat in the kitchen, because her wailing carried in and filled the room. The sobbing got so loud that it turned into pure noise. Soon I couldn’t tell if she was crying or laughing. I almost kicked in the door, because I thought your mom might hurt herself. I was reeling back to kick when the door opened. Her face was bloated and pink, but smiling. The TV was on behind her. She wiped away a tear and asked, “Have you ever seen The Ref?” Then busted up laughing. I’ve tried to watch it since. Denis Leary looks like he bit a lemon, and I don’t “get” Kevin Spacey. It doesn’t matter. That is the best Christmas movie. It might just have saved your mom's sanity.
Mom: It’s a Wonderful Life is nice.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
My brother likes to figure out his Christmas presents by groping the wrapping paper. Last year I got him a book, but left a series of hints as to which book in the card. I shared the hints here and people seemed to enjoy it. I'm doing it to him again this year and figured I might share it again as well. The rules are not to Google anything. You can work it out with others, though, and converse in the Comments section.
- This is a book. The title is fewer than five words.
- The author had an unusual first name. It's almost like a measurement of direction and weight.
- This is not the most famous book of its author. You probably read excerpts from this author's most famous book in high school.
- The author was very socially conscious. That most famous book helped spark reform in the meatpacking industry, though that wasn't the author’s point.
- 80 years after its publication, this book was adapted into a film with a different title. That title is also fewer than five words.
- The book and film both deal with one of the essential materials of the modern industrial world.
- The main character of the film is different from that of the book. Though the book's main character plays an important role in the film, the actor wasn't nominated for anything. Perhaps he was too young.
- All of the letters in the title of the book are present in the title of the film.
- If you add the number of words in the titles of the book and film, you would have five words.
- The titles of the book and the film both refer to liquids (well, you might call one a fluid).
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
The weather outside is frightful. White waves blow up over the curb, down the driveway, licking at the lip of the garage door. The thermostat says 90, but everyone’s looking for a second sweater. Up to 100 and Timmy tries to get the fireplace going. The second they open the chute, snow spills down and vomits across the carpet. Dad goes for the shovels outside and finds the doorknob frozen still. Through the window? Snow upon more snow. Grandpa says you’re sissies and brushes it away. It grabs his broom and he tumbles in. It closes up behind him. When Mom and the Aunts try to fish him out, it avalanches through the window and overtakes the whole hallway. Dad and Timmy huddle around a burning Douglas fir.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The Miller got drunk and boasted some inane things. This happens, but sometimes it forces a man to improvise. The next day he gathered his three daughters and informed them they would get their inheritance early. They were very excited until they were met with three carts of straw.
"Each of you inherits this much for now," he said. "Whosoever of you can spin your straw into gold will get the rest."
The youngest daughter did the logical thing and put out a Craigslist request for alchemists. The only respondent was a man with a molten complexion who refused to give his name. She brought her cart to his chemical dungeon for a demo. The place was full of gold, but just to show he was on the level, he plucked up one straw, slid it between his fingers, and lo it was reduced to shimmering metal. He offered to transform her entire cart load in return for a favor, one he wouldn't mention now, but which would some distant day come up. She agreed by dumping the cart load in one corner. When he turned to begin alchemizing, she filled up the cart with his existing gold and got the hell out of there. He never had vengeance, since she'd never given him her name either.
The most voluptuous daughter took her cart of straw far uptown. She spent a few pennies on a dress, then undid every button on the thing and pretended to sulk at the highest class bar. Hormonal young men sprouted around her. She weeded the lower- and middle-income ones, hitting up the rich boys with stories of failed crops and just wanting to get away. Before last call she had spun five of them in a bidding war for her straw (and, perhaps by miscommunication, her maidenhead).
The most enterprising daughter used Yahoo (TM) to search foreign commodities markets and find what locales were in the highest demand for imported straw. She found two targets in South-East Asia that were under the impression that European straw was the most desirable. After compensating for shipping costs, she spun the trade deal into certificates representing eight ounces of gold each.
The daughters returned with their carts of riches. The miller hugged them and brought out the most extravagant wine and, over the course of the evening, learned the means of his daughters' wealth. The youngest and most voluptuous daughters awoke the next morning face-down in a pile of straw outside, each with a note informing them they'd been disowned for "general harlotry." The most enterprising daughter awoke to learn that she hadn't gained her father's wealth either - the old man had been going bankrupt. Instead she was assigned as his new personal investment manager, and was to "inherit" a 5% fee.
Moral? Oh yes, the moral is that your accountant can still screw you out of your riches and go live with her sisters if you don't behave.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Technology is increasingly personal. It once took up an entire room, then it fit on your desk, and now you’re unfashionable if it isn’t in your pocket. Your music, credit card information, address and the phone numbers of everyone you’re vaguely interested in are entrenched in portable devices.
It went from “over there” to “over here” to “under your fingers” to “in your hand” to “in your hand, ear and mouth, and frequently before your eyes.” It will go “inside.” That’s the next level of intimacy, once it becomes simpler to inject you with everything rather than having to deal with all those cumbersome senses individually. A child will never be lost again with a GPS in her brainstem. You’ll think about someone and it will autodial them, or autotext if you don’t feel like hearing them. Telepathy will come in various broadband fads and forms of hourly rates.
There’ll be new options. Yes, it’s a phone, a music player, a source of directions. But wouldn’t you like it to help your sense of direction? It could look up the route, or it could stimulate your brain so that you constantly know the route, altered on the minute by the latest traffic reports. Precognition by satellite. It’ll fill in whatever blanks you want. Entire years of History class, downloaded. Masterpieces of literature not memorized, but digitized and hyperlinked, any info you need autofilling on your tongue. There will be apps to speak more clearly, more deeply, more engagingly. You’ll have a bus load of Winston Churchills.
The brain does more than know things. It runs things. Nanomachines in your bloodstream will prevent clots and alert you to infections and diseases. That’ll be good enough for the launch party. To make the real money, though? Motor skills. We can get your baby ready to walk the second his legs twitch. Perfect hand-eye coordination, no attention deficit because our data stream is double-checking the bloodflow in his brain. They will grow up inclined to athleticism, and in old age, even as their minds fail, we’ll keep their bodies from betraying them. No nervous twitches, spasms or epileptic fits. In-between, we can tone down those autoimmune responses. You know how many people don’t die from influenza, but just because their bodies overreact to the infection? Subscribe to our stream and you’ll never vomit again, and perhaps go your whole life without a fever, in addition to catching every early warning sign for diabetes and cancer. When we cook up the cures to diabetes and cancer, we’ll probably give you an automatic update that gives them to your body for free.
Technology can be dangerous. There will be outages. You may go through one of the few places without coverage, or a total blackout may leave a few city blocks without functioning bodies. So they won’t be able to stand and will soil themselves. Perhaps they’ll all die of heart attacks. I don’t think you’ll mind too much. You’ll mind enough to copy, paste and Like something on Facebook about it. But every year thousands of people die on our highways. We don’t stop the companies from making cars out of destructible plastic, or honor the speed limits with any diligence, or ban automobiles. Nothing to decrease the convenience of getting from place to place quickly. So when I offer you autodialing in your head, autofilling on your tongue, and never suffering from the symptoms of a flu ever again, all at a modest monthly package price, I don’t think you’re going to stop me. At worst I’ll find some other country that will inject its children with these, and they’ll get ahead, and your kids will do it to their kids to catch up. The rates will be higher then. That’s progress. Trust me.