Please, Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas

...and stop smoking crack with Leon Spinks, plus other tales of blue yules past

My final, fatal flaw, though, was a lack of grit. I wasn't strong enough to wheel the fat Sunday papers up and down the hill with the two-wheeled cart my dad had built me. Instead of toughing it out, or, obviously and sensibly, splitting the bundles up, I procrastinated and futzed and generally managed to make a 20-minute task take an hour or more. Once I fell asleep in the courtyard of the apartment building that marked the halfway point on the short route. Like the family of moles in the Christmas story my mom would read every year, I was mighty surprised to wake up and find that I'd not been eaten.

That apartment building was home to my nemesis, a crabby, nasty, mean old lady who, it seemed to me, had very little to do but find fault with the way I delivered her paper 13 times a week. She called my house constantly--sometimes about both the morning and afternoon papers. Her business section was missing; her paper was wet; I was late; I'd failed to leave the paper directly in front of her door. And where was the Dayton's sale circular? The only time the woman wasn't in my face was when I went to collect. On those days, she couldn't be bothered to answer her door.

My ever-practical mother urged me to see Mrs. Cratchit as lonely and frustrated and on the losing end of what was certainly a life of bitter disappointment. Of course, I couldn't.

On Christmas Eve one year, she called just as my mother, brother, and I were getting ready for bed--well after 10 o'clock, anyhow. Mom gathered up the sections of our own paper, reassembled them, and pressed them flat and smooth. "We're going to fix that witch once and for all," she said. "We're going to kill her with kindness." Emphasis on the "kill."

Mom loaded a plate with Christmas cookies and used the kitchen scissors to curl the red ribbon she tied around the Saran Wrap. Jammies and all, we piled in the car and drove over to the apartment building. I carried the paper and my mother the cookies. On the ride over, Mom prepped my brother and me to start singing when Crabby Lady opened her door.

We made it just four or five words into "Silent Night" before the old lady snatched the paper and the cookies and, wordlessly, slammed the door. She never complained again.

 

A Good Marine Needs Solid Abs
By Quinton Skinner

A top-notch mix of unabashed materialism and good-hearted naïveté makes Los Angeles one of my favorite places to spend the holidays. Perfect skies (ambient color is better there), trips to the ocean, nerve-wracking conversations about property values--they all outweigh the sentimental value of spending Christmas in the gray and depressing environs of my Ohio youth. The year my wife and I traveled to SoCal for the holidays was cause for tempered optimism. Sure, it was inevitable that at some point I was going to feel as though my brain had been scooped out and replaced with cotton, but I had reason to hope that the proceedings wouldn't be outright painful.

After the initial round of visits and some obligatory last-minute consumerism, I found myself in my father-in-law's living room watching TV alone. The exact program I was perusing has been lost in the fallout from the trauma that ensued, but the pertinent fact is that it had to do with Marines going through basic training. A good Marine needs solid abdominal muscles (gun toting, grenade lobbing), and I watched with growing interest as the soldiers did this sort of scissors kick, lying on their backs on the ground with their feet in the air.

Did I have Marine-worthy abs? Surely not. I stewed in my chair for a while, feeling increasingly old and out of shape as I watched those outrageously lucky soldiers. Getting in shape on Uncle Sam's dime, what a racket! I promptly hit the floor and began to reproduce the scissors kick I had seen on the tube, gamely contracting my gut with my legs flailing away.

Then it happened. I felt an ominous pop, then a searing flash of pain around my tailbone. I yelped and my feet hit the ground. It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and I had just managed to inflict an undetermined amount of damage upon my lower back. As I stood up, it became apparent that the pain wasn't going away. In fact, it expanded and intensified, as though chiding me for doubting it meant business.

I am admittedly not in the class of Spartan warriors when it comes to pain tolerance. I have been known to complain; put another way, I'm a complainer. But this was no torqued neck or aching knee. Walking caused me extreme pain; doing nothing at all caused me extreme pain, too. Surely it would clear up, though. A few hours, some sleep, and a hot bath and I'd be fine.

It stiffened up during the night. I emerged in the morning with the gait of an 80-year-old. Obviously devising a strategy was in order. Two choices presented themselves: find a doctor (damn the insurance issues) or hit the sauce. I opted for the latter and by afternoon I had transformed myself into a Dickensian nightmare: hunched, squinting, half-crazed, drunk, and increasingly bitter about my plight. Shifting on the couch sent spikes of pain down my legs, and when standing was out of the question I opted for a brooding slouch. Cries of pain upon accepting presents, I subsequently discovered, reduce one's appearance of gratitude.

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