Please, Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas

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

But I didn't want gifts. I wanted to be euthanized. When asked how I'd hurt myself, I mumbled inanities about a workout mishap. Revealing that I had been reduced to this state because of my jealousy of boot camp Marines would have shattered whatever sympathy was left to me.

Lovely photos preserve an image from that year's Christmas: me, sitting on a couch with a waxy pallor and rings around my eyes, a queasy expression on my face and a big tumbler of scotch in my hand. It is an image of a man clearly unhinged, a man who has tangled with the wrong holiday.

 

All I Got Was a Bag of Nuts
By Jim Walsh

I've done the math. Counting parents, spouse, kids, siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephews, I figure that on any given Christmas, my potential gift-getting tops out at 27. Subtract self-centered teens and toddlers, lobotomized sisters, and broke-ass brothers and it still comes in at double digits. So how is it that the grand total of my haul for the Christmas of 1999 was a bag of nuts?

My wife (speaking now from the next room, "who has given me many lovely presents over the years") has her alibi. Something to do with our son being three years old, our daughter being 15 months, and her working full-time and being "too busy" to get me anything. She apologized; I said it was no big deal. But do you know what an empty velvet stocking hanging on the wall feels like on Christmas morning? Flat.

This unfortunate series of events coincided that year with the brilliant idea on both sides of our family that we wouldn't exchange gifts. Instead, we decided to give money to a charity or something. Which was great, because at the same time some poor stranger was opening their special something, I was working on my thumb-twiddling.

Best of all, I didn't have to feign excitement, thank anybody, or hug a soul. Plus, I was able to avoid all those uncomfortable "I-love-you-I-was-thinking-about-you moments with the male members of the family. And, instead of wrecking the environment with all that excess wrapping paper and packaging, we got to sit back and watch the kids open their presents. It was very adult and grown-up, as if we'd graduated to a higher class of Christmas consciousness. I sat by the fire with a glass of wine, feeling totally gypped.

The only one who defied the no-gift rule that year was my mother-in-law, God bless her. She's old-school, so the idea of no gifts at Christmas struck her as nothing short of sacrilegious. Even though her budget is the most fixed of all, she gave everyone a small present. Nuts, to me. My one and only gift. Not that I'm keeping track.

Look, I watch The Grinch every year. I hear the preachers and teachers. I get it. 'Tis better to give than receive; the love you take is equal to the love you make; et cetera. But the truth is, I like getting presents: good ones, bad ones, regifts, anything.

Which is why I've made my peace with the nuts of '99, and have nothing but fond memories of them now. They were salty, mixed, and everything you could ask for. If you're a squirrel.

This year, there's been some loose talk of skipping Christmas dinner entirely and "just having hors d'oeuvres." Good idea. Less mess and work for all of us. Can I come to your house?

 

I Gah, I Gah-a Frow up Only There Ain't No More
By Matthew Wilder

Liesl was unusual. She was about 20 years old and spoke in the Locust Valley Lockjaw accent used on American sitcoms of the '60s to denote "out-of-sight rich person"--Thurston Howell and his crowd. She was a chorus girl in a production of Gertrude Stein's Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights that I directed when I was 24, and she made herself known to the production staff as by far the best-looking chorine in a rubber swimsuit.

Warning sign number one: sounds of screaming and sobbing from the greenroom one afternoon. It turned out Liesl (which isn't her real name) had just seen My Own Private Idaho and was inconsolable--River Phoenix had died at the end. I presume at some point the other chorus members reassured her that, at that point, the real River was not, in fact, dead. Warning sign number two: After I got a mash note from Liesl in my mailbox and went to her apartment, I noted that her bedroom had only two kinds of books: Babar the Elephant stories and the diaries of Anais Nin.

There seemed to be no pilot light on inside Liesl, but sexually speaking she was a treat--kind of like finding a box of chocolates left behind in a hotel room by the previous guests. After a few brief encounters, the show opened and I discreetly--and perhaps not altogether kindly--moved on. I would no longer listen to Liesl reading aloud from her screenplay about an American girl touring Thailand and being molested by "her guest host."

Several years later, I was living in a ramshackle old house in San Diego with two friends, both playwrights--Jake, a hard-drinking Bukowskian, and Gareth, a sensitive-guy-of-the-'90s. Jake and I were plagued by Gareth. He thought nothing of picking up a guitar while Jake was in the shower and serenading Jake's hyperluscious girlfriend with a soulful rendition of "Here Comes the Sun." He was Mr. Feeling, Mr. Understanding, Mr. Let Me Go Out and Buy You Some Pamprin--a sure bet that something sadistic was lurking underneath that shelfful of bell hooks books. And sure enough, on New Year's Eve of 1995, I found out what lay beneath.

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