Some days you wake with the birds in your heart and a Christmas song on your lips, and there’s just nothing that can go wrong with the day. The coffee’s hot and delicious. Breakfast - same damned thing, yes, but there’s a reason, and that’s because you like it. The crunchy bowl of bran, the sausage patty with a ribbon of Sriracha. You send the child off to school and pass the tree, turn on the lights just because, and head up to the warm studio to write, or do a podcast with a guy who has dire warnings for the DOAGOP, or listen to the morning’s “Lum & Abner” - the old fellows are trying to start a movie theater! Hilarity. There’s just nothing that can go wrong with the day.
Later I went to the Post Office
what is this Post Office of which you speak?
Shut up and stop being that person on the internet who tries to sound modern by feigning ignorance of something about which every person over the age of 10 understands as a component, however remnant, of modern life.
I went to the Post Office for stamps.
Oh, yes, stamps! Did you also buy a blanket for issuing smoke signals, or perhaps a semaphore lamp? There’s this thing called the internet, you know.
Yes, and there’s that site that sells you stamps. Right. Joined once, printed off some stamps, got a monthly fee, tried to cancel, had to call, got emails begging me to come back. Besides, I wanted Holiday stamps for the Christmas cards.
Oh, nothing to say? Perhaps because you don’t send them out? Single man, eh? Young, unattached, no female influence, no extended social networks that exist in fleshly form? Thinks that drawing a Santa cap on your Twitter avatar is the same as mass-mailing a picture of your social unit complete with the inheritor(s) of your genetic code standing in a nice locale? As they say, really?
Just kidding. I only do this because my wife has civilized me. Somewhat. Anyway, there was half a parking space on the street outside. There was a car occupying a space that made it impossible to park fore or aft. The brake lights went on, indicating the car might pull out. I waited. It did not. I drove forward to see if I could park behind anyway; the driver pulled forward. I drove forward as well to reposition myself for parallel parking, and the driver opened the door, which would have hit me if I hadn’t swung back fast - mindful of traffic streaming up behind me. Sigh. Driver gets out with a package. Also headed to the post office.
Naturally, I stand behind her in line for ten minutes, and there’s no recognition of what we just went through. The mutual confusion and irritation.
Because it’s the Holidays! Also, it’s Minnesota.
I get up to the line and the guy behind the desk displays the two stamp options, which are basically God or Not.
When he gives me the credit card receipt to sign he says “I have ‘Falling up the Stairs.’”
“And ‘Notes of a Nervous Man.’”
What could go wrong with this day? Nothing.
The Wall Street Journal had a piece on people who sleep too much. Ninety hours a week, or something. Turns out it’s some sort of spinal-fluid imbalance. Maybe. A helpful sidebar described other kind of Fatigue Issues, one of which was “Not enough Sleep,” more or less. That’s me. The idea of 8 solid hours seems wasteful. I get six hours a night, I wake refreshed, and go down like a sack of bricks at the end of the afternoon. The entire work schedule is built around the necessity of that nap, and damn, I’m good at it: I lay down, and I am gone. REM on demand. The result is a series of hallucinations that really fire up the brain; at a time when most people are thinking about making dinner, I’m wondering why I was climbing the dummy funnel on the Titanic when it left port.
So right before I’m going down the phone rings. It’s a guy in Pennsylvania who is calling on behalf of my mortgage-refi guy to add information about a recent credit-card enrollment to my credit report. He needs to call Amex and get us on a conference call so I can tell Amex to release the information. I’m pretty sure this is Dodd-Frank at work; never had this before.
The conference call is set up. The Amex lady asks for my mother’s birthday. And I get it wrong.
Think of it: eighty-plus years ago, on a blessed event in a hospital in North Dakota, something occurred that would eventually bollix up the release of information vital to a hideously complex financial transaction in the second decade of the 21st century.
Thing is: I’d already changed that in a previous call that asked for the security question, and entered it in my Massive Database of passwords, and now I had to tell the Amex lady that no, I was right, and they were wrong, and who should know these things? But she asked some other information only I could know - address, date of birth, highly secretive things like that - and I was able to give the proper permission.
Nothing had gone wrong with the day, then. But there was still the evening to come, and there was a long, long, junior-high band concert to attend.
The concert was fine. The auditorium was packed, so I didn’t get a seat; had to stand in the hall! Where I could look at my phone instead of listening to the bands my kid wasn’t in. Last May the concert concluded with all the students in one big collaboration, which ensured that everyone sat through the entire thing, but this time there were so many parents and so many groups; a third of the audience changed with every group. So I didn’t feel guilty just listening to my child’s orchestra; the others had full houses as well.
They played the Can-Can and some Nutcracker; the latter always makes me wonder which emotions it stirred in the hearts of 19th century Russian audiences, and of course the answer is “the same ones.” So much else was different - language, culture, history, architecture, the politics of the world beyond - but in every warm theater there was some middle-aged person closing his eyes and thinking of childhood and the ineffable mysteries of a winter night. More than fiction or pictures, the music of the 19th century connects us to the heart of others long gone; every time the piece is played the people who loved it live again, if only because we share the same handful of wind. He said, pretentiously, snapping back to applaud because it was over and it was time for supper.
We went to Perkins for a late-night supper; I hit Trader Joe’s nearby before it closed, because daughter had seen the Fearless Flyer description of the Peppermint Baked Alaska and was rather keen on it. I was worried they’d be out. They had it. They know better than to be out of such things; traditions are born of such confections. This is PEPPERMINT SEASON, you know. Never mind that they will sell peppermint Life Savers all year round, and peppermint gum, and people will consume them without thought of their Christmas connotations.
Why? Because they’re not red and white. That would be wrong. The acceptable parameters for red-and-white striped peppermint is Thanksgiving - Dec 25th; they are totems of the time, semiotic signals that trip a variety of culture-switches and memory templates. What fascinates me is that the Romans would have recognized it all. Put a Roman in Minneapolis in 2012, let him look around and check the temperature, see the boughs, the gifts, the festive mood, and he’d get it: Saturnalia. Imagine taking him to a classical-styled Basilica, such as we have in great glory in this fresh new land, and he’d probably understand why it wasn’t devoted to Iuppiter specifically. At least if he had any sense of his own history.
I think the chances of someone from 2012 having a similar experience in 4012 are less, given the 20th century’s stalwart efforts at demolishing the common understanding of the human narrative and replacing it with the ever-new and self-reinventing notion of progress. For all I know they’ll worship a red and white striped stick and have a priest class that consists of barbers.
At Joe’sI also bought some microwave popcorn, which has been a grave disappointment, and confusing: 1:30 used to yield a full bag; now it produces a sack of burnt nodules. So I tried 1:10 and I get half a sack. I’m hoping 1:20 is the charm. But I just tried the Peppermint Macaroons I bought for an evening snack. Absolutely delicious.
Nothing could go wrong with the day. And nothing did.