The Bleat Ban for this week has haunted me since I found it. It would be worse, I suppose, if it haunted me before I found it, and broke into a cold sweat when I found it in a magazine. That - that’s from my dreams!
It’s the melancholy of it all, but also the satisfaction. Is there snow in the background? Is it 51 degrees out? Is it California?
What is he thinking? Will he sit there for the duration of the drink, and will he be thinking the same thing when the drink is done?
Daughter has school off, of course, so she asked if she could come downtown with me to write in a coffeeshop while I went to the office and did office things. But of course! On the way downtown she described warm memories of last June, when she took a writing class at the Loft and wrote in their coffeeshop, and the days after driver’s ed when she took the Light Rail downtown and . . . wrote in a coffeeshop.
I like to hear that. It’s certainly more writing than I ever did in high school, and I wasn’t a very good writer. Might have been better if I’d applied myself more, but I wouldn’t really start to write in my own style until 1978, and that was because I was prompted by envy and lust. A roommate who also styled himself a writer had put a humorous piece in the college paper, and I felt as though I’d been lapped. Also, my girlfriend had dumped me. So I wrote a piece to show BOTH OF THEM. She came back a week later. I was friends with my roommate until a year ago, when he cut out off all of his old college friends over politics. I hate the hell out of that.
Anyway, my piece in the paper led to a steady gig that lasted almost half a decade, which shows you how long I languished in college. So daughter and I are walking back to the car, and discussing Art, and other writers, and I reminded her of the paramount rule of the profession.
“It is not enough for you to succeed,” I said.
“. . . others must fail,” she said. “I know.” It’s a joke. I have, I think, taught her something without trying: say the outrageous thing with full knowledge that you don’t mean it, and you can get away with saying the slightly less outrageous thing you do mean.
I said I felt as if I had failed at Christmas this year, and didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t have the feeling. You know. The feeling. It seemed remote, as if I was watching it all through a window. Probably had something to do with the fact that she was older -
“So it’s my fault. Fine. Blame your lack of Christmas feeling on your only child. Nice.”
Say the outrageous thing, as I mentioned.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing," I said, "but it’s normal. When you’re a kid you have anticipation. Then you ahve memories of anticipation that reinforce what you’re feeling this year, and then you get old and remember emotions you can’t have anymore because you’re older. Then you have kids, and you get to recapitulate the whole process, until that passes. But Christmas arrives and it’s great and wonderful and fine anyway.”
She said that some Christmas songs made her sad, and I said that was the point. The best ones are all about memory and recollection, and coming to terms with the passage of time. It’s always horrifying when you take out the decorations because you swore YOU JUST DID THIS and when you put them away you swore YOU JUST DID THIS but that’s a trick; no one around these parts ever, ever sees the tulips bloom and say “I swear it was just yesterday that happened.” Christmas is different.
And it’s fraught. God, is it fraught. I asked her: Remember the Christmas that was disappointing?
“It wasn’t,” she said, as I knew she would. “You thought I thought it was disappointing because there was no big thing, but I didn't expect a big thing and I didn’t want a big thing.”
“Because you were older.” The historical family narrative isn’t about that Christmas, it’s about how we joke about that Christmas, how I say “it was this” and she says “but it wasn’t.”
“I think back on that," she said, "and at the time I was just, I don’t know, appalled by parts of it? The ads, telling you buy this piece of plastic and everyone will be happy and merry! Like it’s all about that.”
“And thus it has ever been,” I said. “In the 40s they were complaining about the commercialization and the rush and the annoyance of buying and wrapping and all that. That’s why Dickens still works and everyone loves it.”
“How so?” (I am not making any of this up; I say "thus" and she sys "how so)
"Because we think it's the pure Christmas, the Victorian model - snow on the ground, gas lamps, carols in the streets, tall hats, simple pleasures. I have two favorite versions of the Carol - one is the perfect English Alastair Sims version, the other the Patrick Stewart version. That’s the Star Trek guy. Not the Shat. His performance I’m not over the moon about, but they have this scene at the Crachit house that’s so simple and heartfelt."
“The Disney one freaked me out as a kid because there was Tiny Tim’s crutch on his grave.”
The Disney one? I don’t remember -
“Donald was Scrooge, and Goofy was one of the ghosts.”
I don’t think we’ve spoken of Donald and Goofy for years.
Was it strange to be frightened by a Christmas special? Not at all.
That one terrified me.
To say nothing of this.
I think that's why kids remember this, despite the bizarre opening that puts it all in the context of a Broadway play. We remember it because it scared us.
By now we are at the car, which is parked a block from the place where my office used to be. We get in and drive off to the orthodontist.
“But the Christmas Past part in the Patrick Stewart version, the simple joys of that party - old Fezziweg! Making merry. Wassail and figs. Like they had one party a year. Christmas felt old but it also felt new. And the other movie is ‘Arthur Christmas.’”
“Right, with the super military guy who wanted to control Christmas.”
“He was Santa’s son. And he had a point. He had it figured out. But he didn’t have his brother’s sense of wonder. They needed each other. And the retiring Santa Claus had a sense of Britishness that seems almost lost, but crazy cranky Grandpa Claus was a classic English eccentric who will never disappear. And of course the Scottish tape elf.”
Just talking about it gets me into the Christmas spirit.
At the orthodontist’s I hit the Keurig for a cup of cider. Daughter notes that it looks like troubled urine.
When we are called I place the cup on the counter with a shaky hand and say “Here’s my sample. It’s a bit thick.”
The receptionist, who had begun our professional relationship a few months ago by saying that she had taken a class on writing and put me down as the writer she would like to be stranded on a desert island with, looked at the cider and said “You’re really not well.”
“That was MY LINE,” Daughter said. She looked at me at she looked at the receptionist and said “That was my idea, and he just took it.”
“When she’s 18,” I said, “she can claim copyright.”
Then we went in for a consultation, during which the technician said to my daughter that this was going to work out perfectly, because they wouldn’t want to give dad something to write about in his column. You might think: poor kid. But when the tech got out the X-ray and showed how her wisdom teeth were below the gum line but rising, Daughter pointed to a wisdom tooth and said:
Every day she makes me laugh. Afterwards we went grocery shopping, and then went home and I made Shrimp Scampi, and then walked the dog while she set about painting portraits of Roman Emperors. I recognized Augustus; it was the hair. The curly bangs. When I went into her room to see what she was doing she was finishing up on Claudius and Spotify was playing the last movement of Mahler’s First, which I conducted because THIS IS MAHLER
Wife came home a while later, having played tennis after work.
“And how was your day?” she asked.
“The best," I said. "Merry Christmas!"
Back to music cues for "The Little Things in Life," Peg Lynch's last continuously running sitcom.
I almost apologize for this whole thing; they're so ordinary and 70s. But part of studying an era involves looking at the mediocre elements of the culture, since they were more common than the good stuff.
Saucy clarinet, because why not? It's FUNNY MUSIC
A real taste of N'Awlins!
From the same episode: STRENUOUS NAZI FUNTIME DANCE
It all makes me want to go back to the original run, when they had access to a better sound library, but that's not for another year or so.
Say, I have an idea. How about some Classic Peg?
Just released after 62 years in the vault, and courtesy of Peg Lynch Relaunched, here you go: Christmas Problems. Broadcast Live! Brought to you by Ralston. It's classic Peg - calm set-up leading to domestic panic where she's spun up but still sensible.
Note Sergeant Culver at the Post Office - and note how the scenes have to pad out the end a little to let everyone scurry off to the next set.
Also note the work Lee Goodman does on behalf of Ralston; the second ad is quite the production.
Somehow I suspect they formed just for this occasion.
Finger-poppin' jazzy fun, right?
I think you'll last 10 seconds.
So have yourself a merry little, or grand, or medium, or whatever size you wish. See you Monday!