May left for her mother’s at 4:00 this morning. I woke up with her and saw her off. Lousy weather for traveling: gray clouds and a slight rain. Rain that’s the meteorological equivalent of a long-held but petty grudge.
She won’t be back until late Tuesday.
We already opened gifts, so Christmas is pretty much over for me. Now I’ve just got to ride out the actual day.
I’ve spent Christmas alone on several occasions. The first time, that was the hardest. I was new to the city and working a low-paying retail gig at a shop on Union Square. I had just spent a significant amount of cash moving out to the city. I had fled from San Francisco, run away from a dead-end gig and lady who was no good for me. Reversing the general trend of American history, I went east to start over. That and I wasn’t so young no more – though, if all you had was my deeply ingrained inability to deal with commitment and utter cowardice to judge by, you could be forgiven for thinking I still had a lot of growing up left to do. Anyway, I arrived in NYC in late October. By November I had made myself a few work acquaintances, but I didn’t have any friends to speak of.
In fact, the only regular character in my life at that point was a middle-aged bartender who worked a semi-respectable hole of a faux-mick dive a few blocks from the shop I worked in. We’ll call her Mary. Mary was about as tall as I am. She had an oval face and dark eyes. Shoulder length straight black hair that she wore in a pony tail. She had a light misting of the ghosts of a cluster of freckles on her nose and under her eyes, but her nocturnal bar-based existence had given her a dead-white complexion, what they used to call a New York tan before wealthy New Yorkers started shelling out beaucoup shekels to stain themselves the orange tint that now lays claim to the name. She was skinny and flat, her hands were thin and her nails were always chipped. Her voice had what I suspect was some working class accent from the old country. Back in Europe, it probably marked her as the daughter of some street worker or dole collecting nobody. Here, in New York, to me, it sounded like the very essence of the romantic. It conjured up hideously stereotypical images of the Old Country, as if it were a nation of postcard images and poets.
I was shameless naïve about it, but I loved Mary. And I wasn’t alone. Everybody who spent any time in that joint loved Mary. It was her particular gift to make you shamelessly naïve again. ConEd workers who’d never stepped foot of Manhattan would wax poetic about Ireland or their immigrant forefathers or how family was all that mattered. Under-aged NYU students who fled the one-stoplight backwater towns in any flyover state you like and came to the city to finally experience life would get all teary-eyed and talk about how things back home were real, folks where true, and things were right. Everybody was better when Mary was around. We all were fine men, from great homes, doing and honest days work for honest wages (those of us who had work).
My first Thanksgiving was spent at Mary’s bar. The first birthday I celebrated in the city was a Mary’s bar.
Mary went back to Ireland several years ago. Went to get married. I never met the guy, though I have faith that Mary'd pick a winner.
I’ve lost track of my point – the first Christmas here.
See, here’s the thing about Christmas. Just about any other holiday, you pick, you can just keep you head down and ignore it. Even Thanksgiving. Just don’t watch your major national television channels and you can coast through the day without bumping into much that will remind you of what you’re missing. Christmas, though; Christmas is different. Seems like everybody makes it their business to let you know it is Christmas, you know, just in case you forgot. Christmas is a hard one.
Anyway. I bought a handful of cheap paperbacks, rented an armful of bad movies, and stocked the fridge full of beer. I’m going to treat it like I would a hurricane. I’m going to stock up on essentials and batten down the hatches.
Don't let the above make you think I'm some kind of Scrooge. Actually, I'm a fan of the season. Especially Christmas albums. As regular readers might know, I have a real weakness for pop culture cheese. When it comes to taste in music, movies, that sort of thing, it is almost as if I've got anti-taste. Consequently, I eagerly look forward to the grotesque spill of musical mediocrity that hits stores every season with the same overwhelming joy others feel at the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Tree.
This has some fringe benefits for you. I wade through this stuff – gamely giving things like Adam Ant's Christmas album multiple spins – so you don't have to. For those not treating Christmas as if it were an incoming mortar round, I recommend the following tunes for your swinging Christmas happenings. In no particular order . . .
Charles Brown, Merry Christmas, Baby - Charles Brown (no relation to Charlie Brown) was a Southern blue musician who urbaned-up his sound for Northern city folk audiences, creating a smoothed out, classy, soulful urban blues style. Good stuff.
Pearl Bailey, Five Pound Box of Money - gleefully embracing X-mas time materialism, Pearl Bailey lets Santa know just what he needs to be leaving under her tree.
Big John Greer, We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo - hell yeah we do. Of course we do. Who wouldn't want to see Santa do the freakin' mambo? Shake it, fat man.
Fats Waller, Winter Weather - Fats is going through a bit of a revival due to a sweet boxed set that dropped this year. But, revival or no, this is a nice little celebration of using cold weather as an excuse to cuddle up and "collect them fine kisses that are due me."
Eartha Kitt, Santa Baby - the dirtiest sounding song in the odd subgenre of Santa-bribery songs.
Dean Martin, Baby, It's Cold Outside - the most pickled of the Rat Pack shows that he understands the holiday spirit is not just another way of saying "peppermint schnapps."
Run DMC, Christmas in Hollis - if the very premise of Run DMC doing a Christmas novelty tune doesn't warm the very depths of your otherwise stony, frigid, and bitter heart, then you really should be reading a list of suggested tunes for Christmas.
Eddie Campbell, Santa's Messin' with the Kid - we expected better of Santa, but here's proof that once again, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Perhaps if the "naughty/nice" call were made by a civilian review board.
The Sonics, Santa Claus - to be fair, this is the tune Farmer John reworked, but lets not be stingy – it's the freakin' holidays, get the stick out your butt and relax a little.
The Mar-Keys, Christmas in the Congo - this might be too un-PC for some households. I leave it to you, gentle reader, to determine how joyless and straight-laced your home is.
A comment Hulver Site icon and all-around fabu person Kellnerin made months ago lead me, slowly, to pick up Ford Madox Ford’s (the author so nice they named him twice) The Good Soldier.
Found this Hulver Site appropriate quote: "It is so exactly what one doesn't expect of a cow."
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