Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Santa, Godzilla and Jesus Walk Into A Bar: Chapter 1: No orphans were harmed in the making of this story.

This might be my favorite Xmas story I ever wrote; if you've read it before, maybe read it again. If you haven't, then here's the first installment of the story, from back in 2011:

and Jesus
Walk Into A Bar"
The Greatest Xmas Story Ever Told.

(By me.)

No orphans were harmed in the making of this story.

And only one orphan was harmed in the telling of it.

On the street in front of Nick, who makes UFOs for a living – it’s a long story, and there’s no time to explain it right now because we’re only moments away from something really important happening --  was a tiny brass trumpet.

It was dirty.

It was covered in soot and laying in a puddle of slush next to a crumpled pack of cigarettes, and looked as though it had a lipstick smear on it, on the wrong end, and maybe some teeth marks, too.

So naturally, Nick picked it up and was just seconds away from blowing into it when the door to the bar he’d just been told to leave opened up behind him and he heard the voice of the man who’d told him to leave, saying:

“Okay, okay. So here’s this one: Santa, Godzilla, and Jesus walk into a bar…

and Nick paused with the dirty lipstick-smeared horn up to his mouth and listened because with a set up like that who wouldn’t, and then that important thing you were told was going to happen but you already forgot about it happened:

A body slammed to the ground in front of Nick, falling into, as it happens, the exact same puddle that Nick had just pulled the trumpet out of. How’s that for irony? We’re only just getting started, too.

Sirens immediately started up all around Nick, and from both ends of the street – he was in the middle of the block – came cop cars racing towards him, almost as if they’d been waiting for just this.

(They had been.)

Nick squatted down and looked at the body in front of him. It was a large man, laying on his stomach.  His face was turned to the side, his eyes closed. Somehow, the fedora the man wore, which Nick hadn’t noticed until that moment, had stayed on when the man had fallen to the puddle from wherever it was he’d fallen from.

All the buildings on the street being three stories or shorter, Nick didn’t bother looking up above him.  The man had fallen straight down from the sky, Nick knew, because it had happened right in front of his eyes.

“We’ll take care of this, sir,” said the surprisingly sexy cop who was suddenly standing in front of him. Nick blinked up at her, and saw her eyes narrow in a fetchingly cute way.

“Where’d you get that horn?” she said.

Nick looked down at his hand, still poised near his mouth.

“It’s a trumpet,” he said.

The cop reached for her waist, and Nick made his second regrettable decision that day, the first being “admitting to the bartender that he had no money before he ordered.”

He ran.

The third regrettable decision he made a second later when he looked back and saw the sexy lady cop lifting up the dead bum’s jacket, and noticed the dead bum had wings.

PART TWO COMING SOON. Or if you want you can buy the entire story all at once here. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Merry Guckmas!

This was originally posted in 2008. That's right: I'm recycling posts.


Christmas season hit full swing this weekend at our house, with activities both traditional (the putting up of the tree), nontraditional (the throwing of the "L") and the newly-traditional.

In the "newly traditional" category of holiday fun (?) I can now include the Annual Lights Going Out And Decision To Just Keep Our Eyes Higher Up On The Tree. When something happens twice in a row, it is either phenomenal bad luck or a tradition. I consider it a tradition, since I am trying to to keep my life in perspective by reminding myself that what I usually consider to be phenomenal bad luck, like the lights going out on my Christmas tree, would not be considered bad luck in 98% of the world, where "phenomenal bad luck" would be less likely to mean "now I have to crawl under the tree and unplug some plugs and then plug them back in," and would be more likely to mean "an alligator just ate Grandpa."

So it has become a tradition that at some unknown point after putting up the tree, the lights will go out unexpectedly, plunging me into darkness and making me stop doing what I'm doing (this year, it was looking up Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CDs online) and start doing what I'd rather not be doing, which is moving the gates away from Fort Christmas and crawling under the tree to "fix" things the only way I know how to fix them: unplugging and plugging in the lights a few times.

When that did not work, I then went to Plan B, which was "unplug the lights, find the next lowest plug, and plug that into the extension cord." That worked; all the lights except the now-disconnected strand went back on and the tree began glowing with all of the peace and love and hastily-assembled nature of the holidays at our house, leaving us free to look at the tree and enjoy it if we do not look at the lowest set of branches which are now unlit, and leaving me to also briefly wonder if it was possible, since this exact same thing happened last year, if it was possible that I'd taken the defective strand of lights last year and had not thrown them away, but instead had put them in the box with the others, and also if it was possible that I'd not only done that but I'd also put the defective lights on first, just as I had last year.

All of which is possible, given the quality of the lighting and electrical work in our house. After all, I wasn't able to assemble all of the Christmas decorations. Our outdoor decorations -- Giant Rudolph, The Drunken Reindeer, and Pete The Patriotic (And Now Christmas-y) Parrot -- have not been put up yet because each time I tried to put them up, something came up that distracted me.

The thing that distracted me on Saturday, which was Christmas Decoratin' Day, was the Poop Emergency that took valuable time out from putting up the tree and diverted me to less-fun activities like "removing everything from Mr F's bed, including Mr F, to wash and sanitize it." We had to do that because of the Poop Emergency, which Sweetie discovered and which was therefore her fault even though I had to clean it up.

It was about 1:30 in the afternoon, and I was 1/3 of the way through the tree, hitching branches and layering lights on while I watched "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." Sweetie had gone upstairs to do something. She was "taking a break," from whatever else it had been that she was doing. I heard her calling me from upstairs and asked what she needed and she said "Mr F has taken off his pants and pooped all over everything."

I am a clearheaded thinker. I immediately and clearheadedly proceeded with my three-step emergency plan, which is (a) pause the DVD so that I don't miss the part where Clark goes sledding, (b) head upstairs and (c) mentally blame Sweetie for this because if she had not gone into their room to check on them, we would not have known about the Poop Emergency. Which may not sound fair, given that we would have discovered it eventually, "eventually" being when we went to get the Babies! up at four p.m., but if we'd waited until four p.m. to discover it, then there would have been no risk that I would miss the Clark-sledding part, and also I would have been able to put up the entire tree without taking a break to lift a disgustingly-coated Mr F out of his crib -- carefully, at arm's length-- to begin the process of sanitizing his room.

Mr F had a Poop Emergency because he likes to take his pants off, and the results of that emergency was that roughly 80% of his crib, and 80% of him, were untouchable. I lifted him out of his crib and said "What is going on here?"

"Guck," he told me, which constitutes the only time that Mr F's main word, guck, actually answered the question or contributed meaningfully to the conversation. There are commercials on TV right now in which a mom follows her kid around with one of those annoying cards where you can record a greeting, trying to get the kid to say the greeting for her. Which really makes the card the least thoughtful thing you can give someone for Christmas, doesn't it? Those cards cost, I bet, about $5.00 each, and then you have to record the person's voice on it, and mail it, so it's $5.00 plus some time and effort, the end result of which is to send this message: I am obligated to spend some money and time on you, but I do not want to spend money on something you really want, so I got you this card.The "personal greeting" portion of that card ought to say this: Here is my voice. You could hear my voice if I just called you on the phone, but I am not going to do that. I am giving you the gift of the sound of me.

I feel the same way about those cards that play a snippet of music for the person when they open it up. It's like giving someone a mixtape, only there's no mix, and they only get a portion of the sound. If a mixtape says I have all these emotions about you that are best captured by these 22 songs in this order, then the audiocard says I feel part of an emotion about you, best expressed as a snippet of a Ramones song.

I may feel that way, I guess, because I know, deep down inside, that no message would ever be communicated by the Babies!, so my family could not possibly get a cute card which opens to a cheery Babies! style greeting. Mr F and Mr Bunches steadfastly refuse to be cute in any kind of commemorative way. When they were younger, at about one year old, Mr Bunches craved attention in weird ways. He would, for example, try to steal attention from Mr F like this:  Mr F would cough, or spit up, or do something else that would arouse concern, and we would say "Are you all right?"

Mr F never responded to that question. But Mr Bunches did. He would respond to us asking after Mr F's health by twisting his head sideways, crossing his eyes, and sticking out his tongue while making choking noises -- trying to get us to ask him if he was all right. He would do that three, four, five, ten times in a row... until the camera appeared, at which point he'd stop.

Mr Bunches plays the piano, too. He will walk up and hit keys and sing, saying "Yeah!" in different keys and tones. I've tried at least fifteen times to get that on video, to no avail. Last week when I came home early they were bouncing on the couch, up and down and smiling and laughing, in a video-perfect way that would be ideal for recording and then sending to Disney executives with a note on it telling them where to send my twenty million dollars. They did that for about five minutes, so I got up and left the room and came back with my camera, hidden behind my back, and they were still jumping. I pulled the camera out, and they stopped, in unison.

So I would never be able to get Mr F or Mr Bunches to talk into the card and send it to my relatives as cheap-out method of "giving" them a "present," and even if I could, the Babies! don't bother talking yet, at least not using our words. They've got their words, and they're sticking with them, so they'd never say "Merry Christmas" into a card. Mr Bunches says "No," a lot -- often enough that it's pretty clear he doesn't know what "No" means. Try to pick him up from climbing into Fort Christmas and he'll holler "Nononononono" and you'll think "Oh, he knows what that means." Then offer him a cookie and he'll take that while saying "Nonononono," and eating the cookie. It's a malleable word.

As is Mr F's word, "Guck," which is what he told me when I took time out from building Fort Christmas to clean up the Poop Emergency. "Guck!" he said to me as I picked him out, and "Guck!" he told me when I put him back in the now-sterilized crib, and "Guck!" he said to me later that night when we showed him and Mr Bunches Fort Christmas. If I could get him to talk into a card, I'd just be wishing people a Merry Guckmas.

Fort Christmas is what I call our tree this year. The Babies! are in the phase where they like throwing things and running -- a phase that has stretched from when they were first able to throw and run -- and we did not want them to run into or throw the Christmas tree, so we hit on the very Christmas-y idea of putting a fence around the tree. That beat the alternative, which was to suspend the tree from the ceiling, and which I very seriously considered not because it would be safe but, to be honest, because that would be kind of cool, wouldn't it? A tree that hangs from the ceiling and rotates slowly?  The only things that kept me from hanging the tree from the ceiling, from decorating the tree and then attaching a rope to it and hauling it up off the ground to levitate, victoriously and Christmas-ily, above the living room, the only things were (a) I could not figure out how to plug in the lights if I did that, and (b) I could not figure out how to keep Sweetie from noticing that I'd hung the tree from the ceiling.

So, next year, maybe. Until then, we have Fort Christmas, the fence around the tree, but no other Christmas decorations. We do not have indoor knickknacks like a Nativity Scene or snowmen or angels, due to the aformentioned throwing/running phase; the only knickknack we tried to set up so far was Cookie Monster, a statute that sings "I'll have a Blue Christmas without me cookie" in a horrifying voice, and Cookie Monster has already been thrown enough times that his singing is becoming disturbingly erratic; and, we don't have outdoor decorations because I haven't been able to put up the yard decorations due to distractions, like the Poop Emergency and like the need to get a new extension cord.

We need a new extension cord because the old one has a giant gash in it, a gash I put in it when I was briefly attempting to use the hand saw to cut down parts of the Old Shed this last summer, and a gash I didn't recall until yesterday, when I was going to set up Giant Rudolph, The Drunken Reindeer, and Pete The Patriotic (And Now Christmas-y) Parrot and grabbed the extension cord and saw the gash in it, and considered, for a moment, whether it was likely, or only kind of likely that if I just used the extension cord anyway, something bad would happen, and also whether it was likely or only kind of likely that Sweetie would find out. That's how I gauge what are good ideas and what are bad ideas: I imagine what the result would be of the idea's worst outcome, like if we were to be standing outside the smoldering remnants of our house the next day and Sweetie says "How could this have happened?" and I would have to worry that a fireman would say "It happened because someone plugged all these inflatable yard decorations into an extension cord that really was just a bunch of exposed wiring, and then that someone for some reason put all that exposed wiring into snow, which is water, after all, and which conducts electricity perfectly."

Then I also considered whether I would get sued if someone touched our yard and was electrocuted, and that would be far, far worse, I assumed, for neighbor relations than simply not raking my leaves. People will put up with a lot from neighbors, the way my neighbors have put up with my yard and with that dead tree that I didn't cut down for a long time because I figured it was cheaper if the tree simply fell than if I had it cut down (it did eventually fall, and it was cheaper). But they won't put up with electrifying your whole yard. I assume.

I decided that it would be better to go the next day to get an extension cord, which I did, at about five o'clock, from the World's Most Depressing Mall, where I also had to go to get a gift card for a coworker -- she specifically requested one from a store that is only found at the World's Most Depressing Mall -- so I took the Babies! with me to the World's Most Depressing Mall to get the coworker a gift card from the fabric store (again: she requested it.) And we were going to get an extension cord, too, but then I got distracted by the idea, and then the reality, that the Babies! could play in the mall, so I let them do that, and that's when we had the Nontraditional Throwing of the L.

The World's Most Depressing Mall is a mall here in Madison that has, maybe, three stores in it, and one of those stores is the "Department of Motor Vehicles Express Center." If a measure of how good a mall is can be had by determining how many cookie stores it has, a measure of how bad a mall is can be done by determining how many of its spaces are taken up by nonstores. One mall that I used to live across from had a social security office and a public library in it. That's a bad mall. The World's Most Depressing Mall is not much better: there's a fabric store, and a shoe store, and a baby-furniture store that's always closed, and the TJ Maxx Store where Sweetie was once taken in by a sign that promised a comforter was only $19, and then when they charged her $39 she was too embarrassed to say she didn't want it anymore or to ask why that comforter was in the $19 bin--

-- what keeps people like Sweetie and I from getting rich, really, is that we are too embarrassed about money to insist, when we pick out a comforter from the $19 bin, that either we pay $19 for that comforter, or that we don't buy the comforter. Instead, we just pay the $39 and then complain about it--

-- and then there's a pizza place and the Department of Motor Vehicles, and I think a store that sells rocks, and not much else.

What kind of a lure is the Department of Motor Vehicles for a mall? I always thought the point of malls was to band a bunch of stores together so that when you had to go to one, like when you just had to get an Orange Julius, you'd see all these other stores and shop there, too. But the mixture of shops at the World's Most Depressing Mall seems designed to drive people away. Who in the history of the world has ever thought: I need some fabric, and to renew my driver's license. It's too bad I can't combine those into one trip.

Beyond the bad stores, there's also the fact that the mall is in between two actual good malls so that you would never go to the World's Most Depressing Mall unless you absolutely had to, and beyond that there's also the fact that almost nobody absolutely has to go to the World's Most Depressing Mall so that it's almost always completely deserted, which it was Sunday night when I went to the fabric store to get the requested gift card.

As we were walking out of the fabric store, the Babies! in the stroller were getting restless and wanted to walk around. Letting them out of the stroller to walk around a mall is a terrible idea. It's an idea that I give in to all the time, anyway, because I give in to all of their demands, but it's a terrible idea, especially because Sweetie was at home so I was on my own with two two-year-olds who were restless.

But the World's Most Depressing Mall was empty. Aside from me, I bet there were only ten other people in there, two of whom were mall walkers doing laps. Keep in mind that this is a mall. During the Xmas season. Total of ten people.

But for me it was ideal: I had twin two-year-olds in an indoor, tiled, clean, enclosed space that was, for all intents and purposes, empty. So I let them out, and they began running, which in a real mall would be dangerous because real malls are filled with child molesters and teenagers, but in this mall it was no problem at all because there was nobody here except mall walkers, and I was pretty sure if they tried to abduct the Babies! I could catch them as they tried to mall walk away.

So Mr F and Mr Bunches went tearing down the mall to do what they like best, which is run and throw things and also to bang on windows and doors because those make good echo-ing sounds when you hit them really hard. I mostly let them do that, at least when nobody else was around. I did that parenting thing that I bet everyone else does, too, which is this: Let your kids do whatever they want to do when nobody is looking and then when somebody comes along, act like you care.

So Mr F and Mr Bunches would be pounding and hitting the glass on the front of the fabric store, and I'd just be watching them, and then the Mall Walkers would come around on a lap, and I'd say "Now, boys, don't hit the store. That's naughty," and stop them until the Mall Walkers left and then it was right back to whatever they wanted to do. I like to think of that as Focused Parenting.

I also let them throw the L around, because they like the sound the L makes, especially on tile and when it echoes. The "L" is one of the six remaining magnetic letters in the alphabet that was on our refrigerator, letters that stick to the 'fridge and then can be put into this little device that would sing a song about the letter. The song went:

L goes LLLL.
L goes LLLL.
Every letter makes a sound
And L goes LLLL.

If you put say, "G" into the device, it was more complicated:

G goes Gee.
G goes Guh.
Every letter makes a sound.
And G goes Gee.
And Guh.

Which made the song technically incorrect: Every letter doesn't make just "a" sound; some letters make more than one sound. They should have sung Every letter makes at least one sound or Every letter makes some sounds when the letter is one, like G, that makes more than one. But it's all academic now, because the device no longer works since it was not built to withstand being thrown repeatedly, and because we only have six letters left on the refrigerator. The rest have been taken into the bathtub, or lost on car trips, or are under the stove, where they have stuck themselves to the bottom of the stove and so could only be removed from under there if I was willing to pull the stove out and tilt it forward and peel the letters off, which I am not willing to do because I think doing that would wreck the stove and so I'm willing to risk having magnetic food to avoid ruining the stove.

The "L" came with us to the mall and was in the stroller, so I let the Babies! take it out and throw it down the mall, listening to it clink and clack and echo, and I even took the L and threw it for them so that it would bounce and make bigger clinking and clacking, which they loved so much that it drove them into bigger fits of pounding on the fabric store window, and also made them happy enough to talk.

"Nononononono," Mr Bunches would holler as he ran to get the L and have me throw it again.

"Guck," Mr F would tell me as he tried to get the L from Mr Bunches so that he could give it to me to throw again.

That was how we whiled away nearly an hour yesterday afternoon: throwing the L around the deserted World's Most Depressing Mall, after which I had to reluctantly conclude that we would not have time to get the extension cord to put up the inflatable decorations, a decision that left me with no more chores to do that day. I got the Babies! back into the car, flush with the excitement of having run around a mall. It was the highlight of their weekend. They'd paid little attention to Fort Christmas, they'd beaten up Cookie Monster, they'd been nonplussed by our drive to look at Christmas lights Friday and Saturday night, but here they were on Sunday evening, sparkle-eyed and apple-cheeked and breathless with the kind of excitement that only comes 'round once a year.

Once a year, that is, unless I find myself needing some fabric and to renew my driver's license.