The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

No Day.

There’s a running joke in places that only occasionally get snow that local meteorologists will sometimes forecast an impending blizzard when stores are overstocked on bread, eggs, milk, and toilet paper, because the mere mention of the word “snow” will send hordes to the groceries to stock up on these necessities. This is, of course, because the only way to get through the forty-eight hours, at most, that the roads will be impassable is with French toast served on a soft bed of two-ply.
I was reminded of this recently when we had a few bouts of relatively warm rainy days followed by dry, sunny, extremely cold days and lots of people commented that it was lucky the rain and cold hadn’t coincided because if they had we’d have had snow. And that reminded me of a time back when I was in eighth grade and over at a friend’s house one Sunday night. It started to snow, and snow heavily. We both got really excited because this snow seemed certain to cancel school so we’d have at least a three day weekend, even though having Monday off is the worst way to have a three-day weekend because all it really does is push the misery of starting the week into Tuesday, so you can’t really enjoy Sunday or the Monday off. The ideal three-day weekend starts on Friday, although now that I think about it the worst kind of three-day weekend really would be to have Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday off, but that’s another story. My friend lived at the bottom of a hill and he and I watched cars slide and skid up and down the road, probably either going to or returning from the nearest grocery and loaded up with the essentials. When it was time to go I trudged home through Lapland, and I stayed up late because the snow was falling hot and heavy, or rather freezing and heavy, and there was no way there’d be school in the morning.
There was school in the morning.
I had to get up at the usual time. There was still snow on the grass and piled into drifts under trees but the streets were warm enough to be completely clear. I was somehow half-conscious and furious at the same time as I worked through a breakfast of French toast on damp toilet paper. I’m not sure why I was so upset. Whatever homework I’d gotten over the weekend was done, there were no tests, and eighth grade wasn’t the best year of my school career but it wasn’t the worst either. I just felt I’d been promised something only to have it yanked away from me, but on the bright side, I thought, it couldn’t get any worse.
It got worse.
I was in math class, around 9:30 in the morning, when it started snowing again. It wasn’t just snowing, either. This was a freak blizzard. Whorls and swirls of snow in clumps the size of my fist thumped the windows, taunting me. Under normal conditions I could walk home from school but even if we could get the doors open in the face of the avalanche there’d be no walking home in this. So I got ready to walk home. I didn’t care that I’d likely be found like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining, my frozen body somewhere in the woods halfway between school and home. My grandfather would tell stories of having to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school, and if he’d done it I figured so could I, and in fact there was a large hill between my house and the school that rose up sharply on one side and then descended just as sharply on the other, so going uphill both ways didn’t seem that ridiculous. And yet the school day dragged on as usual while the storm outside raged. There were no preparations for departure, no buses lining up to take those unlucky enough to live beyond walking distance. We weren’t, as had happened in previous years when rising snow shortened the school day, huddled into a single room to keep warm and watch TV and, if it came to it, resort to cannibalism like the Donner Party.
In fact by noon the snow came to an end. The clouds parted and the sun came out, and when it was time to go home, at the usual time, I slogged trough mud, not snow. How had they known? What miracle allowed the meteorologists to see that this would not last? The only thing I can figure is the grocery stores were running low on bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper.

Ain’t I A Pair?

So the time has finally come for me to buy some new jeans. This is something I’ve been putting off for some time, maybe because I was expecting the trend of ripped jeans that was so big in the ‘80’s to come back into style, although even back then I was never exactly fashionable. In fact when the jeans I wore every day to high school finally did rip at the knees, which didn’t take long because that was also the era of the stonewashed look which was brutal on fabric, I decided to look hip by sewing up the holes with bright green thread and I started an exciting new fashion trend that absolutely no one else picked up. And if I really wanted to be fashionable I’d probably stop wearing jeans and treating every day at work like it’s casual day, but I’ve never been comfortable in slacks, only in denim, really, even though the name sounds like it’s supposed to suggest comfort as well as a certain panache, a je ne sais quoi, a joi de vivre, a sacre bleu, a passe le moutard, a serge de Nîmes, mais c’est une autre histoire. I used to work with a guy who wore shorts all the time, no matter what the weather was like. The temperature could dip well into the negatives and he’d come in wearing a heavy coat but basically bare from his knees to his ankles. He explained that he only felt comfortable in shorts and even though I wasn’t exactly the same way I felt we were sartorially related. We both shared the principle that comfort matters because you don’t look good if you don’t feel good, clothes make the man, clothing is the suit of armor in which we battle the world, a stitch in time is a physics problem, you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a wolf in sheep’s clothing but you can pick your friends and you can have your cake and, as my grandmother used to say, that bright green thread will never be seen from a trotting horse. I also have a pair of black jeans I wear on more formal occasions, and even a pair of beige jeans which may not be slacks but who’s going to look closely enough to know the difference ?
And I hate to throw away a pair of jeans. It just seems environmentally irresponsible, although denim is cotton so it’s biodegradable. At least some of my shirts have the possibility of a second life. A friend told me that when it was time to retire one of my paisley shirts she wanted to use it in a quilt, and just the thought makes me feel warm. Certain items of clothing just stick with me, and I also know it’s time to wash them when they start sticking to me, but that’s another story. Every time I get rid of an old pair of jeans I feel there should be a certain ceremony, a time to say, goodbye, mon frere et pair, you served the lower half of my body well.
Actually I’m really just stalling, or rather avoiding the stall—which is what the changing room in stores should really be called. I know it’s possible to buy clothing online but I still prefer to do it the old fashioned way, pulling things off a rack and trying them on, because my body changes and what fit me a year ago won’t necessarily fit me now, at least when it comes to the waistline. I’m not getting any taller or shorter, although it’s frustrating to me that I’m below average height and that makes it difficult to find any pants that don’t go down below my feet. I also get unnerved in changing rooms because I always worry the mirror is two-way and while I doubt anyone would want to watch me what if they are? I know it’s not really going to be that bad and that I shouldn’t get so worked up, but worrying this much isn’t something I can just overcome. It’s part of me, it’s who I am. It’s in my jeans.

He Kicked The Bucket.

Source: IMDB

Walter, you are just an echo of a world I knew so long ago.
-The Kinks, Do You Remember Walter?

My parents were telling me about an art exhibit of life size sculptures they’d been to.

“It reminded me of Bucket Of Blood,” said my mother.

My father explained that A Bucket Of Blood was a movie they’d been to see when they were still dating, then he asked me if I’d seen it.

“Seen it?” I almost shouted. “I’ve got it on DVD!”

My father rolled his eyes and said, “I should have known.” I’m still not sure why he was surprised. The fact that my parents were going to Roger Corman movies long before I was born explains a lot about who I am. Maybe it even explains why, long before I first saw it, I was strangely drawn to its star, Dick Miller. Maybe it’s why there was always something familiar about him. When I saw him as Murray Futterman in Gremlins or a gun shop owner in The Terminator or proprietor of a roadside restaurant in The Twilight Zone: The Movie, or a guy who eats flowers in the original Little Shop Of Horrors—I honestly can’t say which of those I saw first, and when he popped up in an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation—my reaction was always, hey, it’s…that guy! From…that thing! And I’m not the only one. A 2014 documentary about Miller’s life and career is called, fittingly enough, That Guy Dick Miller.
Maybe I recognized him because I’d seen him in something else. He built a career on cameos. After serving in the Navy in World War II he earned a Ph.D. in psychology—making him Doctor Dick Miller—then moved from New York to California to write screenplays. He went straight to Roger Corman who said he had plenty of screenplays but needed actors, so Dick Miller became an actor, appearing in several Corman films. One of his most memorable roles is as a vacuum cleaner salesman in 1957’s Not Of This Earth. Corman wanted the salesman to wear a suit and bow tie, but Miller came to the set in a black cashmere jacket and a black shirt, saying, “this is the way I dressed when I sold pots and pans in the Bronx…You think a guy goes to college to sell vacuums?” He played the role as a fast-talking hipster who says, “Crazy, man” when invited in, providing the film some much needed comedy.
Then he got a large, although not quite leading, role in the 1958 film War Of The Satellites, and would get his most memorable role in A Bucket Of Blood. Miller played Walter Paisley, a busboy in a coffee shop who longs to be like the poets and artists who hang out there. Mentally challenged and lacking any real talent Walter has an inspiration when he accidentally kills his landlady’s cat and molds clay around the body. He quickly moves on to people, turning corpses into sculptures that the critics love—until they find out what’s underneath. It sounds grim, and it is, although the story rocks along at a speedy pace and the total runtime is just a little over an hour, and even finds time for a subplot about heroin dealing that helps provide Paisley with a couple of models. Yet Miller made Walter Paisley a sympathetic character, playing him with a wide-eyed innocence reminiscent of Lenny in Of Mice And Men, and, like Lenny, he doesn’t fully understand the implications of his actions, which heightens the tragedy. The film was shot in five days on a very low budget, and critics noticed, but they were positive toward Miller. A review in Variety said “his ability to sustain a sense of poignancy…is responsible in large part for the film’s appeal,” and the CEA Film Report called the part of Walter Paisley “cleverly played”.
Miller stuck around for a small part in Corman’s record setting Little Shop Of Horrors, shot on the same sets and using most of the same cast, in just two days, but his career had peaked. He’d accumulate over a hundred screen credits in his career but until That Guy Dick Miller he’d never land another leading role. Instead he took small parts, and, in a kind of inside joke, played several characters named Walter Paisley. A Bucket Of Blood would go on to be remade as a made-for-TV movie on Showtime in 1995, and as a stage musical. Dick Miller, like some critics, regretted that Corman had been too focused on time and budget to make a better film, but remained proud of it, saying in 1998, “I believe A Bucket Of Blood is truly the cult film of all cult films…Very, very few films are in every film museum in the world. A Bucket Of Blood is.” That’s likely because the copyright lapsed and the film is now essentially in the public domain, but I think critics and scholars recognize that, like Walter Paisley’s sculptures, there’s something substantial under the film’s outer shell.
If you’ve never heard of Dick Miller, if you see a picture of him and, like me say, “Hey, it’s…that guy,” or if you don’t recognize him at all that’s sad, but it’s also at least partly his own fault. He was well liked and respected by directors and other actors. Some actors, on their days off, would come to the set just to watch him work. And yet he never pursued bigger roles. He took the saying that there are no small parts too much to heart. The film industry is full of actors with ambition but no talent. Dick Miller was the opposite. That Guy Dick Miller unfortunately doesn’t explore this in detail but does sum it up in its final moments when Miller looks straight into the camera and says he hopes people enjoy the film, it will probably be his last one. Then his wife hands him the phone and he says, “Hello?…Yeah, I’m available.”
Dick Miller, born December 25th, 1928, died January 31st, 2019, was the exact opposite of Walter Paisley: he took statues and gave them life, covered them with flesh and blood. He was the character actor of character actors. And as I think about his career I think about the saying that a great actor knows to leave the audience wanting more. Dick Miller was a very great actor.

 

 

 

There’ll Also Be Plenty Of Hot Air.

Here is the weekly weather forecast for the office:

On Monday sunrise will be at 5:52AM. The building will be open at 6:00AM but you’ll still need to use your key card to access the elevators because the maintenance guy keeps forgetting we’re no longer on Daylight Savings Time and at this point he might as well leave it like it is.

Gary will be in at 10:23AM and be careful because he’ll still have a wicked hangover.

On Tuesday expect a frosty reception from Meredith who will be upset that no one watered her plants while she was on vacation even though she didn’t ask anyone and they’re all succulents anyway. And technically she should be more upset that no one really noticed she was out Monday.

There’s also about a 60% chance that project that’s 90% finished will be cancelled.

An envelope for contributions to Pearl’s retirement gift will circulate through the office and there’s an 80% chance you won’t have anything smaller than a twenty.

On Wednesday morning you’ll need your key card to access the elevators because the maintenance crew did something to the alarm system the night before and now everything’s locked down.

Wednesday afternoon expect a high pressure front to move through as Rick and Gary get into an argument over whether or not to close the blinds on the western side of the office in the afternoon. This could cause significant delays in getting out that earnings report, so be prepared and make sure you’ve got your noise-cancelling headphones.

You’ll go to the vending machine and there’s an 80% chance you won’t have anything smaller than a twenty.

In the afternoon be prepared for delays in the break room because that’s when Meredith is going to want to tell you about her vacation.

On Thursday there’s about a 75% chance the construction guys who’ve torn up the sidewalk on the west side of the building will cut a cable causing a loss of internet access, all power, or both. If this doesn’t happen you can congratulate them as you’re forced to step out into traffic to get around the mess they’ve made, or you can wait until next week when the chances they’ll cut a cable will be up to 100%. Also at around noon on Thursday Terry is going to heat fish in the microwave, making you wish there were such a thing as smell-cancelling nostrilphones.

Watch for slick spots in the break room on Thursday afternoon too after Terry spills a bottle of Sriracha and is astoundingly, but not surprisingly, oblivious.

In the late afternoon Rick from the fifteenth floor will discover an accounting error and will storm into the office and figuratively eat someone’s lunch.

On Friday it will rain. It won’t affect your plans to go out for lunch but dress accordingly.

Terry will discover leftovers from Giacomo’s in the office fridge and literally eat someone’s lunch.

Also on Friday afternoon Steve will drop by and ask you to proofread the handouts for the meeting and by “proofread” he means “collate and staple”, so you won’t catch his hilarious misspelling, inserting an “i” in the word “pens”. And it serves him right for scheduling a meeting for 4:00PM on Friday.

Every day over the coming week be careful driving in the parking garage, especially between 7:30AM and 8:30AM when most people are coming in, between 4:30PM and 5:30PM when most peple are leaving, and between 9:30AM and 10:30AM because that’s when Gary comes in.

The cold front will continue for the foreseeable future as long as the building managers persist in the belief that shutting off the heat at 6:00PM every night and only turning it back on at 6:00AM the next morning is actually saving money.

At some point this week there will be a fire alarm. I can’t say when exactly it will occur, and it’s probably just a test, but there’s a small chance that it’s a real fire or other emergency, so I leave it to you whether or not you want to wake up Gary on your way out.

 

In The Walls.

It’s hard to see, and not least because it’s in the bathroom behind the shower curtain, and behind the shower head, but there’s an oddity in the plaster—I think it’s plaster, anyway; I’m not really sure what the white part of the bathroom walls is made of since it’s not tile and I don’t think it’s drywall which, in a shower, would quickly be wetwall, but that’s another story—that looks to me like a leaping gazelle.

Can’t see it? Making it even harder to see is that it’s very small and it really only looks like part of a gazelle, the gazelle’s head specifically, so it takes an incredible amount of imagination to see anything at all in it. Here’s a badly done outline that might help you see it.

It’s something I look for in the shower in the mornings when I’m still trying to shake off sleep, or when I’m trying to cling to that weird dream I had because I think it might be an interesting idea for a story but usually when I manage to hang onto it long enough to write it down it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And sometimes I contemplate that this is probably how art got started in the first place: someone looked at a natural or accidental formation and it looked to them like something else so they traced it with the juice of a plant or the ashen end of a burned stick. You might have heard of pareidolia, the phenomenon of seeing faces in inanimate objects or natural formations. It extends well beyond faces.

A Classic Never Goes Out Of Style.

Source: Pinterest

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz,

My friends all drives Porches, I must make amends.

Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,

So lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

-Janis Joplin, 1970

 

Oh lord, won’t you help me invest in the Pound,

Brexit has killed it, but it’ll come around.

Investment in currency’s a strategy that’s sound,

So lord, won’t you buy me about ten million Pounds.

-2016

 

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a new hybrid car,

Gas prices spiked, I had to sell my Jaguar,

It’s good for the environment to drive like a film star,

So lord, won’t you buy me a new hybrid car?

-2003

 

Oh lord, won’t you buy me an Apple computer,

I’ll use it for finances, and the kids need a tutor,

We like the Macintosh ‘cause it’s so much cuter,

So lord, won’t you buy me an Apple computer?

-1984

 

Oh lord, won’t you buy me a walk-in humidor,

I’ve made millions in dot-coms, I know I’ll make some more,

Someday, I’m sure lord, we’ll even up the score,

But for now, lord, won’t you buy me a walk-in humidor?

-1999

 

Oh lord, won’t you help me out with my mortgage,

I’ve had to put most of my stuff into storage,

I’m cutting out coupons and learning to forage,

So lord won’t you help me out with my mortgage?

-2007

 

Oh lord, won’t you help me invest in real estate,

Flipping homes I fix up has turned out really great,

They say it’s a bubble but there’s no limit on the rate,

So lord, won’t you help me invest in real estate?

-2005

 

Oh lord, won’t you help me solve the damn Rubik’s cube.

My friend does it in minutes, I look like a rube,

If I can’t get all solids I might blow a tube,

So lord, won’t you help me solve the damn Rubik’s cube?

-1981

 

Oh lord, can’t you find me a Tickle Me Elmo,

Christmas is coming and what rhymes with Elmo?

My kid wants one so bad I drove to Anselmo,

So lord, can’t you find me a Tickle me Elmo?

-1996

 

Oh lord, won’t you buy me some single-malt scotch?

I’ve had a bad day, one I’ve totally botched.

That sweet tartan whiskey could take me up a notch,

So lord, won’t you buy me some single-malt scotch?

-ANY TIME

Winter School.

The winter break should have been longer. I envied kids in the southern hemisphere because they got Christmas or whatever December holidays they celebrated if they had any, right in the middle of summer. Having to go to school in the summer didn’t seem so bad to me because I figured in Australia or Brazil the weather was pretty much summer all the time, sort of like living in Florida, so it’s not as though they were missing out on anything. In the northern hemisphere summer school is a punishment, a purgatory for kids who flunked something vital like math or shop class so badly but whose parents didn’t want them to be held back. In the southern hemisphere summer school is just school. Granted the winter break seemed like it stretched on forever because it spanned not just two whole months but two whole years, and compared to Thanksgiving and Easter holidays that were just a couple of days at most the winter break that stretched out for two whole weeks seemed at the start almost like an eternity until it was over and then it seemed like hardly any time at all, not even long enough to get bored with whatever we’d gotten for Christmas. And I realize that part of it was going back to school in the middle of winter. At least in the fall we’d go back to school just as the weather was changing, or at least as it was supposed to change; since this was Tennessee summer lasted through the middle of October, but that’s another story. The winter break just pulled us out of school toward the end of dull, gray, cold December where we at least had Christmas to look forward to and sent us back to school at the beginning of dull, gray, cold January with nothing to look forward to but dull, gray, cold February and slightly less dull, gray, cold March and perhaps there were months beyond that were brighter and warmer but our bodies and brains were wrapped up in so much cotton we couldn’t imagine that far. And all through grade school we were going back to the same classes, the same schedule, we’d been on before. It wasn’t like the fall and starting over when everything was new and there was a chance to start over. Coming back from winter break meant coming back to the same crappy chewed up pencils, getting back the exams we’d all failed because no one could concentrate on anything school-related in late December, and the baloney sandwich I’d forgotten in my locker. At least in college going back after the winter break meant the start of a new semester, new classes, but then it was hard to make that shift in the cold. I should have picked a college in Australia.
Here’s a winter back to school poem.

Insecurity is like acne: at its worst when we need it least,
But it still pops up unexpectedly throughout our life.
We can be impeccably decked, our hair coiffed and our pants creased,
And still be filled with interior strife.
And even the most grizzled and avuncular
Will occasionally be stricken by lesions carbuncular.
Why can we never be happy with ourselves as we are?
And why must we pop that pustule when we know it’ll leave a scar?
They’re afflictions we associate with adolescence
And yet they drag on all through senescence.
Insecurity and acne hound us as life’s trails we wend,
Like a poem whose writer can’t figure out how to end.

High Resolution.

When making goals the key is to remember the acronym SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rank, and something that starts with T. With that in mind here are my goals for the coming year:

Lose ten pounds.

Exercise daily.

Make healthier eating choices–I might even try these “vegetables” everyone talks about.

Do at least twenty minutes of exercise daily.

Read a book.

Always use reusable bags at the grocery store.

Join a volunteer group.

Learn to make my own olives.

Take up smoking.

Find out what that smell is.

Run fifteen minutes in under a mile.

Write thank you notes to complete strangers.

Pay homage to the Roman god Janus.

Quit smoking.

Climb a tree.

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

Get some new underwear.

Use “rugby” as an adjective, but irregularly so no one can tell whether it’s good or bad.

Rock this town, rock it inside out.

Get less sleep.

Get into fewer arguments with lawn furniture.

Spy on llamas.

Find out the difference between liniment and salve.

Talk to myself in the elevator.

Buy a scented phone.

Meet friends for lunch in the middle of the night.

Offer free wi-fi to turtles.

Take off, you hoser.

Take a shower.

Find out the difference between jelly and jam.

You fools, don’t you realize you’re in danger? They’re here already!

I wish I could be like David Watts.

Solo Nixon podria ir a China.

Drink more liquids.

Bury pennies.

I’d like to make it a true daily double, Alex.

Go into a studio to record an album. Get in an argument with myself over creative differences.

Fletcherize.

Weave window blinds into baskets.

Air out my feet at least twice a week.

Slam a revolving door.

Play chess with Death on a Scandinavian shoreline. Cheat.

Would sixty gallons be sufficient?

Find out what “T” stands for.

Give my regards to Broadway.

You know who you never meet anymore? Guys named Clarence.

Find out if there’s a noun version of the word “crotchety”.

Never wear a leopard-print leotard in public.

Introduce myself to everyone by saying, “Dr. Livingston, I presume?”

Give the people a light and they will follow it anywhere.

Appear in a feature film, or at least pay full price to see one in the theater.

Answer that letter from the Queen.

Get hives. No, the ones you keep bees in.

Gain £10.

Do laundry. It’s been six months.

Find out the difference between a cape and a cloak.

Run away from the circus, join a normal family.

Anthropomorphize.

Dress up as a priest. Walk into bars.

Get a credit card. Use it only for gourmet salsa.

Harness the power of static electricity.

Offer unsolicited advice to hackberry trees.

Try ziplining as a creative way to get to work.

Remember the three most important things in genetic engineering: mutation, mutation, mutation.

Try club soda. If that doesn’t work do you have any linseed oil?

Give the conn to my first officer a couple of times a week.

Right, but dogs can look up.

Sing Along If You Know The Words.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without caroling, except in places where it’s not a Christmas tradition. Years ago when I was in Britain, going to school at Harlaxton College, a group decided to go out caroling in the nearby village and I went along even though I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. There was a home in the village that had a pond that was home to three-thousand ducks, though, and every day after lunch I’d take some bread and walk up there and feed the ducks. They must have recognized my voice because as the group marched along singing the ducks came out and joined us in “Here We Come A-Waddling”, but that’s another story. The strange thing is people who lived in the village were baffled by a group caroling just for fun and thought we were collecting for charity so they kept trying to offer us money, and by the third house I’d collected ten pounds. Anyway see if you can identify these Christmas carols just from a few of the words.

1. The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And then we got upsot.

2. Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom

3. And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…

4. We’ll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
Until the other kids knock him down.

5. And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
And surely I’ll be mine!

6. Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither…

7. The bells on Penguins ring,
Make Riddler wanna fight…

8. Don’t cry for me next door neighbor…

9. May we warm him, needy and lying on hay,
With our pious embraces

10. Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.

11. Goreu pleser ar nos galan,
Tŷ a thân a theulu diddan…

12. The boar’s head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land…

13. Somebody waits for you,
Kiss her once for me.

14. There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago…

And before you get to the answers go to Mum Revised for a hilarious and accurate list of Twelve Additional Christmas Songs That Deserve to be Removed from the Radio.

‘Twas The Morning After The Night Before Christmas.

All of us kids woke up early and came downstairs on Christmas morning. The presents were there like always. The fire had burned out overnight but there was still the sweet smell of ashes in the air. Ma was in the kitchen getting breakfast started. We were going to start opening presents when we noticed Pa in the corner, just sort of rocking back and forth. Ma came in, still wearing her bandanna over her hair.

“Why’s everybody so quiet?” she asked. “What’s going on?”

“Something’s wrong with Pa,” I said. “Look!”

“Oh,” said Ma, “so this is where you went after you left the bedroom window open. I had to get up and close it. It was freezing out there. What were you thinking flinging it open like a crazy man in the middle of the night anyway?”

“So much noise,” Pa muttered quietly, still rocking. “There was so much noise outside I had to see what was going on.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” said my big sister Emily. She looked at us. “Did any of you?” We all shook our heads except for my little brother who picked up a piece of candied fruit and started sucking on it.

“He was flying,” Dad said, his eyes wide. “I swear it’s the truth. He was flying along in a tiny sleigh pulled by miniature reindeer.”

“Reindeer aren’t that big,” said Emily. “Some are less than three feet tall at the shoulder.”

“Hush,” hissed Ma.

“He—he had names for them,” said Pa. “Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen and Blitzen.”

“Somebody’s Blitzen all right,” said Ma. “What’s with you?”

“And Donner,” Pa added.

“Like the party?” asked Emily.

“They landed on the roof,” said Dad, oblivious to the question. “So much noise. They were stamping all over the roof.”

“It wouldn’t have been so loud if you’d replaced the insulation in the attic this summer like I told you to,” said Ma.

“How’d you know they were on the roof?” asked Emily. “Did you lean out the window and look?”

Pa kept staring ahead. “I came downstairs. I came downstairs and he came in the house.”

“We were robbed?” said my little brother. “On Christmas Eve?” He started crying. I nudged him.

“Cool it. The presents are all here, see?”

“What happened?” asked Ma. “Did he fall through the roof where you haven’t replaced the shingles?”

“He came down the chimney,” said Pa. “Just popped out of the fireplace with a great big bag.”

“Didn’t we have a fire last night?” asked Emily.

“He was a large, round man in a bright red fur suit trimmed with white,” Pa went on.

“Where do you get bright red fur?” I asked.

“Somebody probably threw paint on it,” said Emily. “Fur is dead, you know.”

“I just sat here and watched him,” said Pa, “watched him pull presents out of this great big bag he carried. He put them under the tree and then when he was done he went back into the fireplace and flew right up it.”

I giggled. “Because his ass was on fire!”

Ma gave me a smack and said, “Knock it off!”

“I looked out the window and he just flew away into the night yelling ‘Merry Christmas!’ loud enough to wake up the whole neighborhood,” said Pa. “Didn’t even go to any other houses. Just us. Just us.” He started rocking back and forth again.

We were all quiet for a long time, then Ma said, “Kids, your father’s been under a lot of pressure lately. Let’s just give him a little bit of time. He’ll come around.”

We all got quiet again and stood around awkwardly. The silence was only broken by a loud snap from the kitchen.

“I’d better go check that mousetrap,” said Ma.

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