Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Worst Christmas Ever


Which this is. But that's not really a complaint because it shows how high the bar is set. It's the worst ever because it's the first time in 43 years E. and I have not been together on Christmas. It's also the first time in either 41 or 42 years that we have not had a cat in the house.

These two facts intersect in a most unpleasant way. If little Oliver had not been so ill or would have already died, would I have gone with E. to her mum's in Florida? I don't know. Staying with Oliver was reason enough. I did not catalog other reasons.

After kitty died and I got him buried, I could have jumped on a plane, but by that time the stories of thousands stuck in the nation's airports were breaking, and pain and loss are one thing and masochism is another. But now I wonder if I should have bought a last-minute ticket even if I had to spend Xmas day en route, trying to work my way back to you, babe.

All that said and as I said, this being the worst Xmas doesn't mean it will be miserable. I'm off in a minute to walk around Lake Merritt. Brother Peter Moore, responding to only the bare minimum of hint dropping and poignant silence, has invited me to his place. I will be the 19th guest, I am given to understand, so I won't be that intrusive. I anticipate a refugee camp vibe, the more the merrier or perhaps the more the less miserable.

So I can be manic or morose, but I need not be center stage. I suddenly think of J. Alfred Prufrock!

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use, 115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

Oh Google, you bitch. The quote is a bit harsher than I recall. But it came to mind, so I must accept it as found. That's the iron law of blogging. Play it as it lays. Revision and concision are luxury items.

But the point remains. Today will be a good Christmas, merely the worst I've ever had.

The best was in Atlanta in 1975. After finishing my degree at Duke in 1972, I got a three-year term appointment at NC State, where I had been teaching year to year while finishing grad school. Pretty quickly I was told that it was a terminal appointment, and I needed to look elsewhere.

I looked elsewhere. I looked and I did not find, partly because I had this weird inexplicable pride that *some jobs were beneath me.* Then, E. was accepted to architecture school at Georgia Tech, and I said this time I would follow her.

We arrive in Atlanta the summer of '75. Unemployment is 10 percent nationally. I job search. I fail in that search, as the months pass. We are supposed to spend the Christmas with my parents. I cancel. I am too depressed.

I am *very* depressed, actually, because we are running out of money, and E. is paying out-of-state tuition. I have been looking for work as an advertising copywriter for no particular reason other than it is yet one more of those jobs that sound cool, though given my blue-collar background I have no clear idea about the nature of the work, the preparation for the work, the necessary connections for getting the work.

A day or two before Christmas something snaps, and I try to snap back. I knock together a very clever job package -- very desperate sounding and very amateurish, I now realize -- get it photocopied and on Christmas Eve E. and I put the packages together and mail them to every ad agency in the Greater Atlanta Yellow Pages.

I feel better. We have done nothing to decorate our home other drape the tinsel of my despair on "the black dog." Sometime after sunset we go in search of a tree. We find a Christmas tree lot, but it has closed, and a few bedraggled trees have been thrown to the side. We liberate one, give it a home as one might a stray animal. We decorate it with the pine cones sprayed with gold paint that we collected during grad school.

We go into the kitchen -- it was in its way a wonderful kitchen, about the size of a packing crate and quite cozy -- and bake cookies while we watch "Holiday Inn" on our five-inch black-and-white tv stuck amid the mixing bowls on the counter. It is long after midnight. It is Christmas Day.

I forgot something important. Though I had prepared my job package several days before, I had spent all my hope and energy in its preparation. My claims were thin. My boasts were foolish. To hope was to deceive myself. But E., seeing me in my misery, announced that we would finish the job, stuff the envelopes, and we would send them. She did not ask me to alter how I felt, only to act in spite of how I felt.

We are going to do this, she said. She got up. And I got up. And we did what needed to be done.

I have almost never been at the brink in my long life. I do not wrestle with my demons. I have them in for tea and civilized conversation for they are my demons, after all, and not inclined to make much trouble. But that day of that year I was as close to the brink as I have ever been, and my wife ... did what she did, what she does, what she has always done.

Out of that mailing came a single offer of a part-time job as a advertising copywriter. Out of the circumstances of that job -- which I reserve for later but don't you worry; when you have a blog, everything gets said sooner or later -- came my first job in journalism.

And here I am, thinking of my best Christmas ever, counting the hours -- 500, give or take -- till my wife comes home. It is not such a bad Christmas.
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1 comment:

Professor Of Pop said...

Lovely story. Come over for a drink later if you like!