Thursday, December 31, 2009

The State Of The Suldog Address

What with a new year coming - at least, that's what the media is telling us, but we all know how reliable they are - I thought it would be worthwhile to pull this one out of the mothballs. Not one heck of a lot has changed since the original publication date. That was about three years ago, as I recall, but we all know how reliable I am. Anyway, it's as funny now as it was then. Insert your own cruel joke here.


Ladies and gentlemen of the press,
Welcome to The State Of The Suldog address.
If you want to be happy, take my advice
Pull down your pants and slide on the ice.

Ha-Ha. Just a little poetic humor to break the tension. Since Suldog has long since passed a hemi-centennial - among other things, especially with all the fruitcake he eats - I thought there might be some trepidation among you as to the particulars of this speech. I see now that you don’t really give a rat’s ass, so I’ll just continue on in the customary oblivious fashion.

Before we go on, though, I do want to say that I’m very pleased to see that most of you have dressed appropriately for the occasion. There seems to be only one of you wearing just underwear. That’s OK. I’m behind a podium, so I didn’t see the need to wear pants, either. Rage against the machine, my brother!

(Or my sister. It’s hard to tell from this distance.)

I’ll kick things off with a general overview. Everything that Suldog is supposed to have two of, he still does. The same holds true for those things of which he should have either one or ten. No necessary parts are missing and it is hoped that this good trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

OK. For specifics, let’s start at the top and work our way down.

I hate to begin on a low note, but it’s no secret that the top of the skull is a problem. This area has been hit extremely hard by recession. I think it’s safe to say that the recession is over, but that hardly mitigates the fact that the entire region has already been declared a disaster area. I could put a positive spin on this by saying that there have been significant savings due to non-expenditure on hair sprays, pomades, gels, mousse, and all other things usually associated with such regions, but that would be disingenuous. I’m not here to kid you, ladies and gentlemen. I’m here to give you the bald truth.

Now, the area directly beneath the skullcap is another thing altogether. There is reason to believe that there might be significant growth here since I smell bacon at the oddest times. No, just kidding; nothing to worry about. Everything is the same in this area as it has always been. I can assure you that there has been no increase in gray matter.

As alluded to briefly earlier, there are still two eyes. However, we have had to invest in capital improvements in order to optimize function. At this time, the addition of constructions mostly made from glass has improved the outlook tremendously. I must be truthful with you and tell you that there is further degradation expected in the future. At that time, we may look into surgical strikes as an alternative or, barring that, a striped cane and a dog.

The ears are still one of the most outstanding features of Suldog. As a matter of fact, if they were any more outstanding, he wouldn’t be able to fit through doorways. Barump-bump!

No, no, the ears are just fine. As body parts go - and they’re all going to sometime - the ears have proven themselves to be a fine investment. They are an integral component of Suldog’s livelihood and I’m willing to go so far as to say that an increased expenditure for muffs is probably warranted.

(I said, "muffs", plural. Get your mind out of the gutter. This is serious business here.)

Closely associated with the ears are the nose and throat. In earlier times, as you are probably all aware, the nose was not in good shape at all. This was due to the unnatural influx of snow during the 1980’s. As a result of the constant freezing of the area at that time, there remain major blockages and detours in the infrastructure. There has been full economic recovery, but that has not meant a return to previous levels of functionality. We have been able to achieve significant clearage through the use of oxymetazoline hydrochloride, but this remedy is always temporary and must be undertaken four or five times daily. Now, I realize that there are alarmists among you who contend that this is actually damaging the structure to a greater extent, rather than ensuring a long-term solution. To this I say, *SNORT*.

As for the throat, it is more than earning its keep. It is the one area of Suldog that consistently shows a surplus. This is despite the fact that it demands more and more cookies almost every day. Along with the tongue, it has shown an amazing ability to… well, let’s be honest. It basically supports the whole enterprise. Three cheers for the throat! I propose an expenditure for a scarf, along with the previously mentioned muffs allowance.

(Muffs. Plural. Please!)

As much as I’d like to quickly go on to other areas, I can’t leave the head without mentioning our dreaded enemies, the teeth. As you are well aware, we have been battling these white menaces for much of the past 50 years. After decades of attempts at pacifying them by building them canals and bridges – even offering them crowns - we finally came to the sad conclusion, a few years back, that total eradication was the only feasible solution to this problem. This was not an easy decision. We had attempted to show them, earlier, by removal of particularly troubling members of their sect one at a time, that we were prepared to wage all-out war if necessary. This strategy did not work. They became more and more calcified in their obstinance. The time had come for drastic action. We made a last ditch effort to impress upon some of them that they must either acquiesce or pay the supreme penalty. We forcibly removed 12 of their number and replaced them with allies from the land of Dentitia. This still did not produce the desired effect in the remaining teeth. They are as troubling as before, if not more so. Therefore, I am ordering that carpet bombings of caramel be initiated and let the chips fall where they may.

We will now move on to the body. Before we do, though, I need to acknowledge those of you who have been clamoring for the body to be re-named "The Big Tub Of Goo". While this may seem like an appropriate appellation to you, I think it does a disservice to something which has served us quite well over the years. Granted, it has at times given us shitty results, while at other times it has pissed away our chances, but I think it should be noted that it takes a lot of guts to handle all of the crap we’ve sometimes asked it to digest and even though certain members of the body are nuts, you have to admit that, overall, a lot of heart has been shown - as well as the occasional pimple after one too many greasy meals, but let’s not dwell on that.

(I would also be remiss if I didn’t at this point acknowledge the intestines, who have suggested that the following be named our official anthem:

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
Let’s eat beans at every meal!

This suggestion will be taken under advisement until the next meeting of the cabinet where we store the cans.)

There has been some talk lately concerning improvements for the lungs. Most notably, there has been seen a growing movement to have the lungs smokeproofed. While I consider this an interesting idea, and one that may well pay dividends over time, the immediate outlook is not favorable. In every instance whereupon this course of action has been attempted, the brain has gone on strike. Unless we can shut down the brain entirely, I see no way to accomplish this goal.

Speaking of shutting down the brain entirely, we now come to the penis. While this is definitely not a profit center, it has been a consistent performer. As you’ll recall, in the months prior to Suldog’s birth, a vote was taken upon the acquisition of genitals. At that time, the Y chromosome delegation carried the day and it was decided to go with a penis rather than a vagina. This was despite the strongly logical appeals of the X chromosome faction which stated that a vagina could, in fact, become a money maker at a later date if so desired, while all a penis would ever be good for was a few laughs. In a classic case of circuses over bread, the penis was acquired.

I think it is safe to say that this acquisition has turned out to be a mixed blessing. When the penis is in use, it certainly seems like the right choice was made. We have never been let down by it and our trading partners seem satisfied as well. However, the opportunities with which we have been presented to complete such interactions have not been as numerous as once hoped for. Of course, that may be because these opportunities are hoped for on a 24/7 basis and perhaps we are, in actuality, meeting worldwide averages. If so, that’s why there are so many wars.

Well, there’s nowhere to go from here but down, so let’s go there. The ass is doing its job and I daresay that none of us would want to, so that’s a good thing. There were reports that a team of astronomers had discovered a moon circling the ass, but it was later shown that it was Uranus, not mine.

The legs are in pretty good shape. They’re still strong enough to carry Suldog around the bases - and with a fair amount of speed for someone who eats so much cheese, I might add. As long as this is the case, no time or effort need be spent on improving their function via such ridiculous enterprises as jogging. Since the upcoming softball season will, as usual, be Suldog’s last (until the following one, of course) there appears to be no reason to change the policy which has gotten us this far. When one considers that such great ballplayers as Yastrzemski, Williams, DiMaggio, Aaron and Mays were completely washed up before the age of 45, the accomplishment of Suldog playing into a 53rd year may be seen in an entirely new and complimentary light. Pass the corn chips, please.

In conclusion, the past 52 years have seen tremendous growth - especially around the middle - and the state of Suldog is Massachusetts. As for the next 52 years, I’d estimate about 27, with the last 5 being utterly dreadful.

It is customary at this point to say, "I will now entertain questions from the floor", but the floor can’t talk, so that would just be silly. Instead, I’ll say thank you for coming - but if you actually did, then maybe you should be thanking me.

Oh, just one more thing. The official motto will be remaining the same.

Soon, with more better stuff.

There was a movement to change it to God help us, you'd think he'd have run out of idiotic things to say by now, but funding wasn't available.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who Are The Helpers?

Fred Rogers once received a wonderful bit of advice from his mother. She told him to always look for the helpers. What she meant was that, in any given dire situation, there will always be people willing to help, to give aid, to make their fellow human beings lives more comfortable. She expressed the idea that one might gain solace from knowing that they are always around, ready to act selflessly.

In my own life, I've seen examples of this. For instance, I have a friend named John King who, on two separate occasions, literally risked life and limb to help strangers.

In 1994, while on a bridge, jogging, in the early morning hours, John saw a pickup truck go into the Fort Point Channel, a rather large body of water which separates South Boston from the Downtown area. He immediately judged the situation to be life-threatening, so he dove into the water with no thought for his own well-being. He helped the driver to safety. The driver told him that there was an additional passenger in the truck. As it turned out, this was untrue - the driver, either in shock or under the influence, was mistaken - but John went back into the water and dove repeatedly looking for this phantom. Pure heroism.

On the other occasion, I was an actual part of John's rescue efforts. We had both attended Sunday mass, accompanied by MY WIFE, and John's wife, Virginia. We were leisurely strolling back to our cars in the parking lot adjacent to the church when we saw a pickup truck with voluminous smoke coming from under the hood. There was a man in the driver's seat, seemingly unaware that his vehicle was on fire.

John ran to the truck, and I followed. He alerted the driver, who exited the vehicle, and then John threw open the hood. Luckily, it was winter and there was snow on the ground. John and I picked up snow and piled it onto the engine until the fire was snuffed. Obviously, we could have been in an explosion at any moment. John was much more the hero than I, by the way, as he showed no hesitation in running toward the danger. Had I been alone, I'm not sure I would have made such a mad dash. I was sort of sucked into his wake.

As heroic and helpful as people like John King are, they aren't completely rare. You can find them in any situation. All you have to do is look. You may have seen film of a plane going down in a river near Washington, DC, some years back. Did you see the people diving into the water and swimming out towards the wreckage to save passengers? Those were the helpers. When you hear a story of someone passing by a burning building and rushing inside to save somebody, that's a helper. There was an instance of a person falling onto the subway tracks in New York City. A complete stranger jumped down into the pit, with an oncoming train bearing down on them both, and pulled the person into a groove in the center of the tracks that was just deep enough to protect them from losing limbs or being crushed. He covered the person's body with his own. They were both unharmed, but without his help the first person would almost surely have died. They're almost always around, someplace, seemingly just waiting for a call to action.

A couple of weeks ago, I counted on the helpers being there waiting. I asked a number of people to show themselves as helpers. Well, if you just plain get into a jam unexpectedly, the helpers will show up. If you actually ask them to help, you'll find more of them than you might have imagined possible. Such was the case for me recently.

(The following will include no actual names, and I'll try to avoid identifiers of any sort as much as is possible. I have no desire to embarrass anyone, nor to compromise any secrets or secret identities. It's a true story, though.)

Via various means, I came to understand that a certain dear friend of mine had never had what might be considered a 'normal' Christmas experience. In addition, this person had suffered some hideous episodes in school during childhood. Part of this was made public on a blog, but additional circumstances were in play - no current job and funds running low.

I consider this person as good a friend as it is possible to have on-line. That is, I've never met the person in person, but we've shared much via e-mail and have come to know each other quite well. I didn't have a home address for this person, so asked for one, to send a Christmas card. I then had an idea. Why not ask the helpers to do what they do - to help?

I composed an e-mail and sent it out to folks whom I thought might be helpers. I asked that they take a minute and send a card to my friend. I figured a handful would respond - it was the height of the Christmas season after all, and folks are mighty busy - but even a handful of cards, to a person who never received any Christmas cards before, would be meaningful and perhaps make the holiday brighter.

To the best of my knowledge, 50 cards have thus far been received by my friend.

Not only was the number amazing, but some cards came with gifts. For instance, one helper sent a lovely bracelet, while another sent a restaurant gift certificate. Many folks sent 5, 10, even 20 or 25 dollars, in cash.

My friend was deeply moved by all of this generosity.

So am I, and that's why I'm publishing this.

All of you helpers - and you know who you are - deserve a big thanks. Being helpers, most of you will pooh-pooh the notion, saying it wasn't anything much. That's the way you helpers are, of course. You tend to shun credit for your actions. You'll say this doesn't compare to jumping into the water and pulling a person out to safety, or rushing to put out an explosive fire, or whatever other more flashy bit of help I referenced above. It does compare, though. It most definitely does. It's not the amount of action undertaken, nor the severity of the situation affected, but the mere fact that you did something noble without a single moment's hesitation. That's what makes you a helper. And that's why you deserve thanks.

(I'd like to do more than just offer this generic thank you, but I won't give names or link to websites; that would give away too much info concerning my good friend, and I believe that person is already overwhelmed without also being put into a spotlight. I know who you good people are, though, and I thank you - all - deeply and sincerely.)

(If my original intent, which was to remain anonymous myself, had panned out, I wouldn't be writing this. Early on, though, folks started telling my friend that I was the one behind the effort. I hadn't asked the helpers to do that - I wish they hadn't, and I wish I had included specific instructions to that effect - but I suppose they figured it was just another helpful thing to do.)

Who are the helpers? You. And me. And lots of others. Next time you're in need of help, look for them. They'll be around, awaiting your call.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Backstage At "The Gift"

[The title refers to my previous (and annual) posting, The Gift. If you haven't read that piece, you can probably still enjoy this. However, it may not make sense in spots. That would be consistent with my life philosophy overall, though, so it's OK.]

I went through some old photos a few weeks back, specifically in search of Christmas-related stuff on which to base a fresh holiday post. I knew I had a couple of good ones in the can, and I was fine with re-running those, but I wanted to publish something new as well. I gathered about 25 photographs from Christmases past (trees were prominently featured; that's how I knew) and, while looking through them in search of inspiration, I realized that many of them could act as visual proof of what I wrote about in my story, The Gift.

Before we go on, I want to be sure you know something about how I put that story together. You might look at these photographs and say to yourself, "Oh, now I see! He had these at hand when he wrote it, so all he did was look at them and cobble together some connecting material to tie up what he saw. And all this time I thought his memories of Christmas were strong and beautiful, and he wrote the story from those memories. I've been duped!" You would be wrong to think that. I did work from photographs, but the photographs were (and are) in my mind. It was only during the past couple of weeks that I realized there were actual hard copies of my memories.

As for the "Backstage" title of this piece, it's just whimsical. I've come to think of The Gift as a sort of secular 1960's passion play (as, it seems from the comments left during it's various runs and re-runs, some of you have, too.) So, let your imagination churn a bit and pretend this a peek at the principals, props, stage dressing, and other paraphernalia one might find behind the curtain and in the wings.

First, some prologue that wasn't in the story...

The gigantic fellow on the right is my Dad. He was at least nine years older than any of his three siblings, so he appears to be some sort of pituitary freak. In reality, he stood about 5' 9" (if any of my foreign readers need that in metric, it's 175 cm; not extremely short, but hardly a giant!)

My Uncle Jimmy (second-oldest, in the middle) tells me that this was a somewhat not-well-to-do Christmas for his family, but - as with so many families in such a situation - they didn't realize they were poor. He recalls that the baby carriage came used from a relative and that my grandfather repainted it prior to my Auntie Ba - here about five or six, I would guess - receiving it as a gift. Jimmy also says it was family tradition for the younger kids to believe that Santa Claus decorated the tree on Christmas Eve, but in actuality it was my father who did so each year after attending midnight mass.

Speaking of mass...

This is Saint Gregory's, in my childhood hometown of Dorchester, a section of Boston. It was where we attended mass every Christmas (as well as every Sunday, every holy day of obligation, and for the occasional ceremony of a wedding, funeral, or christening.) I was baptized there, received first communion there, and also was confirmed there by the late Richard Cardinal Cushing, celebrated in Boston Catholic lore. At age 34, this was where I married MY WIFE. It was - and is - a magnificently warm house of worship. In particular, the stained glass above the altar is quite beautiful when the sun is shining through it in the morning hours, dust motes swirling in the colorful sunbeams, and the particular smells of an older church (aged wooden pews, incense, candles) are inhaled concurrently. Should you enjoy such places, and ever find yourself in Dorchester, have a visit. You'll be delighted.

Every Advent, a creche (manger scene) was set up on the lawn to the left of the church. The baby Jesus wasn't included, of course, as He hadn't been born yet. Come Christmas, all of the kids in the neighborhood - who had been admiring the creche all during Advent - would check to see if Jesus had made His arrival. He always had, and we were always pleased by that minor bit of Catholic hocus-pocus.

My Dad once again, looking a bit more his normal height. This was Christmas of 1956, about two months before my birth. My Mom took the photo, so I'm just out of sight in the foreground, hidden beneath a maternity dress. This is the living room of Caddy Road, where the tree always was, and where we always exchanged gifts, and where cats always played with low-hanging ornaments.

And that brings us to...

The Cat. Real name: Blackie.

(I get enough grief about that choice of name from MY WIFE without YOU piling on. She looked black when she was born, what with all of the amniotic fluids and gunk, OK?)

Here she's battling a silver bell ornament. I know for a fact she didn't defeat it since I still have that ornament on this year's tree. Notice the big-ass old Admiral TV in the background. The best furniture talks to you and shows you pictures! One of the boxed games on the left was called Feeley Meeley. I have no recollection of how it was played, but it sure sounds unsavory.

Which brings us to our next character...

Me (as well as my Christmas stocking.)

This would have been 1959, I think. It is probably the stocking's initial appearance at Christmas.

Here is the stocking at a later date, closer to the time of the story, hanging from my bedroom door, full. Santa has come and gone, obviously. I am on the other side of that door, sound asleep, with my transistor radio playing "Silver Bells" or "The Little Drummer Boy" to my unconscious self.

Earlier in the week...

... I had my green rubber boots on in the snow. I probably made the decoration (or, at least, that part of it that only involved cutting letters from construction paper.) I may be gathering inspiration for a trip to the store to buy THE GIFT for...

Auntie Ba. When last you saw her, up above, she was about 15 years younger and pushing a doll in a baby carriage. She now has two real children. How time flies!

This is hardly the best photo of her. It does, however, show the amazing floor-covering hard-to-walk-through nature of her place on Christmas morning. She was the indisputable Queen of Christmas Generosity. No expense was ever spared, and she was usually broke because of it. And she wouldn't have had it any other way. She'd give you the shirt off of her back, even if it was snowing and she didn't have another. God, I miss her.

Now, a slight trip back in time...

Christmas 1959 again, probably. Auntie Ba, looking much lovelier, is second from the left. I'm the little guy clutching some goodies in another stocking. On the right are my Sullivan grandparents, Ma and Pa. Could I possibly have ever been recipient of a more loving gaze than that being bestowed upon me by Pa? I doubt it. This was the first stop on Christmas after my aunt's (and this was prior to her having her own place, and may have been during the time period when she lived with me. I'm not totally sure.) My mother is directly behind me, and behind her is my grandfather, Fran Drown, no doubt at my other grandparent's home because we will be going in his car to Weymouth, the final stop on each Christmas, then as now.

Just one more photo from the past...

This was Ma & Pa's Christmas tree from that same year. I show it for you to notice the star atop it. It is the same star we later put on trees in Dorchester. It is the same star MY WIFE and I now feature on our...

... Grove O'Christmas (trademark pending.)

As you can see, we have more than one tree. MY WIFE got them from a store she once worked at. They were part of a window display. When they decided they weren't going to use them anymore, she asked if she could buy them. Until then, we had always had a real tree. Just as well this way, as I have always been so damn sad throwing the live tree to the curb in January. It never seemed right to have loved it so and then just tossed it aside. A live tree is lovely and fragrant, but these guys are easier on my conscience.

I always wait for a day when MY WIFE is working - and I'm not - then I set up the trees and decorations while she's not home. This particular year, I decided it would be cute to put all of our teddy bears (and assorted honorary bears) under the tree. Until then, I had no idea what a huge bloody lot they had become. I literally could not fit all of them under the trees or into the photo. This is about 3/4 of them.

(Say what you will concerning our sanity, but they don't eat much and they scare away the burglars. Would you break into a home with 50-some-odd bears in it? I think not!)

And here is this year's version of the same.

Notice the stocking in the background? Same one I had when I was two. And the star? It was on Ma & Pa's tree, then my parent's, now ours. And that's the overarching theme here, I suppose: connections to the past. What my father delighted in doing during his teens, decorating the tree to surprise and delight others, he delighted in still during my childhood, and I delight in now. My Auntie Ba's acceptance of the re-painted baby carriage as a wonderful gift led to her being just as happy to receive my silly sponges, which in turn leads to me having never been ungrateful for a present at any time in my life since. As I saved my stocking and love bringing it out each year, so I made one for MY WIFE and she has it hung each year, and she in turn made one for her brother and we bring that one out each year. Heck, one year we gave everybody on our list a full stocking as their gift. The list of connections goes on and on, from my family and hers. I've been lucky enough to gain many others by marriage (such as the traditional changing of my sister-in-law's "NOEL" decoration to having it read "LEON" at some point, which always brings muffled laughter from us and a groan from her.)

What makes Christmas a wonderful holiday for some - and less so for others - are these connections to loving family and pleasant traditions. The more tenuous those connections, the less jolly a time it is. Those who are without loved ones to share the time don't feel the same warmth as those of us who have the blessing of living ties to the fondly-remembered past. When you run into a humbugger, stop and consider that perhaps that person has a serious hurt inside. Severed connections can be quite painful. Maybe your kind word or action can reconnect them (or, if you are blessed, connect them for the first time) to the magic. You won't know unless you try. And, if nothing else, you'll be happier for the trying, believe me.

If you are a humbugger - or just seasonally sad, for whatever personal reasons - my well-meaning advice would be for you to attempt making some connections of your own. Start a tradition, if need be. Every earthly thing of good has had a beginning somewhere by somebody. How fondly you'll be remembered by those whom you include in your passion play!

And that's it for me until the new year, my good friends. Be safe, be loving, smile as often as is possible, and maybe attempt one serendipitous good deed that you weren't originally planning. When it gets down to the heart of the matter, YOU can be Christmas to somebody. Make it so, for your own soul to flourish.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Gift

[Christmas, 1965 or thereabouts]

The boy was very young; perhaps 7 or 8 years old. He loved everything about Christmas - the lights, the music, Santa Claus, the trees covered in tinsel and shiny ornaments - but especially the snow. For as long as he could remember (which wasn't very long, but it was a lifetime) there was always snow at Christmas. The whole thing was magical.

He walked down the street, on his way to a store near his home, and it was beginning to snow again. There was already an inch or two on the ground from yesterday and it was shiny, bright, white, and made everything it covered pretty. He opened his mouth and turned his face to the sky, trying to catch a couple of snowflakes on his tongue. He thought he succeeded, but it was hard to tell because snow melted as soon as it hit your tongue, so you couldn't collect a mouthful of it to prove that you caught some. He jingled a couple of nickels in his pocket, sliding his green rubber boots along in the snow as he walked with his face to the sky.

He was on his way to the store to buy a gift. He enjoyed receiving presents, of course; what child doesn't? However, he also very much enjoyed giving them to others. He loved to see people's faces when they opened their gifts. It was another magical thing about this time of year. He rarely saw anyone unhappy around Christmas and he never saw anyone unhappy when they opened a present.

Being very young, the boy didn't have much money. He received an allowance, but only one dollar. He had already bought presents for his mother and father. For his mother, it was some cheap perfume. For his father, it was some cheap cigars.

(Realize that when I say "cheap", I don't mean to imply that the boy had gone out of his way to buy inexpensive and shoddy presents. He hadn't. He had lovingly picked them out, albeit within his modest budget. The cigars and perfume were cheap, though. Being a young boy, he had no appreciation of perfume and thought they all smelled pretty much alike - stinky. He also had no idea that some cigars, when lit, smell like innertubes burning. However, these had come in a package with a big white owl on the front, and he did know that his dad liked owls.)

He had ten cents leftover from his original dollar, which will give you an idea of the value of the cigars and perfume. In any case, he now wanted to buy a present for his aunt.

His aunt was the older relative closest in age to the boy. She was around 19 or 20. She had lived with the boy and his parents for a short while when the boy was much younger. They had grown very close during this time. She was close enough in age to have been the boy's older sister and, in some ways, that's what the boy thought of her as.

The boy reached the main street. The store was on the other side, so he pressed the button that made the light red to stop the traffic. He loved how even the traffic lights joined in with the season, flashing red and green and yellow just like the lights on a Christmas tree. He looked both ways and then crossed the street.

He walked through the parking lot of the store, again noticing how people were so much happier this time of year. Everybody had a cheery "Hello!" for the people they met. As he entered the store through the automatic door (how did it know?) he heard Christmas music playing over the store's speakers.

He felt great. He was in love with the world.

Now he had to find a present for his aunt. He hadn't really given thought about this part of the task. He just assumed that he'd be able to find something nice. After all, a dime would buy a comic book, or two candy bars, or even twenty of those 2-for-1 Mint Julep candies. Certainly he'd be able to find something his aunt would love.

What sorts of thoughts go through the mind of a small boy? Many and varied, of course, but some are unfathomable. As he was walking down one of the aisles, he spotted something very colorful and pretty. He had always liked how these things looked. They were useful, too. And, when he checked the price, it was ten cents - just right! This is what he would get his aunt for Christmas.

He brought the gift up to the checkout and paid for it. Now there was nothing to jingle in his pockets, but that was OK. His Christmas shopping was done.

He made his way back home, enjoying the big colored lights that were on just about every house in the neighborhood, again catching (or trying to catch) snowflakes in his mouth.


When he got home, he took off his boots (which was always troublesome – he always seemed to leave one sock inside of a boot) and then ran upstairs to his room, to wrap this newest gift.

He was an only child. He spent many hours by himself, in his room, and he very much enjoyed that privacy. He didn’t dislike other people - far from it, in fact - but he did enjoy dreaming and using his imagination. He discovered early on that it’s almost impossible to dream when someone else is in your room. Someone else almost always wants to talk, and you can’t carry on a decent conversation with someone else and dream at the same time. Anyway, as a result of spending much time alone, he became fairly self-sufficient.

(Whenever anyone asked him if he wouldn’t rather have a brother or sister, he would firmly say, “No!” and he hoped that the people asking him these questions would see to it that the proper authorities – whoever was in charge of bringing brothers and sisters – did not make any deliveries to his house.)

Being such a self-sufficient boy, he mostly wrapped his own presents. He had already wrapped all of his other gifts for family. Many of his relatives got handmade gifts of one sort or another. For instance, every year since he was able to handle crayons, he had made his grandfather a hand-drawn calendar, which his grandfather treasured receiving. Now, he wrapped the gift for his aunt in colorful paper, once again admiring how colorful the gift was, too.


That night, Christmas Eve, he did what most Christian boys and girls try to do. Almost immediately after dinner, he went to bed. He tried to go to sleep at an abnormally early hour, hoping to thus wake up sooner and make Christmas come quicker. Before going to bed, he hung his stocking on his bedroom door (since there were no chimney or fireplace in his house.) He turned on the little transistor radio he had received as a gift on his last birthday and searched out a station playing Christmas music. In those days of his youth, it seemed the only time they ever played Christmas music on the radio was starting on Christmas Eve and he loved hearing all of the songs he heard (and loved) a year ago. His favorite was “Silver Bells”, and they played it not long after he lay down, much to his delight. Slowly, to the strains of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, he drifted off to sleep.

(A curious thing about being a boy is that sometimes you can will yourself to dream what you want to dream. Not always, of course, but sometimes. You might think it an odd thing to dream, but the boy had dreamed of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound every Christmas Eve [that is, every one in the memory of his short life] and he hoped that he’d have that same dream again this night, as it was great fun running around with cartoon characters. He did.)

Since he had gone to bed so early, he awoke at 3 am. He got up to go to the bathroom, but when he opened his door, he felt the heaviness of a full stocking on the other side of it, so thoughts of peeing suddenly took a backseat to seeing what Santa had left. He gently took out the tack that was holding the stocking to the door, making doubly sure he had a firm grip on the stocking and it wouldn’t fall on the hall floor (in case there was anything in it that might break) and he took it back to his bed, flipping on the bedroom light switch as he did so.

He wasn’t a greedy sort of a boy and so he didn’t just dump everything out on the bed in one fell swoop. Instead, he took the items out one at a time and carefully, lovingly, examined them. There were candy cigarettes with little bits of red food coloring on the ends to simulate their being lit; a set of jacks with a small rubber ball; a wind-up dog that did backflips until there wasn’t enough wind-up left (so then it landed on its head); a pinkie ball (great for three-flies-out on the front steps); one of those puzzles that you have to move around the pieces until you get it to read 1 through 15 in order; and a pencil with his very own name engraved on it! He attempted to solve the puzzle for a little bit, but then he remembered that he had to pee, so he did.

(He went to the bathroom to do so.)

After washing his hands and brushing his teeth, he went downstairs and plugged in the Christmas tree. He considered a Christmas tree the most beautiful thing on earth, and this one was filled with enormous colored lights, ornaments of all shapes and sizes, big handfuls of tinsel on every branch, and a long garland of popcorn (which he and his mother had strung one evening last week.) Topping it off was a white star with a red bulb inside it. He sat down on the floor and just stared at the tree for ten minutes, bathing in its warmth, both real (from the gigantic lights) and metaphysical.

He probably would have stared at it a bit longer, but his cat came along and started playing with one of the low-hanging ornaments and that broke him out of his reverie. He loved the cat very much and he loved watching her play - even more than he liked looking at the tree. After she failed to defeat the ornament - it still hung on the branch and she now wriggled on her back, enjoying the pine needles that had fallen - he went out to the kitchen and opened a can of cat food. Hearing the opener whirr, she came running like a shot - for a cat will take food over ornaments, every time (thus proving, once again, their innate intelligence.)

The boy poured himself a glass of milk and added some chocolate to it. He then took this back upstairs, drank it while eating a candy cigarette, and went back to sleep, listening to “The Little Drummer Boy” and imagining himself a poor boy playing drums for Jesus. The cat came upstairs and joined him in sleep, though what she dreamed of remains a mystery.


When he awoke again, it was 7am and his mother and father were also awake. They all went downstairs and opened presents, enjoying some cocoa while they did so. The boy received wonderful presents of games and toys, as well as a couple of shirts and such that he knew he should be more thankful for than he was. The cat received a catnip mouse (from Sandy Claws) and was very thankful for it. The parents exchanged gifts with each other and were thankful for those, and they received the stinky perfume and the smelly cigars with warmth at the thought behind them.

Now it was time for mass, after which the family would head over to the aunt’s to exchange gifts, before heading off to the house of the boy's grandparents.

Mass was as mass usually is – something which cats are thankful not to have to attend. It wasn’t that the boy didn’t want to wish Jesus a happy birthday and all – he really loved the bible stories very much, and he admired to no end someone who would lay down his own life for that of his friends – but the priest saying the mass this morning just went on and on and on and on. Even though he had slept close to ten hours, the boy could feel his eyes drooping as the interminable homily crept, s-l-o-w-l-y, towards a conclusion that had stopped being meaningful to all but the most die-hard some ten minutes before. Finally, after the homily died its excruciating death and communion was served, and after everyone had sung a rousing “Joy To The World”, it was time to get on the road and go exchange presents with other family members. After a 15-minute drive, the boy and his parents arrived at the aunt’s house.

They went inside to a warm welcome from the aunt and the rest of her family gathered there, which included a few other adults and a couple of infants, the boy's cousins. After a few minutes of small talk (mostly complaints from the boy’s father concerning the length of the homily at mass) it was time to open presents.

The boy watched with delight as everybody opened packages and smiled. Here was the magic again. Everyone oohed and aahed in the appropriate places as they received the presents that others had purchased for them. And now, his aunt had his gift in her hands and she carefully removed the wrapping paper, revealing the gift for all to see.

There were some smiles. Not that the boy noticed, but there were also a couple of glances exchanged by the grown-ups with some muffled laughter included. The aunt regarded her gift and looked lovingly at the boy. He looked back at her with love in his heart.

She said, “Oh, Jimmy, they’re just what I needed! Thank you, darling!”

She reached over and kissed him. He blushed and said, “You’re welcome.”

Never before had a package of red and green kitchen sponges brought such joy to two people.


True story.

My Auntie Ba could have laughed at such a ridiculous gift. Some of the other adults might have joined in and then I would have been mortified. Instead, she taught me a marvelous lesson that Christmas, and she did so just by being her wonderful loving self. She taught me that there is no such thing as a bad gift, so long as there is love behind the giving of it.

My Christmas wish for all of you is that the gifts you give, whether large or small or precious or ludicrous (like sponges) be received as lovingly. My Christmas request to all of you is that you receive with love every gift given you. You never know how profoundly your love might affect someone.

My Auntie Ba is gone now, and I miss her, but her spirit lives on with me every Christmas because of the love she showed a well-meaning boy and his silly gift.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Solomon The Milkman

The first night of Chanukah is tonight, so I'm re-printing this piece.

(In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'll clue you in. My goal is to write 365 really good pieces. Once I've done that, I'll keep trotting them out in perpetuity and never write anything new again. So far, I've got about six. Your count may be lower.)

Anyway, without further ado, here's Solomon The Milkman.

I'm going to tell you about my Jewish roots.

My grandfather Sullivan was a milkman for H. P. Hood for many years. He told this story, which took place during the days when he did his route on a horse-drawn wagon.

His route traveled through the Mattapan section of Boston, which at that time was almost exclusively populated by Jewish families. Now, some of the people to whom he delivered milk thought he was Jewish. They thought his name was Solomon, not Sullivan.

I'm not positively sure how this assumption came about, but it's not a stretch to imagine what might have happened. Someone in the neighborhood probably asked what his name was and he (or, more likely, one of his customers with perhaps an Eastern European accent) said, "Sullivan", and whoever had asked the question, with the idea already in mind that he might be Jewish, heard "Solomon". That person told someone else, and so on.

It was possible. My grandfather didn't have the map of Ireland on his face like I do. He could have passed. Since he delivered milk in a Jewish neighborhood, his customers might naturally have assumed that he was Jewish, too. I don't suppose he would have had any reason to disabuse them of this notion. He probably figured it wouldn't hurt business to let them keep on thinking it.

Anyway, one day while he was doing his route, some of the older Jewish men called for him to come down off of his wagon so that he could help them meet the required numbers for a minyan; that is, so that they could have enough for prayer service, which required at least 10 men.

They yelled to him, "Solomon! We need another for a minyan! You got time maybe?"

My grandfather was sharp enough to know what they were talking about. He had been delivering milk in that neighborhood for some time, so he was familiar with words and phrases and customs that an Irishman might otherwise not be expected to know. The question was, what should he tell these men? Should he spill the beans and let them know that he wasn't really named Solomon, but Sullivan? That he wasn't Jewish, but Catholic, and that his ancestry was Irish and French?

Well, my grandfather figured it this way: Who did it hurt if he helped them out? As long as they thought he was Jewish, God wouldn't be mad at them for including an Irishman in their prayer service, and he also figured that God would probably look kindly on him for doing the old Jews a mitzvah. So, my grandfather parked the wagon and made the minyan for them.

He faked his way through by following the lead of the others. Having attended Catholic mass for many years, he knew he could probably get by with indistinct mumbling as long as he did the right body motions, so he kept his voice low and bowed when they did and so forth. Afterwards, the old men thanked him and he got back on his wagon and finished his route. Of course, from that day forward there was little doubt along Blue Hill Avenue that Tom Sullivan (that is, Solomon The Milkman) was Jewish - and a fairly devout Jew, at that.

Therefore, if someone calls me "Solly", instead of "Sully", I won't complain. My grandfather wasn't really a Jew, but he played one on his milk route.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higi'anu laz'man hazeh. (Amein)

Happy Chanukah!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Things That Would Make Me Immeasurably Happier During The Holiday Season

1 - Never again having to endure Bruce Springsteen's version of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.

Okay, that's it for me. I mean, I could list a whole bunch of other stuff that would be nice (being allowed to string up and gut anyone who calls them "holiday trees" would be satisfying, for instance) but, instead, I'll ask YOU to tell me, in the comments section, what would make YOU tremendously happy to never have to deal with again during the holidays. Obscenity is not encouraged, but if you feel the need...

Soon, with more better stuff.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I Got An Award! Duck!

Hey, it's getting close to Christmas! Let me tell you what I just found in my stocking! Actually, on the bottom of my shoe. It's another damned award.

If you're new here, you may be wondering why I say 'damned award'. Isn't it nice to get awards? Doesn't it mean that people like you? Aren't folks just trying to show you their appreciation by presenting you with such things? Well, yes, of course they are. Doesn't mean I can't be indiscriminately ungrateful and cruel, though. For example, here's what I've done in the past: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J ... well, I could keep going but that should be enough for you to get the idea. People give me awards and I become (as Hilary once aptly put it) a gremlin who was fed after midnight.

This time, though, it will be different. It's the Christmas season, after all, time for good cheer and all that rot. So I will NOT rip the internationally famous duck fondler and Queen Elizabeth impersonator, Eddie Bluelights, a new one.

Actually, I love Eddie. I think he's a wonderful man with a huge heart, tremendously generous to his fellow bloggers. The world would be a sorrier place without Eddie in it. But...

Eddie recently gave me this award.

The mind boggles, after which it keels over on it's side, has a fit, and pukes all over the inside of your skull. Eddie knew when he gave it to me that I'd probably poop on him for doing so, but he gave it to me anyway. The Friendly Blogger Award - could there be a bigger sarcasm? Me? Friendly? Well, sure, some spoilsport out there will no doubt point out pieces of mine wherein I sound downright chummy, even Barneyesque, but not when I have one of these travesties foisted upon me. However, not today. As I say, it's the holidays, so I'll be as sweet as a plum pudding. For instance, I would usually start off by tossing out a few random insults, like the following...

Eddie writes some inventive pieces of prose and poetry - especially for someone with the IQ of a ferret - but he may be best known, these days, for his Sunday Roast, a weekly interview of another blogger deemed worthy of note. Of course, being a blogger deemed worthy of note by Eddie is similar to being a food item declared healthy by a sack full of Twinkies.

(Just to head off any confusion, yes, I am included in the roll of past honorees [number 69, which I've always considered a rather tasty number for me to have been assigned] but I was singled out for that honor when it was still being hosted by the originator, the marvelously classy and erudite David McMahon, sorely missed. Now that Eddie has taken over, I expect that the questions asked will degenerate into something akin to the following:

"When was the first time you had sex with a duck? Describe it. Are there any photos of it? Movies would be even better! If none exist, would you be willing to recreate the scene in person for me? If you've never had sex with a duck, what are you waiting for? It's grand!"

See, that's the sort of the thing the nasty old Suldog might have said, not the cheery happy holiday-infused one, and that would have been a bit harsh on Eddie. There's no proof that he's ever had sex with a duck. Of course, if there was proof, perhaps he might continue his questioning along these lines...

"If you've never had sex with a duck, then tell us which popular entertainers, aside from Queen Elizabeth, might have had an influence on your writing style? For instance, Suldog often plagiarizes The Three Stooges and Tom Lehrer, while I myself plagiarize Stanley Holloway as often as is possible considering my advanced age. Do you have any photos of ducks? How about Queen Elizabeth dressed as a duck? Or perhaps Stanley Holloway dressed as Queen Elizabeth, or a duck, or - Oh! Be still my beating heart! - both?"

But I'm being nice today and that would have been overstepping my bounds. I mean, Eddie doesn't really like to fondle ducks, and he hasn't impersonated Queen Elizabeth since the court order. In all fairness, Eddie conducts really good interviews and this IS NOT the type of question you can look forward to being asked if you ever have the true pleasure of being his subject some Sunday...

"If you could ask a duck one question, what would it be? Keep in mind that it has to involve sex, unless you're willing to come to my place some night and pretend to be Stanley Holloway or Queen Elizabeth. Or a duck. Yes, let's make it a duck. How's Tuesday for you? Do you like orange sauce?"

Oh, my. I hope I'm not doing Eddie a grave disservice here. You understand that's just what he would say, if he were that type of person. But he isn't, you know. He's really a very nice fellow, salt of the earth. Why, if I wasn't already circumcised, there's nobody in the world I would trust with the job more than Eddie. Truthfully, his questions are quite good and get right to the heart of the matter. This isn't really the sort of question he asks:

"Pick a number between one and quattuordecillion. Explain why it is not a letter. If it is a letter, explain why it's not a number. In addition, send photos of yourself dressed as either a duck or Queen Elizabeth or Stanley Holloway. If you can somehow manage all three at once, that would be something I'd pay for! Will you accept a personal check?"

So, you get the point by now, right? If it wasn't Christmas time, and I wasn't bending over backwards to be kind to him, I'd just keep on accusing Eddie of being a duck-fondling, Queen Elizabeth impersonating, Stanley Holloway wannabe who asks ridiculous questions of his interview subjects. None of it is true, even in the least, but I'd have gone too far with this bit to turn back now, so I'd have to make up another ridiculous question Eddie would never ask but which we'd pretend he might. To whit...

"On a scale from one to ten, with Mickey Spillane being approximately equal to Grace Metalious, where would you rank your writing skills compared to Shakespeare, if Shakespeare were a duck? Would it help if I sent you photos of myself dressed as Queen Elizabeth? Would movies of me french kissing Stanley Holloway be even better? By the way, you still didn't tell me if you like orange sauce."

... and I'd be mighty remorseful for having done so, too. A nice sweet man like Eddie gives me an award out of the goodness of his magnificent heart and I print up a load of rubbish about him groping waterfowl, cross-dressing in royal drag, and possibly giving sexual favors to dead monologists? I would be truly penitent about such a thing. To make up for my having been such an a-hole, I'd have to give him one truly excellent question to use during his next interview.

Why, here's one now!

"If you could be an animal, which one would it be? If you could have sex with an animal, would it be the same one? Is it a duck? How about someone dressed as a duck? Or perhaps Queen Elizabeth? Not Stanley Holloway, though. Jim just threw that in because he knows how much I love the man's comedy records. So, a duck will do. I like the green ones best."

Oops! That wasn't right at all! Totally uncalled for, that was. That's the sort of thing I might have come up with if I wasn't trying to be a good guy and I apologize for it's entry here. But, since it's entirely too late to make this right in any meaningful way, let's just plow ahead and have Eddie's guts for garters. Here's a REAL question you could ask your next interviewee, Eddie...

"How many bristles are there on your toothbrush? Is it less than, equal to, or perhaps greater than the number of angels dancing on the head of Dick Cheney? And how much glue would it take to make you stick to your promises? Meanwhile, what's your favorite holiday and does it involve onanism in any way? Assuming so, compare and contrast Napoleon's March On Russia with Ritchie Blackmore's guitar solo on Highway Star. Or a duck. A big green one, with a huge orange bill. Oh! And flappy webbed feet that smack into my thighs! Ungh. Ungh. Ungh. Quack! Ungh! Quack! Ungh! Quack! Feathers! More feathers! Ungh! Ooo-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-QUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK! Where's the orange sauce? Quick, Stanley, pour it on me bum! AhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhGod Save The Queen!"

Good thing I decided to be gentle, though, because Eddie Bluelights is a delightful chap who neither caresses waterfowl, cross-dresses as a royal, or has even had a single thought concerning sex with Stanley Holloway. He will no doubt have something long-winded to say in the comments section, but that's alright, I asked for it.

Now, is there anyone else who would like to give me an award AFTER Christmas when I'll be back to my usual insulting self?

Didn't think so.

Finally, for my good friend Eddie, who is a marvelous sport, your reward for letting me have you on so viciously is a real question that you might ask your next interview subject:

"Do you have any ambitions to be a real writer, or are you satisfied just to be a jerkoff like Suldog?"

And, yes, this entire damn thing, from the time I said "Just to head off any confusion..." has been a parenthetical. I did this for no good grammatical reason. By the way, if you throw something at Eddie, and then yell, "Duck!", he won't. He'll just start salivating.)

Soon, with more better stuff. And orange sauce. Lots of orange sauce.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Christmas Fun Facts!

The following bit of brilliance comes from the pen of my swell pal, Cricket. He really is amazing. Not only is he a fantastic writer, but he's also a tremendous whimsical cartoonist. In addition, he plays a mean guitar. All of these things I envy greatly. I mean, sure, I write, I play bass, I draw (a check each week) but I think he outshines me in every one of those endeavors. I'm seriously thinking of having him bumped off.

In the meantime, check this out. Click to enlarge, of course.

This cartoon is especially meaningful to me and MY WIFE. We've been exchanging gifts on Epiphany (or 'Little Christmas', as it's known in some circles) for many years now. It really is a way to make the whole season a bit less stressful, allowing us to concentrate our December 25th energies toward making other folk's celebrations brighter and more meaningful, while not shortchanging our own spiritual enjoyment. You might like to give some thought to doing something similar. As Cricket notes, it's a decent blow to strike for making the holiday of Christmas less of a greedfest and more of what it may need to be for your pleasure to be maximized.

Anyway, I love this cartoon. And you should go visit the artist NOW. His words are, if anything, even better. You'll want to read them while there's still time to do so. Once he figures out how to put some of his guitar playing on the web, I'll be viciously jealous and sending out the hitmen.

Soon, with more stuff.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Pointy The Poinsettia

(If you wish to hear an audio version of this, please go HERE. It's a bit lengthy, so give it a good chance to load!)

Once upon a time, there was a poinsettia named Pointy.

(His given name was Poindexter Poinsettia, but everybody called him Pointy for short.)

Pointy liked living in the large greenhouse with his poinsettia family and other plant friends. The world was a wonderful place full of bright sunshine, all the water he wanted to drink, and dark, rich soil for his roots. He thought that he couldn’t possibly be happier.

Then, one day in November, some of Pointy’s friends weren’t around anymore. Pointy wondered where they had gone. He also wondered how they got wherever they went. They were plants, after all, and thus only able to walk extremely short distances.

Pointy asked his uncle, Pedro Poinsettia, where his friends had gone.

"Oh, it’s a joyous time of year, Pointy!" said Uncle Pedro.

"What do you mean?" asked Pointy.

Uncle Pedro leaned close to Pointy and whispered in his ear (or, at least, what passed for an ear on Pointy.) He said:

"In November, all the poinsettias who have grown big red leaves are taken from the greenhouse and sent all over the world to give joy to the people who celebrate Christmas. The people are very happy to have a poinsettia in their home or school or office. They smile and say things like, ‘What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!’"

Pointy was very excited to hear this news. He had never before considered the possibility of travel, but now he hoped that he might be able to go far away, to see many interesting people and things. He enjoyed the thought of bringing great joy to people celebrating Christmas. He packed his bags and waited to be shipped.

(Well, OK, he didn’t actually have any bags. As a matter of fact, even if he did have bags, he wouldn’t have known what to pack in them. But, you get the idea. He was excited and ready to go.)

Finally, the day came when Pointy was planted into a big pot, all trimmed with pretty gold foil. He felt extra-special now! He was then loaded into a truck, along with about thirty other plants. As the truck was driving away, he waved good-bye to his Uncle Pedro.

(No, he didn’t, really. No hands, you know? He did what he could, though. Uncle Pedro understood.)

As they were bumping down the road, Pointy looked around. He appeared to be the only poinsettia plant in the truck. He struck up a conversation with the flower next to him, a girl. He knew she was a girl because... well, he just did, that’s all.

"Hi, I’m Poindexter Poinsettia, but everybody calls me Pointy. What’s your name?"


"You're really pretty, Rose."

"Thank you. You have nice big red leaves."

Pointy blushed.

(To be truthful, he didn’t actually blush; his leaves were already red. But he WAS a bit embarrassed. Rose really was pretty, and it was nice to get a compliment from her.)

Pointy asked, "Do you know where we’re going, Rose?"

"Yes, I think so, Pointy. My aunt Petunia said we’re all going to office buildings in Newton."

"Newton? Where’s that?"

"I’m not entirely sure, but I believe it’s east of Worcester."

"Oh! Is that a good thing?"

"It’s better than being in Worcester," said Rose.

Pointy looked out the window of the truck. Having never been out of the greenhouse before, he was amazed at how many plants there were everywhere. He saw great huge trees, and big green hedges, and large bunches of scary weeds, and gigantic expanses of grass, and even a few pretty flowers, like his new friend, Rose. However, he didn’t see a single poinsettia anywhere. This worried him a bit.

He asked Rose, "Am I going to be the only poinsettia in Newton?"

Rose shrugged her shoulders.

(Nah, not really. She didn’t have shoulders. She did indicate that she didn’t know the answer to Pointy’s question, but shoulders never entered into it.)

The truck turned off of the road and into a parking lot. After it stopped, the back door of the truck opened and a man reached in and grabbed Rose.

Pointy said, "Good luck, Rose! I hope you bring much joy to the people in this building!"

Rose blew a kiss to Pointy, and then she was gone. The man carried her inside of the building where they had stopped.

The man had left the door of the truck open. Pointy was able to see, through a window in the building, Rose being carried by the man. The man stopped and handed Rose to a woman who was sitting behind a desk. The woman immediately became very happy, a big smile appearing on her face. As the man who delivered Rose was leaving the building, Pointy saw the happy woman carrying Rose all around her office, showing Rose to all of her friends. Everybody smiled as soon as they saw Rose, and Rose was very happy in her new home. Pointy was also very happy, for now he was extra excited about how happy he was going to make the people in the building where he was going.

The man closed the door to the truck. Soon, the truck was moving again. Pointy imagined being carried into an office where all the people would smile and say, "What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!"

While Pointy was imagining this, the truck stopped in front of another building. The back door to the truck was opened, and suddenly Pointy was in the man’s hands, being carried outside.

"This is it," thought Pointy, "I’m about to make many people happy! I can’t wait to see their smiles, and hear them say ‘Merry Christmas!’"

The man brought Pointy up some stairs and then through a glass door. There was a woman at a desk just inside the door. Pointy tried to make his big, red leaves stand up as straight and proud as possible. As he did so, he heard the woman say:

"What the hell is that?"

The man said, "Gift from your landlord. It’s a poinsettia."

"Duh! I can see it’s a poinsettia. What are we supposed to do with it?"

"I don’t know, lady. I just deliver ‘em. Merry Christmas."

Pointy didn’t understand. The woman didn’t seem happy at all. Had he done something wrong?

The woman yelled to someone, "Hey, come see what we got."

A man came out of an office, saw Pointy, and rolled his eyes. He said, "Ugh! Another poinsettia? Every year we get a friggin' poinsettia, and every year we have no place to put it. What in the hell are we going to do with it?"

"Don’t look at me," said the woman at the desk, "I don’t have any room here for it."

Other people came out of their offices to see what the noise was about. As each one saw Pointy, they laughed and made faces and said mean things.

Pointy wanted very much to be back in his friendly greenhouse. This wasn’t at all as he had imagined it, or as Uncle Pedro had told him it would be. He wanted to just shrivel up and make himself as small as possible.

Finally, the woman at the desk took him and placed him on a wobbly table, near some stacks of old yellowed paper and bent paperclips and dried up pens that nobody ever used. Every so often, someone who hadn’t seen him before would walk by. At first, Pointy tried standing up proud and showing off his pretty red leaves. However, it was always the same story. Either the person just walked by without noticing him, or laughed and said something mean about him.

After a while, Pointy just gave up. He stopped caring what the people said. He started losing his big red leaves that he had been so proud of. As he did so, the people in the office started saying even worse things about him. They kicked at his fallen leaves and, when they picked them up, they threw them in the garbage, cursing. He could feel his roots drying out. Nobody gave him any water. Nobody cared about him. There was no sun; just a cold bit of light from some fluorescent tubes. As much as a poinsettia had a heart, Pointy’s was broken.

Pointy lost many more of his leaves. He was dying. He wanted to die. Life was a miserable thing. Christmas? It was just a cruel joke. He had imagined much love, and had received none.


One day, about a week after he had been delivered, a new person came into the office. Pointy hadn’t seen this person before, but he expected that he would hear more of the same insults and derisive laughter. He didn’t care. What could this person say that would hurt him more than what he had already heard, already lived through?

The new person said, "Hey, who gave us the poinsettia?"

The woman at the desk answered, "Oh, the landlord gave us the damn thing. It’s been shedding leaves ever since it got here."

Pointy listened disinterestedly.

The new person said, "Well, heck, maybe he needs a little water. Has anybody given him a drink?"

Pointy’s ears perked up (or, at least, what passed for ears on Pointy.)

"Let’s give him a drink," said the new person.

"Knock yourself out," said the woman at the desk.

The new person went into the kitchen, and Pointy could hear water running. As much as he thought he was beyond caring, he felt himself thirsting for a drink. The new person came back out carrying a cup full of water. He poured it into Pointy’s dirt.

Pointy was shocked by how good it felt.

The new person said, "There you go, guy. How’s that?"

Pointy fairly yearned to jump out of his pot and give the person a hug.

The new person said, to the lady at the desk, "Hey, do you mind if I take him into my office? Maybe I can bring him back to life."

The woman at the desk said, "Give it your best shot, Jim, but I think it’s a lost cause."

Jim! That was the friendly man’s name! Pointy tried to make what leaves he had left stand up a bit for Jim, but he was too weak to do very much. He noticed with gratitude that it didn’t seem to matter to Jim. He was picking him up and taking him into his office, anyway.


Every day, Pointy waited for Jim to arrive. Every day, Jim did something nice for Pointy. He gave Pointy a drink of water, or he put him where he could get a bit of sunshine. When one of Pointy’s leaves was withered and painful, Jim gently removed it, giving Pointy space to grow a new, stronger leaf.

Finally, it came to the day before Christmas. For all of the love Pointy was receiving from Jim, there was still the pain of knowing that what he had heard about Christmas was untrue. Nobody had seen him and said, ‘What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!’

Pointy had grown back some big, green leaves. The few red ones he had left were strong and bright now. He wished that someone would get to see them for Christmas. He wished that he could bring someone some joy. Of course, Jim liked him, but he still wanted to believe in what his Uncle Pedro had told him during that time which seemed so long ago now. He wanted to be a plant that made someone smile at Christmas.

Pointy saw lights being turned off in the office, and he heard people saying cheery good-byes, and wishing each other happy holidays. Well, he had been lucky to find one new friend, he supposed. Maybe that would get him through the holiday. Jim would be back in a couple of days, and that wouldn’t be so bad. At least he made Jim happy.

He heard the door lock. It was dark and cold now. His leaves drooped a bit. Even though he had known what was going to happen, he had still hoped that Jim might...


Pointy heard the door to the office open and he noticed one light come on. "Probably the cleaning people", thought Pointy. But then, there was Jim! Jim bent down to pick him up, then carried him out of the office, down the stairs, and out into the... SNOW! Jim put Pointy down into the cold white stuff.

Oh, no! Was Jim tired of him, too? Was he leaving him to die in the snow? What a cruel world it truly was!

Pointy only had a few seconds to entertain such morbid thoughts. Jim picked him up again, put him into the front seat of his car, put a seat belt around Pointy's container, and turned on the heat. Then Jim started driving. Jim was taking him home! For Christmas!

And so Jim DID bring Pointy home for Christmas, and Pointy saw Christmas lights and Christmas trees, and he had sunshine and warmth and as much water as he wanted to drink. And love. Pointy had love. And Jim (and JIM'S WIFE) said to him, on Christmas morning...

"What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty you are, with your big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas, Pointy!"

They even knew Pointy’s name!

And when spring came, Jim planted Pointy in the front yard. And Pointy told his story to the gooseberry bush, and to the little pine tree, and to all of the dragon lilies. He grew big and bushy and bright green. And when the frosts of autumn came, and his leaves turned a little yellow, and he thought that maybe Jim had forgotten all about him, Jim dug him up and brought him back into the house. And he is there even now.

And this year, not only does Pointy know that Christmas will be a happy time, Pointy IS the Christmas Tree - at least for now. And he is the happiest poinsettia in the whole entire world, even though he has no big red leaves at all.



This was written, and first published, two years ago. That's when the final photo is from. Since then, Pointy has had two more chances to grow bigger and bushier while planted outside. The first year he did. This past year, not so much. Unfortunately, poinsettias can get root rot rather easily from too much water, and there was a torrential downpour while he was outside, still in his pot, before I had had a chance to take him out of it and put him in the ground.

After the storm, I came out to look at him and was heartbroken to find that his pot was filled to the brim with rainwater. Much of his dirt had been violently washed away. I immediately did what I could, which wasn't much, unfortunately. I emptied the excess water, added some fresh soil to absorb what was left, and took Pointy back inside to dry off. He survived, but it was touch and go for a week or so.

After I was sure he had dried sufficiently, I planted him in the front garden for the summer. He did okay, but he didn't flourish as he did the previous years. I've since dug him up and brought him back in for the winter. All of the combined shocks to his system didn't do him a great deal of good. He lost quite a few leaves. I've had to prune him a bit, I've given him large doses of Miracle-Gro, and done whatever little I know to help. I think it's touch and go again.

If you're the praying sort, and you don't think it blasphemous to say a prayer for a plant, Pointy and I would appreciate a few kind words.

And remember, if you somehow get a poinsettia for Christmas, it doesn't have to be thrown out with the old tree and discarded wrapping paper. With a bit of love, it can keep growing for years. It probably won't have big red leaves for too much longer, but green is a nice Christmas color, too!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Sins Of The (Grand) Father

Those of you who might have been wondering where I got my sense of humor are about to be enlightened. Those of you who just plain wonder about my sense of humor, and never mind where I got it, will learn nothing. First, though, I need to say a word or two of explanation concerning a component of this post.

A couple of weeks ago, Jazz did a handwritten post. It was a cute idea and somewhat interesting as a change of pace. In her comments section, I said that I’d do something with that idea sooner or later.

Then, a week or so back, Cricket published a letter that his grandfather had written. Good piece, and revealing of some bit of his grandfather’s personality. That post reminded me about a letter I possessed, written by my own grandfather, and I told Cricket that I’d publish it soon.

Voila! This kills two birds with one stone (which is pretty good aim if they're hummingbirds, or a pretty big stone if they're ostriches.) I’m publishing the letter and it’s handwritten. I realize this won’t give any phrenologists in the crowd any particular insight into my psyche via a sample of MY handwriting, but that's because phrenologists read the bumps on people's heads. It won't help the graphologists, either, though. Of course, anybody who feels he needs a handwriting sample to delve into my psyche just hasn’t spent enough time delving into my archives. I’ve given up enough personal info to supply any psych major with a complete thesis and the goods to prove it.

The letter was written in 1961, from my maternal grandfather to my father. Why he decided to write to my father is something I can’t quite figure out. I mean, they liked each other, so it wasn’t totally out of character, but why just to my father? Why not to my mother (who was his daughter, after all) or to both of them? Perhaps he had used the little jokes and linguistic devices on her already and just decided that a new audience would be more appreciative. In any case, it remains one of my life’s small mysteries.

You might notice a few interesting things from the envelope. Here it is.

The postmark is Clearwater, Florida. My grandparents lived in Weymouth, Massachusetts. That wouldn’t normally be too unusual, as lots of folks from the northeast take vacations in Florida. However, notice the date. It’s July 1st. Not too many people choose to take their vacation in Florida in July. The average July temperature in Florida hovers around 90 and the average humidity is try breathing through a wet sponge. Apparently, my grandparents liked it hot and steamy.

You’ll also want to notice the cancellation – "Support Your Mental Health Association." As you read more of the letter, you’ll begin to suspect that the post office had some sort of premonition concerning the contents.

(The discoloration is probably spilled ink from some time when it was tucked away in a closet during the intervening years. Luckily, it obscures only a very small part of the writing.)

My grandfather, Fran Drown, was a very interesting guy. I’ll have to write more about him some other day. He was a lawyer, a very intelligent man, but he had a number of small quirks about him that match my own. For instance, he liked to watch children’s television shows as a way of relaxing. He would come home from his job as lead claims attorney for the MBTA (the major public transit agency – subways, buses, commuter railways - in Boston and surroundings) and sit in his bedroom smoking a pipe while watching The Electric Company. He rarely took a drink, so that functioned in the same way, for him, as Mister Roger’s Neighborhood has for me – a video martini.

Well, as I said, more about him at a later time. Let’s get to the point. Here’s the letter.

(It has become faint over the years, so I’ll type it out following this reproduction.)

What’s The Date?

Dear Tom:

I tell you, this epistle ranks with the Sumerian cuneiform tablets as a rara avis veritas. Once in six years I take pen in hand and find to my surprise that it is a pencil. However, enough of this fol-de-rol. Leave us get down to the serious business of trying to record trivia.

Saw a sign in No. Carolina for some motel, an expensive and beautiful sign by The Acme Sign Co., "Turn left just be on the bridge." And down in South San Petrograd
[That would be Saint Petersburg – Jim] is another one advertising someone’s "Resterunt."

It’s a trifle warm around noontime, up to 89 – 90, but who minds when it’s only 50 paces to the pool, walk in and get cool, or The Gulf is a short trip, let’s have a dip. It cools down to mid 70’s by evening, usually a breeze.

There is a family from Texas across the street. A young woman and 3 kids, oldest is six. He’s a thin serious kid with glasses, name of Jodie, but I call him Tex and he smiles & lights up like a Christmas tree. He was fishing the other day beside our place & got the hook deep in his right hand on the fleshy part near the thumb. He looked at it and said, "It’s a good thing I’m left-handed!" Maybelle took him to the Dr. who finally got it out and took 7 stitches. Not a sound out of the kid the whole time. If it had been me, you would have heard it up there.

Porpoises come up in the bay daily, rolling & puffing. I don’t know whether they are looking for food or mormoises.

We took a boat ride yesterday across Tampa Bay & up The Manatee River, an all day trip. A nice trip, nothing spectacular, spoiled somewhat by the usual accordion player – would be comedian – entertainer wandering the deck, with the usual pitiful plea of how his ill health forced him to seek out door work and the owners let him come on board but with no salary, his living dependent upon our generosity. Give him a dime and ask him to play "Far, Far Away." Incidentally, he was a big husky Swede name of Olsen, looked like he could handle himself, and when not entertaining (?) sat below decks splicing rope and smoking cigars, or perhaps vice-versa from the smell, but the trip was nice.

I’m tired.

Love to you-all.


Now, if that sense of humor doesn’t prove genetics, I don’t know what possibly could.

Soon, with more better stuff.