Monday, December 18, 2023

It's Christmastime

All I wanted was a roast beef sandwich with horse radish on rye.  I wanted it now for two days straight.  Should be easy, right?  I couldn't think of a single place in town where I could get that.  What happened to all the good delis?  We used to have the best one here in my own hometown.  We all used to meet there on Friday afternoons.  I usually had lunch there on Saturdays when you could sit at a sidewalk table on the far, quiet end of the Boulevard and be absolutely certain you would see friends.  But that closed years ago.  Now all you can get around here are fried chicken sandwiches, tacos and burritos, and foo-foo dishes that cost a fortune.  No delis.  Nowhere.  

It was a shock to me.  

That was Saturday lunchtime.  I didn't know what to do, really, so flummoxed, I searched my cabinets and came up with some lentil soup and a can of corned beef.  Why did I have corned beef?  That's the sort of thing you buy here in preparation for a hurricane.  I don't know why.  You just do.  So I put on the soup to heat and opened the corned beef.  Strange color, sort of pink and white.  And slick.  You could lubricate things with it.  I sliced off a bit, just a little.  I was really afraid to eat it.  And I was right.  It crumbled when I cut it and felt greasy in my mouth.  I decided to drop some into the soup, though, and that was alright.  It was better.  

Sunday morning, after coffee, stomach hollow, I thought to make a bowl of Uncle Sam cereal with yogurt.  Then I thought about the corned beef I had sealed up and put in the fridge.  There was a little tug-o-war between wanting the healthier breakfast and not wasting the corned beef.  I have gotten frugal now that my "small but adequate income" isn't growing at the rate of inflation.  I knew I had to eat the corned beef and not throw it away.  

I sliced some corned beef and put it into the frying pan, the pulled out the carton of organic eggs.  The "organic" part seemed weird with corned beef, wasted at best, but I cracked two eggs and started some strange egg and beef scramble.  

It wasn't bad.  

It was early Sunday morning when I finished.  It had stormed for the last twelve hours.  The wind was still gusting, but it looked like the rain was ending.  I had three cameras with half-shot rolls in them.  I had more than that, but three that were within arms reach.  Maybe I could do some reflection stuff in Gotham.  It was early.  Yea, what else was I going to do?

I put on a pair of shoes, grabbed two camera bags, and drove.  And as soon as I got in the car, it started to rain.  It rained all the way to Gotham.  I pulled over on the main drag downtown and the rain picked up.  The streets looked beat, dull and gray.  I started the car up and drove on into another part of town.  

Rather than re-write what happened next, I'm going to simply copy and paste what I wrote in answer to a Sky query about my holiday spirit that day.  

I wake up very early of late.  Early of late—either really bad or really funny.  I don't read much news any longer.  I skim headlines more quickly than ever and send much less to friends. . . with fewer commentaries.  Then I write, lately with my foot or elbow, without color or intelligence.  Then there is, of course, the "routine."  But today I headed out the door fairly early loaded with film cameras.  I thought the rain was over, so I drove downtown. As soon as I got into my car, however, the rain resumed.  Downtown was dumpy.  I turned on Church Street and crossed 441 into the poor and industrial 'hoods.  Church's Chicken has a Texas Sized Meal for only $3!  Dirt and weeds, no sidewalks or curbs, everything stained and needing paint for about the last 30 years.  The rain continued and so I didn't get out of the car.  The sky and landscape were grey.  People walked with blue plastic bags from the World of Food grocers in beat clothing.  On a corner, men stood and sat waiting for something.  A tough fellow with baggy jeans and even baggier gym shorts over them, crotch to knees, did a homeboy rock in the shoe type shuffle.  Cigarettes and bottles of cheap liquor.  The Red Sea Market with bars on the windows and a broken parking lot.  An old man walking slowly with a cane.  Poor.  Everything was poor and broken and dirty.  It reminded me of growing up in Crime Hills.  I got the feeling deep down in my bones.  The rain never let up and I never got out, so I drove back to my own 'hood, the closer I got, the more grass, the more curbs and sidewalks, the fresher the paint, the grander the automobiles.  I stopped at Publix.  When I got out of the car, I felt unstable, hardly able to walk.  I bought needed things.  My eyes lighted on eggnog.  What the hell, I thought, and I bought a quart.  When I pulled into my drive, the rain let up.  I don't drink bourbon, but I knew I had some Old Forester left from years ago in the "library."  Liquor doesn't go bad.  So I poured some eggnog and some Old Forester, and here I sit writing you about my "jolly scale" and sipping a holiday drink at noon.  

I had driven around for hours, I guess.  I made a loop all around the outskirts of Gotham.  I drove through a lot of industrial parts of town, then back to "civilization."  I grew up in a poor, rough neighborhood like the ones I was driving through.  It is hard on the spirit.  You know there is a party going on  to which you were not invited.  You don't even know how to get there.  So you walk broken streets longing for something, and what you find is trouble.  Gangs of disenfranchised boys hang out and talk tough until something must be done.  Robberies and alcohol and drugs.  There are fights.  

And of course, if you do not feel you belong with that crowd, there are long, lonely times wishing for. . . oh, yea. . . you know. . . . 

Your own True Love.  

It was noon when I got back home.  What the hell.  Eggnog and Old Forester.  Damn.  Good.  So another.  And what is there to do on a Sunday afternoon when you are emotionally limp and full of nog?  

I took a nap.  

My mother was making dinner for me that night, so there was a silver lining.  Around three, I decided to call her to see what time she wanted me.  

"Hey old mom, what are you doing."

"I'm just sitting here thinking about shooting myself."


"I put the roast in the oven.  Then I started smelling smoke.  I set the oven to 325, but the roast was burning up.  I took it out and tried cutting off the burned parts."

"Your oven is screwed.  We need to get you a new one.  Ha!  Don't worry about the roast. Do you want me to pick something up and bring it over?"

"No.  I think it is o.k."

"Do you want me to bring some bullets?"


You might have guessed by now that I had told my mother about my roast beef dilemma.  So. . . good old mom.  

At four, I decided to sit on the deck and have a Campari and soda before I went to my mother's.  The rain had stopped and the air was beginning to cool.  

Dinner turned out well, but her house smelled of smoke.  We ate and drank beer and talked about her life as a child growing up Depression poor with her parents and siblings on her grandfather's farm.  She came out with memories I had never heard.  She went up to her grandparents house to work quite a bit, she said.  Her grandmother had a stroke in childbirth and never completely regained use of one of her arms.  My mother would clean house and do her grandmother's nails.  In her parents house, there was nothing for entertainment.  But her grandparents had things.  Her grandfather had made a working savings bank when he was employed in a steel manufacturing plant.  It was a man's face with a handle that would open its mouth so you could deposit a coin.  She liked pulling the handle and watching the jaws work.  They had a player piano, and she would put in the player rolls and pump the foot pedals to make music.  They had a wind up Victrola, too, with some old records.  She remembered the player slowing down and she would have to get up to turn the handle and get it playing again.  

"I remember more about my childhood with my grandparents than with my parents," she told me.  

Her older brother had gone to live with the grandparents when he got old enough to help on the farm, and she would go up to play with him often.  Once he moved up, he never moved back.  

"One day after I had helped my grandmother, I sat down at the piano and my grandmother said, 'You've done with your chores.  You can go.'  I was a teen by then, and when I went home, I told my parents I wasn't going up there anymore.  I went back occasionally, but not like before.  I didn't like that."

And, of course, my mother had become a True Beauty by then.  She said she could go out to the highway and flag down a bus that would take her into town.  Her teen life had begun.  


Mom turned on her Christmas tree.  

"I don't know where I got this.  I've had it forever.  I was going to throw it away, but I plugged it in and decided to put it up."

So the bullets weren't necessary.  We were "in the season."  I thanked her for the roast beef, and she thanked me for the beer.  

"I needed that," she said.  

We have come from shit, but we worked and made a wage, and things turned out alright.  Her neighborhood is wonderfully lit for Christmas and she is going caroling with a group of neighbors tonight.  Two men will take guitars, and I think there may be other instruments, too.  Good old mom.  

Back home, I thought about the day.  Then this arrived. 

Look at that. . . a photo from my Own True Love.  Yea, I knew there was a party to which I never got invited, but things have worked out o.k.  I knew she'd turn a corner sometime.  Ha!

My friend who moved to the midwest sent me a pic.  "This was us nine years ago today," she wrote.

It was a factory Christmas party that I sponsored at my boss's house.  

"Weren't we something," I said.  


But of course, I wrote, I look better now.  

Why can't doctors do this?  

My own week is about to get busy.  I have lunches and nights out to celebrate the holiday spirit.  And no matter how much I grumble and grinch. . . you know. . . it's Christmastime.

Eggnog, fruit cake, and outings with friends.  I guess I'm enjoying the season.  

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