Merry Christmas

I’m up early, staring at the tree. It looks good even in daylight which is good for a Christmas tree, sometimes they look strange then, things off, lights blinking ridiculously. But not this one. It’s pretty perfect. Our drunk friends did a nice job, though I still see a few Cheetos. No presents under it yet, we haven’t even started shopping, that’ll be today. We always do the last minute thing. Know where to go (which isn’t the Galleria) and be back in time for eggnog and A Christmas Carol. The one with Alistair Sim, the spooky one. Or maybe A Charlie Brown Christmas, which I’ve probably watched at least once every year since it came out in 1965. That was in Maine, there was snow on the ground, it snowed like crazy that year in Maine. Snowed even on the following Mother’s Day, a regular blizzard. Out here they were surfing and tanning and making stupid beach movies, in Maine they were shovelling and cursing the slush. The next year, 1966, How the Grinch Stole Christmas came out for the very first time, and I’ve probably seen it every year since. That was in Maine, too, and there was snow on the ground. Those two Christmases were rather remarkable for me, I remember, since we lived in the same house for both. I can’t remember us ever having two of any holiday in one house during my childhood except 1965 and ’66. Maybe that’s why I have such fond memories of Maine. Brunswick, the little town we lived in, was all dolled up in Yuletide everything, but in an old fashioned way. It was cold and snowy but just like a movie. We had a huge tree and decorating it was a blast. Mom had her own tree, too, in the den. It was aluminum, white, and decked with blue balls, with a blue spinning lamp that reflected on it, and it sparkled, and we weren’t allowed to touch it. That was very early sixties, that tree, very Jackie Onassis. I don’t know if they still even have trees like that. The real tree, though, was big–huge to an eight or nine year old–and had a zillion ornaments, some brought all the way from Austria-Hungary by my grandparents. We had to be extra careful with those, especially the perfect little bird’s nests with the tiny eggs. I wonder if you can still buy those? Or do you have to import them from Austria-Hungary, which hasn’t even existed for a hundred years. A Never-Never Land, like a fairy tale, or a drug induced hallucination, whatever. Leave it to me to have half my relatives from a place that doesn’t exist. The other half came from Ireland, and the tradition was to drape the tree with strings of popcorn and oranges if they could afford them and light it with candles. Whiskey and candles were a bad mix, the one leaving you to forget the latter, and houses would burn down in Irish neighborhoods every year, one or two. Or so my dear mother told me. We had electric lights. Everyone did by the time I was born.  We had a train too going around the tree. We still do.  Maybe you’ve seen it.

I loved Christmas as a kid, and I love Christmas now. I can’t help it. I’m just a sucker for the tree and shopping and wrapping presents and eggnog (lots of eggnog). I think I even like hating the same stupid carols they play over and over and over. Feliz Navidad, oh lord. In Maine groups of kids went door to door a-caroling, I remember that vividly. Out here no children have ever come a-caroling to our door–any of our doors, and there’s been four of them since 1980. Though one Christmas Eve we were at a friend’s place in Hollywood and gay carolers came to his door. Gay as in gay, though they seemed gay as in happy too. You’ve never seen carolers until you’ve seen gay carolers. They were dressed in Christmas to the nines. I’d never seen Christmas handcuffs before. Later I knew a lady who showed me her’s. L.A. is different from Maine, and Silver Lake was different from anywhere.

It’s still traditional in our household, though. Well, I did just notice that the gingerbread couple in the snow globe are anatomically correct. I’d never noticed that before. It was a gift, years ago. That’s a lot of snickering behind Brick’s back. And there are Cheetos hung on the Christmas tree with care. But otherwise it’s a traditional Christmas here, as always, and so I’ll deliver my traditional Merry Christmas to all of you who’ve read this far. And a Happy New Year. I hope your holidays are the best.

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Oral Surgery

At the last of the season’s summer BBQ’s last nite the dudes sat around telling macho scary oral surgery stories. Pain, lots of pain, pain so severe that even the strongest of men could not will it away, and teeth so big cocked and gnarly that the sweating dentist could only yank them from the jaw with supreme effort. Hot dental assistants look on, excited. Then come the painkillers, huge Charlie Parker sized bottles full of opiates and whatnot, then abuse and whiskey and rock’n’roll and dénouement. 

Which leads, as these things often do, to a story I’d already written a couple years ago, in which….

My wife Fyl had some oral surgery today, replacing a previously yanked front tooth that had gone rotten from neglect during her amnesia. The surgeon screwed in a big, well, it was a screw, a nasty looking thing in the x-ray….and when I got there to drive her home  there were spatters of blood everywhere. She’s a stoic Indian, though (that stereotype is 100% true from all the ones I’ve known) and said nothing, complained about nothing. She’s a trooper, the nurse said. She’s trooper the dentist said. Later we’d been home and hour or so when the oral surgeon called to check on any bleeding or pain. None. Gave her his pager number just in case. A good doc. (Fourteen hundred dollars worth of good, though.)

His call took me back nearly 25 years. I had an incisor gone bad. A major tooth, those incisors, deeply, massively rooted, the tooth that half a million years ago we’d tear fresh raw flesh off of bones. A tooth strong enough to shear though meat and sinew. Yanking one out takes a lot of drilling, anesthesia and sheer dental muscle. I remember the amazing sound it made pulling free, a huge crunch that went right up the jaw to the eardrum. There was blood everywhere.

I went home with a bloody cotton wad where my smile used to be, and a big jar of some kind of painkillers, probably vicodin. I ate one, smoked a joint, drank some beers. I was feeling good, even missing a tooth. There was an amazing band (maybe two bands, but I only remember Universal Congress Of) playing a performance spot called Olio around the corner. Maybe 100 yards away. I told Fyl that I was gonna go down there. She didn’t look so sure but no stopping me. At least I wasn’t driving. I took another vicodin (maybe two), rolled a couple joints, bought a bottle of Bushmill’s at the neighborhood liquor store and went to the show. I got so high, utterly wasted, a mouth fall of bloody cotton, polishing off the bottle (though a few others joined in) and smoking all kinds of weed—what I’d brought, what others brought. Joint after joint went round. The band was righteous, groovy, dissonant, rocking, funky, swinging…it was an incredible show, and a great party. I knew everybody. The men, the ladies, everybody. Or thought I did anyway. Eventually I reeled home, up the hill past a couple houses and down our long driveway, stomped up the steps and stumbled inside, singing. What a blast I yelled, and began regaling my wife with details. I was still really, really high on everything, the pills, the whiskey, the weed, the music and pure adrenaline. I kept talking and talking. Then I admitted ya know, I’m kinda fucked up.  She looked at me.

Your dentist called.

Oops.

He was concerned. Said he did some serious surgery on you, there was a lot of blood, a big open wound. He was worried about pain and bleeding. Told you to take it easy.  He wanted to talk to you.

Uh oh.

I told him you were asleep.

Perfect answer. For he never would have understood that perfect a night. I  passed out and slept like a baby.

Ya know, I really loved my thirties. I was such a crazy macho motherfucker, a hard drumming, hard fucking, hard partying and hard writing mass of epileptic energy. I was, all of us were then, these glorious nuts. Oh man have I settled down. I catch myself being boring, monotonous, and wonder how the hell did this happen?

Age, I guess, experience. Just getting old. Things break or wear out or just don’t stay up as long as they used to. Friends disappear into mundane lives. So that’s all you do? That?

Sigh…..

Funny how oral surgery—and not even my own oral surgery, for christ sake—set this off. Ya never know where memories will come from. Or how accurate they are.