Saturday, December 24, 2005

Scenes In Frost

*My grandfather, Charlie Perrin, now-nearly 20 years dead, but then in the early-70s getting hammered on Christmas Eve, gathering all his grandkids in a circle in his living room, waving his arms conductor-like and singing:

Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday Baby Jeeee--sus.
Happy Birthday to you!

Falls to one knee, does a bit of Jolson:

"And I dooooo mean youuuuuu."

*My stepmother insisting on a white metallic tree sporting only white lights, in corner of our large rural house, blazing thru the dark of the room & thru the big bay window onto our 3 acre spread lined with sleeping corn fields, large barren trees I climb in warmer weather, old two-lane road and silo silhouettes in the swirling snowy mist.

*Big green metal Tonka truck under a real tree, on Ireland Court, when I was six.

*Sweet & sour pork with chicken fried rice for three Christmas Eves running in my mid-teens.

*Playing Santa for my daughter's pre-school class in Soho to the delight of all the kids except my daughter, eyeing me from a safe distance, unaware that it's me under all the padding and fake white hair but convinced that Santa's dangerous and not to be trusted, as he sneaks into strangers' homes in the dead of night, which creeps her out no end.

*Midnight mass, the only time I like the Catholic Church, dramatic priests in multicolored ceremonial robes swinging burning incense, candles on the altar, sell-out crowd in late night finery, the choir belting out timeless Christmas classics you can tap your foot to.

*My son's first Christmas, Park Slope Brooklyn, climbing inside boxes, crumpling wrapping paper, slobbering on orange & yellow plastic rings.

*Holiday party at the Nation magazine office, 1988, trying to make witty small talk with TT, an Ivy League editorial assistant I have a crush on, who is always serious and stern and has no knowledge of the pop culture refs that fly outta my mouth -- never heard of The Flintstones! -- while Alexander Cockburn wearing big red shoes dances with a cute intern to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" as the rest of the staff looks on with erudite bored expressions.

*Smoldering furniture blackens the snow in front of a fire-gutted house in my childhood neighborhood, Christmas tree caught flame, nobody hurt but people crying as the firemen finish their business, and an acrid smell locked into my memory for life.

*My kids naming the tree each year -- this year, Bruce the Spruce, a crooked beaut that while firmly held in place, still looks like it's about to fall over.

*Those first Christmases after my sister Laura died, wondering when she was coming back & sad she was missing the fun.

*Michael O'Donoghue's last Christmas party before his death, "The Reindeer Ball," eclectic crowd, O'D in high spirits taking me aside, encouraging me as a writer, his hand on my shoulder, his eyes friendly & warm.

*The wife playing my favorite carols on the piano, me singing in my tone-deaf voice, the cats running to the basement to hide.

*Walking barefoot in 5 inches of snow at Christmas Eve sundown when 15, because Shaolin monks did it and I wanna join a monastery & learn Tiger Claw gung fu from blind masters.

*Standing under the Rockefeller Center tree every year, its branches further apart than it appears from a distance, ice skaters yelling and laughing on the rink just below.

*Pre-dawn anticipation as a kid, brief moments of purest happiness in the years before various family shitstorms hit.

*Enjoying my kids' anticipation, keeping the shitstorms at bay.