456. The Christmas Gang

We’d long heard rumors of how their kids were known to come out of the woods in blinking shoes and Santa hats, on push scooters, singing, “Jing-a-ling-a-long.” But we couldn’t imagine finding them standing alongside their parents in our driveway when we returned from the store.

“Shit,” Sheryl said as I pulled in with the car and stopped. “Is that—?”

“Yes, I’m afraid it is. And see that guy in the bulky Rudolf sweater?”

“Tom?” she hissed.

“Yep, it’s definitely him.”

We had heard how Tom had been beat into this gang by a medley of Christmas carols, but we didn’t expect him to look as bad as he did, smiling wildly into the glare of our headlights as if cracked out on Starbucks gingerbread lattes.

I backed up, parked alongside the curb in front of our house and turned to Sheryl. “We’ve got to get these groceries inside, you hear me?”

She nodded.

“I’ll try to distract them while you grab the bags and on my cue we’ll run together for the front door.”

I got out and came around the car to address Tom and the others standing now on the edge of our lawn.  “We don’t want to make a big deal of this, Tom, but you’ve got to let Sheryl and me get into the house without any troubles tonight, okay?”

“Oh, come on, Barry,” he said. “What kind of troubles are we going to give you, huh? We just want five minutes of your time.”

“Tom, no, you heard me. Because there are kids here, I don’t want to make a big scene. But last year it took me two months—until February, Tom—to get your gang’s damn songs out of my head. And I’m sorry to see that you’re now part of them, but whatever, you need to leave. All of you need to get off my lawn.”

“Come on, Barry. Is this sour mood really so necessary? It’s Christmas Eve.”

“It is Christmas Eve, Tom, you’re right, but I can see what you’re doing here, and it’s not going to work, okay? There are no chestnuts at this house, and there will be no roasting them on the open fire, you hearing me?” With that, I turned to nod at Sheryl and we took off for the house. But halfway across the frozen lawn, Sheryl slipped and landed badly, spilling the groceries. After a stunned moment or two, she got to her knees and began gathering the scattered cans and packages.

“Leave them,” I said. “Leave them goddamnit, Sheryl!”

IMG_3221I went into the house, grabbed the heaviest ornament from off our Christmas tree—a ceramic Santa—and showed it to the others, holding it up in my throwing hand as I returned to the front yard.

“Come on, Barry! Is this sour mood really so necessary?”

“You stay back, Tom.” I helped Sheryl to her feet and hurried with her to the house.

“Come on, Barry,” Tom yelled after us again as I quickly opened, closed and locked the front door, and then we huddled against it on the floor.

We could hear mumbling from Tom and the others as they came up onto our front porch. They rang the doorbell twice, and after a few moments, one more time. I held my hand over Sheryl’s mouth and whispered into her ear, “Be very quiet.”

“Merry Christmas to you to then!” Tom yelled at us finally through the door and stomped away. We could hear them later making their joyful noise down the road, assaulting our innocent neighbors house by house with  “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Silver Bells,” “We Three Kings” and then—

“Oh, God, can it really be?” Sheryl whispered.

“I’m afraid, yes. Probably the most deadly one of them all.”

“Damn that Little Drummer Boy.”

We listened until we couldn’t hear much of anything anymore. But even long after the gang had moved out of earshot down the road, we remained on the floor, grateful if nothing else for the warmth here in each other’s arms on this particularly cold and silent night. 


455. A Brief History of America

BANG! You’re dead.
(Scribbled on a pink Post-it.)



454. The Author Searches for His Morning Simile

IMG_2096It was finally a problem. It sat heavy on his chest. It was like a midget—or sorry, a little person—sitting on his chest, making it difficult for him to breathe. But that was a strange thing to say. He was reading it off the teleprompter, but still it was strange. There should have been a rewrite here. Maybe it was more like a dog, a big Labrador sitting on his chest, but not in a precious way. Or like a red wheelbarrow filled with a hundred jam jars. Or like a continent. It weighed on him like a cold, unfriendly, unwanted continent? Yes. Possibly, yes. It was like Antarctica sitting there heavy on his chest. Or like Walt Whitman. It was like Walt Whitman sitting on his chest with his wood pen and bottle of ink, weeping for the young men, Civil War soldiers—some friends, others brothers, from both sides of the fighting line—all now dead.

453. When God Wakes, There Will Be Hell to Pay

Humans are God’s unconscious, this scholar named Gershom Scholem once said. That seems strange. Some non-scholarly types have since suggested on the other hand that God’s medication was off or that he might have that Seasonal Affective Disorder and was depressed, which could explain a lot. About any of these things, who can really say? We only know that God has been asleep for a long time. He’s been asleep for what has seemed like centuries. But then he woke, in fact only a few days ago, for no reason at all except that he was done sleeping and said, “What did I miss?”

You missed a lot, God, so many things. In no particular order, you missed the Black Plague and the Thirty Years’ War, and the Catholics and Protestants warring with each other in Northern Ireland and 9/11. You missed Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church doors. You missed Flo-Jo’s three gold medals in the 1988 Olympics. You missed evolution. You missed “The Matrix,” the movie. You missed ice cream. You missed the Great Depression and the Great Recession. You missed reality TV (although you didn’t miss a lot).

photo by Yona Photo

photo by Yona Photo

But then that brings us to what takes the ultimate cake. A man on one of these reality shows recently said some bad things about gays and was suspended from the show, and Facebook is blowing up about it because this guy is a godly man, as you can imagine, and what he said he claimed was only, after all, in a book that you wrote even if, as the case may well be, while asleep.

And with that, God nodded, stretched, yawned and went back to bed. And although at every cry of protest, at every ritual purification or bloody sacrifice vying for his attention, at every confessional or liturgical prayer, at every dramatic display of desert-drifting sackcloth and ashes kind of repentance thrown up from us, his unconscious, in an effort to redeem this clearly good and godly man and get him reinstated on his show, God stirred, it was true, and even talked, twitched on occasion, had night terrors, wet dreams, cried out, snorted, sneezed, but slept on.

452. Written Across Our Bodies

On the evening of your miscarriage,
the cat raced across our bodies
on the bed to shove her head
through the metal slats of the blinds
in the terrible heat of that July night.

I woke each time and could feel you
awake beside me. We lay there,
hoping for sleep as an antidote
to grief, but again we woke
when the cat jumped back
up to the bed for one more look
at whatever it was that she seemed
so desperate for us to read—
her message delivered in a strange
and hurried type, each crash
of her head through the blinds
a carriage return. What does it mean?

As this happened years ago, you
no doubt have a different cat
with a different lover. But I want
to think that if only on this day
in late December, as cold now
as it was then, at times, too hot,
that we carry still, that our cells
carry still, the memory of that
indecipherable masterpiece written
in four paws across our two bodies.

photo by Andi Starr

photo by Andi Starr

451. Reaching the End

Followed by months of conjecture, ideas, theories and what could almost seem like prayer (MaybeAllen?), until I understood, finally, what probably the boy once knew and only the man forgot. It is good to reach the end of a delusional place.

—Which is the way? Faust asks.
—No way! Mephistopheles replies. On solitudes you will drift far and wide.

I looked up. There was no moon. There was water. Water and wind. Fires around me still, but only ash where people had been.

Maybe? Allen? Just maybe, Mr. Ginsberg, I was done howling. I had the words, these final notes, taped to my chest. I had the way—no way! This way, the water, without end

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg at Jack Kerouac's grave, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1975 (twitpic by @berfrois)

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg at Jack Kerouac’s grave, Lowell, Massachusetts, 1975
(twitpic by @berfrois)