For You, for Christmas

December 9, 2012


Note: Yes, I know – like many of you, I’ve been a little busy and I have not kept this up very well. That happens sometimes. Peaks and valleys. Anyway, this is a Christmas present for each of my readers. I’ll try to keep this more current. Don’t forget that there’s more – shorter and more art related than this blog – but more on http://www.munksuncensored.com . I still plan to keep instudiowithjohnstillmunks.wordpress.com for more formal writing than on the uncensored blog. Happy Christmas and enjoy . . . .

For You, for Christmas

I slowly pulled the door shut and said a tiny little prayer for my friend. There was nothing I could do for him.

For just a few seconds, I saw him try to help the “Ton of Fun” – three sisters (or perhaps they really were “cousins”) who were just too damn much fun to drink with during Christmastime or anytime for that matter. One was vomiting all over the floor while my friend slipped and fell on top of one of the other cousins who slipped in her high-heels on top of the third cousin couldn’t stop laughing. The bathroom was tiny – meant for one person, not for a guy in his only good suit dancing with the “Ton of Fun” in a vomit-lubricated, no holds barred, cage match on a filthy tile floor.

The Ton of Fun

I knew he and the Ton of Fun were beyond any hope. I knew I could never un-see what I saw. I went into the other bathroom out of necessity anyway. Most people used the ladies’ room rather than the guys’ because it was cleaner and it worked. I was hoping I would begin to forget what I saw when I walked out.

The place was always an absolute dump. The bartender cashed our checks, paid our tabs, and then cheerfully poured even more happiness for the underachieving intellectuals that could have been so much more.

Like all dive bars, this place had an immortal jukebox. Ours played “House of the Rising Sun” practically non-stop. It was an appropriate song for most of the folks in there. If I hear it after I die, I’ll know where I am heading.

Another friend turned around the partition wall toward the ladies’ restroom. I shook my head as we met out side the ladies’ door and motioned for him to use the guys’ restroom.  He looked at the door and then back at me. He understood not to look or ask.

“Neither of us should be here, Munks.” he said as he lit his cigarette and peeked around the partition toward the middle of the room where people were singing Christmas carols while “House of the Rising Sun” played in the background. Then he stepped into the guys’ restroom. He knew I agreed.

They bulldozed the building years ago and put up a sandwich shop or some damn thing. The bar’s location itself moved up and across the street, but where it was will always be where it is when people from 1983 think of it.

But at Christmas, it was different. At Christmastime, the bartender wore a Santa hat. Some kind of pathetic garland was wrapped around the place and some lights were always strewn up behind the bar. The girls had Christmas pins on their jackets and some had red scarves or knit hats with some kind of Christmas look. The guys totally avoided anything visibly Christmas except the mistletoe hanging in strategic spots around the bar.

I always liked Christmas.

I liked it as a small child. We had some good ones. My grandfather would go nuts and have big-assed Christmas parties that would make George Bailey have a cussing fit, throw that loose part of his staircase at that tree and just start embezzling anyway. Pappy had everything from the decorations to the lights to the green and red bow tie. I think when he died they had a job all set for him handling the Christmas parties in heaven.

High school was a blast at Christmastime. I worked in a hospital and they went all out for Christmas for the patients and employees. Drinking cold beer at high school Christmas parties while it was about 8 degrees outside made sense back then for some reason. Peppermint schnapps and laughing gas while sledding on a golf course didn’t suck either.

Our wedding was at Christmas. We got to see “Christmas Carol” on stage in San Francisco and rode the streetcars with Christmas wreaths on them. We also went to Las Vegas for Christmas a couple of times. There is absolutely nothing like Christmas in Las Vegas.

We lived in Colorado for a few Christmas seasons. A Colorado Christmas is something everyone should experience – even on “no burn” days. The little town we lived in had a Christmas parade every December. Farmers along the Front Range would decorate their barns and fences. People in the mountains went all out on their homes. There was even a huge star on a mountain behind Boulder that lit up above the city. Pearl Street Mall in Boulder is a pedestrian shopping area downtown that was a lot of fun to take small kids or to just walk around and enjoy while picking out presents and stuff. I went to college and tended bar in downtown Denver. Had my first true Christmas beer there. I enjoyed writing semester papers and painting final compositions more in the December’s than during the May’s.

Even as an artist I have enjoyed running the gallery at Christmas. Christmas openings. Great customers and patrons coming in for each Christmas’ offering each year. We’ve raised our family and provided the best Christmas celebrations for them as well as our extended relatives as we could with no regrets. Some are better than others, some are not as good as some others, but overall – I like Christmas.

Christmas has charitable components. It has the fun stuff like watching the look on little faces when they see a Santa or when something ironic like the Salvation Army getting sued because they ring their bells too loudly. There is always somebody doing something stupid with a Christmas undertone that makes it funny. There’s always a dumbass knocking over a display or vandalizing something that is just too ridiculous to not like.

Having Christmas with the kids was a blast every year. Especially when they were really little. It didn’t matter what they got or didn’t get – no one remembers the presents, but they do remember the faces. You can’t buy that. I remember telling one of the kids with a straight face he was only getting a fresh orange one year when he wanted a video game. Priceless.

Old Christmas music is a favorite of mine as well. Not that syrupy Rudolph stuff. I’m talking about the old school, late forties – early fifties narcotic-laced, improvisational, jazzy Christmas music where these yellow-eyed, hard-core types bust out some holiday magic and the only reason we know about it is because someone left a tape recorder on in some Harlem nightclub or somewhere similar about 60 years ago.

This all boils down to one concept or idea I have about Christmas: Christmas has been a way for people to express how they feel about Christmas itself. Maybe it’s making cookies or walking in the mall with the grandkids or heating up a spoon and playing some Christmas jazz in a way no one else can. It was about how to contribute to the idea of Christmas. Decorating hospitals, farms, homes, and schools for the holiday. Teasing the kids. Working on finals in college at Christmas. Putting wreaths on streetcars in San Francisco or singing Christmas songs in a dive bar with The Animals playing in the background while your friend wrestles the Ton of Fun in a crowded bathroom.

It didn’t suck. Maybe we didn’t embrace it much at the time, but it didn’t suck either.

Now it does suck sometimes. The “fiscal cliff” is the news. Stores are open on Thanksgiving. My great aunt would have a coronary at the thought of going shopping at Thanksgiving. Christmas has become a bother and juvenile for many. Other news is pushing Christmas away or at least relegating it to a way for businesses to end the year with a profit.

Black Friday? Instead of lighting up a star above a city or having a cold beer with friends on a cold night for a Christmas party or laughing about the irony some Christmases bring, or somehow doing something for someone or some people for Christmas – we are expected to go shopping so the stores can switch from red ink to black?  It does suck that Christmas happens earlier and earlier in the stores each year and appears to mean less and less as well.

But I still like it. There are still some holdouts that “get” Christmas and there are still examples of people doing for others because it’s Christmas. I always think of that story in the First World War where some British and German soldiers got together for Christmas for a few hours before continuing the war the next day. Is there anything more powerful than that? Can Black Friday or new Nike’s accomplish what happened that year? When Pearl Harbor happened, it was Christmas, but it didn’t end Christmas that year. When Lennon got shot, it was Christmastime – but we had Christmas that year. When 9-11 happened, Christmas came on schedule three months later. Christmas will come this year despite what the Mayans calculated. What bothers me is there are fewer and fewer examples of Christmas working out all right. It gets minimized and mutated and revised annually. Lots of people are apathetic or feel it is cheesy and uncool to like Christmas and they want to push it around or aside.

I know there are bucket loads of excuses and reasons for such sentiment, some valid – some not, but I don’t care.

I’ll pull the door shut on what I cannot fix and just watch drunk people sing Christmas carols over “House of the Rising Sun” in a dive bar – because I do like Christmas.

I get it.

One Winter Day

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4 Responses to “For You, for Christmas”

  1. Alex Klenke said

    John,
    Merry Christmas! Yep, I love Christmas too, but the older I get, the more lazy I get. Sue will stick a bow on anything that doesn’t move, and I grumble about having tinsel all over the house, but I do like how the house looks.
    My favorite thing is family. With our Son getting married last Fall, and our Daughter living 100 miles away, we don’t get to see them as much as we used to. However, it is all hands on deck for the holidays. We have two large family gatherings with both sides of the family every season, and the house just feels happy. The smells, the smiles, the hugs, it’s all good.
    I hate shopping, but love giving gifts. And it is not the gift giving that does it for me, but the look on someones face when they get the perfect gift. It makes me happy.
    Doesn’t always work out that way though. I remember my little sister storming out of the room the year I gave her the “Pet Rock”. They were that years “Tickle me Elmo” and I was so surprised that she hated it. A couple of years later I was trying to get home for Christmas, took an ill advised shortcut across a field, got the car stuck, and it caught fire and burned to the ground. The next morning I carefully wrapped the keys up in a colorful box, and gave that same sister the keys to my beautiful Chrysler Cordoba. Just the keys. The rest of the car was in a junkyard in Illinois.
    When my Dad passed the night before Christmas eve some years back I was worried that Christmas wouldn’t be a happy time anymore, and I was right the first year. It gets better every year though. Now I look forward to the first Christmas where we get to cover our first grand child with presents and high sugar content treats, then send them home. It will probably be in the next couple years, and I can’t wait.
    This year the presents are fewer, and less expensive, but that is just how it goes. I still hope the kids enjoy whatever Sue got them, and I know they will. I believe they now appreciate the time together as much as the presents. Sorta, at least.
    Anyway John, I hope you and yours have a great holiday season. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Years. I look forward to seeing you next season.

    Alex

    • Merry Christmas to you and yours, Alex! You definitely have a relationship with the Ton of Fun as I recall. I’m glad you enjoyed the essay. I’m glad the holidays are improving since you Dad’s passimg away. Have a great Christmas and give a nod to the Ton for me!

  2. Great writing as always,Munks. I wish you and Madonna the very best this Christmas. Yes, I still get a rush out of Christmas. Hawaiians say,”Mele Kelekimaka.”

    • Merry Christmas to you, Munks. Ever since my kids stopped coming home for Christmas it has never been the same. I truly miss all the family being together, several generations and I never understood those people who don’t want to spend the time with ton of fun or grizzled vet or bipolar aunts… Most Christmases I can be found with my far flung children in LA. Please… LA is not a Christmas kind of place. I hope you get great hugs and smiles from your boys this year.

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