Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sympathy for the conservative in us all

I’m a generally happy guy. I don’t remember ever getting pissed off about anything concerning Christmas. There were a lot of years when I didn’t give a shit one way or the other, but since having kids of my own I’ve always enjoyed it in a traditional way. Every Christmas Eve we have the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, etc., with a bottle of wine and a Port for a digestif in a good year, then the kids are allowed to open a present or two and we all watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Then Xmas morning we open the rest of the gifts, have a nice breakfast, and spend most of the day playing with the kids' new toys. This is, for the most part, as it was in my childhood. I’ve replaced church with the movie, but otherwise have maintained the tradition

But today I turn into a seething conservative-like maniac. My wife’s family never celebrated Christmas and she usually does well to tolerate my insistence on tradition. Can we have lobster instead of turkey for once? No. Do we have to watch It’s a Wonderful Life again? Yes. Can we open half the presents on Xmas Eve? No. And so on.

Anyway, this year her nephew invites us to a Christmas Eve party in Jersey. Being from a family that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and young to boot, he apparently has no idea that people with kids don’t generally trudge off to Jersey on Christmas Eve to go to a party with a bunch of strangers. Beyond the mere fact of trashing my lifelong Xmas tradition, it would require us taking three trains and a bus. We would be lucky to get home by 1 am. I was shocked that she would even consider the idea. She was shocked that I would be disagreeable about the issue. Each was seriously disappointed with the other. You really would not believe how rare it is for us to have a disagreement of any magnitude. It was not a good way to start the day.

And while this internal discord is going on, the landlord is having work done on the eave outside my window. Three Mexicans are on the roof blasting Cumbias and operating power tools.

Then I go out to get the Turkey and the fixins. The supermarket is a horror show. It’s packed, taking 10 minutes to navigate any one of the narrow aisles. Everybody is in a nasty mood. I make the mistake of getting in line behind an Asian with a nearly empty shopping cart and predictably the rest of the family arrives with three more carts and cuts in front of me.

And it’s like 80 fucking degrees outside and sunny. There’s a Cadillac Escalade with ghetto hop going thumpa thumpa, niggah niggah. The Jews are bickering and the Muslims haggling over pirated DVD's on the sidewalk. Dueling eastern Europeans with cheap Casio’s are blasting horrible Christmas music on opposite sides of the street. People are speaking Polish, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, Albanian, Arabic, Hindu, whatever the fuck they speak in Bangladesh and Pakistan and who knows what else. I feel the Edward Norton character in 25th Hour. I just want to cuss them all.

And more than that, I just want a traditional white Christmas. I want to be sitting in a lonely farmhouse on a hill, looking out a frosty window at snow covered hills, hearing the ring-a-ling of approaching sleigh bells in the distance. Or in a small town with carolers and Christmas lights and a fresh dusting of snow unmarred as yet by tire tracks. But no, it ain’t happening. It just ain’t.

Of course I realize that the problem is me and I pick up a liter of Kentucky straight medicine in the hope of changing my perspective. My kid’s sitting under the Christmas tree shaking every gift, constantly scheming to open a present or five before the traditional time and this is as irritating as the heat and the noise and the foreigners and I know that I am wrong. The kid shaking the presents, the excitement in his eyes, this is what our Christmas tradition is about. I forcibly unclinch my teeth and try to soak up some of his spirit. A couple shots of medicine and I’m almost there.

So I take him out to see Night at the Museum, the season’s Ben Stiller comedy. The sun is setting. Now the people, their different dress and language, the dueling eastern European keyboardists and their music are all beautiful. The Muezzin is calling the faithful to prayer and there is a crescent moon. It’s all so beautiful I would probably weep if I were a sissy.

And the movie wasn’t bad. We walked home through the old Irish neighborhood and looked at the elaborate Christmas decorations. The wife was happy again when we returned. A little more medicine and a nice meal and hear I sit, the holidays lookin good again.

So I got a little feel of what it's like to be a conservative. The tradition part is nice, but that's not the property of conservatives. It's the hate that separates them and it sucks. It really does.

So happy holidays, whoever you are.