12-26-2005 'Twas the night of near havoc,...


Did Santa come through for you? I got everything I wanted for Christmas, but I doubt that the chubster from Ice Station Zebra had much to do with it. For this family Christmas has always been that one day upon which we wanted to huddle together and be left alone. It's always been me, wifey, the kids, and later on, the kid's kids. But this year I had a different plan. Being that my brother seems to be on thin ice from both a health and financial perspective, I decided that his clan and my sister's clan should be included in the holiday mix. At first, my bright idea had it's skeptics, but everyone warmed up to the idea after a little while. Basically, my kids did not approve of my orders to buy me nary a single gift, and smother my brother, not so much in gifts, but in affection. I just thought we needed to let him know that we care. That we did.

We held our big gathering on Christmas Eve. 'Twas the night before Christmas, and this smallish adobe was so packed full of people, there was no room for even a mouse to stir. The living room was so completely piled with gifts, it could accomodate only the three of us diehard NFL fans. Needless to say, we were miffed that the NFL forced FOX TV to televise two last place teams spinning in place rather than the Jints-Redscums brouhaha. As fate would have it, the Jints fell short of the mark, so at least we didn't have to suffer through any of that painful video. Oh, and we didn't have to cuss, hollar and throw things at the Panasonic. Goll danged Redscums!

The middle room looked like Zayre's department store just before the infamous Cabbage Patch doll riot broke out. Wifey moved furniture, brought folding chairs and tables up from the basement, and rearranged things so completely, at times it seemed as if I was visiting someone else's pad. The kitchen could have passed for the soup kitchen. She had a hot buffet on one side. A cold buffet on the other. Our oversized kitchen table had the veggie plate, pepperoni, cheeses, crackers, Schiels's awesome cole slaw, etc., etc., etc. neatly displayed. She had one fridge packed with even more foodstuffs, and the other filled with three different beers, wine coolers and some Pepsis. She had two gallons of wine in reserve, five pounds of Chex Mix, dinner rolls and loaves of homemade bread. Needless to say, we consumed mass quantities. And guess who got to pay for all of it?

The grandrodents were jazzed. They're at the point where they realize that come Christmas, they are gonna be spoiled and then some. Spoiled they were and I make no apologies for such excess. I feel no shame for taking care of business and lavishing all sorts of goodies upon my family. While some may be "less fortunate," I can't change their lot in life no matter how much I donate and which concern I donate it to. Only the "less fortunate" can improve their standing in life, sagging or not. Been there, done that. The truth is, you can't be helped if you're not first willing to help yourself.

On a related note, I enjoyed a Christmas Day bikeabout yesterday and it was awesome. Except for a few street urchins, the streets of this city were deserted and you could pedal the length of the city with your eyes closed. Near as I could tell, the only businesses open for business were the mini markets, our two downtown hotels and one other one that happened to be quite busy. Anybody wanna venture a guess? No? Our illustrious soup kitchen was open and it sounded like some sort of Bible-belt revival was going on in there. Whatever. You can sing Amazing Grace 'til the cows develop an effective defense against the cow tippers, but singing reverant songs ain't gonna get the bills paid, or put the kids through college. There's a few sure-fire ways to get those sorts of things to happenin', but they typically include owning an alarm clock and dealing with a boss. Sucks, heyna? Yeah, huh. Too Republican sounding? Or does it sound as if I can appreciate that with hard work comes a few rewards?

Despite my orders, the kids did produce a few presents bearing name tags with my name scribbled on them. I got me some Dickies for work, some DVDs and some CDs. Now, what part of my painfully simple wish list don't these people get? For future reference, let's cover this once again. Geez! How about CDs, CDs, CDs and even more CDs? And why not a few CDs for stocking stuffers? My kids are always whining: All you ever want is CDs. Um...right!!! Right! What part don't we get? Short of talking Phil Simms into spending his Christmas here with me, it's Joe Nardone's Gallery of Sound! Sharon Stone clad only in whipped cream? What? What happened to the Van Halen reissues, or some Ramones unplugged? Where's the Lather eight-CD boxed-set? I give up!

At some point, we all settled into the same room and watched that Super 8 tape of Ray's 5th birthday party filmed in December 1975. My Uncle Carl unearthed this film about five years ago, and to this day, we still have no idea who did the filming. The first time we played it at Christmas, we giggled at how weird we all looked some thirty years ago, but afterwards many of us were feeling kind of somber. It was fun to watch all of our deceased relatives cavorting during a happy event, but a sense of loss pervaded the mood at the film's conclusion. This time around, at least for me, there was no sense of loss. Mostly I was amazed to be able to go back thirty years and hang out with that teenaged girl I fell for. She looks different now, but that movie is a great reminder as to how and why we became what we are today. She wanted to be with me, and I felt likewise. Simple, ain't it?

When it finally came time to shred some innocent wrapping paper, the grandrodents were ready to rock. I probably should have told everyone to keep their fingers a safe distance away. We tend to stick to the old-fashioned toys we grew up with, but we did include a few low-tech electronic gadgets in the mix this year. It's weird. At one end of the gift pile was a Radio Flyer. And at the other end was some sort of interactive DVD thingie that will supposedly teach small kids to read. We shall see. If it were entirely up to me, I'd stick with the Girders 'n' Panels, the Erector sets, the G.I. Joes, and tell those frickin' teachers to start earning their ever-growing bounties. I mean, why do I have to teach everyone to read so long as we've got teachers being paid copious amounts of money to do as much? Sounds like a bunch of malarkey to me. But, I digress.

The rodents got themselves plenty of cool stuff. But the highlight of their evening was when Santa doubled back and dropped off three more presents on the front porch and was gone before we could offer him some of Wifey's 70,000 Christmas cookies. So the three of them there rodents were led to the porch only to find bicycles waiting for each of them. A 16" bike for Gage. And two 12" bikes for Taylor and Zach. When we go bike-riding come Spring, it's gonna look an impromptu parade. The only problem being that an impromptu parade immediately developed in our already filled-to-capacity adobe. Parents, cousins, plates and half-filled glasses be damned! The vertically-challenged Hell's Angels were suddenly rolling. What a freakin' hoot. For some, being a grandparent means old age. For this blooming idiot, being a grandparent means having a lot of fun. Oh, and terrorizing damn near everyone on our indoor bike path. Meanwhile, Jeremy, not yet two weeks old laid low. But have no fear, kiddies. Pop Pop will have him up and running amok soon enough.

Crazy, little...ahem...rodents

Like I said, I got everything I wanted for Christmas. What I wanted was to be surrounded by everyone near and dear to me, and in those respects Christmas '05 was a resounding success. And as an added bonus, everyone in attendance agreed that such a gathering should become our new family tradition for future Christmases. I'm good with that so long as I can augment my Christmas club funding in such a serious way again. I'm on it.

During the run-up to this event, the Step-Dad called both my brother and sister looking for an invite, while simultaneously trying to stir up trouble based on what had transpired some thirty-odd years ago. Both physically and verbally, I put this guy in his demented place in 1976 when he stupidly showed up unannounced at my severely under-funded high school graduation party. He made the mistake of calling me his son, despite my having accepted the fact many years before that I had no father to speak of. And despite being hangers-on in this yearning for what they never had game, it was good to know that they too had finally read him the riot act. Their father? Yeah, right! The only thing he ever gave them was poverty, uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy that they neither wanted, nor deserved.

He can say what he wants about my performance as a confused and oft-bitter child. And he can bad-mouth my dearly departed Mom all he wants. But he spent his Christmas all alone with his porno collection in his senior high-rise, while the three of us refugees from Marital Hell were surrounded by family. If he had any inkling what being a father was all about, he would have been openly invited here last night. Sadly, he never did understand the responsibilities of parenthood and he never will. We're all good to go without him, and it's about time that my siblings came to grips with it. He can't atone for his glaring failures, and they no longer need him to. And contained somewhere therein might lie the greatest Christmas present they have ever received: The realization that the only family they actually need resides right here in good ole' Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Did I happen to mention that I got everything I wanted for Christmas?


Christmas 1967

This time of year I run across a lot of reminiscing in the press about past Christmases. Favorite Christmas. Most inspiring Christmas. Worst Christmas. Bailey-esque Christmas. Got me to thinking about my Christmas memories. One in particular jumped out at me, Christmas 1967.

That was the year that I found out. I was in the fourth grade. I had heard plenty of kids in school talking crazy. What a bunch of clueless wonders they all were. They used to really piss me off with their un-informed nonsense. I came close to trading blows with a few of these dorks. I could not believe the big lie they were trying to sell. No Santa Claus? Idiots all!

That year I wanted a two-wheeled bike with a banana seat and made it very clear to my mom and my step-dad from day one. Constant reminders. They told me to keep writing to Santa and hope for the best. I did, repeatedly. I don't know how much a stamp cost in 1967, but I wasn't worried about the cost. I fired off quite a few letters to the big guy. I wonder where they all ended up. I was the only kid my age in Direnzio Heights that didn't have a two-wheeler and that had to change. Everybody else was getting road burns, and I wanted in on the action. I knew that if I didn't get that bike for Christmas, my life would be over. I had grown tired of fixing our homemade wooden go-cart. Every time we raced that thing down the hill, sooner or later the rear axle would rip away. No matter how many nails we pounded half way in, and bended over the axle it would still rip free from the cart. We fixed it again and again until my step-dad went down to the basement for some nails one day and was hopping mad to discover the entire two pound bag of nails was empty. He punched way too hard to entertain the thought of future axle repairs. The cart was history unless we could abscond with some of Tommy Catchmark's fathers nails. We couldn't.

So Christmas was rapidly approaching and I was worried to death that the bike might not materialize. I hadn't exactly been a good boy that particular year and I knew it. My mom used to put me in charge of my four-year old sister while playing outside and I rarely watched her, which usually resulted in her wandering away from the house. When my mom realized she was awol, she would become frantic and the sweep search of the neighborhood would begin. When step-dad got home from work I was a dead man in most cases. Pants and briefs down, hands on the wall, and the leather belt would fly. Eventually, my mom lost all confidence in my baby-sitting skills and resorted to putting my sister on a long leash mounted to the front porch. That would probably get my mom charged with some child abuse gibberish these days, but my sister never escaped again after the world's longest leash was introduced. Anyway, I wasn't exactly "Damien", but I wasn't sure that Santa would be willing to cough up a bike for a kid that ignored his mom time after time.

One afternoon, I think it was about a month before Christmas, my mom told me to go upstairs and get her white bathrobe from her bottom dresser drawer. At least, I thought she said the bottom drawer. I did have that bad habit of not listening when being spoken to by her. I ran up to her room and proceeded to open the wrong drawer. I opened the bottom one. At first glance I was exited by what I saw. Wrapped Christmas gifts. I knew that some gifts came from the parental types, 'cause they marked the gifts they bought for us as being from mom and dad. The best gifts were always from Santa though. I looked closely at the gifts in the drawer and was shocked at what I discovered. They were all marked, "To Mark, From Santa." I couldn't believe it. All those cruds in school were actually right. There really wasn't a Santa. Mom and step-dad were Santa. After the initial shock wore off I realized that I had to please the in-house Santas if the bike was to become a reality.

I did. Boy, did I. The rest of the holiday season the dreaded strap was moth-balled and trust me, this was a very rare event. For roughly one month I was the perfect child except for the daily reminders about the bike. I didn't even knock over my step-dad's oversized tripod ashtray once that month. Again, a record of sorts. I didn't even whine once while he layed in the driveway under that 56 Chevy barking and cursing at me to hand him tools that I had never heard of. I hated that car and I hated being held hostage every time he decided to play with his oversized model. Besides, it was embarrassing being a red car with a green door on the passenger side. He had to replace the original door after I leaned on it while heading to Griffin Hospital to have my tonsils removed and the damn door flew open, and I found myself skidding across the asphalt at 35 miles per hour. After the emergency room attended to my road burns and mom got me some new jammies, they got around to my tonsils. Like I said, I hated that car.

We eventually arrived at Christmas eve and it was time for bed. Sue and I headed up to our room and I made sure not to turn on our bedroom light before first pulling down the shades. I had this thing about Godzilla being able to see us if the lights were on with the shades up. Same routine every night. Shades down. Then the light. Whew! I knew Godzilla was lurking nearby at all times and I also knew that the only thing protecting Sue and I was the shades and our blankets. To this day she has never thanked me for saving her from Godzilla. Off went the light and we climbed into our bunk bed. I knew that when I woke up, I would be disappointed. The bike wasn't going to happen. There was no Santa to bring it. I was depending on step-dad to make the bike happen and he hated me. At least, that was the impression he gave me over and over again. Whatever I wanted or liked, he always made the opposite appear, or so it seemed. I hated meat cooked rare. Had it for supper everyday. I gagged on peas. He suddenly loved them. I loved eating rice. He stopped buying it. I loved the Beatles. He said they were queers. That prick seemed happiest when he was torturing me. I fell asleep full of despair.

When my mom woke us up I had forgotten my despair and was jazzed. It was Christmas. Sue and I wrapped ourselves in our bathrobes and headed downstairs. This was it. Bike? When we hit the bottom of the stairs in our parlor, I glanced at the pile of presents while on our way to the kitchen for breakfast. There was one big gift in the back. This sucker was big enough. Could it be? Did he actually get me the bike? So we sat for breakfast which lasted about three minutes, as Sue and I woofed our eggs so we could get down to some presents. Finally settled down in front of the tree, the moment of truth was upon me. I looked close at the tag on that big gift and it was tagged, "To Suzie, From Santa." Great! Wonderful! There was nothing else big enough to possibly be my bike. We opened gift after gift and I wanted to cry. The stuff was great and all, but it was obvious to me that the bike wasn't happening. Sue got a big doll house among other things. I got a huge biology set. Then Sue opened that giant gift. A bike. Sue got a two-wheeled bike.

Unbelievable! The evil prick was torturing me again. The handle bars weren't attached and he told me to run down the basement and get a 10 inch adjustable wrench so he could put the handle bars on the bike. Wonderful. Tool boy again.

Full of rage, I ran out to the kitchen and whirled open the basement door and attempted to bolt down the steps. I ran right into something in the dark at the top of the stairs before I flipped the light switch. Both it and I tumbled down the stairs and arrived on the basement floor in a lump. The light came on and mom came down to see if I was still alive. I was. And I was laying on top of my new bike. I was crying, shocked and thrilled. The prick wasn't torturing me, he was simply torturing me a little bit letting me think for a few minutes that Sue got the bike that I wanted so badly. I hated him for that, but realized years later that he simply wanted the bike to be a surprise, if that was at all possible. Turns out, it was a huge surprise tumbling down those steps with it. It wasn't the last tumble that bike and I would take.

Thanks, Ray. (?)

Merry Christmas.

Gage Andrew & Taylor Kate

From the e-mail inbox MARK



Dude...call me crazy, but I will always support the folks protecting my family from the lowest of the pond scum. The growing family is doing well, and right back at you. I'm sure Santa was good to your daughter.

And, thanks for the well wishes.

Oh, and as Private Sector Dude always sez: Keep the faith.

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I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.