It's been an awful year. But we've seen worse holidays.
Philly, we’ve been riding a rickety-ass caboose of a crisis year hitched to a train wreck of a decade. According to the news, everyone’s broke, the city’s crumbling and we’re probably drunk and/or high on painkillers. Your family sucks, you can’t afford to turn the heat on and the love in this world is dissolving as quickly as edible underwear.
What better time to embrace, nay, celebrate, all things inappropriate? We have nothing left to lose.
If I had a dick, you can be sure it would be in the mashed potatoes.
Looking back and tracing the contours of the zeitgeist, it’s completely logical that we’re at the age of inappropriate. The ’90s, after all, were when comedians—the canaries in the coal mine of our consciousness—shed phony personas and corny punch lines and instead refracted our own neediness back at us by playing out shameful social scenarios. Now, we’ve discarded awkward for inappropriate—awkward’s older, mustachioed cousin. Yesterday’s George Costanza to today’s Kenny Powers.
Take cult hero Doug Stanhope for example: He packages his slick satire in barbs so sharp that 600 people recently walked out of his show en masse. It’s little surprise that the “proudly, determinedly profane” Stanhope, who’s all about carving up sacred cows and grilling them for dinner, is praised as comedy’s next king.
Civilians are even more inappropriate. Lying to the feds that your six-year-old is trapped in a giant airborne balloon, finagling your way into a White House dinner, posting ass for sale in exchange for sports tickets ... We’re getting more disgraceful under pressure by the minute.
The utopian propaganda peddled at Christmas— the cherry-cheeked, smiling families, the cozy fireplace hearth and corny diamond jewelry commercials—piled on top of hobknobbing with undesirables in your family, or worse, the undesirables in your family’s family, makes it practically impossible for all parties to remain appropriate.
Hence we offer you a round-up of inappropriate holiday happenings and mishaps endured by PW staff and friends. Getting caught by beloved elder members of the family in a holly-jolly act that redefines spreading the love; drunk tantrums that send mothers over the edge; closeted gay boyfriends freaking out under the pressure of passing.
We also offer you author Daniel Nester’s lonely Christmas, a low-point of his time toiling in Philly, euphemistically referred to as his goatee years. These days, Nester is fashioning himself as the apostle of inappropriate, hawking a collection of essays wherein he TMI’s all over the place—about things like filling cups at fertility clinics and experimenting with pills to pack an extra inch onto his penis. (Hint: one of these activities ends in disappointment.) As someone important once said, the holidays aren’t a date. They’re a state of mind.
Back in the early ’90s, what I call my Clueless Goateed Period, I didn’t have many of what Virginia Woolf calls “Moments of Being,” in which a person experiences some conscious realization or memorable discovery. I was living unconsciously in Philadelphia, just out of college, riding out the recession before I decided what I would really do with my life. I knew I wanted to be a writer—a poet, actually—but most of my days blended into a fog of marijuana and Sega Hockey.
I would, however, experience a Moment of Being on December 23, 1993. I faced the prospect of spending the holidays alone in Philadelphia. This struck me as depressing. But my outlook would change before the day was over. For two years, I worked my $10-an-hour proofreader job at Arthur Andersen, checking the math of end-of-year reports, taming the purple prose of consultants’ proposals. Long before the accounting firm folded under the weight of the Enron scandal, dread filled each room in its offices on 1601 Market Street. Elderly typists struggled with a newfangled program called Microsoft Word; graphic designers sat still, shell-shocked over the drudgery of their first jobs after art school. Everyone waited for their puny holiday bonuses.
No check for me—I was, as my supervisor Nick called me, “Dan The Temp.” I insisted he refer to me as “Dan The Freelancer.” He always refused. Nick saw his main job perk as giving me orders, and since there was nothing to proofread on that day, he sent me into the copy machine room so he could read his Superman comics in peace. As I crawled out of our closet-sized office, I picked up the sharp pine smells from the faux wreathes that line the hall. Then I overheard some new office gossip: a young male associate had been outed as a homosexual. “I don’t know what the big deal is about the guy being a fag,” said Karl, the head of reprographics. Karl, philosopher-griot of document services, had stood in front of loud machines all his life: printing presses, mimeographs, hole punchers, top-feed Xeroxes. Karl offered even the most subtle and private comments as fortissimo movements. “I mean, one Saturday night, a bunch of my buddies got in my Continental with a case of Schlitz. We pick up this guy by the park, give him a couple beers. Then he cleans all our pipes out,” said Karl, pointing to his groin. “It was no big deal.”
Back then, I didn’t quit jobs so much as leave them. I don’t remember being offended by Karl’s account of picking up a hustler so much as regarding it as my cue to go out for lunch and never return. So that’s what I did.
I spent my afternoon in the same place so many other directionless twentysomethings did that day before Christmas Eve: McGlinchey’s Saloon. As I walked in, I noticed that Fred, the old salt who slings pints from inside the horseshoe-shaped bar, was especially grumpy. Like many regulars, I shared a tempestuous relationship with Fred, and this day was no exception. Tall, balding, with a mustache that punctuates his frown, Fred scowled and refused to serve me for no reason. A female regular procured my drafts.
I walked over to the jukebox. I wanted this night of freedom from my job to have the right soundtrack, and the only way to do that was to hog up the song queue with five dollars worth of my own selections. I viewed my jukebox picks as song cycles, poems that could change the world. As I made my way back to my seat, however, I noticed something disturbing. Fred reached from under the bar, not to pluck a jug of bottom-shelf vodka, but to grab a remote control, which he pointed at the jukebox. He pressed a button. The song stopped. I realized: Fred was rejecting my jukebox picks! I heard a millisecond-long snippet of each song’s intro, then silence. Fred, with whom I thought I shared some rapprochement, was openly sounding the gong on all of my well-considered song choices.
I think back to all the other times my songs never got around to playing, countless times I waited for my set of tunes from the jukebox, but it never happened. Fred, it seemed, had been rejecting me all along. So I put another five dollars into the jukebox, and selected Rod Stewart’s 1979 disco hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” around 30 times. This was one of the songs Fred gonged emphatically, and on my way out, I could hear the first few seconds of the song over and over—the scratch of the guitar, Rod singing “sug-ah!” and maybe, if Fred’s button-work was too slow, the first syrupy notes of the bass line.
It began to snow during the five-block walk from McGlinchey’s to my next regular haunt: Dirty Frank’s. I was due to meet up with Tom, my South Jersey hometown friend.
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