It's been an awful year. But we've seen worse holidays.
Ace darts shooter for B-division Dickens Inn (now the Dark Horse), Tom had recently joined Frank’s middling C-division team and put them into contention just by joining.
Tom soaked in his minor celebrity as a new young gun with the regulars. By the time I arrived, my working class Catholic guilt had kicked in over how I had just walked off my job. That Nick, Karl and Fred all rejected me on some level didn’t help either, as was the prospect of spending Christmas alone. Tom’s the main reason I escaped from South Jersey— where idea of culture centers around the Cherry Hill Mall—and moved to Philadelphia. We used to drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge to buy records at Third Street Jazz and dream about moving to Olde City so we could get import punk records whenever we wanted. We both moved to Spruce Street, on the edge of doing something with our lives and filled the minor realization that we could. Here’s where my memory grows hazy. I remember that, while he was floating darts at the wall, Tom told me something that reassured me that everything was going to be OK, that in fact validated my life. The trouble is that I forgot what he said. So I called him to ask if he remembered. “I know I said that you would look back and laugh at what a joke that job was,” he said over the phone from his house in Fishtown. That sounds about right, I replied.
Then he remembered that he had showed some of my poems to his mentor, a professor at Penn, and he told me what he said: “You know, your friend knows what a poem is.” And then I remembered that’s what he told me that night at Frank’s, and that’s all it took. All was right in the world. When I recall my time at McGlinchey’s and Frank’s, drinking 90-cent glasses of Yuengling on sticky floors, I realize how I still romanticize Philadelphia, how I will never get over its Philadelphia-ness; how, no matter how sophisticated and worldly it really is, I still see Philadelphia as a salt-of-the-earth small town—what H.L. Mencken calls a “depressing intellectual slum”—that revels in its rudeness. I remember how that night at Frank’s, some saint commandeered the jukebox and played the entirety of the John Coltrane-Johnny Hartman LP of jazz standards.
As Johnny Hartman sang about “relaxing on the axis of the wheel of life to get the feel of life,” I smoked a cigarette outside, looked up at the snow coming down. And as the flakes hit my nose, I had a Moment of Being. I quit my job. A bartender hates my songs. Somebody told me I knew what a poem was. I would spend Christmas alone. I was a Philadelphian. Virginia Woolf would be proud.
Daniel Nester will be reading from his book How to Be Inappropriate at Brickbat Books on Dec. 4, 7pm. For more information visit events.nbcphiladelphia.com/philadelphia-pa/events/show/88319132-book-group-daniel-nesters-how-to-be-inappropriate
On Christmas night, my family does what every good-natured, traditional Irish family does: Drink. Naturally, on certain years things get a bit out of hand. About four years ago, all five of us kids and a few cousins thrown in for good measure were at my aunt’s, partaking in festive nogs, wassail and other holiday libations, and getting a bit rowdy. Around midnight we were all feeling the effects of our holiday cheer and, oddly, my aunt chose that time to throw in a load of laundry. She made her way to the laundry room in the basement with a basket full of dirty towels, slid open the door and flicked on the light to see my brother bending his girlfriend over the washer and dryer combo. She closed the door and ran frantically up the stairs to tell her sister, our mother, what she had seen. And since she was a bit inebriated, all in the vicinity were privy to the details of the sexual scenario. Turns out she was less upset with the fact that they were defiling the sanctity of her laundry room than she was with the style of sex my brother and his girlfriend had chosen. It was in her tipsy words, “up the butt.” We asked her how she could be sure that it was anal sex and not the less-shocking doggie-style, to which she replied “because I had the angle.” Upon further questioning it turned out that she didn’t actually know what doggie-style was.
The life of a performing artist is taxing during the holidays; you’re working when others are celebrating. However, participating in the magic of the season and spreading yuletide cheer often makes up for the sacrifice of time spent away from friends and loved ones. One personal example of holiday magnanimity occurred when I was performing at a local theater. It was our last show, a Christmas Eve matinee. I remember walking into the theater that day thinking “the only thing between me and home is an hour and a half of schmaltz and this big door,” referring to the solid gray portal that serves as the stage entrance and opens onto a sidewalk that runs the length of the theater. After the show was finished and the crew exchanged well-wishes and holiday bon mots, I made a mad dash for the exit. Unbeknownst to me, a woman and her young son were walking along the sidewalk when I burst through the door; presumably, they had just attended the show and were retrieving their car from the lot directly behind the theater. A prettier shot you never saw: the door’s handle hit the tot square in his right temple. I realized that my continued presence would do nothing to assuage the situation. So I looked at the wailing child and the woman (who was by now giving me the ceremonial eye screw), and said “Merry Christmas, and thanks for supporting the arts!”
Twelve days is way too long to spend with your family over the holidays. But that’s just what I was looking at last year when my parents flew in from Humble, Texas for the holidays. My twin brother, who lives in New York City, took a bus in when he could and most of our nights consisted of watching The Bachelor or Dancing with the Stars or whatever show my mom was drawn to like Rain Man to Wapner. Naturally, my brother and I drank. And drank. And then we drank some more—a bit more than my very Catholic mother was comfortable seeing. Edging into week two, my dad pulled up a chair for a chat with my brother and I.
“Boys,” he said in his deep southeast Texas accent, “Your mother feels like you guys are drinking too much.” We agreed to give it a rest. And I did. Only my twin had a date the very next night with a girl he’d been talking to. They went to James, and when he arrived back home around 10:30 or so, he was a stumbling, bumbling mess, plopping down forcefully in a chair. Clearly hammered. My mom asked him how it went, what he ate. And right about the time he couldn’t think of the word “appetizer,” my tee-totaling mother began putting the pieces together.
“You’re acting nutty,” she said, fearing she’d recognized the same visible symptoms of public intoxication she’d seen in the movie Arthur . “I’M FUCKING DRUNK!” my brother yelled. My mother got up quickly, excused herself for the night, and walked into the bedroom, but not before letting out a few audible and heartbreaking sobs. My brother, using drunken logic, followed her, explaining rationally, calmly and with much insight: “It’s not that big a fucking deal. People drink! Who gives a shit? This isn’t Humble!”
When I was in the seventh grade, I desperately wanted a Sega Genesis for Christmas. After all, how could I survive without Altered Beast, Golden Axe, or Tommy Lasorda Baseball? Although my parents usually resisted buying such big-ticket presents, I spent weeks dropping hints, laying bare my 16-bit desires. On Christmas morning, I tore open my first gift: a rubber chicken. I laughed along with my parents and brother: Ha ha—you guys! My second gift was The Club. My family grinned conspiratorially; these had to be MacGuffins, inane red herrings. Minutes later, I was down to my final present: two quarts of Pennzoil. Perhaps sensing that I was about to crawl into the fireplace, my mother told me to look out the window.
Ah-ha! No doubt, Sonic the Hedgehog himself would be zipping up the walk, Genesis in hand! He wasn’t. Instead, I watched as my father eased a used Nissan Stanza into the driveway. I’d become somewhat embarrassed by the family’s 1979 Toyota Corolla, with its massive rust spots, decaying vinyl seats, and busted side door; my parents had finally put the thing out of its misery. But aside from allaying my mild shame, it wasn’t clear what the new car had to do with me; I was years away from my license. Bewildered, I slumped back onto the couch, absorbing a harsh, if valuable, truth: a rubber chicken is a poor substitute for Tommy Lasorda Baseball.
I once forced my cripplingly shy and closeted boyfriend to attend—in disguise as my best friend—my mother’s annual Christmas Eve party and meet my judgmental extended family for the first time. Too paranoid to socialize, he quickly left. Seconds later, my mother, thinking it was me who had fled, rushed to the front door. In a tragic case of mistaken identity, she screamed into the night, channeling Mo’Nique’s abusive from Precious . “Get your ass back in here, I ain’t playin’ with you!” My boyfriend was so freaked out he ran to his car and peeled off. That Christmas, he gave me a malfunctioning MP3 player from Walmart.
I have a 20-year-old, low-functioning autistic cousin. He’s about six feet tall and 200 pounds with a head the size of a beach ball. He doesn’t talk at all but when he’s happy he whistles, and he whistles a lot. Like many people suffering with autism, he relishes routine and when the holidays come around his parents throw a Christmas Eve party that throws his whole routine off. To cope, he finds happiness by hiding in his room and watching Charlie Brown cartoons; you can hear him faintly whistling through the wall.
One Christmas Eve, we were all standing in the kitchen drinking, eating and joking when we heard him whistling rather loudly and let out a big belly laugh. We looked up to see all six feet of him butt naked. The room fell silent and his mother quickly jumped up from where she was sitting to shoo him back into his room. We all looked at each other in awkward silence, stirred our drinks and tried to get rid of the image burnt into our memories until someone piped up, “Now that guy knows how to party!” Everyone erupted in laughter and continued in the merriment as if nothing happened.
Holidays 2009: For Foodies
Holidays 2009: Philly Theater Gifts
Holidays 2009: Local Craft Gifts
Holidays 2009: Tech Gifts
Holidays 2009: Graphic Novels
Holidays 2009: Movie Gifts
Holidays 2009: Music Gifts