Wednesday, December 30, 2009

bruce: weekends, radios, electric chairs

Workplace anniversaries are typically marked with perfunctory, polite accolades and tidy, room-temperature anecdotes, spiced up with few mildly embarrassing snapshots, and mine was no different.

Later that afternoon, as I zeroed in on our parking lot after quitting time, I was surprised to be gently confronted by a woman I did not recognize having met, on campus or otherwise. As she spoke she struck a classic poker face, vacant of both smile or frown: "They didn't mention the electric chair." she said.

For a long moment I mentally stumbled, speechless, and upped my effort to place her face. Nothing. Electric chair...? Then it hit me: during the first days at my new job, the employees had gathered for the annual after-hours Christmas party. Among the usual festivities and chit chat was also circulated a fresh pad of post-its, upon one of which we were directed to scribble "something about you that no one knows", to be left unsigned. Favoring a persona of vaguely weird over the ubiqitous cuddly or cute, I jotted that I "..had once constructed an operational electric chair". Party goers where later playfully challenged to match this "secret" with the wide range of mostly familiar faces.

My note and I were eventually paired up and, apart from a few snickers, that was that. Again I mention, this event being ten years prior to the awkward moment I was currently sharing in the parking lot. "You remembered that?" I asked. "Well, yes." These two words came delicately framed with a facial expression which hinted kindly at the obvious, and in this instance might best be summed up as being Vaguely Weird. Ouch.

But weirdness is spawned not from sunshine, a poet may have said.

In the Pacific Northwest of the mid-60's, rainy weekends were not typically special days, and very often only especially-boring. It was such a day, left alone to drift about our fir-enshrouded house, that the challenge became to find out how best to make a good time of it, in spite of the weather.

On summer Saturdays I could walk the train tracks out of town for two or three miles and pay a visit to Bruce's new residence (a much smaller abode just off Hiway 9), but during winter it usually came down to making phone calls and hoping that someone would just show up and help you pass the time.

Burt, the latest of my short string of stepfathers, was an electrical engineer who had a passion for electronic gizmos even greater than my own. One of his best was a console reel-to-reel tape recorder that he would use to compile hours of Louis Armstrong jazz tracks for later listening. For me personally, this was a toy almost as much a delight as a movie camera (or video camera, if it were 25 years or so in the future). In a similar vein, it seemed so natural at the time that both Bruce and I collected the same, enhanced stereo sound effect albums (LPs), that the fact bore no scrutiny between us whatsoever. Together with Bruce, Burt's tape recorder and our pile of sound effects records, every MAD magazine or ARCHIE comic became a potential radio script, which we populated with an ambitious and ridiculous assortment of voice characterizations limited only by our imagination and a mid-adolescent larynx.

But, getting back to the electric chair, that was Bruce's idea. And a short time later, his sincere regret, of course.

The whole thing began when Bruce, alone at home in his basement, had accidentally dropped a large vacuum-style radio bulb on the cement floor. When it shattered, it sent aloft a pale cloud of an anonymous gaseous nature, potent enough to send him running for the stairs, and then to his backyard in order to avoid fainting after his whiff of the mysterious and unnamed fumes.

This event appears to have posed to Bruce a reverie of sorts, but not in the cautious direction of self-preservation that one might have expected. Instead, he began to quietly ponder a diabolical use for his newly discovered supply of "gas". By his own admission, his first inclination came in the thought of constructing an actual "chamber", possibly employing a hollowed-out hot water heater for the vessel itself, it being the approximately correct size to encapsulate a like-sized teenager. Into this sealed vault he could then vent the odorous contents one of his broken vacuum bulbs, and then "just watch". Then what?

His zeal for this particular contraption lost steam when he began an actual examination of the family hot water heater. It was soon obvious that the transformation from heater to gas-chamber would demand heavy labor, too much, he decided. But with his appetite for mock-execution already wetted, he wasn't about to give up, and began looking at alternatives to his original plans for "gas". Iron Maidens and guillotines posed much the same obstacle as the gas chamber - too labor intense - and while a trap-door gallows held a certain charm, he ultimately judged it too pedestrian.

It was about at this point that my Saturday blahs and Bruce's gruesome imaginings met head-long, in the way of a serendipitous visit to my stepfathers wood shop. It was only by chance that on this particular day an ordinary, straight-back wooden chair had been left there by person or persons unknown, but there in the sawdust it did linger. Bruce did not, his inspiration once more aflame. An Electric Chair. Yes.

Rummaging my house and garage for the additional components required (electrical wiring, some steel grating, assorted bolts, straps and a helmet of some kind), we devised a blueprint on the fly that bloomed before us as if it were a sunflower in a dark swamp.

In less than two hours it was completed, right down to the leather leg straps we'd manufactured from an old belt. As much as possible, every necessary detail was attended to, including a five-inch eye bolt that could be "screwed" down into the head of the due-to-be-executed. Wooden manacles (sculpted carefully from plywood using a jigsaw) hooped around ankles, wrists and elbows with equal, solid security.

So there we stood, admiring our greatest creation, without doubt the pinnacle of our most heartfelt and malevolent mischief. The Chair. And if there was ever to be a single moment wherein our two peculiar-formed psyches merged to form a single, monstrous mind, this was it.

Of course, Bruce was a fool for ever letting me convince him to be strapped in. To say the least.

With every appendage secured or strapped into place, it was now all he could manage to simply twist his wrist, not to mention in any way actually free himself. True to his vision, he himself had made certain escape was virtually impossible, and he knew it. He also realized that, in as much as he'd become obsessed with the construction of this screwball abomination, so was I now being swept up with the notion of convincing him he would be it's first test pilot. So to speak.

As he bounced and squirmed atop the chairs steel-lined seat (an electrical conduit cleverly fashioned from the bottom rack of my mothers refrigerator) I held up the electric cord wired to the chair and dangled it absently in the direction of the electric outlet next to my stepfather's workbench. Try as he might (and did, desperately), he was trapped.

But of course I let him go, eventually. And he had his day as well, when my own time eventually came. In both instances we remained close friends.

While she doesn't actually know me, or for that matter ever heard of Bruce, or even the slightest in particulars regarding our friendship, the woman in the parking lot was right.

In fact, a few minutes later that same evening, as I drove home and caught myself giggling out loud, I was sure of it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

bruce, later

Throughout my younger years, Bruce was (and even in absentia, honestly still is) a strange and singular presence in my life, a product of personality which I have observed emerges only in the rarest of circumstances from a mundane and healthy home life. Given his bloodline, this was a case which Bruce certainly needn't fret be his own.

Rosemary, the mother, a woman near a skyscraper in height and given to a forceful, no-nonsense nature, was quite as likely to deliver, seemingly without provocation, a flat-handed slap across your rump as she was an unexpected compliment on the curl of your hair. On a visit over coffee in our living room, she once bargained to buy all of the warts on my middle finger for a single copper penny. Soon after they promptly vanished, and remained so forever, she being not nearly as surprised as I, if she was even surprised at all.

Bruce's father on the other hand was as an unassuming individual as Rosemary was outspoken, nearly invisible, really. Although rumored to be an fanatical eccentric with esoteric dabblings ranging from antique steam engines to wild electrical experiments, and while his experiments may have been ignited from the published letters of Nikola Tesla, the man himself seemed more an apparition than a parent. Personally, I can recall nare a glimpse of him until I was almost out of high school, many years later. What I do recall is that he leaned towards wool cardigan sweaters and constantly smoked a pipe, a habit I took be a wonderful and professor-like distinction, in particular during an era where Camel, Pall Mall and Lucky Strike ranked (in every sense) supreme.

Their relationship itself appeared tepid to the extreme. Words were rarely exchanged (almost never in the presence of another neighborhood boy or girl) and, while his dad was odd enough right out of the box, Bruce was compelled to up the ante considerably: it was crucial that we all believe that he had also secretly been a pre-WWII member of the American Nazi party (this being a supposedly distinguished heritage), a footnote which I was in no position to challenge, either then or now. This was entirely Bruce's call.

All subjective observations aside however, there was one indisputable bit of evidence in his household which could not be overlooked, or set on spin: a few feet inside the entryway to his family's front room was a enormous, chest-high glass cabinet just too large to miss. Inside, gaping at you at full attention from the inside-out was not one, but two stuffed adult Emperor penguins, one slightly larger than the other, the two being nestled in an accompanying throng of dozens of smaller porcelain facsimiles, also glass-eyed, also erect. If they were a male and female couple it was a detail that escaped my pre-adolescence scrutiny. But, needless to say, it was the first thing you noticed when entering the home, and almost certainly the last detail you'd be pondering on the drive home.

Such was the mirror of Bruce's early family years, at least as I viewed it.

Rosemary taught piano, and while shy of being an bonafide child prodigy, her son still posed a mental force to be dealt with, headlines she simultaneously endorsed when proclaiming to friends and fellow parents that Bruce was both unteachable and gifted at the keyboard. He was able play the instrument completely and intuitively and without the cue or guidance of a single written note of music, "by ear" as she put it. Whatever the case, this was a boy clearly gifted beyond his years, a trait of fascination and frustration to the uneasy adults in his orbit, and one that he dispensed in gleeful torment, employing both his expanded vocabulary and guileless appearance to exhaust little doubt as to his complete and total disregard for grown-ups and all they held sacred. Indeed, even from the earliest age, Bruce was his own champion, living by his own standards, which included converting his upstairs bedroom into an combination chemistry lab and middle eastern oasis, or WWII bunker, at his whim.

Personally content with my own backyard sandbox, I was impressed to watch as, before he was even ten, Bruce managed to assemble a mail order HeathKit Ham radio entirely from scratch. At a time when I may have mistaken the name of Frank Zappa to have been an Tibetan mystic, Bruce informed me that he was, in fact, a genius at the helm of the next generation of music. "...the dream of a girl, just thirteen. Off with her clothes, and into a bed, where she tickles his fancy, all night long... BABY, BABY, BABY, BABY!!!". In a very real sense, of course (something it would take me a near-half century to confirm), he was largely correct.

As Sedro-Woolley offered no Louvre or Smithsonian Museum, or even the reliable outside possibility that you'd ever get closer than a postcard to either one of them in your own lifetime, Bruce was a precious commodity.

While his somewhat skewed portal to the real world may have been cluttered with stuffed penguins, rampant sarcasm and an intimidating mother, a portal, at least to the ragamuffin kids on Jameson Street, he truly was.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

last call

The right brain ponders: The lives we share, or choose not to, with our supposed most-loved ones, are victim by their proximity alone to also be our most contentious and confusing. This despite the rivers of love and understanding that run deep in such relationships, at least as commonly depicted across the maps of popular human culture. More often than not, given to the same flaws as their human craftsmen, these maps are in error. Even at the very end of a lifelong arch, at a time when we are lead to hope that the big picture might at last snap into focus, we are left lacking. No such map exists, or shall ever exist, except for what little landscape of light and darkness that we have foraged out somewhere within ourselves. This is our personal, imperfect guide to the experience of death, as was always the intention, it would seem.

On a recent Saturday morning, Linda and I met with the staff at a local hospice and checked my mother into a private room, a quiet and sunlit place that we understood was where she would take her last breath. Hovering in a coma since the previous weekend, she'd collapsed with a stroke on Sunday afternoon, spent several days in a critical care ward, with hopes she'd somehow bounce back. At 87, she'd held a reputation as a tough old bird, but the time for tough had run out. On the brink of renal failure and paralyzed completely on at least half of her body, she was now presumed never to awaken, or even live out the week.

Earlier, when the decision to withdraw feeding and fluid tubes was finally made, Mom was unplugged from her tangle of plastic tubes, scopes, probes and cables and set free to lean her head back and snore like a logger, as was her style, this time in the numbing embrace of a morphine IV drip.

During a long week in her hospital room, my brother Rog, Staci and I exchanged remembrances, do-it-yourself tips and hour after hour of topics ranging from my mother's current breathing rate, to HBO On-Demand, bargain gasoline, back exercises, best vacation stories and back again. We sought comfort in each other and the common thoughts and events of the everyday. Doubtless in countless rooms surrounding us in all directions, others were relating similar tales, and under similar circumstances.

Her gray head braced by a stiff pillow, the three of gazed silently at the woman between us: perilously near the edge of the past-tense, here was a helpless figure that for each of us at a given time had once been the bright center of our respective universe.

That same week, in the course of a regular-scheduled hour with my therapist, death was naturally the main topic. My summation came in the form of a childhood memory: when I was nine or ten and we lived in Burlington, I'd often ride my bike to the small park across the street from the city library. Here, I would sit and imagine how wonderful it would be when the carnival would return in June, and set up their show on this very lot. On one of these afternoons I looked up from my swing and saw my brother's '53 Ford sedan - canary yellow with a black top - heading up the street, just across the playfield. Mom was driving, alone and at the wheel, window rolled down, and when she spotted me she threw her arm out the window and flapped it in a tall arch, all with a huge, happy smile. As if it was the happiest day of her life. Back those days her hair was a rich, dark brown and her lipstick an impossibly bright red. Beauty, laughing. That image of her through the window, waving and waving with that big smile, in the old Ford, that picture is still as clear as if it had happened a few moments ago. At that same instant, the moment when I raised my hand to wave back, was when I also suddenly realized that She will die someday. She, my mother. Will die.

I lingered on my swing and let it in sink in, and then cried. As every child must discover, it was true.

On Friday morning, having shared the week in Mom's Hospital room, Stacy flew back to her home in Frisko, Texas. The evening just before, this most beloved granddaughter had slept in the chair next to Mom's bed for the entire night, their hands entwined in a familiar fashion, but for a last time.

Two day later, at the hospice, I gingerly combed my mother's hair and left for short trip to the local supermarket, then headed home. When the phone rang a few minutes later, I was surprised to hear the caller announce herself to be Resa, a hospice nurse we had met only an hour or two earlier. My mother had just passed away, she reported.

Whatever goodbyes were coming, had all been made.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

orange chair pictures

My old, orange chair began its life as a different color, and so long ago I no longer have even the slightest recollection of its original print or shade, except that it was definitely not orange (the orange cover arrived by mail, from Sears). It was stuffed with foam rubber, the usual treatment for lower-priced furniture in the 50's and 60's.

It's anybody's guess the first day I discovered the small wooden table leaf, or that it would fit exactly between its arms, but from then forward the chair became my personal throne and drawing bench.

Squished into that orange polyester cockpit is where the best pieces of my mind met paper. Two-man submarines figured heavily in that mix, as did dark and elaborately dangerous funhouses. From here I also mapped out my future (if not highly unlikely) adventures, as well as an plethora of "scientific" notions, their topics ranging from spacecraft to motorcycles to a breed of deadly advanced lasers fashioned from common light blubs. Among others. These were lovingly rendered in pencil, and later by felt tip pen or colored marker, as my budget would allow.

Although my chair also served me as something of a small, privare bubble, it could not completely isolate me from the household events that swirled in shallow orbit. It was a decade in which we packed up and relocated on a pretty regular basis, a new boyfriend or husband entering or exiting with each move. Next we'd moved to a farm in Ferndale, a tattered horse trail of a town near the Canadian border. Here Till re-married for a first time, and then moved to Bellingham when she divorced Don just a year later. We moved back to Sedro-Woolley when she had began dating again, eventually marrying Burt. In another year we moved out yet again - on this occasion just across town - when the new husband took to gambling his paycheck away on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, while my orange chair was no match for bucket seats in James Bonds' Aston Martin, the 007 spy car continued to be one my most extensive and pet projects. This was a vehicle whose arsenal I judged to include far too few machine guns, not to mention ground-to-air missiles, and booby traps and countless other secret weapons still in development by both me and govenmental agencies unknown.

Then came the blueprints for my future Adult Home, a design born by equal parts Playboy magazine and Edgar Allen Poe. A five story A-Frame, it was both a vision only a boy could adore and even believe even possible. Unencumbered by the faintest grasp of architecture (or laws of gravity), my drawings called for the ultimate playhouse, replete with a swimming pool penthouse, sliding bookcases and gothic stained-glass windows that stretched from the ground floor to the astro observatory five stories above. My palace to be.

Despite all of my full-color illustrations, real life was pale. But no matter when or where we moved, my archive of drawings would follow. Eventually this came to be a huge floppy-eared grocery box, which though kicked and clobbered with each subsequent move, protected my orange picture collection like a behemoth cardboard vault.


As had become the norm, our next move arrived again on the cusp of marital dissolution. On this occasion we'd be moving on a Saturday, just across town.

Saturday arrived but, I had privately declared to take this Moving Day off -- my butt hit my bicycle seat and I was gone for the day, who knows where. When I returned later it was nearly dark, with all the packing nearly entirely finished, it seemed. As I rolled my cruiser into a silent driveway, I spotted my mother in the back yard out by the burn barrel, the two of us avoiding both eyes or answers.

It was only weeks later, having settled into our new address on Jameson Street, and all boxes unpacked, that I realized what had actually taken place on that particular Saturday, and in the burn barrel specifically.

So many dreams, up in smoke.

Forty years has shed little wisdom on the wound. Clearly, while there was much we didn't share that long Saturday, my mother had moved to impart a notion that she had long and deeply embraced. As viewed from my own twelve-year-old haze, that notion still remained faint, but was no less impressive.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Bruce, down the street

Until I was almost seven, Bruce lived just down the street. At that time there were precious few people in my world who supplied as many "firsts" as did Bruce, this the domain of my very early years, when I had first awakened to the unwritten life, such as it was. Firsts were aplenty: The climb to his bedroom was the first stairway I ever explored, and his mother, Rosemary (another first - I'd never met a Rosemary or knew any other child who addressed his parents by their first name) was also the first woman, besides my own mother, I ever kissed goodnight. The first brown bat I saw (not on television) came flapping out of Bruce's brick chimney, and together we built our first coast car, in his empty garage. To a boy under six, this is a landmark list.

His home was a white, two story affair, and next to it grew a tall, peculiar apple tree. Plain by most standards, it had the distinction of being the first apple tree I ever recall seeing, and grew the first apple I ever tasted: green and sour - the way I still prefer them. Far more significantly at the time, anchored up at its shoulders with a pound or so of rusted nails, stood the first tree house I would ever lay eyes on. It was not a complex or fanciful structure, even by a five-year-old's estimation - hardly more than a platform pieced together from a few scraps of plywood, cedar fencing and 2x4s - but the very idea of such a thing was in itself a revelation. With its frail rope ladder dangling from the trap door entrance, I confess that any tree fort I have imagined or seen since is still compared to it in one way or another.

Bruce himself was, in the parlance of that era, a tow head. That meaning his five year old head was a mop of silken hair and as white as fresh meringue. If I picture him then, it is beneath that white mop, with him stretched out in a lawn chair in front of his house selling Kool-Aid for a penny a cup. The other image would be him lined up in front of my sandbox with the other neighborhood hombres - but this is a photograph more than an actual memory, for I am there, too.

In those days Jameson Street, unlike many of the other side streets in Woolley, was paved, although it would not boast an actual curb for ten more years. Asphalt was still a decade away at that time, so cement was it, flat, plain and gray.

On the best summer days I could squat low over that street and pull the heated black tar out from between the cement slabs like it was hot bubble gum, only better. It was a delight indulged in without a lick of shame or single ounce of presumption, only because it was there and impulse demanded me to do so, that simple.

As for Bruce, we picked up our friendship some years later, when I had finally moved back again to Woolley, my Mom having re-married not once, but twice more in the process. The day I re-entered Junior High, Bruce would be waiting for me, although being one year younger we never actually shared what was then called a "home room".

Surprisingly enough, at school Bruce was bestowed a robust popularity usually reserved for the athletic or handsome - neither being a rank he could honestly qualify for. But he did possess a certain spirit, it being a singular and unique quality I am still at a loss to fully explain or grasp, except to describe it as being a quick and unusually sarcastic wit, well beyond his years. This, and much more, certified Bruce at a very early age as being both extremely bright and a child whose precocious, mischievous nature had little or no respect for the law, including those of gravity, chemistry and common sense.

I must stop to observe that while the details of these ancient events continue to fade, their colors persist, and vividly so. As does Bruce.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the haunting

For one week during my thirteenth summer, my hometown shrank to the size of my sister's single-bedroom rental as, alone on her white vinyl couch, I drilled into her battered copy of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. While my niece and nephew played, ate, or slept, I was passed the sordid family secrets of Hugh Crain, and his legacy of evil, insane obsession, now made ghostly. With gaining apprehension, I wandered the vast halls of Hill House alongside poor Eleanor, and like her, labored to pretend that the real world no longer existed outside of our respective walls. While she avoided a smothering, manipulative mother, my hope was to squelch the celebration of Loggerodeo (one word), a fevered state of timberland clamor that descended (and still does) upon my hometown and its people once every year, on or around the Fourth of July, complete with parade.

Fact is, my town of Sedro-Woolley (two words) had one other standing claim to fame at that time, Loggerodeo being the lesser and the considerably less infamous of the two. It was also home to Northern State, a sprawling state facility for the mentally ill located just outside town, an institution which at that time employed nearly everyone that the local timber industry did not. So great was the hospital's reputation that its name had eventually become synonymous with Sedro-Woolley itself, the two freely exchanged for one another in discussionss of current events exclusive, but not limited to, regional gossip and goings-on. A junior high student at the time, I shared the universal, communal cringe at the out-of-town mention of Northern State, for fear that I should also be stamped with its indelible reputation.

More secretly (and key to the true grip which Hugh Crain held over me), was yet another relationship I shared with the book: a decade earlier, my own father had been committed to Northern State, as a patient.

I read on. My young, rural mind might have been too blunt an instrument to appreciate the wry lesbian overtures flittering between our sweet Eleanor and the cruel, beautiful Theo, but the big headline, the message of familial craziness and generational codgery rang true: there are some houses, and the people who live in them, who truly are haunted. By madness.

Eight or ten blocks away, the
Skagit County Sheriff's Posse led the annual Fourth of July parade down the center of main street, sparing no shit, horse or otherwise.

This entry was originally published as Field-Tested on .

Thursday, October 29, 2009

be here now, or there

Last night at dusk as I puffed on a cigarette on our back porch - one of my favorite savored moments of the day - my mind was already ahead me, installing a new monitor for my wife's computer. After all these years, I had still not fully mastered the essential art of Being in the Moment. From a star's distance, my Other Self whispered to me a familiar message: life is not what happens next, it is right now. Enjoy this.

But the moment escaped me. Reaching for the next.

I have spent no small margin of my life waiting for one thing or another to arrive, a date, a package, a new film, vacation, Christmas morning, my birthday, a weekend, later this evening, you name it. I am told the mechanisms we create to save our lives, left unchecked, eventually will overtake and destroy us, left unchecked. But capricious tones aside, these are hard-wired behaviors.

During the winter, when I was eight or nine years old, I'd quietly sit alone on one of the weathered swings that hang on iron chains in the old Burlington city park and pine away at the prospect of a time when the carnival would return to town and set up in this very same playground, and how I just couldn't wait - how good it would be, then. in the meantime, i would spend my afternoon leafing through last years Sears Holiday Catalog or filling in order blanks for back issues of magazines like Famous Monsters or MAD, or perhaps an orider from the Johnson Smith Co. (where i discovered leather arm bands, 8mm Three Stooges rings and magic floating balls) and then add up all the prices, tax and shipping. Only rarely did these exercises ever reach fruition - in terms of dollars and cents - but I spent a helfty amount of time thinking about ordering them, and how I would feel when I had them.

On the occasion when I would actually complete and mail in an order (including the coinage, scotch-taped to the order blank), each subsequent day would be marked with unbearable anticipation as I awaited the (amazing, important, wonderful!) package, which for some reason I fully expected to arrive almost immediately, despite distant verbiage stating orders would take 6-8 weeks to arrive. Instead, the following days, weeks and in some cases, months, were marked hour-by-hour, occasionally including solemn calls or trips to the local post office inquiring if, just perhaps, my order had possibly been delivered to the wrong address, or somehow delayed or misplaced in the backroom.

When my package would eventually arrive (in 6-8 weeks), it invariably proved a disappointment: the dozen original classic Sci-Fi movie posters I had ordered from "Movie Poster Treasure House" (the firm reserved the privilege of substituting titles of "equal or similar value") would be whittled down to three lesser desirable titles , in one case stooping so low as being a Jerry Lewis re-issue; the 8mm film of the Three Stooges "at their funniest" was just a 2-minute silent clip from "Snow White and the 3 Stooges", arguably the most despicable and disliked Stooge film absent of "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules" (also starring Joe DeRita, who may have been a decent man but was no Curly Joe). My pro "Truck Driver" leather armband was neither real leather, or empowering, in fact its color ran and stained my shirt sleeves when it got soaked walking home from school in the rain.

I understand now that the only real joy these objects provided me was the anticipation of having them.

Not surprisingly, this behavior descends from a thoroughbred line of dysfunction. It was (still remains) my mother's dearest holiday tradition to spend the weeks previous to Christmas planning and preparing a sultan's feast of edibles for our clans' annual Xmas eve get together. This roster of family favorites is usually no less than thirty or so various treats, which includes: home-made popcorn balls, fresh backed fudge, seven-layer avocado bean dip, ambrosia, macaroni salad (with and without shrimp), divinity, coconut clusters, mock Almond Roca, pumpkin and mincemeat pies, vanilla spritz cookies, scratch-made peanut brittle, chocolate no bakes, nut balls, (apropos for the occasion!), macaroons, fruitcake, and eggnog. All this in addition to the perfunctory Japanese Mandarin oranges, hard-shelled nuts, jellied fruits and miscellaneous mini side-dishes.

As heartfelt and as much hard work as my mother's recipes mustered, they all lacked a crucial ingredient: a wisdom to foresee that her many week's worth of anxious anticipation could never, ever be fulfilled in one short evening, no matter how perfectly she had planned it. There are only so many moments in a evening, and only so much affection you can extract from a mouthful of fudge, no matter how sweet. And so, almost from its beginning, she locked herself in the anxious dread of its eventual end, always only minutes away. If she understood her true joy had been in anticipating the evening (and not living it), she didn't show it.