As I write this, I’m listening to a SomaFM internet radio channel called Department Store Christmas: Holiday Elevator Music from a more innocent time. There’s only so much Lite-FM (New York) one can stand. I’m enjoying the elevator music, especially the Ray Conniff Singers. They always remind me of Vietnam and the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City at this special time of year. I think that most of all, the elevator music makes me think of pressing dirty buttons with my knuckle so that I don’t get smallpox from the other shoppers, should I absent-mindedly rub my eye with the same fingertip once I get to the floor with the bedroom slippers and become overwhelmed by the splendor of the season.
I sauntered around town in Woodstock yesterday, having doffed my gay apparel, and browsed the shops that carried nothing tie-dyed. There wasn’t an elevator in sight, and it’s a damn good thing, because you could catch your death from some of the characters on Tinker St. Have you ever noticed how many people seem to have a persistent cough when you don’t have one? I do. And when I do, the same thoughts inevitably enter my mind. When did I last have a cough? What was it like when it came on? How did it eventually leave? I mean, it seems like the worst thing in the world when I get a cough, but so far they have always passed. Presumably then, for every cough, I have also experienced the first glorious day without it. Fascinating that I never remember those days.
This year, the approach of Christmas is not tick-tocking in my brain with the ever-increasing intensity of a Yuletide tell tale heart. I have resolved not to allow that habit to continue. It’s not as if I expect this Christmas to be like the gilded ones of my youth, but I have decided that I’m going to slide into it, by just noticing, by just being aware. It’s been working out, so far.
I’ve found that you can put a Christmas spin on most anything. It’s the most flexible PR construct ever conceived by Western man. If you put reindeer antlers on each side of a garbage truck, you’ve made Christmas magic. Throw a neglected string of lights over the busted railing on the back stairs and pretty soon, all anyone thinks of is that unmistakable star of Bethlehem.
Even me. I’ve just put a Christmas spin on Uncle Walt.
I find him to be far more jolly in his gay apparel, don’t you?
Oh yeah, Bethlehem. I was in Bethlehem, PA last weekend. They lucked out with the name and turn it into Christmas Town every year. I saw it as a veritable Christmas boomtown, provided that you didn’t really want to have lunch. It was like a Hallmark movie. All of the women wore new clothes with scarves and were drinking from large takeout coffee cups in pristine white with black lids. Of course, if you get that many people together in one place, it’s gonna get dicey. I wasn’t so much strolling as navigating, like Gene Hackman running after Frog 1 in the subway station in The French Connection. Nevertheless, in keeping with my commitment to the spirit of the season, I thoroughly enjoyed watching those beautiful horses pull carriages full of white people through the streets. The drivers wore top hats. My favorite part was the sound of the hooves. You could hear these majestic animals long before you could see them, but even then, you could cross against the light because they wouldn’t run you down. Not at those prices.
I learned something else about Bethlehem, PA that I had never known before. It’s the home of the Christmas Putz. Until last week, this was a completely alien concept to me. I saw one sign about it, then another, then another. It sunk in that this must be a big deal here. I wondered if we would get to see him. Then, as if on cue, a particularly obnoxious lout behind us on the sidewalk was bouncing down the lane plainly yelling his conversation to the mild-mannered old woman next to him. He was wearing a blue, yes blue, velvet Santa suit with no hat. “This is it!” I exclaimed. This was our promised sighting of the fabled Christmas Putz! He rolly-pollied past, noticing no one in his revelrous half stupor and no one noticing him. Perhaps I had overreacted. Upon further online research, I discovered that the Christmas Putz is essentially a Nativity scene. This guy was just a garden-variety putz. I’d have gotten a picture but I thought it best just to get the hell out of the area before someone got hurt.
Nativity scenes are the soup du jour in what everyone knows is the real Christmas Town: Staten Island. That’s next weekend. The islanders (that’s what Jersey Jeff Kersey and I used to call the locals) are true artists of the Christmas lawn display. On any night in Advent, Staten Island is aglow with a holiday spirit that must be seen to be believed. In their vivid interpretations, flamingos were native to Bethlehem, the site of the famed Eiffel Tower. Two snowmen and Santa Claus can stand in for wise men with justifiable confidence. The islanders’ attention to detail is further punctuated by the absence of the Christ Child on the lawn until December 24th. Sadly, Jersey Jeff has left us, but I shall tour the Isle of Staten in his honor, listening to Thin Lizzy, as was our tradition.
Merry Christmas, friends.