Christmas Eve at the wrong supermarket

The line at the deli counter moves slowly,
but it moves. Everyone is calmer than I expected.
A young woman, maybe she’s 30, or a little younger, appears beside me,
touches me softly on the arm. Behind her the rain
stops and the sun comes out.
She stage whispers, “I’m at the wrong supermarket!”
The man in front of me, same age as her, smiles, watching this unfold.
“Not only that, you have the wrong man,” I whisper back.
Only then does she see me, old guy unlike her man in every way.
The other man chuckles with warmth.
So do I.
We have all felt what she is feeling.
She hooks her arm into his.
They leave for the right supermarket.
I stand where I am,
waiting for my cold cuts,
still feeling that touch.

Public service: How to decorate a Christmas tree when you have cats

Mostly, it is up to you. I claim no expertise. An online search for this information turns up far more ingenious solutions than I could devise.
But this is what I (with 3 cats – that is, I live with 3 cats, I decorated the tree with my daughter Gamma) did:
First, I got a nice tree. A few weeks ago, my wife Alpha and I went to the tree guy (local tree farmer) as early as possible. We weren’t the first people to go there this year, but we were the first ones to buy a tree.
In fact, they were still setting up when we arrived. Only one tree was standing. Viennese people (they had Vienna license plates) were looking at a pile of trees lying against the barn. Alpha and I looked at the first tree standing. “What about this one?” I said. “Ok,” she said.
She did insist the owner measure it before we bought it, and the tree was a little tall for our living room but I always cut a bit of the tip off to fit the red star on the top, and she raised her eyebrows but relented. It was, after all, a very nice, thick, symmetrical tree. And it is such a pleasure to buy the first item you inspect when you have been dreading an hour of comparison shopping.
We asked them to deliver it, as every year, and NOT to grind the end that fits into the holder because we have our own holder and it has a big hole.
They delivered it with the end ground down to fit into a wooden base that they had attached.
We like to use our own holder because you can put water into it and maybe the tree lasts a little longer, or at least the needles might not fall off as fast. I don’t know if there really is a difference because we have never tried the old-school wooden cross holders. So I considered using it this time because 1. it was already attached and 2. I might find out experimentally if the needles fell off faster without water.
My daughter came out on Sunday to decorate it with me while my wife Alpha did a writing retreat with our daughter Beta.
The most important thing Gamma and I did was, we didn’t get high before decorating the tree.
The weed kids smoke nowadays is stronger than it was 40 years ago etc etc.
I will spare you the comedic anecdotes.
So, sober, we stood up the tree.
That wasn’t so easy, it turned out because this was the biggest, heaviest tree I had ever purchased, I noticed when I tried to carry it into the house. But eventually it was inside, and standing.
Gamma determined that we had an appropriate tree for our family Christmas, because it was left-leaning.
So we took off the wooden base (with a hatchet) and stuck it into the holder thing and eventually, after some trial and error, got it to stand straight.
Then I put the red star on the top, which involved some clipping and trimming, then more clipping and more trimming and a little carving. (I was happy because I had a chance to use my Japanese carpenter’s saw.) The tree was so much too tall that not only the tip, but also the top tier of little branches had to go.
But we got the star on in the end, and didn’t damage the ceiling very much in the process.
We had received a little bit of friendly derision from family members when it was announced that we would be decorating the tree this year all by ourselves, for examples predictions of an “ADHD Christmas tree”, so we knew we had to have a plan.
This is the plan I came up with: because cats in the Pacific Northwest DO NOT climb Christmas trees due to there being cat-eating eagles at the tops of evergreen trees there (story my sister told me backs it up: a tree fell on her property one year in a storm, they found an eagle nest with a bunch of little dog and cat collars in it, minus the pets) we would put an eagle at the top of our tree. And because cats are afraid of snakes, according to the Internet, we would put a snake at the base. And because there is also a snake at the base of Yggdrasil (the tree of life of Nordic myth), that snake being the terrible serpent Níðhöggr, the eagle at the top of our tree could be the nameless eagle at the top of Yggdrasil, and so we would also need the squirrel Ratatoskr running back and forth between them, carrying messages.
Gamma and I were at an advent market at Schönbrunn a while ago and all we found was a felt squirrel, but no eagle or snake ornaments. I did however buy a deep-sea diver ornament along with the felt Ratatoskr.
So anyway we still need an eagle and a snake, maybe next year.
Alright. That was how the Yggdrasil plan played out this year – cute squirrel, in the upper third of the tree, with the deep sea diver.
That is because of our damage mitigation plan – cheap, sturdy, unpopular ornaments at the bottom, within cat range. Medium ornaments in the middle, where cats might jump, precious ones in the upper third. Then, candles everywhere. We now use LED candles, powered with one AAA battery each, because burning candles on a Christmas tree indoors scare me too much. Alpha bought 3 boxes of 15 candles each at a local discount supermarket and they are cool – not only can you choose between 2 shades of white, they also have an RGB mode where they cycle through the colors slowly, which is really hypnotic and makes me want to get high and watch it although we don’t really need to get high, we just turn off the TV and sit there on the sofa staring at the tree in the dark. (We like them so much Alpha bought 45 more but we still have to install them.)
And after the candles are on the tree, the chocolate. We overpurchased the chocolate ornaments (Mozartkugeln, chocolate umbrellas (those you hang with the little hook handle things), various chocolate ornaments, and, for the kiddies, little chocolate bottles filled with booze.
Then Gamma and I let the cats in and they were well-behaved for the most part, only 66% tried to climb the tree. Then Alpha came home later and kicked them out of the living room.
So now the cats are nonplussed and a little insulted and a little insecure, and when you enter the living room you have to first go into the kitchen, and close the outer kitchen door after clearing it of cats, airlock style, and only then can you go into the living room because if you don’t, no matter how careful you are, a cat will sneak in with you otherwise.
Between the end of Christmas tree season and the day the garbage truck collects our tree, we plan to leave it standing, sans ornaments, and grant the cats access to it.
But they don’t know that yet, all they know is they have been banned and they are mystified why. Certainly not that little bit of furniture scratching, or that negligible amount of peeing.
What could it be? They must be crazy, the humans.
Happy holidays to all who observe.

Christmas, day 1 minus 2

So tomorrow being 24 December, which is when we open presents here (stockings on 25 12) we all went in to quarantine 10 days ago so the kids could safely come over for the holidays and I was the lucky one who got to drive to their place and pick them up and drill 2 holes into Gamma’s concrete wall so she could hang a thing on her wall and drive them out to our place, on the way back telling them about my speeding ticket, “right about here where the speed limit changes from 130 (kmh) to 100 and I am always a little late slowing down; there’s no radar box around here so I assume they were right up on the overpass there, where that police car is now with the radar gun sticking out the window…” (checks speedometer, which unsurprisingly reads 120 in the 100 zone) “oh, man…” and then more stories about all the other new radar box traps we have been blundering into lately to the point where we are going to apply for a subscription; meanwhile my wife Alpha has apparently drawn the short straw and has to stay home and deal with making corn bread stuffing for the turkey we postponed from our canceled Thanksgiving (alas, the farmer said, he gained no weight between Thanksgiving, when he got his reprieve, and now — would you, I thought, seeing your friends slaughtered and knowing it was only a matter of time?) and dealing with the water filter man who was coming to sterilize our water filter after all the you-know-what backed up into the room where it is, and maybe touched it, and maybe contaminated all our drinking water pipes or whatever, as well as the rotorooter men who were coming over to investigate what caused the backup. When I got home with the girls the water filter man was practically already gone (he was fully gone when we got back from getting our covid tests (negative) at the doctor), and the rotorooter men were far, far jollier than you would expect rotorooter men to be. Friendly, happy young men.
Apparently someone had been flushing damp wipe cloths? I am translating but that’s what they’re called here? Feuchttücher? Which we don’t flush and rarely use and when we do use them (usually to wipe up cat pee) we certainly don’t flush them, we put them in the garbage and if we did flush them we’d flush them singly, single solitary cloths one by one so they could travel through the pipes easily rather than clumping and stopping everything else to the point that you get the Christmas fireworks we did. Waterworks. Whatever.
Oh and another thing, said the happy rotorooter men, you have a burst pipe too.
The boss rotorooter man is going to come over and see if it needs to be fixed, or if it’s only a minor burst. Apparently there are burst sewer pipes that are a real big deal, and others you can live with.
Is it nice to have the kids over? Just as nice as we expected, and we had high expectations. Presents are wrapped, I’ll make some mashed potatoes for tomorrow later today, and mix up some baking powder biscuits (taking into account the fact that Austrian baking powder is weaker than American baking powder, so you need more if you’re using an American recipe, and I’m using a Betty Crocker recipe) to be baked tomorrow, and getting some sourdough and pre-dough started to sit overnight so I can… watch it rise too long and lose heart and start to sag while the turkey monopolizes the oven, then the biscuits… maybe I should think about this a little… maybe I’ll postpone the sourdough a day…
Happy holidays, anyway, to those who celebrate holidays.

A brief Christmas play

(Lights come up)

(Living room, a woman is decorating a Christmas tree, radio plays Christmas songs. Cat sleeps on sofa)

Man (seated at table, repairing ornament): Fuck, I glued the bird to my finger.

(Fade to black)

(The End)

The Light of Peace

On Christmas Day
we celebrated at our house
I picked up my in-laws at their house
and drove them to our house.
They are old and wobbly
and there are lots of stairs
so it took a while to get them into my car
also my mother-in-law had a flame
the Light of Peace
that had come all the way from Jerusalem
that she wanted to share with us
and we had to be careful with that
so as not to light anything on fire
and especially not let it go out.
it was in the form of a candle, protected in a little
wood and glass lantern type thing.
she put that into a pot and carried the pot
for extra protection of all involved.
the light, as i understand it, someone goes to jerusalem
and sets something on fire from the Light of Peace there
and hurries back with it before it goes out
then they light more things on fire
and take them to churches
where people come and light other things, usually candles
and take them home
where the Light of Peace
shines on Christmas.
their neighbor had gone to church to get a flame
and come over and lit their candle for them
doubling the Light of Peace.
all the way to my house it smelled like something was burning
in my car but it was only the Light of Peace.
at my house everyone stood around
and watched
while I took out our candle
or rather put their candle-lantern thing into a larger lantern
of ours
a big glass affair
and took our candle and a long wooden match
with which to transfer the Light of Peace to our new candle
while leaving their candle burning
thus doubling yet again the Light of Peace
but instead, with the large match, I pressed the first candle’s wick
into the melted wax
extinguishing the Light of Peace
undeniably, before five witnesses
fuck, I said.
it’s like that Jack London story with the trapper starting a fire in winter,
i said
but none of them were Jack London fans.

And the streets will flow with whiskey

M was in Innsbruck, which is beautiful in snow and rich; the advent markets there are fancy and bookstores plush but the mountains around it are high and somewhat overbearing, and the hotel was a dump. His wifi barely worked. He befriended two silverfish in the bathroom. He named them Gregor1 and Gregor2.

Then it was decided that his little group would drive back to Vienna in the middle of the night, in the snow, which was crazy. But doing crazy things, he discovered, can launch you into an alternate universe. It did that night, he saw unusual things like rows of trucks stopped to put on chains, or whole flocks of them sleeping in rest stops and gas stations until the storm passed; or maybe they do that every night. And German police asked them for identification, M’s little group, and advised against eating at that truck stop and M wondered why. Was the food bad? The service? The clientele?

And M slept a little, and the others, except for the driver, and they arrived at 2.30 in the morning and he finally got to sleep at 4 and woke up in the wrong universe and he’s still trying to figure it out. Everything is pretty much the same, but only pretty much.

His daughter’s street flows with whiskey. Or smells like it at least.

His other daughter is a little bit funnier than before. Driving into town, he tells her about a friend’s trepidation at bathing in a spa said to have special curative powers for gynecological diseases. Gamma says, the waters supposed to cure diarrhea are probably pretty bad, too.

M thinks he has all his Christmas presents in time this year. Definitely the wrong universe.

The Ghost of Christmas Future meets the Smallest Man in the World

So the smallest man in the world is driving along. He just hit a patch of ice so he’s taking it easy. The windows are fogged up a little, in the corners where the vents don’t get them, and encrusted with salt on the outside. As they pass the sugar refinery his daughter asks him what he’s chuckling about.

The look on my… hair stylist’s (he always has to pause to consider what they’re called nowadays) face were I to tell her to “make me look cool” when I go in for my haircut tonight, he says.

Oh, his daughter says.

Lose twenty pounds first, says the smallest man in the world. Then we can talk about trying to look cool. For a small guy, he could lose a lot of weight. And he is small. He’s under eight inches now.

He can barely see over the steering wheel.

He tries to remember if he just told his daughter how awesome she is, or if he only thought it.

He pats her on the leg and tells her, just to be on the safe side.

What is with these people who can recall every day of their life and every thing that ever happened to them? That would totally suck, even if you had a charmed life.

The smallest man in the world is more at the goldfish end of the memory spectrum, at least when he thinks about his life as a whole. But when he tries to recall certain things, he generally can in great detail. Like, he can’t remember, offhand, going to Greece with his family, or keep the individual trips they made there on vacation seperate. But he can remember the rat that jumped as high as his face when he cornered it with a blue push broom in their bungalow in the middle of the night while his wife and daughters danced on their bed, and the way it could navigate their holiday bungalow like an expert in the dark, but couldn’t find its way out the front door when he opened it.

Like that.

The smallest man in the world is meeting his wife for Christmas punch after his haircut.

When he thinks that, he is no longer driving, he’s all, where am I?

I am the Ghost of Christmas Future, says a voice.

The smallest man in the world observes that the Ghost of Christmas Future is totally fucking hot but doesn’t say anything.

I am here to show you the upcoming Christmas.

I’d rather be surprised, says the smallest man in the world. Just surprise me.

I have to show you something, says the Ghost of Christmas Future.

Show me tonight then, says the smallest man in the world.

Doink, something went, “doink” and they were watching the smallest man in the world’s wife standing at a punch stand, talking to one of her many friends who she happened to bump into while waiting for her husband to finish his haircut.

“She cut it pretty short,” she says when her husband arrives.

He shrugs.

She picks him up and he sits on a gold chain around her neck like a swing so he is more at eye level. He looks like gangsta bling.

What’re you having, she asks.

Something strong. Turbo punch if they have it, something along those lines, he says.

She tells him about her day, he tells her about his day.

They drink punch.

The smallest man in the world thinks about abundance and utopia. He is convinced the world is an abundant utopia that we just happen to be ruining because we are so stuck on how to get to heaven that we don’t notice we’re already there.

Except for one thing. In his utopia, the smallest man in the world would be the boss. And he’s not the boss here. But that’s just a personal thing. His personal utopia. In a real, general utopia, he could handle not being the boss, and this is actually pretty close. Especially with this punch, wow.

He stands close to his wife and puts his arm around her. He can do this and hang from a golden chain around her neck at the same time.

Then, doink, he’s back in his car with his daughter. Wow, I almost just missed the turn and took you to work with me today, he says.

People do that a lot, says his daughter.

Look at that asshat, he says. If he comes to a stop in the parking lot entrance to let his kid out and blocks me out here in the fucking street I’m fucking honking.

Don’t you dare, says his daughter.

He lets her out and stays there watching her until she’s safely across the street. Then he goes to work. Then he has lunch, then he goes home.

And so on. There, in his abundant utopia.