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.

The Wreath

The Man woke himself up coughing, and touched the Child to make sure she was still breathing. She had been coughing all night too. It would be morning soon, the Man knew in minutes the faint glow would spread like the weak shine of a sputtering tallow flame across a gray flowstone floor, but right now the horizon was still as cold and dark as a dead cannibal’s frying pan in the dead gray ashes of some dead campfire.

The Man put some distance between himself and the Child so she wouldn’t hear him coughing. Sometimes she lay awake at night making sure he was still breathing, this he knew. The morning was cold, this he knew because the Cats fell over each other rushing into the house when he opened the door, the red Cats and the ash-gray Cats. Still discalced, he fed them and washed out their mylar food envelopes and washed the catfood sauce from his fingers, wondering why catfood couldn’t just come in simple cans.

Maybe someday society would collapse for reasons unknown and Cats would be happy to eat from cans again.

He looked at the bare table. He looked at the calendar. He had to get a wreath today.  The Wreath had to be simple, with simple red candles and simple red ribbons and Nothing Else, and cost €15 which is what the simple Wreath would have cost at school where the Child ordered it, if they hadn’t messed up her order.

He ate some cereal, coughing. The Child was watching him from the doorway. The Man wondered how long the Child had been standing there. Do you want some cereal, the Man asked. The Child said okay.


The Man and the Child ate their cereal.

Driving down the gray wet macadam through a scabland of strip malls, wipers set to a 5-second interval against the depressing cold mist, the Man bemoaned the difficulty of finding a simple Wreath and why did the school have to fuck this up every year it was like a traditional thing. The Man refused to consider the possibility that the Child might have fucked up the order somehow. The first florist they tried had only fancy wreaths. Black candles? Who needs those? Do Goths buy wreaths nowadays? Black candles with fake black birds on them!

The advent market in the newly-remodeled town square had more punch than you could shake a stick at, but also no wreaths, not even fancy ones. The second florist they tried after another detour also only had wreaths starting at forty euro. The Man coughed.

The Child watched the Man coughing. Then the Child coughed.

You coughed, said the Man.

So did you, said the Child.



The Man and the Child got back into the car and left that florist and drove to a nursery that had advertised an Advent market Sundays, but it turned out the Man had no idea where the nursery was, at least, that is, he had an idea, but it proved to be absolutely wrong. The Man could feel his heart growing granitic and crozzled. But there was another nursery not far away so they went there. Secretly, the Man resolved to buy a wreath, no matter what, assuming they were open.

The other nursery was open. The Man and the Child wandered around inside, coughing. The Man could feel a fever rising, and was shakey.

The Child found a table full of wreaths near the cashier.  Two tables, in fact. The Man said, this is not the Wreath we were looking for, since it costs €22 and not €15, but our time on Earth is finite, you know what I mean.

The Child coughed as if in response.

Then the Man coughed. It was almost like the thing with yawning, where when one person yawns then everyone else has to as well.

After buying the Wreath the Man and the Child went to the supermarket to buy groceries because the Man had forgotten to buy sufficient groceries the day before because he had miscalculated. They got a shopping cart. Usually we get a shopping cart at the doorway, said the Man, but this time I want to get one out in the lot, because last time I was here the guy selling the homeless newspaper had a new moneymaking scheme, where he would give people carts at the door, and so if you were a nice guy you felt obligated to give him the Euro coin as a tip that you had planned to use as a deposit for the cart, which sucks in a way because you don’t get it back like you’d get a deposit back but on the other hand of course is good because you want to help the guy out, but if say ten people give him a Euro per hour out of the hundred he gives carts to, then that’s an hourly wage of ten Euro, and probably 20 people give him a Euro, which means maybe I’ll start doing this somewhere. You want to help the guy out, but all I have today is a two-Euro coin and that’s more help than I can afford to give, said the Man, and coughed a hacking cough that shook him to his spine.

Okay, said the Child.

The Man and the Child said good morning to the guy selling the homeless paper. Then the Child pointed and said, look. The Man looked, and saw a table near the doorway, full of simple Wreaths selling for €14.50.

The Child looked at the Man. The Man laughed. The Child Laughed. Next year we’ll come here first after the school messes up our order, the Man said.

We’ll come here first, said the Child. Okay.

The sky was no longer black, it was the gray of an elephant beaten cruelly with cold lead pipes. And the mist had not stopped.

A Christmas Carol, reloaded


Tiny Tim: [Crawls into tight hiding spot] [To himself] I should be safe in here.

Act I

Scene I

Mrs. Cratchit: [Driving cleaning lady to her next gig] Sheesh, what’s that awful smell?

Cleaning lady: Factory? The car?

Mrs. Cratchit: It smells like burning. It gets worse every time we go around a corner.

Scenes II, III, IV

(yadda, yadda, yadda)

Act II

Scene I

Bob Cratchit: [We are outside the bathroom, he is inside.] Ow.

Scene II

Bob Cratchit: [Same location] Ow, my head. [Sound effects: Retroperistalsis]

Scene III

Bob Cratchit: [We are now inside the bathroom with Mr. Cratchit] [Sighs] [Sound effects: gurgling intestines] Ow, yet fascinating.

Scene IV

Mrs. Cratchit: [Street scene] How do you open the hood, anyhow?


Scene I

Bob Cratchit: [Struggles impotently with giant pine tree wrapped tightly in netting. Looks at base of tree, realizes it is way to fat to fit into Christmas tree stand] Sigh.

Scene II

Bob Cratchit: [Drinks aspirin drink. Arranges tools beside tree on picnic table: saws, chisel, mallet. Looks at axe, has vision of chopped-off fingers and spurting arterial blood, sets it back down.] Not with this residual blood alcohol. [Begins chipping away at trunk of tree with chisel]

Scene III

Bob Cratchit: [Places tree in living room, cuts away the plastic netting. The tree is about two feet too high for the ceiling. He clips off the tip, which is too fat to fit inside the ornament that traditionally goes atop the tree. He steps back and regards the tree, which resembles Olive Oyl wearing a crinoline dress and stretching out her arms] Next year, I must buy a tree earlier.

Scene IV

Tiny Tim: [From hiding place] Meow.

Mrs. Cratchit: Ohmigod.

Tiny Tim: [Crawls from underneath hood of Mrs. Cratchit's automobile, his fur badly singed on all sides, eyebrows and whiskers included.] Meow.

Cleaning lady: Whoa.

Mrs. Cratchit’s friend: I’ll bring you a cat transporter.

Act IV

Scene 1

[In the Cratchits' living room, which now smells like pine tree and singed cat]

Mrs. Cratchit: [sorting through Christmas ornaments] The vet said he’d be in shock for a while.

Bob Cratchit: I really should have gone tree-shopping earlier.

Mrs. Cratchit: It’s fine. It’s a nice tree.

Bob Cratchit: You’re too kind.

Mrs. Cratchit: The vet didn’t even charge me anything. Here, gold, silver, blue, purple but not so much red this year, okay?

Bob Cratchit: Okay.

Mrs. Cratchit: And I still need you to put the fiddly little hooks on all the chocolate ornaments. For some reason I bought hundreds this year.

Bob Cratchit: [Looks at huge pile of chocolate ornaments, which dance kaleidoscopically in his blurred vision, like the "bad trip" scene from a cautionary late-1960s anti-LSD movie.] Okay.

Bob Cratchit: [Begins hanging ornaments from tree, one by one.]

Mrs. Cratchit: And I like the red star atop the tree. We don’t always have to have that other thing.

Bob Cratchit: The red star does have an appealing communist look to it, doesn’t it.

Mrs. Cratchit: Maybe we’ll use it every year from now on.

Bob Cratchit: I wonder if you can get little hammer and sickle ornaments to go with it.

Mrs. Cratchit: Well, I’m off to do some shopping or something.

Scenes 2, 3, 4, 5

yadda, yadda, yadda

Act V

Scene 1

Bob Cratchit: [Pets Tiny Tim, carefully.] What the hell were you thinking?

Scene 2

Bob Cratchit: [Pets Tiny Tim, carefully]

Scene 3

Bob Cratchit: [Regards tree, now fully decorated] She’s right, it’s not that bad after all.

Scene 4

Bob Cratchit: Sorry, Tim, the vet said we can’t let you out for a few days. You’ll have to go on your litter box.

Tiny Tim: God bless us, everyone.