A CHEESEBURGER FAMILY CHRISTMAS
Is that a viral vector running out of your nose, or are you just happy to see me?
[ CheeseburgerBrown sits in an easy chair by the fire with a quilt over his legs. He lays down his open book as he sees us, and smiles. ]
Nothing cries out with pure holiday yule quite like a 2'3" Santa, gang violence and car accidents, does it? Why, you could have a themed calendar printed up and that's what would be on every page.
And so, in that spirit, I'd like to present: A Cheeseburger Family Christmas. I'll be your host, CheeseburgerBrown.
[ Licks finger, turns page. ]
Allow Me To Introduce My Cold
Colds do a lot of truck come Christmas, partly because of all the inter-circle social mixing, and partly because of the immunologically dampening effects of cool weather and stress. Mostly, however, it is because people are, on the whole, a bunch of thoughtless retards.
How hard is it to disinfect your hands frequently and avoid touching socially shared surfaces like doorknobs, babies and serving forks? People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder do it all the time.
In the week before Christmas my father invited my siblings and I to an intimate dinner at a favourite steakhouse and seafood emporium with dim lighting and gracious, frowning Greek waiters in tuxedos. As a last minute surprise, my father changed the date two days before the affair, and then invited twenty-three other people.
Many of them have colds. They shake my hand. They smile. I ask, "How you doin'?" They tell me things have been good, except for "this terrible cold." My handshake goes limp, and my smile frosty.
My step-mother decides that we shall all open gifts in a simultaneous tumult, in order to expedite matters sufficiently to give her enough time to drive home before she's too tired. While this doesn't allow us to actually share in the moment when anyone receives a gift, I am undismayed because I am about twenty-three gifts short, due to short notice. "Did my parents get their gift?" I ask my wife.
LittleStar surveys the small banquet room, blooms of crumpled paper littering the floor now amid glossy paper bags featuring smiling snowfolk and Coke's Santa. "Probably," she says, squinting. "I don't see it on the table anymore."
"Ho Ho Ho," I say.
My smallest and halfest sister runs up to babble and gibber at me in Tweenese. She's on about Hilary Duff and some sort of polymorphable Japanimation pocket ninja that she's "winning at." I nod and smile. I give her a hug. She sneezes in my face, and runs away.
I have an uncle who is both a fitness buff and a chef.
I find it refreshing to eat beside him, because he eats with guiltless zest. He is in excellent shape, and any additional pounds he picks up he will happily work off. And so, without pangs of conscience or whines of lament, he orders plate after plate. Raw oysters, pickles, bruscetta, olives, shrimp cocktails, hot rolls, asparagus, lobster, carrots, baked potatoes, salmon steak...
It's nice to see such untainted enjoyment.
For more of the same, my brother sits on the floor tearing up wrapping with my daughter, who thinks this is a hilarious way to pass the time. She wades carefully through the paper, her arms swinging to and fro for balance. Walking is still brand new for eleven-month-old Ingrid. My brother entices her onward with a stuffed bear, and she relentless stumps forward over bow and ribbon. "Beah!" she calls to her toy, and then, in afterthought, adds commentary in her own, personal argot: "Glibber di joopa glu bof."
I couldn't agree more.
It is the day before Christmas Eve, and we are preparing for the first of two dinners we will be hosting. As the hours count down to showtime LittleStar realises she is missing a few key items from the grocery store, and so we hop into our purple Nissan and take off.
As we drive in the inside lane down a broad, clear boulevard a silver sedan turns off of an ajoining residential street and plows into the side of our car, sideswiping us into the raised median and then accelerating away.
"What the fuck?" I yell. "Can we still drive?"
"Yes," reports my wife, pulling off of the curb with a twist of the wheel.
LittleStar attacks the gear-shift and we surge forward with a loud squeal, the right-fore of the car loping ominously. She lays into the accelerator and I am pushed back into my seat. The road is nearly empty, and our quarry is easy to spot up ahead, trapped at a red light.
The light turns green.
LittleStar slams the gear-shift back and we eat the remaining distance, the rear of the silver sedan suddenly looming in the windscreen. She jams sidewise into the left-turn lane, twists the wheel hard to the right, and then brings us a screeching halt directly across the nose of our target, blocking his way.
I'm out of the car in a flash.
Inside the silver sedan is an old man, cowering, eyes wide, looking around in a panic -- and he's fidgeting with the door controls. At first I think he's locking the door against me, and my blood boils. I knock on the window aggressively. "What do you think you're doing?" I shout through the glass. "You've just had an accident, you idiot!"
He is nodding and waving, trying desperately to express, "Just a minute! Wait, please." When I discern that he's too addled to figure out how to let himself out, I take a step away from his car and hold my tongue.
This helps. He calms down enough to unlock his door, open it, and emerge. "You've just been involved in an accident," I repeat in a mildly less threatening tone. "With my baby in the car."
"I didn't know," he mutters, not looking me in the eye. "I thought I just hit the curb."
"You turned into our lane and hit our car," said LittleStar loudly. "Look at our car! Look at your car! You didn't notice that?" she challenged.
"I didn't know," repeats the paunchy dotard lamely.
"How fucking oblivious would you have to be? How is that even possible?" I rage at him suddenly while he cowers against the side of his car.
"Calm down," suggests my wife. "You need to give us your insurance information, okay?" she instructed the befuddled coot. "Is it in your glove compartment?"
"I don't know," says the old man. He's helpless, useless, frightened.
I take a calmer tone with him: "Listen, you can't make a turn into the inside lane. It's against the law in order to avoid exactly the kind of accident you just caused." I take out my own wallet and copy down my insurance information for him, my hands shaking.
"I didn't know that," claims the old man.
"And you're supposed to signal," says my wife. "And you're supposed to look first!" she snaps as an afterthought. "We had the right-of-way." She takes an insurance card from the old man's equally shaky paw, and copies down its contents after I hand her the pen.
"I didn't know," repeats the old man, eyes down.
It is clear that we will get no where else with him. Whether play-acting his uselessness or not, he would not give it up. We have errands to run, and time is running short. The car can still drive, so that means we have no excuse to bog ourselves down with the authorities here at the scene. We will contact the police by telephone, and tattle on the old man for fleeing the scene. We'll leave it to them to determine whether he's senile or shifty or both.
We leave the old man to mumble to himself by his car while we get back in our own newly dented vehicle. Still strapped in her car-seat, Ingrid has not noticed anything amiss. She points to a twisting flock of dots in the sky. "Birds," she tells us.
"What time is it?" asks my wife.
"According to my phone, it's low battery o'clock," I tell her.
"We'd better hurry," she says. We pull out of the intersection and fly to Loblaws.
The Baby's Worth Ten Points
It is Christmas Eve at our house, and LittleStar is busily tending to the bubbling pots in the kitchen and tidying the livingroom while I curl up on the couch and shiver, my body so heavy it feels as if it were made of concentrated neutron-star. I have developed a nasty cold. I wrap another blanket around my shoulders, and then collapse from the effort and enjoy a brief nap.
I have a dream about babies trying to force feed me Cheerios, and wake up with smooshed bits of dusty cereal crushed up against my cheek. "Papa!" cries my daughter in delight, about an inch from my face.
Company is arriving: in-laws, this time. The dogs go nuts. The cats run away. When everyone comes in I shake hands in mime, on account of my contagion.
Before Ingrid goes to bed she charms everyone with the miniature Santa Claus costume bought for her by an aunt. She parades around the livingroom clapping and clicking her tongue, pulling off her hat with a grunt of frustration whenever anyone tries to stick it on for a photo-op.
My father-in-law Old Oak pulls out a couple of bottles of Champagne. Not wanting to frighten Ingrid with the sudden pop, he catches her attention as he unwinches the wire holding tight the cork. "Wow," says Ingrid, transfixed.
The cork blows, striking the ceiling, down to the table, back up to the ceiling, and down again to strike the baby squarely in the forehead.
For a moment, her face is serene. A micro-expression of concern and confusion flickers across her brow. The lips part in slowing dawning surprise. She blinks once, and then twice more. Her chin quivers, and then she decisively explodes into a wail of banshee lament and horrified indignation.
Everyone can't help but laugh while they take turns soothing her tears. Baby Santa has become crabby, and her broadcast day is coming to an end.
Once she is safely abed I treat my cold with beer.
The Big Day
We don't actually believe that Jesus was magic in my family -- Christmas is just an excuse to spend time together. So, we don't have to attend any tedious midnight masses or early morning worship services. (We reckon that an eternity of damnation is a reasonable price to pay for a few hours extra sleep.)
My sister Xena and my brother-in-law Slozo stay over at our house, and are there to open stockings with the baby come morning. We share a feast of Gouda scrambled eggs and country bacon, buttered toast, iced tea, pickles, olives and cheese.
Ingrid's primary gift from us is a tiny little wooden workbench with colourful little pegs that can be hammered back and forth by way of a small wooden mallet. She is initially confused, but after watching my sister pound at it for a bit she catches on with great enthusiasm.
In the afternoon we drive over to my mother's house, our swollen camp broken into two separate vehicles. Old Oak shows up to drive Slozo and our two giant dogs in the black Volvo, while Xena rides with LittleStar and I in the violet Nissan.
My mother lives in the neighbourhood of Leaside, where the ivy-covered red-brick houses are very small compared to the North American average, squeezed side-by-side in an almost English manner, built after the Great War as cluster-nests for the Baby Boom of the 1920s.
It is into the cosy livingroom of such a home that we attempt to fit myself, my mother and step-father, my brother and his fiancee, my parents-in-law, my brother-in-law, my sister, my step-brother and step-sister, my wife, our eleven-month-old pint-sized Godzilla, two massive dogs with swishing, ropey tails, and one sleepy West Indian with a golden tooth.
Suffice to say: it is a zoo.
Gifts are doled out from beneath the tree in controlled bursts, allowing time for everyone to appreciate each reception. Ingrid is soon hemmed in by a ring of new stuffed toys, most of whom are talking. "Elmo want to be a chicken, Elmo want to be a duck!" shouts one toy in a high-pitched gargle.
"Uh-oh!" cooes Po, a pink Teletubby.
"Tra la la!" sings some nutty plastic worm with glowing body segments that came from I don't know who. LittleStar picks it up and turns it over. "How do you turn it off?" she wants to know.
Ingrid is swaying and dancing, screaming and clapping her hands. She has gone totally bananas. Her eyes are wide and crazed. She clutches torn wrapping paper in her fists and quivers with excitement. "Yeah!" she shrieks. "Wow!"
At dessert she amazes us all by taking up her spoon and feeding herself ice cream. She seems as impressed as we are, yelling with joy at her self-reliance as she pokes the spoon clumsily into her bowl, stabbing and digging until she frees another load. Cameras flash like she is a sports star. Intoxicated by the excitement, Ingrid begins wailing away at her bowl in a way that reminds me of the bone-smashing ape in Kubrick's Space Odyssey.
This morning, the workbench; by evening, the spoon -- our baby girl now has the power of tools!
Insomniac Security Systems, Inc.
When night comes, I cannot sleep. My bouts of daytime napping to shake off my cold have disrupted my sleeping schedule, and I'm left awake and alert as my wife drifts off into an exhausted slumber. Dogs gorged on turkey scraps and giblets snore and fart in the darkness of our bedroom.
This adds an unpleasant musk to the already hot and stuffy air, so I get out of bed and pad out to my laboratorium next door. My computers are all off, a rare event. I sit in my chair, watching the network lights blink, wondering how to lull myself to sleep.
I open the window, letting in the crisp night air. We have to keep the furnace cranked up high, otherwise the whiny, West Indian single-mother in our basement calls up the landlord crying (literally) that we're trying to "freeze her out."
The poor ninny is finding the transition from a Caribbean winter to a Canadian one challenging, I suppose, as many do. But it seems fitting to keep this house at a Jamaican temperature, since it goes so well with the gay Jamaican colours that all the walls have been painted by the previous tenants. Since we never planned to stay here long, we did not bother to repaint...
The cool air from the open window feels good. I smoke a joint, and read a magazine about brains someone put in my stocking.
After an hour my lids are getting heavy. I put away the magazine, stand up to stretch. I yawn. And then: a gunshot rings out, cutting through the night like a whip, echoing between houses, dying away as suddenly as it came.
Just then: a rustling in the bushes outside. I think that it is one of our cats coming home, startled by the noise, but as the rustling continues punctuated by the sounds of the fence heaving I know that it is bearing larger freight than a cat...
I go to the window. A hooded form is tangled in the bushes at the back of our yard, struggling to pull himself free. I take a deep breath and bellow: "You'd better shit your pants because I have you in my sights now, boy!"
The reaction is immediate. The hooded youth redoubles his frantic efforts to extricate himself from the bush, and drops onto the dog-shit soiled grass. Considering it urgent that he not for even a moment consider my yard to be a good place to hide or even tarry -- be he hunter or hunted -- I take another breath and shout: "You have three seconds! One! Two --"
He is instantly lost to the shadows.
...But I hear him clambouring over my front fence. To hasten his scramble I add a few very credible deep dog-barks. This does the trick: I hear him drop on the other side of the fence. I move quickly to the bathroom window in time to see his running shadow pelting down the street, disappearing. A block away, screeching tires, muffled shouting.
I am no longer sleepy. I hate Scarborough.
LittleStar rubs her eyes, suddenly standing at my elbow. "What the fuck is going on?" From the bedroom, one of our snoring dogs lets out a ponderous fart.
"Gang games," I explain. I sigh and add, "I can't wait to move."
"Seven weeks," she says, holding up seven fingers and yawning.
"Seven weeks," I echo dully.
We go back to the bedroom. I put the dogs downstairs. LittleStar finds a way to make me sleepy. All in all it is a fine Christmas. Santa came and so did I.