Copyright 2012 JB Schaffer. All rights reserved.
It’s that time again. You know what I’m talking about. The streets smell of chestnuts, pine needles and a clammy anxiety. You find yourself barking like a dog, in parking lots. At whomever. Because whomever possibly took the last parking spot at the grocery store and you need a few things after Someone At Home called in a panic.
There you were, minding your own business at your desk, thinking quietly about the Great Unifying Theory of Everything. Then your phone jingle jangled, jingle jangle jangle, and out of this cacophony emerged the words “onion” and “oil” and “cranberries”. Now you’re in the produce aisle, parsing a labeling system invented by someone with copious liberal guilt and a high fever. A system so byzantine they had to pen an apologetic, garrulous FAQ.
Disoriented by the flood of definitions, you stumble around the supermarket, almost tripping over the pile of yule logs. You ponder the word “yule;” you roll it around on your tongue. Yoooool. You know it’s from Old Norse because you took that linguistics class--you English major, you!--and through the fog of memory this goat appears. Those crazy Scandinavians, you think. Those mad, wonderful bastards, what with their smoked fish and their Skål-ing and their Christmas goats and their careening about on the ice in wooden skates.
Wait, you’re mixing all that up with your PhD thesis about ice skating and fairy tales and discourse strategies. Grad school sucked, it did. You really dodged a bullet getting out of academia. You release a hearty chuckle of relief and arrive back in the present to realize that you’ve laughed very loudly. Very, very loudly. People are staring. That little girl in a stroller next to the puddings is staring at you. Hi, little girl. You try a tentative wave. Oh, look, now she’s crying, her shiny cheeks streaked with tears. Great. You’ve made a little girl cry. At Christmas.
You instinctively make a run for the frozen foods aisle, taking refuge near the fish sticks. Things slow down in the cold; molecules move further apart, collide less often, give you room to breathe.
What is that noise? “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” has started up over the store PA system.
It’s the hap-happiest season of all!
Parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting!!!
Leaning weakly against the freezer door, you try to summon energy for the holiday freneticism, the temper tantrums, that heightened etiquette, all that measuring of your worth. Are you a good enough parent? Are you a good enough child? Will the cold calculus of gift exchange out you as cheap? The fish on the Mrs. Paul’s box stare back at you wordlessly, their cod mouths agape in silent judgement.
“I’m a good person,” you want to say to them. “I really am.”
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer!"
You are, aren’t you? Of good cheer? No less than anyone else. You’re just trying to get by in life, doing your best to eke out a little pleasure and keep everyone around you happy. Then The Season starts to loom in its ominous way, stirring up questions and self-doubt.
And caroling out in the snow.
Your heart fills with an abrupt, unexpected hatred for Andy Williams, that golden-throated pollyanna, that panderer to hoi polloi. Easy listening. Ha!
With all the power you have, you will another tune into your head: Ave, ave Dominus Dominus tecum. Bocelli’s “Ave Maria.” You feel the space behind your forehead relax. Et benedictus. Bathed in Andrea’s soothing tenor, the linoleum floor tiles appear to vibrate, just slightly. They are calling to you. “Lie down here, with us. It’s lovely, so lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely down here.”
The floor is surprisingly warm for the freezer aisle, you notice dreamily. Heat rises, so it should be colder down here; you start to try to figure this out but laziness overtakes your mind. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
You stretch an arm out on either side. Your body bisects the long aisle, you can almost reach the bits of lint under the display case with your fingertips. You are Jesus, perhaps, minus the stigmata and the cross, laid down gently in the middle of a Whole Foods. Perhaps people will pay to come and see you. It is a milagro, an event. Like the Virgin Mary on a garage door or a tortilla or a tree trunk. You feel important; you will stay here until word has spread. You sink more deeply into the floor, awaiting the wonderment and gratitude.
Jingle jangle jangle! Silence. Jingle jangle jangle! Insistent, annoying. You open your eyes to see a man over you. He is dressed in a forest green polyester apron, his youngish features pulled into an expression that combines boredom and anger. There is a stain on his apron in the shape of the very bottom of Italy. A worn down heel, plus the instep and the toe of the boot.
You want to ask him about olive oil. This has just popped into your head. You have remembered about the olive oil and the cranberries. You try to ask this aloud but you are oddly parched and can’t get the sound out. He extends a muscular arm and you hoist yourself up to standing. “Freaking Christmas,” he hisses, turning on his heel and walking away, his black shoes squeaking.
Your pocket is vibrating madly, as if a wild rodent is trapped in there, pawing for escape. Jingle jangle jangle! The rodent is making that ringing noise. You reach into your pocket and pull out your phone.
“Never mind,” chirps Someone At Home, their voice bouncing tinnily off a satellite somewhere high, high above you. “We’re covered.”
As you make for the exit, the strains of Schubert’s opening harp return. You mark the slow 4/4 tempo with your footsteps and reach the door just as Bocelli’s soaring voice enters. You fumble for your keys, try to remember whether you parked at the end of the row or took a spot in the middle. You are thirsty, very thirsty, as if you’ve been wandering for a long time.