Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Christmas Story

Christmas is not my favorite time of the year.  In fact, other than getting all mental about finding perfect gifts, I would be happy to do away with it forever.  But if I look back, and dig through this primates treasure chest of memories, there is one that sticks out.  This is the story of Christmas of 1988.

It was a bitter winter, not a lot of snow, but biting winds, kind of like this year.  I remember it well because I was homeless at the time, so other than escaping into a mall, briefly before security kicked me out, the evil wind was all I knew.

Every one of us criminals and urchins knew every corner that offered respite from the wind, and we jockeyed for place in our hidey spaces.  It was so bad that people fought over alley ways.  No one was mean; it was simply the difference between being cold and dying.  Not one of us felt being in a house was an option.

We were a rag-tag bunch of punk and metal youth, old war veteran winos and the homeless crazy population (made homeless that year by a change in the law).  Everyone had been working overtime panhandling, pulling double shifts in the cold wind, because there are more shoppers out that time of year, and they sometimes feel more inclined to give.

Between the holiday spirit/guilt and our shivering blue fingers, it was a veritable gold rush in the panhandler belt.  Even those of us that possessed excellent theft skills, sometimes came out on the street to reap the wealth of a populace that suddenly felt benevolent to us.  I even remember one guy, who we all feared because he was violent, and even he gave up “rolling” (violent muggings) to come panhandling with us.

It’s lost on understanding today, but we even wrapped presents for each other.  Mostly it was strange stuff that suited someone, or crazy things people believed in.  One of my friends collected 317 bottlecaps and wrapped them for a girl he was in love with.  She thought bottle caps were the only way to save a human soul and cried when she opened his gift.  (As an aside, she never accepted his love).

We weren’t alone.  During the so-called “fatcat” years of government, there were social agencies tasked with helping us out.  Mostly this was silly money pseudo-spent, and scary bureaucrats running the programs.  But there were a couple of people who really felt for the strange addled people of the street.

In December of 1988, budgets were being slashed, people were being fired.  It was completely a duck and cover situation. 

Everyone had an excuse to forget us on the street.

I hate to have memory die, and most of my memories seem to be dying—aging or killed brain cells, who knows?  I am trying to remember back then, the lone social worker who was trying to save us from ourselves that night, and who forsook his own Christmas to be down in the trenches with us.  His name was James Mullen.  He did not take the easy way out.

Its troubling to think of him now.  He was, at the time, in his mid thirties, past troubles with alcohol himself, and totally devoted to trying to make the streets less lethal to us; he was grumpy and impatient and a growly brother to us all.  he was a great bear on the street filled with a spirit i can barely describe.  Now, I am in the same age bracket and wonder what I have accomplished.  James may have very well saved me from myself or the streets.  I’m not sure I have given back.

I don’t know what the streets are like now, they seem cold and vicious with crack, but maybe it only looks that way because I am now a citizen, and just see scary street people.  But back then, we were dropping off like flies: suicide, overdose, car accidents.  James was trying to instill a sense of life into us.  He was trying to save us.

On that wintery 1988 night, boisterous James rallied every one of us: stinking kids, limping drunk vets and even the crazy folk; and we went to the movies.  Yes, having no hearth to go to, James brilliantly came up with the idea of the magic shadows for us.  It was a long pilgrimage down Rideau Street, constantly collecting our fallen.  I stumbled along, and someone put acid in my mouth to keep me going.   The theatre didn’t even want to let us in, and James had to vouch for all of us so we could go.  It was on his ass if we behaved badly—and badly was our specialty.

And we couldn’t quiet ourselves down, couldn’t behave like citizens;  we were just too excited.  We were like a mange of animals, and we laughed and caroused throughout the film. . None of us thanked him, we ran off to the next mania of the night.  But we all stayed alive, and we got to cavort in a togetherness that we should have had but rarely did.  It was Christmas.  And thanks to James, every forgotten soul got to feel good at Christmas that year.  In retrospect, I only feel sad that we abandoned him after, after all, he too was a lonely soul.  I hope he took pleasure in our zoo-like frenetic.

In 1988, James acted as our shepherd, and distracted us from the holocaust of pain that is the alone, demon plagued, homeless person on christmas eve.  And while never being saccharine or paternal, brought us all to a theatre, and made us feel like we were together.  When I try and summon a warm feeling for Christmas, it is back to that year that I remember.  That is my nativity.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cannonball III

Pajiba, the site of Scathing Reviews and Bitchy People, annually commences a marathon of reading—peculiar if you ask me as it distracts from watching movies and television, which is their main source of bread and butter—and it is that time of year:  The Cannonball Read 3.0

Anyone and everyone are encouraged to join in.

The seed idea is to read 52 books over the course of a year and post a review of each book to a blog.   The review doesn’t have to meet London Review standards.  It can be just a few paragraphs about the book and what the reader thought of it.  Pajiba provides links to all the nerdy bookworm’s blogs, and once or twice a week will post a particularly yummy review up on Pajiba.  For every participant who uploads 52 book reviews to a blog, Pajiba makes a donation to the education fund for the child of beloved passed-away member, Alabama Pink who was an inspired reader and eloquent commenter on the site.  By the time that kid grows up, not only will a hoard of strangers get her to college, but said hoard will be less illiterate and more connected too.

Evolving to address the needs of a busy overtaxed populace, the Cannonball Read wants everyone who ever has ink stained fingers to feel welcome and will accommodate those who only feel bold enough to shoot  for a half(26) or quarter(13) cannonball. 

I believe, the idea is that even if you only manage to read and write on 3 books over the course of a year, that’s still pretty cool, literate, and interactive.  Unlike job interviews and dodging traffic, at Cannonball success is inconsequential and effort and enthusiasm are everything.  Completion is just gravy.

When I was only knee-high to a house, I used to read 2-3 books a week, but then other responsibilities kicked in and knocked it back to less than 1 per week.  Recent years of exhaustion have driven me to that ultimate narcotic, the television, and I am lucky if I read a dozen books in a year that are not scholastically related.  So, in a fit of disgust for my cathode ray wallowing  filth (what, I can’t afford a flat screen), I’ve signed on to the good ship Cannonball.  I am one lazy sumbitch so I am holding firm on the enthusiasm clause.

Feel free to follow or join in.  Crack open a book, and like Pandora famously quipped, “What harm can just opening it do?”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bah, The Humbug

I recently shared some email convo with a good friend.  I asked him to come see a theatre showing of It's A Wonderful Life, put on specially for Christmas.  For me, it is a favorite film, loved unconditionally. But I never thought of it from his point of view.  Then he told me how the movie looked to him.    

I now feel sort of embarassed.  This movie is truly about my buddy.  The little guy that keeps working and never took the big dollar or the easier path.  The little guy who makes a difference and gets little recognition.  The little guy who could use an angel to tell him how the shit is.  I watch this every year feeling all goopy inspired and yet I am a shiftless pisspot, while my friend is the hardest working guy I know. 

I'm sure some people might roll their eyes because my bud is vociferous in his complaining about how the world works, but unlike so many other complainers, he actually works in the system and tries to make it better.  So, in my book, he actually has more of a leg to stand on when it comes to being frustrated.

I bawl my eyes every year to It's A Wonderful Life.  I bought my own copy so I wouldn’t have to rely on cable to play it.  I even shed my tears for at least half a dozen other Frank Capra heart grabbers about the enduring little good guy now that dvd makes them available.  Yet, I give little thought to the mythology or other christmas mythologies we get out of our hearth-like light boxes.

I  watched the christmas episode of Warehouse 13, a light actiony sci-fi show.  It was a stand alone Christmas episode independent of it's series run.  It was warm and saccharine and played out a modern myth of the busy wealthy business man who provides for, but isn’t present for his kids.

It’s the opposite of the box-office failure that Wonderful Life was.  This man has a family, but is too busy improving the world(through designing shopping malls) to spend time with them.  In today's mythology, the demands of the evil corporation has robbed the man of his family and values.  He is too busy making money to treasure his family.  Not really a Scrooge, just engulfed in an economic system  Despite his pure motives of earning for his children, they are left behind.  This is the polar opposite of Jimmy Stewart who was focused on making his small town livable, one home at a time, inspired by and shored up by his family. 

Today, I question both myths.  I wonder, thinking of my classic movie and this new tv show, which is suited to reality today?  Are families wealthy beyond reason and lacking their fathers who are slaves to the boardroom?   Are hard working men without recognition out there making the world a better place?  Or are fathers unemployed and sometimes cast out of their homes? Or underpaid humiliated peons to the service industry?  How many dads are still employed in these fantasy jobs envisioned in christmas specials?  How much of the Credit Crisis stems from families stressfully trying to make christmas as bountiful as it looks on tv.

Jimmy Stewart was sweating to bail out poor families back when his company was threatened by a local rich company  The fantasy was that the people actually supported him because of all he had done for them.  Today, big companies reap untold wealth by robbing us of our lives while still we vote for governments that serve them.  They are enriched while our families shatter.  We are left with a sham dream of glitz and wealth and no community to fall back on

I'm always a crank, first to shout foul at the universe.  I've even just curmudgeoned my own holiday favorite.   Ah well, that's me. 

My little Christmas rant goes out warmly to my friend who actually does the work that keeps my world going and always does his best regardless of a mistifyingly indifferent populace.  Hey man, you know who you are, merry tidings!.