Items That Won't Recycle
A Dictionary Of Errors
Some time after reaching puberty, I intuit that there exist two Christmases. One holiday seems to begin ardently after Thanksgiving: arias you hear on the Texaco-Metropolitan Opera radio affiliate, songs you chant in the school program, songs of sentimental cheer crooned by your favorite stars on TV and the movies (‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ makes me smile and cry). Some time between the church pageant and Christmas Eve, the season’s feverish pitch falls to a hush: by now you have exchanged gifts at school, at church; you have presented offerings to your teachers, your neighbors; in the mail you long ago placed little packages that travel to Pop’s family on the coast. You are witness to the shared anxiety in everyone’s faces, from the postman to the woman who sells tickets at the Orpheum.
If you can’t find your money, Son, will you step aside so that others might enjoy the season. And when I do locate my cash, the toothy woman flashes me a practiced smile and says, Say, aren’t you the boy that played Amahl several seasons ago?
Well, I’m sure you are, I never forget a face.
Fuck you, I mumble under my breath.
Her smile falls away, and she shouts through the hole in the glass. Get out of my sight, the world has no use for your kind.
What kind is that? I rant, giving her the finger. I then see a reflection of myself looking like Ma when she’s hopping mad, and I jump back.
You know what you are, now get out of my window so I can help these good people standing in the cold, Sonny.
The other Christmas is a parallel and unequal world of ancient hymns, the story as it is told from the Big Book on the lectern at church. Long ago a virgin mother gives birth to a very special baby (I haven’t yet learned paradox), a baby that will save all the wretches of the world (especially and including me). Very wise men following a star in the sky travel a long distance to be present on this very chilly night that the baby Jesus is wrapped tightly and laid in a manger. Ma—dressed in her Christmas nightgown through which you can see her breasts—explains that for all intents and purposes Jesus was born in a barn and that his manger was little more than a cattle trough. As she holds me close to her sweet bosom, I think of my grandfather’s barn, a place that smells of dung and car grease, and wonder, That’s where our noble savior was born?
The saddest thing is that one Christmas wars against the other like a jealous sibling. Yes, one is crass, the other wise. One powerful, the other weak and self-deprecating. One encourages inane consumption, the other generosity, the former eradicating one’s desire to practice the latter. It is a war I relive each year—fretting over what to get for whom and how much to spend or not—a case of post traumatic stress that multiplies and folds over itself year after year. It is a war that always ends in a truce, heathen burghers smiling smugly—even as a babe coos quietly in his manger.
What kind of statistics will be interesting? The number of male authors? Female? Number of stories about ethnic minorities? Gays/lesbians? Trannies? Average age?
How many stories are set in New York or on the eastern seaboard? How many are set in the boondocks, a foreign country?
Literary issues? Who uses the third person close point of view? Who writes in first person?
After January first I begin my trek through these fifty or so stories to see what the magic is, the alchemy that is the New Yorker story.