Just in time for the Holidays, I’ve decided to post my old stand-by Christmas Story. This is what those of you missed at Madrone–even the ones who were there, because this group of happy birthday yodelers came in right when I had just wound up. By no means does it stand up to that great cinematic masterpiece of the same name with all its tongues stuck on flagpoles and wild dogs running through your house and eating your christmas dinner, but it is told in the same delicious nostalgia: of half longing and half thanking god those times are behind us. Hopefully, we are all older and stronger and wiser; and if not, at least we’ve got XBOX’es now, and better doping agents, if we want ’em…
For all my dear friends and family, a toast to you in all your wondrousness…
by B. Tyler Burton
“All I Want for Christmas is Hope,” I told the lady at the Macy’s perfume counter. “That’s nice,” she said, before spritzing me in the eyes with perfume.
It took a few moments for my sight to come back. I joked about that, and she apologized contritely. I had let her believe thus far, for our brief time together, that I was buying this bottle for some sleek Russian bride in cat boots just like her. When she had gone to the back counter to find a particular scent she said smelled of rose petals, I noticed how fine she really was. Firm, child-bearing hips. She would lay awake and play with your hair afterwards.
We conducted our business as two committed individuals. That disgusting little line about girls in cat-boots always having boyfriends holds true, I realized. And that line about those who opt out of Christmas being lonely, depressed, liars shamed by their own lies?…
It was all there, etched into my skin. I was breaking my vow. Buying presents at Macy’s in spite of my personal moratorium on big-box corporate vultures. Sure it was only perfume, and no independant Marxist guerilla-backing parfumeries had presented themselves to me on the bus line I knew like the back of my hand; but to be honest I hadn’t so much as checked the phone book, or even looked out the big glass window.
With days to go before I headed back for Ohio, I had to buy something; if I didn’t, I’d be forced to use the effort expended to drive across the nation as reason enough to excuse my forgetting–which I would, in some cases. I’d use it for friends and less than umbilical connections; but not for my mother. I had to get something for mom. She was who this perfume was really for. The fact that she had always given good, if a little useless presents was not lost on me. Sure, for years since college she had been giving sweaters and socks, and the decline of her reign as interesting gift giver followed something like the decline of the San Francisco 49’ers or the Chicago Bears or the Dallas Cowboys in my own life. These constant transmissions in the holiday background of my attention as I had played on the floor with my cars. Here, I, not having much money–but still having some–wanted to return the favor.
Though sometimes not giving a gift at all might be better. To count your losses of inspiration, and make up for it next time. Certainly, I imagine we all have our stories. The most hellish Christmas gifts that give so much you want to throw them and the tree into the back yard, and then burn it all hot with napalm to make sure nothing ever comes back from the dead like in some sick puppet horror movie.
Take the infamous sweatshirts of ’89.
Oh, please do. Give a gift, give blood, but don’t ever put anything but a screen-print on a white sweatshirt. With a tee-shirt, an iron-on David Hassellhoff or Ben Vereen is fine. A unicorn on a disco grid pattern like the background from Tron, or even teddy bears playing in rainbows, that’s fair play, too. Something like a Kilmt frieze in puffy paint–of the Kiss–would have been nice and bourgeoisie. Right up my alley at that age. Something abstract would have been enough.
But to print my name right across the front, surrounded by little festive confetti streamers was nothing short of a cardinal sin. With fireworks in different gel crayon colors shooting out in bright CMYK gayness. Big bold yellow, biological pellet ocean blue and intersteller alien blood magenta lightning bolts all announcing the glory that is: “TYLER”, right there on my chest.
I mean, Christ, I was in 7th grade! I’m sure the guys who are beating me up will be happy to know my name while they’re at it, I thought directly. “Oh wow,” I say. “That’s nice.”
“It’s your name,” everyone says, as I hold up my take of the gift rally for the whole clan to see.
Didn’t these people remember how it was to be a kid?
The idea that it was consolidated into that specific four color gamut never hit me until recently. That this was probably the brain child of a bunch of crafty printer moms who’d stolen gobs of ink off the presses at their husband’s shops–or been given a cut tax-free; and now that crafty was in… I’m sure they sold quite well amongst the house-wives of Buttress Run. But one woman’s craft–given a dash of the Lifetime Network, a pinch of Oprah’s tit, and a pint of gourmet ice cream made out of a unicorn’s tears–and that makes for one young cousin’s curse.
Maybe it was the look of sheer horror I did not try to conceal upon my face, but I never saw them make another damn shirt like that, ever again. And good riddance, I thought.
If it had even just said “Him”, instead of my name, now, that would have been, could have been, should have been–I don’t know–cool? No, not really. It was best to set the whole lot ablaze.
Still, a gift rally is one thing. Your parents, on the other hand, are supposed to know you. To know what you like. Even if they patently refuse to buy it for you. My mother, as I’ve said, had always bought me ingenious, if slightly useless things: like harmonicas, and dream journals, which I tore pieces from to make paper airplanes and, later, to roll joints with when we had no other choice. On some pages I even scribbled a few poems, as I wailed away stoned as hell on my jazz harp deep in the heart of the woods.
My father, however, it turned out, had only given good gifts because of my mom; after the divorce and one Christmas where I literally brought him to the local toy store and pointed out the exact shining golden Zelda game I wanted, he was left blowing in the mercantile wind, without the slightest shred of sense when it came to the act, and slowly he just fell off to placing a card with a hundred dollar bill in it on the aluminum tree and heading straight for the egg-nog he could almost taste the alcohol in without it being there.
In his swan song, though, Dad had bought us matching calendars. It was his last feeble effort at ingenuity. And, received alone, by any of us three brothers, the calendars might have been appropriate, but together, set 1-2-3 upon the carpet, they mocked us for their inattention and insincerity.
They said: “We have all been bought together, in great haste.” Mine with the stuffy history caricature, his with the zany maniac, and the other guy, the scientist, who is that for? “We still have our price tags, even, check underneath,” they screamed. We did, and they did.
Sulking, turning back to the television and the newest Nintendo game, wondering how soon it was that we could go back home.
He had picked out something suited to each of our tastes. That sticks with me to this day. That’s the nuance of these strange little calendars. That I got history quotes, my middle brother a daily pill of Henny Youngman style one-liners; and Tully, the youngest, got stuck (I imagine) with the useless trivia. As first brother I felt I’d been gifted the best one. My dad had seen this and thought of me. Then he’d thought, Why kill one bird when you can shop for three?? Seeing both of my kin, each with their own, my stomach turned. I put the calendar back in its box, saying thank-you, then I turned on the Nintendo.
“Well what did you learn,” my dad asked me later, “What’s today’s fun fact?” I mumbled something about Charlemagne, not taking my eyes off the screen.
It was even worse, the year afterwards, when he repeated the act. Oh, the practicality!
Even the calendars themselves were mostly recycled. Every other fact I’d heard before, or they were altogether too obvious or too obscure. Nothing had changed besides my game system. And, in that department, I was up to 32 bits. So, Joyeux-Noël, eh?
“I just don’t want to buy something because I feel obligated. I want it to mean something. I want it to have style.” I tell this to the sales girl, and she agrees all the way, while reaching for the red phone to security beneath the desk. Another sales girl tags in, to give her a break.
“This is Victoria Principal’s Fragrence here,” she says, and sprays, and all is white a moment. And I hear Bing Crosby on the speakers and, by God, I’m dreamin’ too…