This winter has been too mild for gloves, and my right knuckles are raw. It’s too bad. Two pairs of cashmere-lined butter leather, both in fire tones; but looking overbundled (read: like a pussy) repels me, so I stuff my hands in those soft J. Crew fleece-lined pockets, stepping to and fro.
Despite my years of scoffing that drinking gin is like rimming a pine tree, I’ve grown to enjoy St. George’s Terroir. Mikey says it tastes like summer camp. I’ve never been to summer camp. St. George says it tastes like Mt. Tam. I’ve only been around Mt. Tam. I have not licked Mt. Tam.
But even if the chemicals, alone, shouldn’t taste like Mt. Tam, I’m conscious / brainwashed enough to drink Terroir as it’s delivered: to drink it as my mountains, as my birthright. And lately, maybe, I’ve had it more often, because I have no Christmas Tree, and it’s almost, kind of, close enough.
If you can receive information (not “if you’re there” – of course you’re “there” – of course you’re here), you already know that I’ve never loved Christmas much, especially since you’ve been dead. Christmas was depressing enough when it was three of us, passing each other in our frigid townhouse. It was depressing enough when mortality pushed us down, guilt-tripped us all by reminding us to try harder, even as we strained to even shadow the right motions of familial holiday cheer.
So the last Christmas you were there, I sat in the room that was mine that day, discovering 30 Rock, and coming downstairs to hold your hand and love you. And again you gently rebuffed my offers to show you the computer, the internet, even though you were on your sixth cycle of all the large print books of the three Lamorinda libraries. But the Christmas before, I had sat on my on-campus apartment couch watching football, too glad to fuck my philandering fiancé to confront that cold half-house that never felt like home.
I don’t know when we last, if ever, had a tree. A real one, I mean. Not that thing from Target, whose assembly buttressed Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday. But a dead tree who smells so beautiful, whom L. Frank Baum imbued with the strangest magic, a whiff of which brings me to my knees every time I walk down Michigan Avenue.
You told me you couldn’t bear real trees – that they were just too beautiful, and that we couldn’t be responsible for stripping them from the wild. For growing them just to saw them down, plopping them into a dog water dish and praying they didn’t start fires. And maybe for you they didn’t even feel the same, when you grew up with lit candles in trees, and here we have our sterile lights with their safest parallel circuits. Maybe it’s not fair for us to play it safe, play it cool, with these plastic-and-glass ropes, to immune ourselves from your perched flames, when we’ve appropriated our beautiful trees and demanded they mime Jesus.
I think you might’ve been hospitalized one Christmas. I think. Seems familiar. John Muir, like the hospital, not like the trees, and Whitney’s mom was one of your nurses, and you were cheery enough, and I loved you.
I haven’t grown since 1999 – in fact, I’m probably smaller, overall, than I was when I last held you – and so I can feel how I arranged myself to fit on your hospital beds over the years. When you first were sick, I was chubby; but Mom didn’t know how to go grocery shopping, so that changed quickly. The next time, I played water polo, so I was stockier, and had Mobama (sorry you don’t get the reference) arms. The last go-round, she was gone, so I loved you even more defiantly than before, and spent my rare hours in La Jolla scheming to get Magic into the nursing home so I could sneak him onto your bed once more, away from Mom’s keen shrieks. But I didn’t.
At my final (-as-a-delegate) Y&G banquet, I accepted my awards with grace and pleasure and unsurprised self-assurance. We ate Mexican food. And when my delegates clapped and cheered for everyone who got awards, for me, it was normal, if wonderful. But as I climbed back over the bench to sit beside you, you tugged my elbow’s shirt with your thumb and forefinger. “They cheered for you,” you beamed. “They cheered for you,” you whispered, your face alight, the proudest, most bewildered papa in the world. You, in your 87 years, had never quite imagined something like this. And you didn’t know why, really, it came as such a wonderful surprise to you – you, after all, were more charmed by me than anyone else ever has been – but it was, and it was edifying, and you were so whole.
And that is one of the near-infinite number of moments I consider frequently, and it makes me happy, and it makes me sad, because I love you so much, and it breaks my heart that you recognized so little love that eighty kids whooping at this banquet, or three hundred kids clapping at my final concert two months later, was nearly outside your realm of comprehension.
And I thought of you again last weekend, at my birthday party, my first “real” birthday party in five years. Because every time I whiskey-goggled around my bar’s back room, I was overwhelmed by the love this world has given, and that which exists here in the great stinking flat fucking boring-ass erotically-bankrupt Midwest. Because to see dozens I love in one place, at one time, happy, relaxed, engaged, is enough to make a poor sap like me drop to her knees and nearly, finally believe in Christ;
or, because the world, itself, is more incredible than any divine hegemon I could dream up, at least is enough to remind me to luxuriate in the deliciousness of our molecules colliding, un- and re- and and de- and – constructing our lived chaos.
She called me on my birthday; I eventually added to the call’s agenda by mentioning I had a party. “Oh, six, that’s nice.” “No, sixty.” “Sixteen, that’s nice.” “Six – zero.”
“Yeah. I feel really lucky.”
“That is nice.
“I think it’s good you have friends. I . . . I don’t have friends, really. Sometimes this makes me sad. But sometimes I think, I think, I don’t really want friends.”
She’s scared; so were you. So she hides in her home, and you hid through your distrust-laced charisma. But you got old, and you got tired, and so you defaulted to our natural state: unselfish love.
You and I, we mete and dole unequal laws unto a savage race, that hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not us. And in the next breath, we substitute “that” for “who;” we smile upon our drunks, and interpret sixty-ish-minus-five’s complete lack of fucking sobriety as expressions of happiness and love, instead of desperation and fear. And I have become a name – and you have been nameless – but we’re both centered in the sphere of common duties, settling and striving for nothing less than to be decent not to fail in practicing tenderness to the limits of perfection.
So today, and two weeks from today, I will practice. I will bikram-breathe when I am failing in my offices of tenderness. I will bikram-breathe when I am conscious, until I bikram-breathe when I’m not. (Before, maybe, I’d call these my clarinet-breaths, or my swimming-breaths, or my dog-hiking-breaths, but none seems as pleasurable as their alliterative sibling.)
And I’ll keep fucking it up every goddam day, every goddam hour, probably every minute. And trying and fucking it up isn’t good enough for music, and it’s not good enough for leadership, and it’s not good enough for teaching. And it’s not good enough, period, it’s a massive fail on my part to treat my friends this way. And it’s a massive fail to treat my revolving lovers this way, no matter how long or short they’ve etched themselves into my thighs and my heart.
And it’s not good enough for her, and feeling guilty, and pretending like guilt is nearly sufficient, that’s not fucking good enough for her.
But I’ll keep trying, and it will keep killing me. And it doesn’t matter too much, because we’re all dying anyway; and so it’s all that matters.
Even after twenty years, thirty years, seventy years; even after rarely singing, and silently carrying the Parks music gene – the Parks music core – you knew all the words, all the tunes. I loved you and knew you and felt you everywhere and you surprised me still. And that’s how all love, whether paternal, or platonic, or romantic, or erotic; that’s how love should be. At least, that’s how life has trained me.
I love you. And I sing for us every time we open our blue 1982 Hymnals, because you know these songs.
to us the path of knowledge show / and teach us in her ways to go.