Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Christmas Stocking

I violated one of my hard-and-fast rules this week: I put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.

I justified the rules violation thusly--for one thing, we have fewer days between Turkey Day and Santa's sleigh this year than normal (less than a month), so the decorations won't be up for long anyway; for another, I needed the emotional boost that colored lights and shiny glass globes can sometimes give.

So I rummaged through the closets and brought out some of the Christmas things. Not all of them--I have more ornaments and garland and lights and figurines than I could ever display at one time anyway, but this year I didn't want to do anything intricate or sprawling. Something (relatively) simple for the living room windows would suffice.

When I was finished, the sills were filled with decorations acquired from various places:

A porcelain white pine tree found at the Brown Elephant, a second-hand store in Boystown (it didn't come with a light, but I borrowed one from a Halloween skull);

Two ceramic angels from Marshall's, one with a broken halo (I've always thought that's exactly the kind of guardian angel I'd get);

A very Seussian Grinch doll from a Hallmark store;

A tin snowman tealight holder from a former workplace (the company was moving and he was being thrown out, so...);

A plush snowman from Walgreens;

Peppermint Kitty, a gift from a then-supervisor that I actually liked;

A large, well-articulated, flocked Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer found at Quake, the best toy store on the whole planet;

A spiral, chrome-plated tealight tree bought at a Walgreens while on the way to take care of Dee's kitty, the fabulous Gigi, while Dee was in Hawaii doing the AIDS marathon a few years back;

And, of course, the little fake pine that graced Grandma's living room window for many years and has graced mine for nearly as long (about 30 years in all, I'd guesstimate).

I also set up a few decorations that only I can see, like a ceramic Christmas tree bought at the same Brown Elephant as the white porcelain one, the glittery angel VB gave me last year, and Angelique, the little ornament that usually sits atop my tree, but since I'm not going through the bother of setting the 3-foot-tall faux pine this year, she's resting on my TV, keeping watch over the scene.

A couple of the internal decorations, though, were hung with, I must confess, some reluctance.

I don't remember when exactly I started hanging Christmas stockings for myself and the Girlish Girls. I know I didn't put one up for Lottie, so it must have been sometime after she died five years ago. In the bag in the closet, there were three not-so-neatly-folded stockings, all bought in different years from the same Target. The forest green one was Olivia's. The corduroy one with the embroidered snowflake was mine. And the burgundy one with the white trim and dangling balls? That one belonged to Ms. Christopher.

It's been just over a month since that sad morning when I woke up early, played Christopher the Johnny Cash/Fiona Apple version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," took the slow cab ride through rush-hour snarl and, in the small examination room at the vet, softly told her that it was okay, she'd put up a good fight but it was over now and it was okay, she could let go now. And before the vet had a chance to administer a second "just to be sure" injection, she checked Christopher's pulse one more time and found there was no need for that second injection. She had let go.

It might as well have been yesterday, though. I still expect to see her come around the corner in the morning for her tin of Friskies. I still her her clawing at the side of the box spring, asking to be lifted to the bed. I still see her at the dining room window, resplendant in the afternoon sun. I still miss her. Olivia does too, after her own fashion. She stopped looking for Chris after the first couple of days, but is all over me when I come home in the evenings, especially after I've been gone for a long time at work or out shoping or whatever. She's lonely without me, but when I settle in to eat dinner or watch Svengoolie; she keeps me company, and I do the same for her.

I decided not to hang my own stocking--not much I expect to find in it this year, though my Amazon wishlist has a few goodies that might well fit and would certainly be welcome. I did hang Olivia's up where I'd put it last year--on the doorknob of one of the closets in the short hall between the living and dining rooms--but I left Christopher's stocking in storage.

It didn't look or feel right though, seeing only one stocking dangling from the doorknob like that. So out came the burgundy stocking, slung over the protruding hinge of the same door from which Oliva's dark green stocking already swung. Christopher was with me for a lot of years, and this first Christmas without her will have its hard moments. But I'm thankful for all the warmth and unconditional love she gave me all that time, and the stocking will remind me, when the sadness threatens to overwhelm me, how happy she mad me so often and how grateful I am that I had her in my life for so long.

Ms. Christopher is gone in body from La Casa del Terror and will never return (though tufts of her fur keep turning up and likely will for some time). But she's not gone in spirit. Never in spirit. And for this Christmas at least, the stocking will help me remember that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gobble, Gobble

The plush turkey atop my cabinet at work is hardly a recent acquisition. In fact, he's appeared at several workplaces over the years, though even I'm not sure how long I've owned him. He has no helpful copyright date on the tag attached to his butt, and my memory, tangled ball of yarn that it is, only goes back to the job at the ad agency where an adorable account executive kidnapped it and left a ransom note. (Unfortunately, this was not her way of flirting with me. Dammit.)

Perhaps one of my former coworkers, some of whom read this bloggity, can chime in--when was the first time YOU saw this particular bird resting at my workstation?

The turkey will stay until next Wednesday, when it and I go home for the holiday. (No, I'm not traveling anywhere--Mom's in town, so I'll hop the bus to her place for Thanksgiving.) Until then, maybe it'll help stoke the holiday spirit, which at this point is but a spark sorely in need of kindling. The weight of this year and all the things that have gone wrong within it have me bowed. I'm tired, and aside from a dull ache in my frontal lobe, I'm fairly well numb. 2008? Won't miss you.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to kiss this year goodbye for a few more weeks. Until then, I bundle against the cold; trundle past Daley Plaza, where the tree and faux German village assembly continues apace for their formal debut next week; and continue my Christmas shopping, which I've already got about half done. That usually gets me into the season, though this year my budget is tighter than the the Little Drummer Boy's instrument of choice, so the presents won't be the elaborate constructs they are in more prosperous times. Still, picking out presents for those near and dear always makes me feel better, so the weeks ahead promise to have less bad and more good. More good is more good.

For now, I've got the turkey looking over my shoulder, colorful plummage garnering attention from current coworkers, one of whom spotted him and said, "That turkey needs a hug!" And a hug was given.

(Sidenote: The Christmas tree in Daley Plaza, when fully assembled and decorated, will look very like what you see in this photo, taken the day after Thanksgiving last year. Now that's a mighty shaft of holiday spirit, is it not?)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Early last Saturday afternoon, I got my hair cut.

Under ordinary circumstances, this would hardly be earth-shattering news. There are slightly more important things going on right now--in the world (a couple of wars, a death-spiral economy, the first African-American president in the history of America) and in my own life (work, side projects, my cluttered apartment, Olivia).

It is, however, a matter worth noting. After all, I hadn't gotten my hair cut in nearly a year, and it had gotten as long as it had ever been (as seen in the photo above taken by Superbadfriend in her studio). Even the stylist at SuperCuts was somewhat taken aback by the vast pile of protein lying at my feet when she'd finished pruning the bush that was my head. "Your friends won't even recognize you!" she said.

To a certain degree, she was right. Mom, of course, knew me right off when I went to her house for dinner Saturday night ("My baby boy is back!" she enthused, having expressed much dislike with the length of my hair). When I walked into my place of employment Monday morning, though, nearly everyone did a double-take. The reactions of those who'd worked with me for a while were less extreme than of those who've known me for under a year, but everyone had a comment. They all loved the new 'do--my stylist did an outstanding job--and even some of the substantially adorable women in the office voiced their approval. (Not that such notice means anything, but it's still nice to hear.)

Why, you might ask, did I cut it at all? Because I'd grown weary of it blowing into my eyes on windy days and sneaking into my mouth when eating. It's one thing to have a hair in your food--anyone who'd owned a cat or dog for any length of time becomes accustomed to such things--but it's quite another to realize that the hair you're chewing on is still attached to your head.

Besides, I can always grow it again if I want to. It's nice to have options.

Friday is Bring Your Bond to Work Day

In honor of the American opening of the 22nd official james Bond film, Quantum of Solace (which I'll likely see sometime this weekend), I brought all of my Bond figures to work today. Everyone knows Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, of course, but it does my heart good to know that many coworkers recognize George Lazenby, who only made one Bond film (the excellent, if awkwardly titled On Her Majesty's Secret Service) before slipping back into obscurity.

Yes, my coworkers are geeks--and proud of it.

For the record: There is no official Daniel Craig Bond figure as far as I know (though there are plenty of custom heads on eBay, should you choose to build one of your own), and though Sideshow Toy made a Timothy Dalton figure, I didn't buy it because I thought it looked awful. (His hair was slicked back and piled up on top of his head like a bad toupee.) But I have a majority of Bonds represented, so my coworkers are nonetheless suitably impressed.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Signs of the Season

The city has begun construction on the official Chicago Christmas tree in Daley Plaza.

As I've noted before, the official tree is not a single pine, but dozens of pines combined to form a single, enormous pine, which then is covered with lights and ornaments and lighted ornaments. The rest of the plaza is then filled with shops selling holiday-appropriate gifts, decorations and food items. The shops stay open from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve; the tree remains until early January.

In the past, I would have lamented such signs of the impending holiday season, and this year holiday spirit will be difficult to come by, given recent events, like the passing of Ms. Christopher, ill health in the family and the woes of the economy.

But now, I can't even work up the energy to get mad about Christmas displays going up even before the Halloween decorations have come down. It's the way of the world now. Fighting it's a waste of breath.

2008 has pretty much knocked the fight out of me, kids. It started with much hope; it is ending with much despair. It cannot be over soon enough.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


That's how many eligible voters in Chicago actually cast ballots, according to projections published in this morning's Sun-Times--roughly in line with projections for the state as a whole (75-80%) and well ahead of the projected national average (64%).

Bravo, Windy City, bravo.

As for the 20% of you who didn't vote...where the hell were you while history was being made?

I don't have anything particularly profound to say about the election itself, though. The results pretty much speak for themselves with far more eloquence than anything I could add.

"V" Is also the Roman Numeral for "Five"

Remember, remember the fifth of November
The gunpowder, treason and plot
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rock the Vote

The line serpentines across the elementary school auditorium floor, from the well-worn folding tables at the front to the large standing fan in the back. The people in it at this early hour (just right of 7 a.m.) are not of one race, one color, one creed, one age. There are African-American women and Polish-American men. There are young couples with strollers and elderly couples with walkers and canes. There are quite a few very cute women and at least one devastating redhead.

But I'm not here for the architecture, the cross-section of humanity or even the devastating redhead. We're all here for the same purpose. We're here to vote.

The line snakes slowly forward. There is a row of folding chairs; some voters take a seat, some stand and shift weight from one foot to the other, some flip through paperbacks to pass the time. Occasionally, someone jumps out of our line and into the other, shorter line for the other precinct voting in the auditorium. Seems one of the election volunteers--a silver-haired man in gray sweats--has been sending voters to the wrong line. More than one election judge gets up to chastise him; he looks entirely befuddled by their ire.

Even with such delays, the line moves on until it's my turn at the folding table. My ID is out. My address and signature are verified. I'm given a ballot the size of an infant's blanket. I head for an empty booth.

The system is an odd one--with a black pen given to you by the election judge ("Please return the pen when you're finished voting," she asks politely--apparently, this has been a big enough problem that, in previous elections, polling places have run out of pens), you fill in the space between the arrowhead and arrowtail to indicate the candidate of your choice. Reminds me of all those tests I took in elementary school--appropriate given the location, I suppose.

My vote is cast. My ballot is fed into the machine. It does not error out. I walk out into the unseasonably warm November morn know that not only have I proudly done my civic duty, but that many, many others before and after me were doing the same.