December and I have always had a strained relationship with each other. It has been a quiet antagonist for most of my life, lying in wait at the end of the calendar year with its big hungry jaws, ready to chew me up like a piece of gum. By New Year’s Eve I am usually all twisted, flavorless, and stuck to the underside of a school desk, and it takes most of January to straighten myself out again; ready, eleven months later, to be devoured in the same fashion by another incarnation of that merciless final month of the year.
I usually treat this annual phenomenon with a big fat dose of repression and denial. Which, by the way, does nothing to alleviate the anxious energy coursing through my being. In fact, that energy, like a geyser, will find the weak spot and blast through. My drinking increases, my irritability increases, my sleep overtakes most of the waking day, I can’t focus, my optimism collapses into despair, my foresight clocks out for the rest of the year, my jokes get rotten and attract flies, and my affability goes south until a more favorable climate emerges.
It has nothing to do with the holidays, Christmas and such. This type of existential rumble precludes man-made festivals and celebrations. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the holidays were invented precisely to cure this feeling of finality, this permeating dread, this entrance to the winter of our discontent.
The other morning there was a knock on my door. I opened it, still largely in the REM stages of deep sleep. Standing in front of me was a bright, bundled fellow, a door-to-door salesman, as it turned out.
“I would say you are the ghost of Christmas past, but you look more like Tiny Tim,” I told him through a yawn. He laughed, told me how funny I was. I liked him. I agreed to something or other, slammed the door on him, drank the rest of a beer that was on the coffee table and fell back to sleep.
The next day I turned on my television and realized that I had every single channel available on planet Earth. I roamed the endless scroll of entertainment and eventually settled on channel 520,001. And for good reason. There was a riveting game of “Buzkashi” on, which is that weird Afghani sport in which men on horseback pull the carcass of a dead goat back and forth between goals. The Shibarghan Fatwas were handily beating the Jowzjan Hazaras, which was a bit of an upset. I watched for hours, transfixed by the froward movement of the object of play, in this case a big dead goat. If you think a football bounces unpredictably, you wouldn’t believe the way this poor, hircine corpse defies the laws of physics. There is no telling where the damn thing will end up. A good “Buzkashi” player can read the deceptive flailing of a lifeless goat the way a great goaltender knows which way the ball is traveling even before it has touched the foot of the kicker. I watched an endless marathon of games for about twelve hours straight and decided, since it was morning, to make some breakfast.
I wanted pancakes.
Usually I don’t care for pancakes. That is to say, I like them fine, but I am too lazy to make them at home and I rarely search them out at diners and cafeterias. So I hardly ever have them. But since it was December, and all my reliable routines and structure had gone out the window, I decided to make some fried, flat, dough-egg things. Anyway I was hungry and the “Buzkashi” games, because of the dead goat, had turned me off to eating meat. Pancakes were a good alternative. Since I had no pancake mix I just added some eggs and what looked like flour to a carton of “Coquito,” that Puerto Rican eggnog. I made myself a big stack and opened the refrigerator to find, to my alarm, that there was no syrup. Then again, why should I be surprised? I never eat pancakes. Why would I ever need syrup? No problem. I’ll just run to the store. It took me a minute to realize that the store was closed. It was three o’clock a.m., black as night. Now I was really confused. I thought it was around ten in the morning. The moon was somewhat bright and full, but maybe I was getting sensitive to the light. I had been asleep everyday for a week straight. If somebody beamed a flashlight at me I’d probably think it was noon on the brightest day of the year at the equator.
Plan B. I shuffled, stack of pancakes in hand, to my neighbor’s house, thinking that there is never a huge tidal wave of syrup racing down the street when you need one. I had been reading about the great Boston Molasses spill of 1919, a disaster that ensued after two million gallons of the stuff had burst from a storage tank on the North End and soaked like five blocks, killing thirty or so people. And here I am without a drop. One era’s catastrophe is another’s missed opportunity. How many people had been standing at the lip of the destruction with a hot stack of griddle cakes, accidentally reaping the benefits. Probably none. The stuff moved at a rate of 35 miles per hour and destroyed an entire neighborhood. And not one moist pancake.
My neighbor is as nocturnal as a bat. He greeted me at the door. I told him about my syrup emergency. He assured me he had some mead, 160 proof. We soaked the pancakes and ate them and ended up drunker than sailors. I told him I wanted to go back to my house to watch some more “Buzkashi.”
“Hell with that,” my neighbor belched. “The Dekalb County horse sanctuary is right around the corner. We’ll go rustle up about eight Arabians and get our own game going. We’ll do it in my backyard. Plus,” he murmured, “I think there is a goat farm around here somewhere.”
“Maybe we could just use a stuffed animal that looks like a goat,” I suggested.
“You need the weight. It’s like an ice hockey puck. You’d tear a stuffed animal to shreds in the first thirty seconds. You need something a little more tenacious.”
“Maybe we can create a whole new Christmas tradition,” I said, suddenly feeling better than I had felt in weeks.
“Sure. Everything is subject to modification. We can have Coquito pancakes soaked in mead, and steal a pack of horses, five or six goats, and hang up some camel-toe instead of mistletoe, then have a big game of Buzkashi to cap it all off. Then we can eat what is left of our goat herd.”
“What do we call this new holiday?”
“About ninety days in jail with a decent lawyer.”
More Alembics to come.