Forget what I might have said in the past. December is by far my favorite month of the dozen. We are best friends, December and I. For an artist like myself, an artist who uses the entire landscape of the annual calendar cycle as his own painter’s canvas, December is the final culmination of a year almost perfectly lived, with every hour of every day properly apportioned and utilized in the most productive way possible, from January One right around the horn till the final run to midnight, New Year’s Eve. December is a welcome embrace after eleven months of toil, like musicians onstage hugging each other at the end of a long concert, ready to play out the encore. The whole thing is a gradual ascension to the very pinnacle of my success. If January first is like base camp, then December thirty-one is the peak of Mount Everest, where I stand in satisfied exhilaration at the top of the world, surveying all I have conquered, hands in the air, with mild altitude sickness. Ah, December.
For those of you who have had occasion to chuckle at lines in The Alembic from time to time, I thank you. I will admit, for the record, that the previous paragraph may be the most hilarious thing I’ve ever written. Most would agree, could they, along with me, actually stand back and survey the jagged, cracked, serpentine and one-dimensional path that has led me through another calendar year. Which is fine. I can’t complain. My limbs are intact, my mind is of a reasonable and functional hybrid of sanity and insanity, and the friends that I have lost make the ones I still have so much more valuable.
And anyway December is the court jester of the group. What other month could get away with the celebration of a fat old man in a furry red suit breaking into houses to trade gadgets for cookies. In December people are willing to forgive such strange eccentricities. Try doing that in August, during a hot spell. Santa would get his ass blown off at the first house he landed on. Thirty-aught-six right up the keister.
Everybody is more charitable during the holidays. I remember, when I was about seven years old, even getting a present from Satan, the dark overlord of hell. Somewhat familiar with and fearful of the highest ranking demon perched in the bowels of eternal punishment, I was none too surprised to receive, on Christmas morning, a highly sought after present from Lucifer. It was a microphone that could be tuned to a blank radio station so I could sing through the speakers, crooning along with my collection of wax records, the height of technology in 1982. Even at seven years old I had a pretty decent selection of albums, the accidental result of being born into a family of ex-hippies and gadabouts. I had a bunch of Rush, every Kiss record, Grateful Dead’s Wake of the Flood, Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic, and I had Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang. Rap was a pretty new medium at the time. That particular record only had one song on it. Side A was Rapper’s Delight, short version. Side B was Rapper’s Delight, long version. I learned the entire song and called my mom, aunts and uncles up to my room the evening after I had received the present to rattle off this new art form to a group of shocked white people, who fitfully endured an interminable twelve-minute babble out of a screeching microphone while I jumped around and yelled about Sucker M.C.s, Color TVs, and the Knicks playing basketball. Only the drunkest of uncles was legitimately entertained, dancing in the corner, while the rest of the women simply watched, dumbfounded as I yelled, “Gonna get a fly girl, gonna get some spank and drive off in a def OJ.” As good repressed Irish Catholics they all stiffly sat through it. But what sent my mother into an apoplectic fury was when I finished it all off with “Thank you Satan!”
That was it.
My mother leapt up and chased me around the room, intent on beating me like a stubborn mule. She called for a crucifix, the nearest priest and a jug of holy water as she grabbed the nape of my neck. I was about to be thrashed until, as luck would have it, my hand closed around the box for the microphone, on which was a Christmas tag with the message, clearly written in my mom’s handwriting, “To Mark, Merry Christmas, Love Satan.”
I wasn’t sure what it all meant, and it took me a long time to figure out the full scope of the incident. She let go of me and read the note aloud rather sheepishly, and passed it around as the rest of the family roared with laughter. Never diagnosed with formal dyslexia, she had been wrapping presents and filling out Christmas tags hastily the night before and had misspelled “Santa” on one of the gifts, inadvertently sending the letter ‘n’ to the end of the word. A minor spoonerism, the result of fatigue and wine, with huge implications. Even at that young age I adopted a philosophical attitude. If the Prince of Darkness can be generous during the holiday season, the rest of us never have any excuse.
All the best, everybody.
More Alembics to come.