Monday, February 09, 2009

Diary: What Has Happened: Christmas 2008.

Christmas 2008.

I always mean to get these posts out later than I intend, and by the time I've written what's happened, it's all gone hazy.

So this is the post where I start to catch up on everything that was missed during the month-and-a-half when I was hardly posting at all. Then I will be on the level and it will be okay to return to business as usual around here.

So for starters.


Now I'm going to forget some stuff, so bear with me.

I considered the feeling of Christmas to have started a week early, when my friend Paul came to visit. What was going on in the background? I was playing (and not beating, as happened in 1989) Pool of Radiance, rereading Les Misèrables, and railing about congressional impasses on the auto industry. Also, this whole year has been an attempt to wrap up the research for my novel Urbantasm, which I'll just brag is a huge effort. And it kind of overwhelms everything. I was trying to wrap up my Christmas story, which was harder than I had expected, and scheduling situations meant that when I was hope, I was often home alone.

I hadn't seen Paul since my wedding in 2005, although he is one of my very best friends. He's currently living in Oakland, but he and his girlfriend were visiting family in Detroit, and he came down for a quick visit. I met him at work and we took the Marine Drive bus back... it was a crystal clear afternoon, with snow just a couple days now, so everything was cold and gorgeous and sparkling. Back at the apartment we met up with the wife, and after visiting for awhile we set out for Polish food! (Chicago is the best place to be in the world for Polish food, unless you happen to be in Poland, or at my inlaws house). Afterwards, Paul and I stayed up late talking, which is an old, old tradition of ours, and he helped me unknot some mathematical conundrums for my novel. But I won't get into that now. The next morning, I had to work, so I said goodbye, and that was the last time I saw him. He returned to Michigan, and from there, to California.

The end of the year is a weird time. It's inevitably family-centered; ie. these are the people we have known: always. After that, it's friend-centered; these are the friends we have known for a long, long time; decades and lifetimes. Finally, it is home-centered; this is where you learned how to walk, to ride a bike, and where you caught the bus to school, and so on. With all of this history, it might seemed fixed into the past, but then, this is also the time of the year when people are fixed toward their futures. You hear what plans have been made, classes taken, jobs accepted, jobs left, moves planned, changes dealt with. It isn't quite like a reunion or a funeral, backward-looking. After all, a new year is immanent. So Christmas and New Years are overwhelming to me, in that they pull me in two directions. The present only seems ephemeral, and out of that sense of motion, I realize that I care about all sorts of things more than habit allows me to acknowledge, say, at the beginning of March or the middle of October.

So that's why Paul's visit kicked all of that out.

On the following day, Friday, my office hosted its holiday party, and other than the change of name and carpeting at the venue (and the fact that Sean wasn't there this year), this was also a familiar routine. I avoided karaoke this time, though. We went home, and carried on plans for the holiday. Somewhere in here I also went shopping on the Magnificent Mile which, impending economic crises notwithstanding, was choked with thousands of peoples and lights. I did this work at Macy's and Borders and Crate and Barrel. All of the places Where Tourists Go to do Their Christmas Shopping.

Skip forward an odd week. I got out of work around midday on Christmas Eve, that is, Wednesday, and my wife picked me up. We took Lake Shore Drive as it curved around the South Side, picking up Stony Island, and ultimately the Skyway. This is a great way to leave Chicago: you have the skyline in the rear-mirror for a long time, and then you have the Parisian-style boulevards of old Hyde Park Township before the sprawl of Gary and all its smokestacks. We made decent time to Michigan, grabbed the obligatory Taco Bell, and my wife shared all kinds of medical knowledge. As I get older, this trip seems shorter and shorted, so we blew through Paw Paw and Kalamazoo, and on through Battle Creek and Olivet and Lansing and Perry.

When we finally pulled into the driveway at my parents, we found a note that everyone was celebrating Christmas Eve at my grandmas. We turned the car around and headed back into Flushing. There, it was my grandma, my aunt, my parents, my brother and his girlfriend fiancee. A late night talking and visiting, going over small but interesting-sounding details. The dark solstice can give insomnia a glamorous sheen. That's what I was thinking of when I arrived at St. John Vianney church with Cody, which was packed because several parishes have combined.

I'm past a point of comparing individual Christmases. A few stand out for this or that significant reason, but it's become a reliably happy and comfortable day. On Christmas morning, we were slow to get up, enjoyed our coffee and orange juice, and now put off opening gifts, because it's a sort of delectable moment that you want to savor. Jess and I had given everyone a copy of the Santa story (or at least the edited first chapter) and we followed up with Christmas ornaments and more, and I got, among other gifts, several Ann Radcliffe novels, the Writers Market guides, and music by Prince and Chaka Khan. We talked to my sister on the phone, because she was in California. We watched A Christmas Story.

The highlight of the day was, and remains, Swedish meatballs.

But now I'm tending to ramble, which is what always happens in an entry like this. It's okay, because my memory is a little hazy. I planned "catch up" for Friday, although this was abbreviated and interrupted by weird scheduling all around. I did get to see Lyn, which was nice because I'd missed her on my last visit, and we stopped at Genesee Valley to do some more Christmas shopping. This is when I observed the new fashion trend among all the cool kids. You cut random slashes in the thighs of your jeans, evidently using an exacto knife (they didn't look like scissor cuts, you know?). After dinner, we went out again and saw Marcy and some other kids at the White Horse in Flint. We got back not-too-late, but we missed Sarah Crawford, which made me sad. On Saturday, I went for a walk in the township park with Cody, during which a mist came down on the river and all the snow melted, seemingly all at once. Our shoes were choaked and saturated with water. That evening, Jess and I met up with Dave and Katie at Ruggeros, and they're still trying to get us to move to the area. We watched several films: Eagle Eye and Michael Clayton and the grisly Burn After Reading (because all Coen brothers films are grisly). On Sunday, I went to church, I picked up a coney at the Atlas, and I interviewed a couple of Halls Flats residents to learn more abuot the history of the area. Mostly, though, it was ritual stuff I try to do whenever I'm in town.

At the end of that last hazy day at my parents', we all drove down to Mongolian Barbecue on Miller, which I had never been to before, and now I understand its popularity. From there, we said our goodbyes to my family, and cruised on over to Sam's house, where we visited with Emily and his parents for awhile. We picked up Adam in Glenwood Hills, and hit the road back to Chicago caravan-style. We kept in touch with walkee-talkees until we lost each other outside Gary.

But by then we were practically back.

To Be Continued...

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