‘Tis the season to chillax

2020 bit, hard. Somehow 2021 was just as rotten. 2022 looms — turn the page and all that. Don’t hold your breath. It’s going to be another shit show.

What’s been on the menu of wonderfulness? In short: family deaths, illness, Covid and its spawn-of-Satan variants, political/racial/social outrages, chronic insomnia, that gnarly pimple on my forehead last summer — the usual maelstrom. 

Complaining about, even inventorying, these things is by now beyond trite. So we saunter ahead and seek purpose and palliatives, things that distract and dull the pain. 

Like … hell, I don’t know. A stiff drink? (Yep.) Christmas carols? (Bah!) How about just a mindset adjustment, a way of looking at the world in a soft-focus haze rather than the cold, klieg-light glare we’re currently deploying? 

Things are pretty bad, but for most of us, most of the time, they’re not catastrophically bad, are they? Maybe they are. I’ve had my share of catastrophes in these gloomy times — some bad, some badder — and yet I’ve still found resilience, wisps of hope.

It’s a matter of focus and self-possession. If at all possible, we need to mellow. Take a deep breath wrapped in a sigh. We’re starting to hit the I’m-over-this-shit button, yet we’re in for more bone-cracking cold. Hang tight. But not too tight.

Maybe this is a call for self-improvement. For our quirks and foibles — our hideous flaws — to get tweaked and kneaded into something softer and more accepting. And more helpful.   

Me, for instance. I own a roiling anger that springs from fighting life, resisting and pushing, sparking off it, flint-like. I strain and recoil, writhe and seethe. It isn’t helping. I need to cork it. Clonazepam does only so much. 

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions — hardly a novel stance — but if I did one it would be to ride the next wave with the mettle and determination of that young surfer who got her arm bit off by a shark but keeps on shredding half-pipes like nothing ever happened. Limbs are missing. Still, we carry on.

Thankin’ about Thanksgiving

I have a cold, all the pumpkin pie is gone, and my pants are dirty. Still, Thanksgiving was fine, just grand, as we did all the gathering, eating and digesting (Macy’s has the floats, we have the bloat) called for on this most misunderstood and head-smacking of holidays, in which hysterical myth supersedes historical fact.

Massacres, disease, the galling absence of quality cranberry sauce — I won’t get into the lowlights of the so-called First Thanksgiving. Think rather turkey, stuffing and pie obtained in an annual pilgrimage to Whole Foods, pun most sincerely intended. 

It’s a whitewashed affair, with thoughts totally not on the brutal realities of 1621 and more on unabashed gluttony, soggy family movies and, for the yahoos, grunts from the gridiron. Put the guy carving the turkey in suspenders and a bow tie and you’ve got a Norman Rockwell painting. 

Sounds unbearably wholesome. More like ho-hum-some. Which is how I like it. Give me low-key and low-pressure — you know, Covid-sized shindigs — over the flustered festivities of my childhood. That’s when long-lost relatives converged in fragrant farm towns for queasy parties featuring a veritable rogue’s gallery of relations, from fawning, darling grandparents to scofflaw second cousins. (I’m looking at you, Billy, the toothless terror.)

Those were the days, until they weren’t, and I am glad. Though I’m not pleased about the pesky cold I somehow caught out of thin, albeit chilly, air. I’m all snot and snorts, hacks and honks. It’s hardly incapacitating — if someone said let’s hit the slopes or jet to Spain, I’d pack in five minutes flat — but it is annoying. Waking each morning I feel mummified, rising from a death slumber, swaddled in phlegm. 

Thanksgiving has always been entrée to the big kahuna of holidays, Christmas, much as, say, Harry Potter’s been a gateway drug to genre realms for an entire generation (and for many stunted adults), be it to fantasy, sci-fi, Marvel or manga.

But I digress. Thanksgiving kicks open the wreathy door for the even more brazen fantasies of Christmas, which has also lost its historical meaning, drowned in an ocean of twinkly, tinseled fabulism animated by sardonic elves and sexless singing snowmen. Look closely, waaay in the background, and you might spot a slight bearded fellow whose birthday this supposedly is. He’s the one waving meekly.

The power of myth prevails on some of our biggest holidays. (Easter. Sigh.) But that’s what we’re there for — entertainment, merriment, community, ritual (not the deep, religious kind, but the fun, Chardonnay kind), and the weird random fairy tale that will keep the kiddies hyperactively interested. 

But here’s the truth: there is no Santa Claus, there is no Easter Bunny, there is no Great Pumpkin and there is no utopian First Thanksgiving sit-down. We all know this. Nobody cares. 

What we do care about isn’t trivial, it’s familial. It’s a little indulgent and, well, a lot ignorant. Yet it’s merry and nourishing. And, no matter a cold and some carping, it counts.

Boning up on how to be a real dog

I thought it’d be nice for Cubby the dog to have, at long last, a true, honest-to-god bone, the kind dogs spend hours gnawing and worrying, trying to get at every last nip and nibble of gristle and gore and marrow, keeping boredom at bay, digging into denuding the hunk of flesh-coated cow skeleton with grunting determination, tail-wagging vim and feral gusto. I thought it’d be a fitting Christmas present for the rescue hound who hasn’t experienced all the things prototypical cartoon dogs (see Marmaduke bury his bone in the backyard like treasure) have enjoyed in their inky realms, a rite of passage, like college graduation, or circumcision.  

So the other day I impulsively bought a $6 beef bone at Whole Foods, which was wrapped in that red fishnet nylon in which holiday pet stuff is so often swaddled — festive but peculiar. My plan was to present the bone to Cubby on Christmas morning, per the whole gifting hullabaloo. But at home, when he sniffed it out in the grocery bag with disarming excitement, I decided I wanted right there and then to see how this would all play out: Cubby the beef bone virgin getting his first totally supreme chew chunk. It went …

Hang tight. I digress. First, in the seasonal spirit, Cubby was forced to do what so many little boys and girls must do: get their picture taken with Santa Claus. Children over 3 years old tend to love this ritual because Santa asks what they want for Christmas. It’s like sitting in the lap of a magic, wish-granting genie. (Those under 3 tend to use Santa’s lap as a red velvet diaper, bawling all the while.) 

Pretty sure Cubby’s Santa, part of a charity for Doggie Daycare, didn’t ask what the dog wanted for Christmas (and if he did, I hope Cubby replied: “A big, real-life bone, Santa!”) 

So here he is, posing, pantingly, with the third least convincing Santa Claus ever, be he at the North Pole, Macy’s or in the mall atrium:

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If Santa looks befuddled, Cubby looks mortified, thinking, “For Christ’s sake — really?” That wide canine smile is pure theater, gleaming fakery, a gaping signal of full-body shock. (It’s exactly the kind of “smile” I pull out of my bag of humiliations for those mechanically posed group shots on “special occasions.”)

Cubby survived the photo shoot with Santa Paws. The bone was a slightly different story. He loved the smell of it but he didn’t quite know what to do with it. It was big, a fist-sized rock, and Cubby is not so big. Frankly, he acted weird about the whole thing, unnerved, as if an alien creature had been introduced into the house.

He sniffed it and gingerly circled it. He daubed it with tentative licks. When the cats sauntered past, Cubby suddenly became proprietary — this is mine — and angrily chased them away.

And then it happened. Cubby gripped the marbled brick in his little maw and trotted about with it. Acceptance!

As this mating ritual played out, I thought the dog was nuts. Not only was he acting neurotic, he was putting off chomping on this amazing bone that had meat and sinew baked on the outside that he eventually tore off with his front teeth, stripping it like bark, before digging into the tunnel stuffed with roasted marrow.

He worries it fiendishly and greedily, like there’s gold inside. (And there is. Anybody who’s had bone marrow in a better restaurant knows what culinary pleasures await.) 

Cubby’s horizons keep expanding. He learns new things all the time. I look at the big bone experience as a critical test of true doghood. 

He passed.

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Cubby zonked after a long day of gnawing and jawing his new bone.

Fourth of July: slightly better than you think

So they do the big community fireworks show in our exurb the night before the Fourth of July — that is, today, the third — presumably so they don’t have to compete with the real fireworks shows, the mega-extravaganzas detonated by the nearby big cities. Makes sense. Can you imagine if every town and city shot off their arsenals at the same time on the same night? The skies would be pyro pandemonium. (Would that be so bad?)

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For our country-fair version of neon-blooms and sky-borne booms we’re granted largish park space, hot dog and churros stands and only slightly embarrassing cover bands with names like The Rolling Clones doing their best not to asphyxiate classics by CCR, the Beatles, Journey, Foreigner and scads of other woolly ‘60s-‘70s supergroups. The music and fireworks are free. The hot dogs are not. Parking is combat. There is no alcohol. 

This is not a recipe for delight. The Fourth is kind of a dead-end holiday to begin with. Perfunctory plastic flag-waving and high-school-band parades aside, I don’t think many Americans are actually reflecting on the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. You might be, but really you aren’t. It’s all very patriotic, in a face-painty kind of way.  

th-1.jpegThat said, it’s a good summer holiday, sort of the kickoff to the season (which happens to be my least favorite season, just saying), that is strangely rife with hot dogs. They’re all over the joint.

A good holiday, but not the best. That honor goes to, well, just about every other American holiday. Easter, with its gobs of chocolate, is almost better than July Fourth. Thanksgiving is better. Certainly lawless Halloween and the gift-bloated Christmas surpass it. Hell, even my birthday beats out Independence Day, which is kind of like the special little brother of holidays. Sacrilege? Sorry.

But we settle. The Fourth has its fun. Fireworks, especially from the stance of this recovered pyromaniac, are glorious. Even the rinky-dink version in the ‘burbs, with rampant children, grassy blankets, hot dogs, snow-cones and long-in-the-tooth bands belting out “Don’t Stop Believin’” casts a pleasant spell — and gundpowdery smell.

Away from the park, beer flows and barbecues flame. Small gatherings happen in backyards. Kids squeal and peal and dogs slalom around bare legs and sandaled feet. (Those dogs want … hot dogs.) The occasional dancing sparkler is unveiled to the astonished eyes of youngsters.

I have indelible memories of the holiday as a kid on the beaches of Southern California. It was magic: illegal firecrackers, smoke bombs and Roman candles, lit from inside huge sand pits we dug that sat four or five friends. We were there all day until the city’s big fireworks show unfurled in the night sky, over the ocean, popping, bursting, crackling, streaming. And there we were, watching below, aglow in a thousand sizzling colors.

* Update: The local fireworks shebang was rained out on July 3. They rescheduled the big party for, get this, July 13 — a wee late. And it’s Friday the 13th. Isn’t that its own wild holiday?