Book Covers

Muscling our way down the aisle of an Airbus 320, Studley and i were pretty happy to have wrangled seats on the same flight home after a weekend getaway.  Even though Row 35 is not exactly prime real estate?  i was glad to have a chance to drool on the shoulder i know, rather than the shoulder of a stranger.

We stowed our bags and got comfortable while we waited for the other 98 passengers to board the overstuffed plane.  One of the few perks of “kiss my ass” status on an airline?  Early boarding.  This means you can stow a bag in the overhead bin before they are crammed full.

We were mildly entertained as a raucous family of four occupied Row 34 – a mother, probably about my age, her two adult sons, and the cute blonde girlfriend of one of the sons.  Mom and one of the brothers were across the aisle, and the young couple parked directly in front of us.  Wearing a cocked baseball cap, he was channeling his inner Jersey Shore goomba.  Badly.  But they were having fun, horsing around and playing.

As expected, the overhead bins were soon filled.  People struggled to stuff bags into the few remaining voids.  As we prepared for push-back, the flight attendant offered a warning:  “Ladies and gentlemen, some of these bins will not close!  If we have to pull your bag and check it, there will be a fee.  Please do your best to get your bags into the overhead compartments!”

The bin over Row 34 was in obvious violation.  A late arrival in Row 33 had hopefully put his small roller bag into the compartment, directly under a hinge.  There was no way the door would close.

The young man in front of us decided to help.  Standing up, and making a rather big deal out of it, he tried to force the door to close.  When it didn’t break, or close, he then began chiding the owner of the protruding suitcase that he’d better deal with it…

“Yo, brother!  You’re gonna need to do somethin’ about the bag!  They’ll delay the flight if you can’t get it closed!” 

The passenger in Row 33 got back up and started trying to rearrange the bags in the compartment.  He tried to stow the bag.  The goomba felt compelled to provide running commentary and advice.

“Move that little one, dude.  Turn it around baby!  No, other way, fella – it’s like Jenga, baby.  JENGA!  Move the blocks.  No, other way.  Geez, you never play Jenga?”

It went on.  Louder and louder.

Meanwhile, a man across the aisle in Row 36 stood up and checked for space in the bin over his head.  i had noticed this man when he boarded – primarily because of the amount of blue ink on his hands and knuckles.  Prison tattoos.  Including the teardrop* under his right eye.  Without saying a word, he cleared space for another bag.

Goomba got louder and Row 33 passenger became a little more frantic.  Studley got his attention and pointed to the space over Row 36, now cleared.  Problem solved.  Both Studley and i caught the attention of the quiet man in Row 36 and thanked him.

Goomba wasn’t quite done, though.

“There ya go, baby!  Stick with me!  I got ya covered!”



beautiful image found here

* May be legend, but it is believed that a tear drop tattoo signifies that the bearer has taken a life.  There are other possible meanings.  But the blue ink?  Definitely implies time behind bars.

Pinning Points

Every November, i have the same argument: “Put up the damn Christmas tree!”  This is followed immediately by “What’s the point?”  Sometimes, i have this argument out loud.  By myself.  For several minutes… Because it amuses me.

Never one to go overboard with decorating, i’ve always kept the holiday stuff at a reasonable level. Never put out more than i could take down on a cold, January afternoon. As the kids grew, there were a few standards they wanted to see – the “mouse countdown” calendar, Santa’s Marching Band, and of course, the random collection of weird shit on our tree. 

The other family tradition?  Once the tree is assembled and decorated, we must stand beside it and say “It’s the most beautiful Christmas tree ever.  Just like last year…”  The kids often delivered this line in monotone, with corresponding eye-roll. 

The tree itself? For the past 15 years, it’s usually been the same artificial tree – assembled branch by branch. It looks good, but never as nice as the real ones we’ve murdered purchased from time to time.  And it seems that i am always near tears when i’m putting it up, or taking it down. 

So why the fuck do i do this?

Holidays provide easy “pinning points” in our lives.  i mean, you don’t sit there on some random May 15th and say “damn, i remember May 15th from four years ago…”.  It just doesn’t work that way.  So when that damn tree is put up, or comes down, i am overcome by memories of over two decades of tree assembly or deconstruction.  And all of the emotions that were present at the time.

Every year i tell myself “Fuck it.  Don’t do it.”  But i give in… and it usually feels right after it’s up.  Sometimes i tell myself it’s for the kids.  Although they say it doesn’t matter whether there’s a tree or not, i suspect it represents a pinning point for them as well.  Sometimes it’s just because i’m not ready to become one of those people who drags out a small, fiber optic tree and says “Voila!”  That’s so my Mother…

This morning.  Removing the ornaments.  Smiling at the goofy shit* we’ve had on the tree for years.  Groaning at the hideously ugly** ornaments Mom has given me – which i dutifully place on the back of the tree.  Branch by branch.  Moment by moment.  Year after year.  Stuffing the scratchy synthetic wires into the large cardboard box that will sit unnoticed on a shelf in my garage for the next 11 months.  Carefully taped shut to keep out spiders.

Remembering the tree assembly from 2006.  Knowing at the time it would be the last holiday we would be spending together as a foursome – a pseudo-family***.  Having a ridiculous fever of unknown origin**** but plugging through it anyway…  The Girl was sailing through Europe during her Semester at Sea.  The Boy and his girlfriend lending me a hand as i wheeled around the tree in a rolling desk chair to conserve energy…

Flashing forward to an unknown future.  Knowing that choices i’ve made in my personal life are far-reaching.  And will bring moments of darkness, along with the freedom i crave.  Letting this knowledge wash over me like a scalding shower.  Branch by branch.  Moment by moment.  Blasting through year after year.  Tossing aside the idea of getting a gigantic 12′ pre-lit artificial tree for next year.  It wouldn’t be the same…

Pinning points.  Our lives woven around them.  Sometimes a beautiful tapestry.  Sometimes ragged, uneven web…

image sourced from:

* the traditional first ornament is a miniature 6-pack of beer.  we’ve got an alien spaceship, painted pine cones, holographic glasses… silliness abounds…

** she gives each of us two gold-plated “collector” ornaments each year.  Some of them are hideous – including the gold-plated mini-van.  Seriously.  A mini-van?  it’s like the people who have to come up with new ornaments for the series are sitting around saying “Holy Fuck.  We’re out of Christmas shit.  Let’s start doing cars…”.

*** Our divorce was final in August of 2006, but it was quite amicable.  We agreed to spend that holiday together to soften the transition.  The Girl was 20, and The Boy was 17…

**** At the time, the doc thought it might be malaria (after a meet-up with The Girl in Vietnam and Cambodia).  It was only mono that i contracted in the Cambodian jungle, but i didn’t get that diagnosis until early December.  Around the time i was diagnosed with breast cancer…  Sucky month, eh?