I’m trying to get rid of my Christmas tree. I haven’t used her in the past few years and don’t want to haul her across the Pacific Ocean. Plus, she doesn’t stand a chance with Monkey Boy and George in the house. But I’ve had her for more than twenty years; I know this because every year after Christmas I wrap her in the same tattered sheet of newspaper.
Three times I’ve taken her downstairs and three times I’ve brought her back up. I guess I feel an affinity for the old girl. She’s seen a few holidays, waited patiently for the seasons to change, allowed two generations of cats to toss her on the floor and never lost her temper. Maybe she has a few kinks in her spine and her branches are a little off-kilter but I think she might not be ready for the trash heap. Not yet.
It’s funny which things are easy to let go of and which things attach themselves to us, snapping turtles of the psyche.
When I was a little girl, I had an old flannel nightgown I carried around with me. I would rub it against my nose while I sucked my thumb. I called it my “smoker”. I don’t know why; maybe sucking my thumb reminded me of my grandfather sucking on cigarettes. Around age seven, I gave my smoker to my parents and told them not to give it back. And then I asked them to give it back. And then I put it in a drawer myself, vowing to stop sucking my thumb. And I did stop.
Not so many years after that, I started sucking on cigarettes. It took me 35 years to stop, but I did.
I think if I can mentally tuck my Christmas tree into a drawer with both my smoker and my smokes, I might be able to let her go.
If I can’t, does anybody want a used Christmas tree?
As snowflakes gently surrender to gravity and make their way toward the earth, a little girl opens her eyes. It is early Christmas morning. She extends her arm in front of her face and can just make out the shape of her hand in the murky light.
She leaps out of bed, knowing she has permission to go downstairs and explore the contents of her stocking, as long as she does it quietly. The big people will need a couple more hours and a cup or two of coffee before they’ll be ready for Christmas, a terrible lapse in judgement as far as the little girl is concerned. But she is already old enough, and still young enough, to know the world is full of magic and mysteries.
She sails down the stairs and grasps the stocking to her chest, feeling the crinkly, crunchy promise of the collection of shapes bumping and jostling against each other inside. Pulling out the goodies one by one, she finds underwear, personalized pencils, chocolate footballs, an orange, three walnuts and a sliver dollar. Every year, those items appear and she never asks why; without them it would not be Christmas.
At the very bottom of the stocking, tucked into the toe, there is a small scroll, a piece of paper rolled tightly and fastened with a red ribbon. She slips off the ribbon and discovers that the paper is a blood test report, indicating that her tumor markers have fallen below normal levels.
The little girl, now a middle aged woman, looks up, barely daring to mouth the words, “Does this mean I don’t have cancer?”
From his perch on the roof, Santa peers down the chimney. Laying a finger beside his sooty nose, he winks and says, “Yes. It means you don’t have cancer.”
The girl/woman feels her insides curl into a ball, like a cat on a sunny windowsill, its nose tucked under its tail, its purr and twitching whiskers proof of contentment.
Just then, her phone jingles. She thinks of Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” saying that every time a bell rings, an angel gets their wings. But this time it is an app that gives a jingle every time Tokyo Tales gets a new follower.
When I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, each Christmas we went downtown to Buhl Planetarium to see the miniature railroad exhibition. It was pretty great. The exhibit included several trains running along tracks and making lovely clickety-clack sounds, houses, cars, people–everything on a teeny scale. It was always a delight.
So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the hospital in early December for one of my daily zaps and discovered a whole Christmas village set up on a table in the lobby. It only had one train, but it was merrily clickety-clacking along an oval track.
From a distance, it was absolutely charming but upon looking closer, I discovered an odd assortment of elements. There were a couple of Hallmark looking houses, a Lincoln Log church, a fort made of blocks with a chimpanzee on its roof, a train station (nowhere near the train) with a bride and broom in front of it, a chicken coop, a polar bear, some pandas and, of course, Santa and a moose having a cookout. I could smell the hot dogs and ‘smores.
All I could think was, “Why not?”
I grew up with certain cultural prejudices, certain beliefs that things were a certain way and set in stone. But even now I am discovering how wrong I was about some things. For example, the Virgin Mary, not her son, was herself the Immaculate Conception with her immaculacy having been brought about at her conception by virtue of the birth of her son. (Huh?) Somehow that made it possible for her to get pregnant without exposing herself to a) a doorknob, b) a toilet seat, or c) sperm. I’m no scientist but I have a hard time swallowing that. I contend that either Mary was a liar or doorknob and toilet seat sanitation left a lot to be desired in those days. At any rate, despite what my high school sex ed instructor said, that was entirely possible, a good thing, and much to be admired. (Uh…all right. If you say so.)
But lets move on.
Somehow, this son of hers came about and grew up to be a carpenter and really swell guy. When he wasn’t building oxcarts or cobbling tables or creating sperm-infested doorknobs, he spent his time telling people to be nice to each other, which so enraged the Romans that they nailed him to a cross. (Come on now.)
But wait. It gets better.
Even swell guys die, and he did, but three days later he got better. He arose from his pallet, single-handedly and in true Superman style moved a five ton stone blocking the entrance to his tomb, popped into an impromptu supper with a few of his mates, then sailed off to heaven a la ET, and now we commemorate that equally hard to swallow tale by worshiping a bunny wearing a bow tie and carrying a basket full of plastic grass, chocolate eggs and jelly beans. (Say what???)
So what have we learned? Miniature train exhibitions are often not what they seem, love and marriage might go together like a horse and carriage but sex and pregnancy are another story, and people do not like being told to be nice to each other. Oh, and as long as sugar and plastic are involved, people will swallow just about anything.
If you have issues with any of that, I offer an alternative. I give you the Unimoose.
The Unimoose is wise. He is strong. He has courage and a wicked sense of humor. He can make you smile and stop taking yourself so seriously. He can help you take a step back and see that so many things in your life are good, so many things in you are good. He can see into the future and assure you that this, too, will pass.
Since 2017 has sucked worse than wet socks on a cold day and stale potato chips in rancid onion dip, the Unimoose has donned his hat and scarf and straddled his glimmering pink unicorn to ride bravely into the future and bring you hope. Such a teeny word, just four little letters, but for me, at least, it makes all the difference.
We made it through our first smoke free holiday season, and I find myself profoundly grateful for a lot of things.
I’m grateful for the wonderful new people who have come into my life. I’m grateful for Kelly, who is not only teaching me to trust my body but also to look inside myself to try to understand my place in this universe and my attitude toward it. I’m grateful for Rob, who can keep me both thoughtful and laughing for hours on end. I’m grateful for all my quit sisters, particularly Jan, Leanne and Susan. Our cyber-hand holds and hugs have helped to make this journey bearable in ways I can’t begin to explain.
I’m grateful for Twitchy, for the irony of being given a chance to share my home with something more beautiful than the greatest masterpiece of classical art yet more evil than the darkest specter of hell. I’m grateful for understanding that the world is often as out of focus as she is.
I’m grateful for whatever it was that at long last helped us find the strength we needed to stop smoking. Working through the whys and wherefores of all that continues to be one of the greatest challenges of my life, and the most fulfilling.
I’m grateful to the Dalai Lama for helping me understand what happiness really is. I’m grateful for the Christmas dinner we finally had time for last night. I’m grateful for the people who shared it with us. I’m grateful for being able to care about people. I’m grateful for the interwebs and the air in my lungs and sunlight and kerosene and smiles from strangers and oatmeal cookies and shoelaces.
I’m grateful for being given another year to stumble through. I’m grateful for whatever gifts and challenges it will present. I’m grateful for knowing I have the strength to handle whatever those things will be, and for having the sense to know just how great a gift that is.
Gather ’round, boys and girls. It’s time for…(drum roll)…
Jokes that are only funny if you live in Japan!
Several office ladies were gathered around the green tea dispenser in their crisply pressed uniforms. One of them said, “My boss is such a dope. He’s just the stupidest thing since the 8% sales tax. The other day, he actually rode the Marunouchi line from Ikebukuro to Shinjuku.”
Peals of laughter all around. Then another of the ladies said, “Hah! My boss is even stupider than that. Last February, he gave me chocolates on Valentines Day.”
Gales of laughter. Green tea went flying out of mouths and up noses. Crisp uniforms were sprayed misty green.
The Marunouchi subway line does indeed run from Ikebukuro to Shinjuku. But the above ground Shonan-Shinjuku, Saikyo and Yamanote lines also do that. There are three stations in between for a distance of just under 5km. Travel time: between 5 and 10 minutes. Cost: 160yen. The Marunouchi line departs Ikebukuro and heads southeast past Tokyo Station, loops toward the northwest and arrives at Shinjuku a whopping 17 stations and 24km later. Travel time: unavailable. No one has ever actually done it. Cost: interestingly, only 170yen, the minimum fee for subways because it’s based on the actual distance between the two stations.
As for Valentines Day, Japan loves to absorb customs and traditions from other countries, but they sometimes get a tad warped. On Valentines Day, women are meant to give gifts to men and not the other way around. It’s usually chocolate and has become obligatory in working situations. It’s called “giri choco” and usually ends up being passed along to wives or girlfriends since macho, manly Japanese men would mostly prefer to drink beer than eat sweets. Obviously, this is not fair. It puts undue pressure on women to spend money on men who still generally get paid more than women do, so in these enlightened days of sexual equality, the candy companies invented White day, March 15, when men are meant to buy candy for women. Mostly they don’t.
In recent years, Halloween has boomed in popularity. People are always shocked when I tell them it’s not a national holiday and nobody but kids really cares about it. Ditto Valentines Day. Although it’s not unheard of for friends to give each other gifts, it’s really meant for lovers, which is how Christmas is treated here. If you’re dating, you’re meant to go out for an expensive, romantic Christmas dinner. Families eat KFC and strawberry shortcake, which is available all year, but at Christmas time comes with a plastic Santa and costs twice as much. There’s just as much commercial hype as in the States–music, decorations, sweets–but the celebration is on Christmas eve. Everyone gets up and goes to work as usual on Christmas day. I did a boxing class at the dojo, which is ironic considering that today is Boxing day, at least in England, where it is a national holiday, but is unheard of both in the States and in Japan. December 23, on the other hand, is a national holiday here, the emperor’s birthday, but I had to work. And I worked after boxing class, so today is Christmas in my head. To celebrate, we went out and bought ourselves some treats.
Happy holidays, everyone. I hope 2015 will be as awesome as 2014 has been.
No stockings are hung by the chimney with care
Twitchy would have made short work of them anyway
I’ve never once slept in a ‘kerchief, nor he in a cap
And the construction clatter has gone on for so long
We hardly even notice it anymore
I’ve always wondered–
If the sleigh is so miniature
And the eight rein-deer so tiny
Why aren’t the presents tiny, too?
It would be a neat trick if St. Nick could appear
Tarnished with ashes and soot
Since we don’t have a chimney
Another reason why no stockings
And after eight months smoke free
We would pummel the jolly old elf
For smoking in our living room
Where, again, there are no stockings to stuff
This year the tree and the wreath
And the candy canes and gingerbread and eggnog
And ribbons and baubles and carols
And thistles and mistletoe and twinkling tinsel
Are all in my head
“Happy Christmas to all, I’m going to bed!”