Christmas: A Plaint
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/4/01

 I am walking in the Minneapolis Skyway on a break today when I notice a strong sun strumming through the glass all about me. Outside the day is bright & a comfortable mid-high 30ºs F. Cascading all about me is what could pass for a mild summer afternoon. Yet Xmas is only a few weeks away. Downtown is bedecked, jolly, & wreathed, yet something is amiss. It simply does not feel like Xmas. Or at least the way it used to feel like when I was a child.
 No, folks, this is not a belated reaction to the 9/11/01 Terrorist Attacks, nor is it the winter blues, nor fear of financial recessions looming ahead, nor even the jitters lonely folk feel at their endless exclusions during holiday time. I am not a person prone to depressions of any sort- were I, any of the 4 aforementioned things would have gotten me to succumb long ago. Besides, this is the 3rd Xmas I will be spending with my wife, Jessica, so I know it is not related to loneliness. But, a few years ago I would have targeted such as a cause for why Xmas does not feel as special as it once did in my youth. Perhaps, I think that someday, if & when Jess & I have a kid, we will recapture the magic of childhood. But having seen loneliness proven innocent of the charge I am not apt to point the finger in the direction of mere childlessness. The other things are simply not on my personal radar. Perhaps it is because this year has been 1 of many crises & disappointments- personal, financial, physical, creative, & otherwise? But, I think that is not the cause. I’ve had bad years before- as a child, a youth, a young adult & now as I cruise into the relatively gilt phatness of middle age.
  But- ? Was it that my parents sold me so well on the myth? Certainly not- they were not religious, nor crass; although I do recall my disappointment over being lied to by my parents when at 7 or 8 I found out Santa Claus was a myth. I even recall nearly coming to blows with my schoolmate Scott Hamel in defense of the wily old elf: “Do you really expect me to believe that my parents would get up in the middle of the night just to leave presents? They don’t have that much anyway! Besides, a good-hearted elf makes far more sense!” & we never did have a lot anyway. Yes, we would go to relatives, but that would usually just end in my dad leaving all angered over a political argument or such. Was it the ‘genuineness’ of bygone days? If you have read anything on Cosmoetica you know I am not a ‘Good Old Days’ kind of thinker! So it’s not nostalgia nor depression. It’s not fear of the future. Perhaps it is Global Warming?
 In the 1960s & early 1970s New York had some nice cold moist Decembers laced with snowstorms- but the 1980s ended that tradition. But surely, you say, Minnesota has nice wintry Xmases each year? Well, we did have a good 6” snowstorm last week but a good deal of that has melted. Still, even were this 1991, when the Twin Cities had seen about 50-60” of snow by Xmas, it still would not feel like Xmas did. Hell, it surely didn’t in 1991! & it’s not even the lack of carolers nor Bing Crosby TV Specials, nor is it Charlie Brown’s old complaint- crass commercialism! Nor is it-
  Perhaps it is simply novelty’s demise. When 1 is 10 or 12, during the whole awesome span of your lifetime, there have only been a few such special times- times of wonder & ‘getting things’! You are at the absolute center of creation- if for no other reason than you know no better. Something that happens only a dozen or so times in your life must necessarily have a specialness that just cannot be measured- it’s akin to falling in love; again, a thing that, for those of us able to actually summon such true & noble feelings, occurs only a handful of times in the average life. It’s also why most people- as they age- do not give great accord to that fete of the self- one’s birthday- the way we do when a child ready to gorge oneself on sweets. We retreat from not only the moments of specialness, but from our desire to even acknowledge such moments exist, or should exist.
  Yet, Mankind is not alone in this regress from early adorations. When I was a young child I knew a number of stray cats in my neighborhood. Bouts of loneliness often pelted me then, & I often retreated to the world of the Wild Urban Cat. Over the course or 2 or 3 years there were a passel of kitties whom I’ve long since forgotten the names & markings of- their only imprint remaining in this cosmos is their collective impression in me: the Cats!- emphasis on the plurality! But 1 cat was different. 1 cat stood out. His name was Friend (my sobriquet). Friend was a typical nondescript gray tabby of several years age. Even now I could not pick him out of a holographic gallery of all the gray tabbies that have ever been. Yet, despite physical commonness, he was different. I’ve always thought he was the cat that stood well above the others because he was the stray I knew that weird summer evening I 1st saw a human being murder another. I recall clutching Friend as I hid behind a fence in the communal alleyway across from the deed. As if sensing the impending danger of the wary killers nearby, good old Friend was silent & clung to me, transmuting my disbelief & fear into some usable form of energy directed back my way; an energy that would propel me through many other acts & memories, & eventually to this recounting. Now, this moment is surely enough to crown Friend as King of the Alleycats in my memory. But as I peel the layers away I realize his specialness antedated that woe-begotten day. Friend, in fact, was the most consistently engaging of the cats I knew. He had the most ‘personality’. Evidence was in his very human trait of getting bored with things. The 1st few times I brought scraps of food out to this urban warrior he hesitated, approached with caution, then devoured my morsels. For the 1st few weeks this cornucopia thrilled the muscular little killer. As summer progressed, however, I recall Friend’s bounding slowed when I held out my treats his way. His initial lipsmacking relish also waned in its intensity. In all of the fog of what Friend held to be his living, all of a sudden life was easy. Some big smelly thing was giving him food without his having to stalk, pounce, kill, & fight off others for his bounty of fresh mouse or rat. The cosmos had bestowed an ease into Friend’s existence. But, after a few weeks of such Friend seemed to get restless. Perhaps the scented remains of other cats’ kills, or the glazing over of necessity in his slitted eyes, compelled Friend to seek out a newer specialness- any specialness. Ease was that specialness no longer- it was merely boring. Despite the well-known tales of housecats- & even stray cats- owning their people, some alleycats- especially if born & raised feral- are another tale. Friend was not so easily seduced into such comforts or reliability. After a few more weeks- not so coincidentally right about the time of the murder?- my Friend never returned. Perhaps he had been run over? Perhaps he had been killed by a moronic pranking pack of cruel teenagers, or vicious terrier? Perhaps he succumbed to feline leukemia, AIDS, or some other ill? Long I had surmised such a fate, or that he simply found better hunting grounds. But, why would he do so if he now had a steady source of protein & affection? I now think the novelty of ease had worn, & the bug of needing to discard past things took hold. Friend was off, sans sympathy or empathy for the distraught little boy who cried over his departure. Perhaps this bespoke a superior intellect over his easily-seduced comrades; 1 more akin to we large-brained beasts that gather Friend’s kind into our worlds? Or perhaps I am just imbuing because I need to contextualize my amorphous sense of loss, & lostness, from the past?
  Similarly, teenagery hits we humans with the aggressive desire, or need, to discard. Xmas is not so ‘cool’- it’s not real life. & after a few years of its raging uncoolness (despite whether we are religious, materialistic, or just apathetic), just as regret over its discarding comes, we are hit with the new mantra of ‘adult seriousness’. Again, the feelings get packed farther into the nook of what was- we think? Time speeds up, life goes with it. We are amazed at how quickly time passes- a year is now not 1/8th or 1/10th of our existence, but 1/25th or 1/45th or 1/70th of our existence. What’s so special about something that comes & goes so damned quickly anyway? Xmas, tuna leftovers- is there that much difference in the all too-Grand Scheme? There’s the shoveling, the hassle of going to the mall, the bigger hassle of squeezing in extra work into the 2 diminished workweeks, the bigger hassles of dealing with the- ugh- family!, & the worst of all- having to pretend to enjoy all these inconveniences- lest be branded a Scrooge or Grinch- 2 specifically sour Xmas eponyms that depict behavior as gnarly as their pronunciation. This is what ‘THEY’ call a magical season? Well, yes. At least it is something we can connect to, bring to our bosom as something part of us, collectively. Yet, Good Riddance, most of us say- sloughing off the Yule Log, the tried & true Xmas specials- from The Waltons’ TV movie ‘The Homecoming’ to Peanuts to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & Frosty the Snowman. We are like Friend, noble & beyond such comforts. After all, only the flaccid need such unnecessities. Still, I am left missing something. If you’ve read this far into this piece then the chances are I am not alone. Granted, you may feel it is 1 of the aforementioned ills that has caused you blues- but, farther into the cranium, I believe your reasons are a bit closer to my surmises. You may acknowledge Friend as a kindred or merely a different sort of wayfarer from comfort & its bride- weakness. You may feel something has been irrevocably & irreducibly lost- whether really or just to your memory of it. Yet, I think that the very fact that you- & we- can even recognize this ‘lost feeling’ is itself a positive. Maybe it is an atavistic impulse that tears alleycats away from youthful sirens, & young humans from forced traditions. Does not a similarly engrained drive later lure us back to regret at our break from such? Did Friend, as his bones brittled, & muscles slackened, in a 1970s sun, have a memory of that frightened & lonely beast that offered easy eats for companionship? Did he not wonder the life of his cousins on the other side of the window screen? If he did, perhaps he had thoughts & feelings as expressed here- however rudimentarily.
 But I have an advantage over my old compatriot. I can reason & cogitate. I realize that actions cause reactions, force begets counterforce. I realize that, surely, a memory can be, & is, as real as the glow you retroactively hang upon your memories- be they of Xmas, or smaller, more private things. The Friend of my recollect has long since displaced the fleshy furred little cat from my youth- both actually & importantly. Therefore, I- & we- actually gain something with the loss- we’ve merely exchanged raw experience for its burnished recall. Loss is always easier to deal with when part of an exchange- be it that 2nd Mickey Mantle card for a spanking new Harmon Killebrew, or the taste of just-killed, recently motile, living flesh for its handed-out, sanitized, dulled, canned simulacrum. As the same sun that last shone upon Friend a few decades back now glowers to land’s lip I see the percussion of color it brings as both a doff of the cap to the remembered, & a new light for the coming experience. It is now a day later since I started this essay. Xmas is nearer in arrival, & nearer to departure. What I miss is still missing. What I have perhaps you know, as well. Is that really so bad?

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