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The Stony Lonesome, Christmas Edition

The holidays approacheth yet again as is their inexorable wont and there's nothing you can do to stop them. Can't slow ’em down, can’t skip over ’em, can't take enough pills to sleep through ’em. I can't, anyway — you all out there in the wide world might-could, and I wouldn't blame you if you did.

Of course, having enjoyed a Christmasless oblivion you might be tempted to similarly anesthetize yourself through Groundhog Day and those annoying spring sales and the mosquitoes of summer and those damn leaves in the front yard — and then before you know it you’re just that guy in a coma.

No, better you should gird your loins, steel your resolve, suppress (or indulge) your inner Grinch, and sally forth into the Yuletide maelstrom.

Keep in mind, though, the true meaning of Christmas which is: Yake Apple from mere megacorp status up to Global Superpower, complete with nuclear capability and its own currency. Laugh if you must, but the last time anyone came this close to taking over the world there was a succession of very unhappy Hannukahs.

In the words of Captain Obvious, holidays in prison suck. Of course so do Mondays through Fridays and especially weekends. The sucktacular sucktitude of these waning months and varies in degree according to one's tendencies toward sensitivity and sentimentality and the volume of fond soft-focus familial reminiscences in one's long-term memory.

I am unfortunately liberally burdened with all three and thus a sitting duck for sappy, manipulative TV commercials, holiday specials, and those infernal jingling bells that accompany it all. It may bode well for my innate humanity and ultimate redemption, but it makes the road from here to January 2 a rocky one indeed.

For a childhood that was almost completely nontraditional, Christmas in my family was surprisingly conventional and stratified. In fact, it was the one time of the year when the rules were permanent and inviolate.

For instance: everyone participated in decorating the tree. Each child lined up with one arm pointed straight up in the air; the measure from fingertip to floor was the length of popcorn and cranberry garland we were responsible for stringing. Ornaments were hung in an orderly sequence, each kid taking a turn, balls first, then one-offs, specials and homemade. Tinsel was carefully draped one strand at a time and the right to wire the dove to the top was decided by a parental council to determine the relative Xmas spirit manifested.

On Xmas morning everyone assembled in the kitchen and waited not very patiently while mom finished her coffee and cigarette. Presents were doled out one at a time in sequence, youngest first, and the Santa conceit far outlasted anyone's belief in it -- in fact, it continues to this day.

My favorite part was the stockings. My mother put a lot of thought into customizing each one to the particular child's likes and interests. For instance, mine might contain a National Lampoon, an 87th Precinct novel, a fountain pen, cashews, poppycock, baseball cards, fish hooks, and Chinese puzzles — all bound up in a loose peanut-M&M-jellybean matrix.

Dinner was lavish and traditional after which the drinking began in earnest and we all returned to our respective self-involved and anarchic individual existences. For one brief moment though we were a Rockwellian vision of holiday togetherness, hence my inability to get through this season without shedding tears and waxing nostalgic.

You'll pardon that uncharacteristically mawkish deviation, please — something in my eye. We now return to our regularly scheduled captiousness.

For every Xmas spent in the stripey hole, I’ve matched it with one in the throes of addiction where it's business as usual in Tweekerville. Like all major events there -- the Super Bowl, natural disasters, deaths of loved ones, alien invasions -- the holidays pass unnoticed.

The last Christmas I was out (in Fort Bragg), I only became aware of the date after an early-morning run to Columbi's for Scratchers and Gatorade failed due to an inexplicably locked door. What the hell is going on?, I thought. Reversing my direction of force didn't help — often times it's simply a matter of pushing instead of pulling. But not this day. Rattling the door violently was similarly ineffective. I went across the street to the laundromat to find it likewise shuttered.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Only after a few moments pondering at that normally bustling (for Fort Bragg) corner, now deserted, did the lights gradually come up. Aha! It's Christmas! Then it was simply a matter of locating a vendor whose roots derive from the other side of the Mediterranean.

Christmas as minor irritation.

These moments are sadder in spades than those spent consciously missing the holidays, especially when you look back later and think, man — I didn't even call my mom! I didn't send a card, I didn't buy a gift, I didn't participate at all. I swapped out some stolen bike parts in the backyard, spray-painted an ashtray, blew some pipes (I do not mean I've skirled on the uilleann, rather I converted air freshener to smoking implement), played Angry Birds -- business as usual.

So far I've managed to avoid (knock wood) doubling up on these unfortunate scenarios — i.e., enjoying a very tweeky Xmas and then getting popped — because that would be depressing in an exponentially increasing way.

Coming down at Low Gap is an experience not to be missed, not if you’re a devoted masochist or maybe working on a fresh translation of Dante and want to get a real handle on that Ninth Circle. The cheery, efficient booking staff is liable to get you processed in three or four days if they're not too busy and haven't gummed up the computer keys with doughnut dust -- again.

Meanwhile, you are enjoying the company of several of Mendocino County’s preferred customers trying to fill out their punchcards for a free visit, whose need for alcohol is causing them to act, sound and smell in strange, terrifying ways. By the time you finally do get booked, after all the pastries have been consumed, all the Sheriff Allman impressions roared at, all the weekends hashed over — nothing else to do, may as well book some prisoners — you're just so damn happy to get into a bed you get all Stockholm Syndromy with your deliverer as he peers up your fundament preparatory to assigning you a cell.

All of a sudden I'm feeling a little better about my current situation! It's all relative and it definitely could be worse. I have friends and family with whom I will exchange cards. I will play my famous punk rock arrangements of “Good King Wenceslas” and "Silent Night" for the dorm. There will be turkey and pie and cranberry sauce, plus an extra movie. It ain't much, but it is what it is and I'll take it and God bless us, everyone.

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