WELCOME, DAKOTA LANE!
A WOODSTOCK HOLIDAY TALE
[THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST is happy to welcome an old friend and colleague to this column, Dakota Lane, one of my neighborly neighbors when I lived in Upstate New York's fabled artists', musicians' and Xippies' colony in the Catskills. Some say romantic and legendary Woodstock is the equivalent of the East Village on the banks of the Sawkill Stream and in the shadow of Overlook Mountain. As a writer, Dakota is a pro. She can write with the force of authority, the kind of punch that knocked out Mike Tyson. I admire the way she knows the ins and outs of the characters she writes about. As you shall see, she tells her stories head-on. Did I say Dakota is a pro? She has written for INTERVIEW, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, the VILLAGE VOICE and other publications. Her novel, JOHNNY VOODOO, was published in the fall by Bantam/Doubleday/Dell. Dakota makes her debut in THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST column just in time for the Santa season with A WOODSTOCK HOLIDAY TALE.]
Here's Simon, the weirdo, in his kitchen checking on his oyster stew. He makes it every Christmas in a huge silver pot that takes up almost two burners which is a real pain because no one else can get their stuff warmed up, but it's his place so we put up with it.
And here's Grandma, squeezed in at the stove next to him in that holiday dress she wears every year--half Betty Crocker, half Native American, with fringe and a small flowered print. She's standing in her socks moving her hips a little to the Latin music coming from Simon's cheap old cassette player perched on top of the fridge. Grandma throws a handful of herbs into her cornbread and vegetarian sausage stuffing. Then she clinks her plastic wine glass to Simon's plastic wine glass, saying, "Oh, yes, this wine is fine," in some sort of in-joke accent I do not recognize. Grandma actually likes Simon, I mean really digs him. He is not technically related to anyone here, although he used to be married to the woman who married Grandpa after he divorced Grandma, the woman who would've been my step-grandmother, only she cheated on my grandpa and their marriage lasted two seconds. Apparently Simon and my grandma consoled each other for a while or something. It's all ancient history. But Simon started having the holidays at his place before I was even born so we've been stuck with it forever.
The good thing about his place is it's got a balcony so you can hang off it and watch all the people gathering on the Village Green instead of swarming down with them. The bad thing about the balcony is you see someone and you're like yo, hey, what's up, and they don't even hear you or notice you unless they happen to be looking up, which they never are and you want to fly down there, down two flights of stairs, but you don't because by the time you do, they'll be swallowed up by the crowd and you'll be stuck talking to your old sixth grade teacher or your mom's ex-boyfriend or somebody that sucks. Of course I wouldn't mind seeing Tommy, my Mom's most recent ex, the one who used to take me roller-blading and hiking and never acted weird with mom in front of me and was basically perfect only they fought all the time because my mom was on Zoloff, which she finally stopped when they broke up three weeks ago.
The other thing about the balcony is it's totally packed with things because Simon's place is small and he has about a million of us over and always has to shove all his furniture and books out on the balcony, everything except for the table and chairs. And besides being packed with junk, everybody always comes out here to have private fights and to smoke so it gets a little tense and a little crowded at times and tonight it's all that plus it's cold, the kind of cold that instantly freezes your snot so you can't breathe unless you put a scarf over your face, and either way you feel claustrophobic and panicked.
So here's the inside of his pad: The living room has slippery wood floors which are kind of cool and the walls are white stucco which looks half like swirly cake frosting and half like a torture chamber: you could really mess someone up if you pushed them against the wall. Which is what I'd like to do to John Filbert, this creep who always shows up at these dinners and smokes this sick pipe and stares at me a lot and everyone says he's harmless. Apparently he was a big photographer during the psychedelic era, but I can tell he has no talent.
I escape into this little hallway and up five or six carpeted stairs--(I really like this part, shag carpeting on steps always reminds me of a calm, Brady Bunch existence)--and you go up to Simon's loft which has two incredibly cool skylights that open and you can pop your head out and see all the rooftops and blinking decorations and a slice of moon in the sky. It makes you feel like you're in Paris and it almost doesn't matter that there's no snow. Although it always matters when there's no snow on Christmas, even though it's not the worst thing that could happen. What's worse is having your mom break up with a really cool guy only weeks before Christmas when he was going to buy you these incredible, expensive moon boots. And even worse than that is when your best friend was going to spend the night but it turned out her mom got to keep her for Christmas and she didn't want her having a sleepover so all your plans, that you'd been making for like years, are totally ruined.
We have had so many terrible things happen on Christmas Eve. Like chicken pox and head lice at the same time when Max was just a baby. And also the time my mom was dating a jerk who had four Dobermans and one of them bit someone on the way to the Green and we didn't get to see Santa Claus, not that I cared but Max cried so loud someone said they were going to call the child abuse hotline only they didn't and only that night turned out good because mom broke up with the jerk. But you still want it to snow on Christmas Eve; the best thing of all is when it starts falling while you're waiting for Santa, like it did two years ago. That is so cool because you feel like you're in a movie or something. Even if you're Jewish.
Like my Aunt Marley. She's making out on Simon's bed with this new guy she brought. I think he's totally dysfunctional, with long dark hair and black shades. He should be cute but really isn't. It's hard to tell if he can talk. But Marley's Jewish. I mean most of us are, only she goes to the synagogue and once when Hanukkah came the same day as Christmas, she made us all play dreidel and she brought over potato pancakes and a menorah with all these thin, crayon colored candles and said a Jewish prayer. Right after we lit the candles we plugged in the light on Simon's tree and Marley was so upset she left.
"Oh, Gross Mom!" That is my weird cousin, Pilar, Marley's kid. Not that I blame her because seeing your mother kissing is pretty disgusting. She flies down the stairs and I follow but she darts out to the balcony and that's enough of this good Samaritan stuff. I mean, I've got nothing to say to the kid and she smokes pot all the time and is still into the Rave thing and is such a trendoid she even went around with those nylon Jetson baby tees and the ripple sole shoes when everyone else was like, honey it is played, forget it. We're the almost exact same age but we have never connected. Last week I almost accidentally connected when I was on the Net and I happened to go into a room called the Buzz, only because I thought it was this code word for this new virtual reality thing only it turned out it was Buzz for Buzz Tour, the new rock star geek and I had been totally lured and who else was in the room but Pilar, posting notices, asking if anyone knew Buzz Tour's address in Santa Monica. I got out of there quick. I could use a quick Net cruise now but Simon only has an ancient word processor, no hook-ups, nothing. Here's Mom: perched on the arm of Simon's couch, cradling the telephone against her ear while she runs her hands through Max's hair.
I'm hoping she's on with Tommy, maybe a last minute holiday reconciliation. Then she says: "Did you ever once consider someone else's feelings you selfish prick?"
And I know it's not Tommy; it's my dad. And then I also realize she's not idly running her hands through Max's hair. She is actually sitting there in the middle of Simon's living room on Christmas Eve, searching for nits. Must've had another epidemic at the nursery school. Or maybe it's just a nervous habit. She's on automatic. She looks tired. She hangs up without screaming or slamming the phone. He'll call you later, she tells me. Like I care.
Max pulls on her sleeve.
"Can't we please get a stocking?"
Every year we get one of the men to do it. Marley's always got someone new, or Mom. Sometimes Grandma has a guy. One year none of them had a guy; they'd been celibate for so long they were feeling sorry for themselves. They did this weird ceremony upstairs under the skylights, closing their eyes and asking the spirit of Christmas for three nice men.
"How absolutely festive!" says Grandma. For a second I think she's caught Mom in the act of nit-picking, but she's referring to the tree. I can't help it, I love that moment when it's
I want Mommy!'
all lit and excessive and crystalline and fairy tale and all that. It brings you back to when you were three and staring at some ornament way inside the branches and smelling the pine and believing you were touched by magic.
We sit down to eat and Pilar's father comes for her and her baby sister, Rayana. Rayana goes off screaming Mommy, I want Mommy and the rock star guy flips, just walks out of the room and Marley does not want to let her kids go, you can tell she's pissed and grim, but she doesn't try to stop them. After her ex leaves she says to Mom: "The worst thing is he's taking them off to his new wife's family for dinner." And the rock star guy comes in again and rubs her neck and she just stares ahead.
The buzzer rings like it has all night and the intercom's not working so I run down and standing outside the gusty downstairs door is Tommy. His arms are full of packages, he's got that wink for me, his frosty breath, his cold cheek, his smell of leather and kerosene. He says the big package is for me and the other for Max and the tiny one for Mom. Come in, I say, tugging at his arm, hoping, seeing the whole Hallmark reunion, tears starting behind my eyes, Mom so happy, all of us maybe a family. But Tommy looks back and there on the sidewalk is this Barbie blonde, beaming, white fluffy hood around her face, reaching her fluffy mittened hand out for Tommy. He gives me a helpless, guilty grin and I mutter thanks again, merry Christmas, and he's off.
Simon's at the table finishing up a long-winded prayer and then Mom starts in about how she's so grateful for my father. "Terrence has given me so many gifts," she says. She says his alcoholism sent her to therapy. His erratic behavior made her more stable. His meanness has taught her to be kind. His this has given her that. And all the while, Grandma's nodding and saying tell it, sister, yeah, amen, with this serious almost angry look in her eyes. She is so supportive.
And Max is crying again, afraid Santa will run out of stockings and no one wants to go down. "We told you, Maxie," says Simon, "it's too cold, we're not waiting in line for the stocking this year."
Max is like seven years old now and I know he does not need that stocking with the old orange and the chocolate coins, but I throw on my coat and his eyes are lit, man and I run down the stairs and go out there to get my hands blue and to freeze off my lips because that's what you do, you give and it makes you warm and Max is up there on the balcony shouting and I'm looking up. ##
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