Stiletto Prints in the Sand

IMG_4225I was going to attempt a clever article about the holidays, perhaps reminiscing about Christmases past, but then I remembered I’ve already shared anecdotes about my childhood at Christmas, which you can read here.

I have touched on my role as a singing Martian, fictionalized in A Final Folly, and my crushing disappointment upon learning of the nonexistent special effects budget when called upon to vanish during a live stage production.

I have a few other stories yet to be told about smoke alarms as gifts, a church Christmas pageant that was overtaken by an evil soprano who should’ve been cast in The Exorcist, and the year a towering drag queen lip-synching Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree stole the show (she exceeded seven feet while wearing a red and green double feather boa that arched from the crown of her head). I also get a smile on my face when remembering the year when five cousins returned from a ride around the lake in a 1965 Mustang unusually famished less than two hours after a big lunch.

Before you get too excited, I’m saving those stories until you’re a little older. Until then, just picture me as one of the beatific child shepherds outfitted with one of my mother’s plush Royal Velvet guest towels tied on my head. Someone tied it so tightly that I developed an unbearable headache before they killed the spotlight on that year’s production.

When all those moments were taking place, I didn’t find them as funny as I do now. Holidays are hard on so many people, and I’m one of those who doesn’t spend Labor Day weekend diagraming my lighted yard display. Even before my years in church music and a few spent in retail, I have been a person who steels myself for the holiday season as if December is a big wave heading for shore. I sympathize with those who feel the pressure to consume, whether it’s commercialism or what we stuff into our bodies. I’m one of those who strives for cheerfulness even when I don’t know where it’s going to come from, and I understand the feelings that this Christmas isn’t going to be nearly as great as the one way back when.

Disappointment affects each of us to varying degrees. People experience loss, and devastating events don’t schedule themselves with our personal calendars in mind. Add layers of advertisements, nostalgic shows, and sentimental music to bring home the fact that this holiday season isn’t going to be as good as that year when we thought everything finally fell into place. It’s no wonder we set ourselves up for disappointment.

A large part of my holiday expectation problem has been perspective. Much like photographs that I hated at the moment they were taken, I realize twenty years later that I didn’t look as bad as I thought. And so it is with Christmas. At the time, I might have been sad that a favorite family member or best friend couldn’t make it. Perhaps we couldn’t be together one year or maybe we never were again. There have been years when I’ve worried there wasn’t enough money to pay for presents, special meals, or parties, or there was the time a significant other decided to break up the day after the gifts went under the tree. All of those terrible moments seemed to occur while Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas played over and over.

All of our worst holiday experiences affix themselves to our psyches. I’ve had some terrible years, and I’ve heard stories of even worse experiences. As I dug deep into my memory to find a heart-warming story to share this December, I quickly passed over the more difficult years, which seemed to remind me why I am not always immediately filled with hope. After pondering the holidays I consider to be some of my best, I realized that those really terrible Christmases had mellowed with age. At the time, I was very unhappy, but each year contained at least a morsel of joy that continues to make me smile.

You might say that when I looked back to see one set of footprints and thought I’d faced a particularly sad Christmas on my own, I’d never been truly alone for an extremely tall drag queen wearing a double feather boa had been carrying me all along.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

IMG_7899To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

We Gather Together

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Who doesn’t love a nice autumnal display to put them in the mood for Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is typically the great American feast day, and I much prefer pulling out all the stops for a big celebration than just getting by. However, I’m not in the mood this year to prepare a month’s worth of food for a single sitting that will end up leaving leftovers. I’ll probably wake up on Thanksgiving morning,  wishing I’d made a greater effort, but at this moment I’m not feeling inspired.

The holiday lacks something if I haven’t spent the day in the kitchen, but I also have wonderful memories when someone else did all the work such as six years ago in Vancouver, B.C. (“Market” by Jean-Georges Vongerichten in the Shangri-la Hotel) and eight years ago in Santa Fe (the restaurant at the El Dorado). Those are the two best Thanksgiving dinners I’ve ever eaten, and the trips came about after our experience nine years ago in Las Vegas where I shut down emotionally after experiencing one hotel’s version of Thanksgiving dinner. When I came to, I called upon the forces of the universe to raze that establishment, and I’m happy to report that it no longer exists.

I don’t know when Thanksgiving became my favorite holiday. It could have been in elementary school when I learned that we were getting a four-day weekend a month before Christmas break. Combine the excitement of some much-needed time off with tracing one’s hand to make a turkey or reams of construction paper to make pilgrim hats before we departed, and I was in the mood to celebrate. We learned all of the sanitized tales of colonial living, and the bulletin boards were decked out in fall colors with Norman Rockwell images. Who couldn’t love that?

Thanksgiving morning in the central time zone meant leisurely watching the Macy’s parade while getting ready to spend the day at one or the other of my grandparents’ (we alternated each year), but the morning wasn’t as relaxed and joyful for my mother as she was confined to her least favorite room in the house.

I never knew when she’d been told what to cook, but I can only imagine the assignment had been made at knifepoint. Sometimes on Wednesday night, but usually Thursday morning, I’d hear the sounds of bowls rattling, utensils being flung, cans being opened, and a general groan of discontent coming from the kitchen. I didn’t understand then, but now I can sympathize, knowing I’d feel the same way if I were told to change the tires on a monster truck the night before a rally.

Hot food was eventually loaded in the car, driven for thirty minutes or forty-five depending on which grandparents, and then the cooling food rested somewhere until it was served unless it belonged in the refrigerator. If the fridge was too crowded, items that wouldn’t collapse without chilling sat near the hot food. I survived childhood without any foodborne illnesses from a holiday dinner, but I never had hot turkey and dressing unless it was at school.

Neither of my grandmothers possessed a sense of presentation. There was an abundance of food, but one side of the family put every dish on the table and passed it around while the other side set up a buffet. There were no candles or centerpieces at either house. Turkeys were never plated on a bed of greens and carved at the table, which was best in the case of my maternal grandmother’s bird. She roasted it hot and very early. When I took a peek in the kitchen, there was always something resting under foil that appeared to have smoked in the sun for 40 years. The next time I saw it, it had been artlessly shredded and piled on a plate.

Both sides of the family ate at noon, unless my maternal grandfather pushed for 11:45. That’s probably why no one thought we needed candles. My dad’s family all sat down together, including children, while the men on my mother’s side got their food first, the children second, and once we were all situated, the women had their turn. They women didn’t get to sit more than a second or two because the men, who ate like pie-eating contestants, were already searching for dessert.

On both sides, the whole show was over in less than forty-five minutes, as there was probably a football game someone couldn’t miss. I always thought we should take things slower, but I was one of the youngest and didn’t have a say. As the dishes were being washed, the high doses of carbohydrates and tryptophan brought on a powerful drowsiness in the men, and those whose wives had awakened them before dawn with all that banging around the kitchen were completely conked out with the sound of a ball game barely covering their snores. I came to believe that every living room in the country was filled with unconscious bodies, which looked like the scene of a cult after the Kool-Aid.

Eventually, I’d have opportunities to host Thanksgiving dinners the way I thought they should look, but I’ve never forgotten the joys of my childhood holidays even if those meals at unembellished tables had been rushed. I’ve had Thanksgivings that were magazine layout perfect, and I’ve had Thanksgivings that are best forgotten. In the end, the food and the atmosphere aren’t as important as those who gather together.

© 2017 by Patrick BrownTo learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

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Murdered Justice by Patrick Brown is available from W&B Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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“Tossed Off the Edge” is the ghost-written tell-all of self-indulgent daytime diva Sheila Wozniak.

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Available online at http://www.amazon.com

 

“Tell Ya What I’m Gonna Do”

The neighborhood children returned to school on an August Wednesday, but they didn’t even make it to the weekend before their conscription into indentured servitude brought them to my door peddling items they hoped would offset the school district’s expenses.

I can still recall the overwhelming odor of “fine chocolate” as we entered the band room each morning during the annual candy sale. The event lasted for weeks, and there were prizes offered by the chocolate company for anyone who sold enough. The bars, which contained nuts, cost over twice as much as one paid for “not so fine” candy bars at the store. Kids couldn’t readily afford what we were selling, which meant preying on sugar loving adults after school hours if I were to achieve second category status and trade in my points for a chemistry set.

We were told that the product sold itself, but that wasn’t true. I still had to pull people aside like Lucy Ricardo with a baby stroller full of beef. The chocolate bar’s outer label came with a coupon for A&W, and I’m sure I mentioned to someone that for all the trouble we were going to, the chocolate company could have saved the money on the prizes and whatever they were paying A&W to discount their burgers, and then just give our band program the cash. We could, it seemed to me, continue to play our instruments and let commerce take care of itself.

I rejoiced the year we were told we no longer had to sell chocolate, but when crates of glass banana split dishes containing hard candy arrived, I learned my first lesson in product appeal. A nearsighted Victorian grandmother with a penchant for lemon drops and low end cut glass might be thrilled to buy our product if only it hadn’t been priced beyond her fixed income budget. One thing the band boosters failed to consider was the disaster of turning kids loose with all those glass dishes on school buses that traveled across neglected county roads.

Aside from paper cuts, decorative stationery was safer than glass, but such frilly notepaper wasn’t for everyone. People still wrote actual letters in 1979, but most men were loath to send short notes to their bowling buddies on paper with ivy and oversized daisies along the border. That was my second lesson in product appeal.

After much complaining to the band director, the boosters heard the students’ cries and came up with the idea for us to sell shampoo. There were protests even before we learned that each artificially fruit-scented bottle, which came in three varieties, was large enough to last a family of five for almost two years. You couldn’t possibly get repeat business, and since the texture of one’s hair felt funny after using the stuff, sales fell as limp as the hairs it washed. We were back to “fine chocolate” the following year, but not until I had come to terms with my discomfort with asking people to buy what I’m offering.

Now you understand why it took over 500 words for me to mention that I have temporarily transformed my office into a small warehouse for selling, signing, and shipping autographed copies of my books in time for the holiday shopping season.

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While not a baby stroller full of beef, my book shop is open for the season.

While I’m not selling chocolate bars, I do think I’m offering something more lasting, which includes laughter, entertainment, a touch of mystery, and an opportunity to get a copy of my signature in case there is a forger among you. Furthermore, I’ll be so bold as to point out that if you already have your own copies, you might have people in your lives that need their own. I’m encouraging generosity, but not sharing.

If someone you know is difficult to buy for, get them a book. They don’t read? Perhaps the person on your list has a wobbly piece of furniture or a bed that slants. My books are different thicknesses and can work for a variety of furniture repair needs. If an entire leg is missing on their favorite table, you’re in luck! I’ve written more than one book, and I have several copies of each on hand.

My Facebook page offers secure checkout so that I never see your credit card information. While this is comforting to the purchaser, it certainly doesn’t help me complete my shopping. You don’t have to have a Facebook account to purchase books, and I can explain the various ways in a private message. My fingers are crossed for good sales, as I really want to get that chemistry set.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Five Houses Down

Remember to close your curtains after dark. If I’m passing by an open window, I’m going to slow down and see what I can see. Though I’ve been rewarded enough through the years to continue indulging my guilty pleasure, it matters not what someone might be doing. It’s just that I’m curious about what’s going on whether driving by a lonely house on a dark country road or gazing at all the neighboring windows from a high-rise hotel room.

Is someone on the phone? What are they talking about? Are those people having a party? Why are all the lights on in that house on the hill with only one car parked in front? The house over there is completely dark at 8:00 every night. What do the occupants do each day that requires them to get up so early? Every residence triggers a long list of questions and provides hours of speculation.

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The immaculate house a few doors down. Lacking curb appeal, I’m left to wonder what the owners do all day.

The fifth house east of my childhood home has fascinated me for decades. My mother once remarked that the little white house standing back from the road was so well kept; yet she never saw anyone outside. Keep in mind that we couldn’t see the house from half a mile away unless whizzing by it in our rush to reach the highway, but one would think in 40 years that we’d see someone in the front yard at some point.

Except for meticulously trimmed boxwoods to camouflage the front steps, there are only four other small plants along the front, which do nothing to mask the raised foundation. There are no grand flowerbeds, no colorful borders, nothing to be mowed around or anything to please the eye. The owners are clearly not trying to attract attention or provide visual interest.

In a real estate listing, the smallish dwelling might be described as “cozy” or “quaint” or “meticulous,” but this well-maintained abode raises so many questions in my mind. In an area outside of television cable service, there’s not a satellite dish attached to the slightly pitched roof, and speaking of roofs, I’ve never known this house to need a new one. The white shingles are always in good shape. The lawn is never out of control, but in more than four decades, I’ve never seen anyone mowing it. There are no trees on the front of the lot, and those four plants along the front would take no more than ten minutes to prune, and that would include getting out the tools and putting them away.

There is no barn or garden shed, and the carport, which was added later, no longer has a car in the drive, nor is there anything else stored in it. My last trip to the neighborhood had me slowing down. There was a vehicle in the drive as I passed on the way to see my parents, but there were no cars on the place during the rest of my stay.

I believe someone lives there, and they have the means to keep the place up, but my casual research indicates these people do not enjoy gardening, being outside, watching TV, or getting involved with the neighbors. The backyard is unfenced, there are no pets running toward the road, the house faces north, and some of the windows are high, which indicates limited natural light.

It’s true that I haven’t been around much in decades, but when I was younger, I went by that house at least twice a day. There were never additional cars on holidays, no kids playing in the yard, and there were certainly no eye-popping light displays. These people didn’t even light a candle in the front window.

In my imagination, these two people—perhaps now only one—have been sitting in the dark for almost 50 years discussing anything but gardening, animals, food, exotic travel, and whatever is coming on television tonight.

When I was six, my sister took me trick-or-treating after a battle over my last-minute costume. I liked the idea of dressing up and going out, but I was never keen on asking people to give me candy, which has resulted in my becoming one of those adults who doesn’t like asking for help.

We’d just moved in a couple of months earlier, and perhaps we saw a porch light and mistook its meaning. Dad drove us, and Karen walked me to the door. That Halloween night was the one and only time I’ve ever gotten close to the house though I have passed it thousands of times. The lady of the house dropped pennies into my bag while her husband complimented my costume.

The lack of candy on hand indicated they weren’t expecting trick-or-treaters. I was surely the only kid they’d had that year or perhaps ever. I can recall the husband facing me, standing on his wife’s right, and I think she had blond hair. It could’ve been gray. I have always remembered them being “really old,” but I was six and anyone over 35 could have admitted to being 40 or 70 and I would have believed them. Considering how much time has passed, they couldn’t have been too old that night if either of them are still living in the house and keeping it up.

I was more focused on the coins the lady dropped into my bag. I was ready to reconsider my stance on begging if every knock on the door resulted in cold, hard cash. Because I was blinded by filthy lucre, I missed a wonderful opportunity to steal a glance inside a house that has haunted my imagination for decades. I can’t very well go to the door now and introduce myself as that six year-old kid who came trick-or-treating one time over 40 years ago. The sight of my gray hair would shock them into realizing how long they have been sitting in there night after night as the years became decades and faded into the past. I’ve lost my window of opportunity to know what they’ve been doing in there all this time.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1