The following true story, is a Holiday letter that I thought I'd share with my fellow MindHub members here in Fresburg... As many of you may not be members of MindHub, I figgered, well, why not share with the rest of the class, besides it's been a while...
It is true that after 44 years of Christmastime, (one would think that was 44 Christmas'
-wrong, actually for many years there, we had two separate one (folks split,) -then all the grandparents to see, (which meant two sets more once the folks remarried,) followed by a myriad of visits to people who I really didn't know, but who were 'aunt and uncle so and so,'
-who my Mom worked with, or knew from the neighborhood, who knew me from the age of a zygote, (who also pinched my cheeks... yes, it's true.)
Lotsa Ho-Ho-Ho for this cowboy.
(I have to watch how I use that word 'cowboy,' ---I'm close to Clovis, and there are actual cowboys with a chips throw from here...)
Needless to say, with all of these holidays racked up, -and a lot of the folks who were a big part of the earlier ones gone on to glory, (we all get older,) --and my family back on the East Coast, ---(not to mention the fact that the weather around here is basically more suited for 'summer camp,' -year round, (no single digit days, no snow, no ice...)
It's a little difficult sometimes to be reminded.
'Yep, That blessed time of year is gonna hit any day now.'
What tells me?
-Getting projects done for clients (so at least they are done 'this year,' (in some cases that's a good thing,)
-Taxes of the small businessman that require special attention before boarding my flight to three hours ago,
(I am enthralled that there are college students in their dorm (over on Barstow, near the highway,) that have put up those 'icicle,' lights all over their little balcony. Those things are so darn cool, (I remember as a kid, just going for rides with my folks to see the lights on the houses...)
Stuff like that brings me back...
And, along with the holiday music that is now piping into the stores that I'm working in, (yep, folks do buy bikes for Christmas, lots of 'em,) The odd tune comes up that really warms my heart,
(Springsteen's 'Santa Clause is coming to town,'
The Waitress' classic,
-Even two very excellent Pretenders hits (Two Thousand Miles, and Have your Self a Merry Little Christmas.)
-The real kickers? Anything by Elvis, the Peanuts 'Christmas Album' tunes, -and anything by Der Bingle, (White Christmas and Silent Night almost always reduce me to tears...)
In fact, not too long ago, there was a post on a list somewhere that referred to one's fav. Christmas songs.
-The list'r (Susan? Suzanne? not sure, it may be 'thee Suzanne,' it could have been another,) had some real beauts on her list, including Tom Wait's 'Merry Christmas From a Hooker in Minneapolis,' or something.
--I read this and decided that perhaps 'Randy Stonehills: Christmas at Denny's was perhaps not too far off the map, (thanks Susan, Suzanne, who ever you are...)
Finally: The weirdness o Christmas factor Tied in beautifully with the nice blonde lady tonight over at FoodMaxx a couple of minutes ago, who was shopping with (antlers?) still on, (tinsel and little balls and stuff hanging, ) all flopping all over her head, as she calmly worked her way down the dairy cases, -maybe she forgot that she had them on... I, for one hope to think not.
My friends of the Hebrew persuasion, don't pull these stunts (happy second night of Chanukkah, btw...)
I've always seen their festivites as so much more elegant, so much more refined. (I happen also to like blue, silver and white, anyway, and dig candles and dreidels.) I digress... (surprise.)
-All this, being Fresno, allowed the weird side of Christmas to take flight in my memory. (And there have been some classics.)
For example: Twenty Five years ago, In the later part of 1982, yours truly divested himself of regular homelife, and cast out to the great unknowns of center city Philly, to attend the Philadelphia College of Art.
This was a new experience for a lot of us, and we, the artistic lived new and exciting ways that we could have never dreamed possible out on the prarie, -or in my case, -while living in my small suburban house in a sprawling town on the coast of NJ. On the corner of Fifteenth and Spruce (S.East Corner, -the SouthWest Corner being the Acme Market (that was burned out twice, -but reopened in time for us earlier that fall,) was a drugstore.
On top of that drugstore, in a major way, sat an ancient Seventeen story apartment building (called the hotel 'Belrich,' at one point,) that was used as dormitories for the Philadelphia college of Art, -and it's Sister School -the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts.
(They later blended and are now known as the University of the Arts, in Philly.) Same said hotel/slash/Apartment complex was where we lived, the first nine or ten floors being the dancers, musicians, (etc.) of PCPA, the last four floors being the artists, the final floor being a penthouse endwelled by this strange mysterious man who nobody ever saw.
We, the residents of this astounding 'last tall,' building headed into South Philly,
-actually made the papers one day by sunbathing in January, (we had a sudden weird warm spell, and we, the brave and daring, decided that it was worth it,
-so we hunkered down to our skivvies and bathing suits (or birthday suits on the uppper floors,) and lay about the fireescapes like oh-so-many stranded sea critters on rocks, most of us a little under the weather, all of us quite pale,
-and somehow attracting the photogs for the Philadelphia Inquirer...
(They didn't know that some of us were in our chonies (and worse,) and we were not inclined to tell them,
-but it was a magnificent afternoon, and made for quite a study, snow on the ground, trees bare, temps in the sixties, and a whole sixteen stories of starving artists and musicians, sunning ourselvs while playing Peter Gabriel.
In same said abode, I lived on a couple of different floors, and for a while had a particular roomie named Bill.
Now, Bill was a quiet young man from Indianna who loved punk (Toxic Reasons specifically,) -who chainsmoked like a fiend, was amazingly talented, and looked sort of like a lost Ramone in a certain light.
-I opted for that 'Fifties look,' and personally, had my hair cut by the founder of the D.A., and smoked nearly as much as Bill, (but I preferred Djarums, (in the little tins,) that could be bought down at the drugstore for under a buck... (!)
With us (all,) lived an amazing little beast, that will probably outlast us all of humanity.
I am speaking, of course of Cockroaches.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with urban life, -let me explain.
Cockroaches are everwhere. If you don't have cockroaches (and rats and pidgeons,) -you don't have a city.
Philadelphia in general, and this hotel in particular (the apartments were all these really little cool single bedroom or two bedroom units which had two to three people living in them (usually two,) -had more than it's share of cockroaches.
I for one am not fond of the things.
I was not raised in a house that had them, and distinctly remember being dragged out of an IHOP in New Brunswick one evening as an eight year old when my mom saw cockroaches walking up the wall behind me, (this was back in Jersey,)
--and had her mind made up in terms of 'go or no go,' when a large rat walked across the back aisle...
-Didn't know mom was that strong and athletic,
-but both me and my little sister were out of the booth and headed towards the car in nothing flat,
I thought we flew, in fact, (Mom sort of did this Quarterback toss of both of us into the Studebaker, -to which we landed
(both,) in the back seat,)
(Yes, the woman can put a mean spiral on two small children if need be.)
-she also had many words unfit for family televison, reserved for the manager.
This time, as grownups (hah,) As we were in college, and as were in Art School?
We were broke.
(Remember, starving artists do just that, starve, (and party,) -but we were too broke really to party,
(though we would sometimes go to U. Penn frat parties just to make off with their wealthy co-eds, (yes 'do you want to see my etchings,' -still works as a pickup line.)
Being broke meant that we couldn't afford proper anti-roach stuff, like sprays, powders, and roach motels.
(Keep in mind, this was the early eighties, and 'roach motels' were sort of new on the scene...)
But one day, having gotten birthday money or something, Bill and I chipped in and decided to eradicate our little apartment (hah!) of roaches once and for all.
(They were everywhere.)
-If I recall, it was about this time of year, the weather had turned cold, and we both had pulled evening duty working in security, and/or running the elevator in the dorms -yes, we had a hand-operated elevator,
-yes it was a big crank thing with a mesh grate and all,
-yes, one night in a fit of boredom I recreated the illustration of 'The Secret Policemans Other Ball,' (guy in a dress with a guitar,) on the inside of the shaft of the passenger elevator,
-No... I doubt it's still there...)
-No, I have no idea how many hours and miles I chalked up, going up and down, up and down...
-Yes, the elevator DID break loose and drop like, a whole bunch of stories one afternoon, and came crashing down with a fellow student operating it,
-but to be honest?
She was mean, (and besides, she didn't get hurt or anything,)
---but it looked pretty impressive sitting there, with the bottom post from the base of the building sticking up through the floor, the whole thing crunched like a box that had been sat on a by an elephant.
I was running 'that' elevator, (you know, before it crashed,) Bill was up working, and we both decided it was going to be a major masacree of all roaches at 13-C.
It was right out of Apocalypse Now.
Bill was in there with Black Flag playing, (or was it spraying?) or Both...
Our neighbors had 'the Chipmonks: 'Please Christmas Don't be Late - mixed with Bauhaus 'Bella Lugosi's Dead,' or something.)
We had pulled all the stuff out of the cupboards,
We had laid down acid powder.
-I am sure that in 'Roach ScoutCamp,' the counsellors still tell the camper roaches stories that grow more lurid and disturbing with each passing year of what happened that night.
All I can tell you is, all that you've heard is true.
(Except the part about Morgan Fairchild, that I made that up.)
I walked in and found dead bugs litterring the floor, they were headed out into the hall, taking last steps and gasps, and bill was standing there with a frying pan, a lit marlboro hanging from his lip, (perpetually,) muttering
'...man this is really cool, we got 'em barrelling out here sideways, freakin' A...' (he didn't say freakin...
I didn't say freakin'
---and I'm sure the roaches weren't either...)
So for over two hours the carnage ensued, (meantime, the rest of the dorm was busy getting their projects done for final crits an stuff...)
But it was clearly 'Bill and Eric 1 - Roaches 0.'
We cleaned up, I came off duty at Two in the morning, and the following morning, there were still one or two stragglers wandering out, uttering little roach epithets, and dying on our english muffins...
We didn't care, -we won.
It was near Christmas time, and we had just celebrated by putting an end to a lot of bugs.
Now, you have to understand.
We were simple souls who were experiencing the big city for the first time. We had lived with roaches for months.
Even though we had a perpetual 'exterminator,' guy (who some said was part roach,) -who would come in and spray every few weeks, (and he sprayed everything, counters, baseboards, walls, bathrooms, -he'd spray near your sandwich you were making at lunch, -he'd sprayed some of the girls bras and stuff that were hanging up drying on the shower rack... (He even ate donuts while spraying the insecticide.'....naaaahhh, this stuff won't hurt ya, after all look at me...')
Despite this man's most guerilla-Nato-metaphysical efforts, -we still saw the bugs, and had grown quite accustomed to them.
Call it 'coping humor,' but,We even had a 'cockroach dance,' (Those who are wondering what that looks like...? -ever see the antler dance?
Very similar, only you put your arms out further from the front of your head, and wave them around like big antennas,
---very popular with the ladies might I add.)
-Okay, maybe not,
---but everybody understood what the cockroach dance was when they saw it, (---but the real chick magnet was that great walk-dance to to Madness 'One Step Beyond.' (Google it.)
-Well, that and the fact that it was done by seniors who had cars, jobs, real apartments and beer.
It wasn't that we hated roaches,
We just didn't want these things in our apartment anymore.
But one remained.
One night, we were just sitting there, doing something commenting on how great it was to have the only 'roach free apartment for sixteen blocks,' and then we looked over,
and there on the counter he was,
just standing there,
staring at us with far from holiday cheer on his mind,
(we could tell...)
...he was actually mouthing along to the Joe Jackson we had on the stereo...
We both flew to swat him, (or her, we never really got that close to discern, -despite both of us being figure painters, and both of us knowing (in some detail,) what makes a him or a her... (Figure painters, naked people, lotsa a drawing, -do the math...)
But this guy was quick.
It would come back, taunting us, showing up at the strangest of times.
He was like one lone little samauri-Clint Eastwood-Charles Bronson sort of roach... with really long legs.
'Ah screw it, it's Christmas time, might as well adopt him,' we told each other.. We decided to name him. 'Sweatsocks.' (because we figured, if he had legs that long, he probably was good at Basketball, too...)
Sweatsocks pretty much was a fixture in the ensuing weeks.
You'd never know when he'd show up, but you always knew it was him.
Off in the distance of the kitchen counter he could be seen,
standing against the glow of the bathroom light (neither Bill nor me liked the dark, especially, so we left the bathroom light on,
(just, you know, incase we needed to find it in the middle of the night,)
-and there he'd stand,
just looking out over what once was a happy roach-opolis,
--now the one sole, long legged survivor...
We didn't want to know what he was thinking, we were just glad that we were a lot bigger, -and had frying pans.
(Some of our neighbors would say that they could hear Sweatsocks howling in the moonlight, and were uncomfortable with how we disturbed the natural balance of things, (kind of like those creepy folks in the tavern during the open scenes of 'American Werewolf in London,')
-but some of our neighbors were really stoned a lot of the time too...
(this was art-school, after all...)
The holidays fast approached, and we prepared for a visit home.
The bunch of us gave little christmas things, attending a lot of (ahem,) office christmas parties,
-had our last christmas flings before returning home to our regularly scheduled girlfriends and boyfriends (or in some cases fiance's,)
---what happens in Philly, stays in Phillly, you unnastand?
And we left, one afternoon, ging off in Mom's car in the bitter cold.(having unplugged everything per the rules,) and took our winter break.
(Bill came home to my place.)
The holidays went by sort of in a blur.
First, because we were both so tired and overworked, we slept for many days. I also proceeded to come down with some sort of flu thing that had me in bed for like a week or so, with a fever in the hundreds.
Bill's chainsmoking did not go over well with my mom.
Bill's fondness for the 'F'word did not go over too well with my mom, either.
-Bills interest in my younger sister, (and, later on, discovered 'moves,' on her,) didn't go so well with mom, my sister, ---and totally not me...
(Bill and I would not do so hot as roomies in the spring semester as a result,
-but that was a later episode.)
All we knew was, the Spring Semester was to start,
-Winter Break was over, My mom was really glad to get us both out of there,
-we were anxious to return to our abnormal lives as art students,
---and our apartment and friends awaited us.
We were also wondering how Sweatsocks was holding up.
We came back, chisled our way through the snow and ice, reunited with our friends, told our lies about how great the home visit was, went out and bought some chow at the acme (I think I ate Rigatoni and Acme Sauce for two years straight.)
-But no Sweatsocks.
A week or two went by, there were a couple of new roaches wandring around here or there, (Bill eyed the cans of raid suspiciously
---'maybe we should use gasoline and matches next time?' he'd ask...)
But still, no Sweatsocks.
Weeks and weeks.
Our boy never showed.
Winter bore down like the cold hard rump of a Caterpillar tractor on the frozen tundra, (not unlike the frigid black and white tiles of our rarely ever cleaned bathroom floor...)
Newer 'stupid-sissy,' roaches, were beginning to become more commonplace.
We opted for these new things called 'Roach Motels.'
Now, For those of you not in the know?.
A roach motel is basically a small cardboard box that has a series of gluey bands on the inside, and in the center, lies some sort of bait or lure.
-What is the lure, you ask?
Well, one lure is for food,
the other is for sex.
Now, I'll let any without sin cast the first stone,
It does stand to reason.
In fact, I think this method is so effective, that, if they decide to get rid of all of us Democrats around here all at once?
I'm suspecting this may be how they do the dreaded deed.
(If they ever put a large brown box out on East Sierra Madre that has White Castle Cheeseburgers and photos of Anne Margaret in the middle?
Pray for me, and tell my folks I love 'em,
-cause my plane probably ain't coming home from that mission.
Who among us, at one time of life of another, has NOT checked into a motel looking for room service and um, well, you know.
-all I'm saying is,
Roaches put their pants on three legs at a time like the rest of us...
And somebody did their homework,
-as these things work,
sometimes a little too well.
The snow was falling, The 'ghetto heat,' was blasting, the windows were open at least a quarter way,
and roach motels were decorating every corner and toe-kick of our studio flat.
Bill and I got busy with our work,
ate a lot of rigatoni,
-tried having real relationships with actual human girls, (moderate success,)
and single-handedly kept the Phillp-Morris compay in business, (I had switched from Djarums (which you can get a pretty strong buzz off of, by the way,) to NewPorts. (don't ask me why.)
hmmm, wait a minute, Newps are made by Lorillard... somebody get me better fact checker...
Then one night it happened.
Bill yelled to me from the apartment door, to the elevator, (I was on duty again, bouncing a tennis ball around the inside of the elevator ala 'great escape: solitary confinement scene.')
'We FINALLY caught Sweatsocks!'
'Yep... guess this here little cardboard saloon with it's promise of wine women and song was too much for the little guy...'(Bill said it a different way, but the end results were the same.)
Peeking in confirmed his lurid glee, (Bill was making many cruel remarks, having had far less of a romantic life than our boy glued to the box was currently finding.)
I had great mixed emotions.
By now, Sweatsocks wasn't just some 'bug,'
He wasn't just a nuissance,
-He had character.
-He had fans.
-He was more than a pet
I, mean, sure, he was probably out to get us... but, I had left a christmas cookie out for him with his name made in icing...
-He was one of us, now...
But Sure enough,
as the snowplows were busy ripping one side or another off of sedans and looking to then offload the mounds of frigid white into the river?,
Sweatsocks indeed chose to foolishy follow his folly to such phantasmagoric ends of fortuitedness, ... (or something.)
-And he had managed,
on that cold cruel late January day
-to make it all the way in the box, clear to the 'lure,'
('which' lure?, we were not quite certain,
-but those little antenna were waving like crazy for the better part of a week...)
Sweatsocks the Yuletide Roach.
He was a mans man, er, roach.
And he went out, winter boots on, in style.
(And for those of you who think this is morbid?,
---hey, have you ever really considered what happened to Frosty the Snowman in those early animated depictions?
When the traffic cop hollered 'stop.'
-Don't get me started on Grimms tales either...)
Nope, this Holiday season, as some of us are faced with the bizarrities of winter where you could just as easily be swimming in weather this warm back home...
I personally believe,
Somewhere in Center City Philly,
there's a teeny-tiny choir of little brown voices,
little scarves around their necks,
practicing 'Silent Night.'
(-Listen close, you can just barely hear them.)
I propose you take a moment, look around, enjoy those you're blessed with who genuninely love you for who you are, (weirdness and all,)
and lift a glass of Christmas EggNog,
not to Rudolph,
not to Frosty,
Not even to the Grinch...
-but to Sweatsocks, the Christmas Roach of 13c.
-and tell yourself,
whenever the need arises,
such as when you're wolfing down your hot oatmeal, headed off to class,
'...um, dude, that was a raisin, -right?'
-cause, believe me, somehow, someway,
Sweatsocks will be there.
and if you're an athiest?... well, have a nice day.
(Remind me to tell you about the Mummers sometime.)