The blinds in my apartment--blinds are more masculine than curtains--have not been touched for months now.
This short-days-long-nights dynamic is, of course, commonplace in North America. But it's even more pronounced here in the Pacific Northwest thanks to the never ending rain. Yes, it's raining now--right this very second, even as I type this. I can see it falling in great streaks against the dark windows in my kitchen. And I have to go out into it shortly, to get to work. (The photo in the upper left was taken at the time of this writing.)
Maybe I'm getting old, but this January seems to be putting up more of a fight than previous Januarys. I feel like I'm always trying to get to the next day--If I can just get to Thursday, I'll be fine, I tell myself--same way that a climber scaling the sheer face of an ice wall is focused on trying to find a place to put his right crampon-wearing foot.
Obvious metaphors aside, I'm feeling really pretty low these days. Maybe not exactly depressed. Depressed implies that I need professional help. I don't think I'm there. Not yet, anyway.
Once we stopped shooting the show in December and Vic went on vacation for a couple weeks, I holed up in my apartment and drank beer and covered myself in cats. I stayed away from Twitter and tried to avoid contact with anyone who I would normally have contact with. Low point: one night I watched The Human Centipede on Netflix. All of it. Even when the Japanese man is crying and apologizing because he is defecating in the middle piece's mouth.
For decades now, I have been attempting to perfect the Activity Formula (A.F.) for holiday breaks. If the previous paragraph was a scientific experiment, that combination of elements--cats, beer, The Human Centipede--would have caused an explosion that would have destroyed my entire laboratory as well as several surrounding city blocks.
I went to visit my family on the East Coast a few days before Christmas, which basically always requires me to take this byzantine flight path across the country, praying the entire time that whatever mosquito-sized airplane I am in doesn't get blown out of the sky by Old Man Winter. Once I arrived, my parents picked me up at a deserted airport, and I sat in the backseat of their mini-van the same way I did when I was 12 years old. My parents argued and bickered and played Christmas music in the front seat while I drew penises in the frost on the inside of the car's back window.
Ah, Christmas traditions. I wish Normal Rockwell was still alive to paint mine.
On Christmas Day, we drove to Utica where we had our usual Christmas dinner at 2 p.m. sharp at my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Tony's house. I do enjoy the dinners--I always sit next to my Aunt Barbara and make terrible jokes and she laughs. But the Christmas dinner table has gotten dramatically smaller over the decades. Cousins who now have their own families are too busy to show up. A few people, like my grandparents, have died, creating more vacancies. My own brother stopped coming to this dinner years ago, in the name of starting his own holiday traditions with his family (which usually involves him drinking a 30-pack and trying to assemble my niece's toys). We press on with the dinner--there's ham and turkey, and I insist on sampling the flesh of each beast--and make the most of it. We have some laughs, because I sincerely enjoy my aunts and uncles. Let me tell you, there's real warmth at that table.
Yet I can't help but feel like there's something more than a little pathetic about me being there. Or rather, still being there. I've been coming to these dinners all my life. It's just me and a handful of my dad's gray-haired siblings, and the one cousin who is a year or two older than I am and who still lives at home with Aunt Barbara.
After dinner, as usual, we say goodbye to everybody, then make the hour-long drive back to my brother's house in the woods over snow-covered roads. My parents sleep on an air mattress down in the basement next to the pellet stove. I sleep upstairs in the guest bedroom--yes, I offer to trade with them each year, but they insist that they like it down there--quietly trying to level up in Cave Story on the DS before dozing off.
The holidays aren't easy, or restful for me. I look forward to them. But once they arrive, and worse still, once they pass, I without fail wind up feeling completely duped. There is no peace and no rest to be had during this reportedly peaceful and restful time. It's hell trying to travel back and forth across 3,000 miles--6,000 total for me--during the most terrible travel time of the year, all in the name of being one of two last people (me and the aforementioned cousin) who aren't married and have no families or holiday plans or traditions of their own or anyplace else to go. Worse still, it's painfully clear that neither of us have any prospects for any of those things in the near future.
For godssakes, I should be on my second goddamn marriage by now. I should have at least one divorce behind me, and a couple of adolescent kids who are forever reminding me that I have completely ruined their lives and that they hate me and need to borrow money. Instead, what I have are two semi-indifferent cats who I celebrate the holidays with each year on December 23rd by playing Christmas music on my laptop while waving their bird-fling toy at them until they collapse in wheezing heaps on the floor from exhaustion.
You don't have to tell me it's pathetic. I know.
Which is why I've decided to start my One Hundred Things That I Just Love So Much project. Here are one hundred things that have given me enormous amounts of pleasure over the years; one hundred things that, should they suddenly vanish from the planet tomorrow, my world, my life, would be a far drearier place without them.
The recipe for this list is as follows: wake up early each morning and sit at your laptop and come up with at least two or three items that you can add to the list. And, over the span of a few weeks of following this routine, voila YOU'VE GOT ONE HUNDRED.
The only downside is that if robbers ever broke into my apartment they would know exactly what to steal. Note to potential robbers: Nothing on the list has any real-world value. Most sane, well adjusted people probably wouldn't even want most of the things on this list.
One more thing: if January has you by the short hairs too, I suggest you follow suit and make your own list. Before you know it, February will be here. No, I don't have a plan for how to get through February just yet. One month at a time, people.
100. Portal - Valve first-person shooter/adventure/synapse-blowing game.
99. This American Life on NPR (any episode; http://www.thisamericanlife.org/)
98. Blood on the Tracks - Bob Dylan's 1975 album
97. First Person - a two-season TV series produced and directed by Errol Morris (If you see only one episode, make it "Leaving The Earth" with DC-10 pilot Denny Fitch.)
96. Superbad - Greg Motolla's 2007 movie
95. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" - Joyce Carol Oates's 1966 short story
94. Freaks and Geeks - Paul Feig's short-lived 18 episode TV series
93. The Wall - Pink Floyd's 1979 album
92. Spicy Miso Ramen with chicken at Motomachi on Denman Street
91. Ball Four - Jim Bouton's incredibly funny 1970 baseball memoir
[I'll post the rest of the entries in increments in the coming days. Stay tuned.]