Christmas Card from Central Park
A North American Christmas is a
glittering affair. I am writing this in
a café/bar on the northern edge of
And Americans do Christmas on a grand scale. Elaborate decorations are festooned on the front stoop or in the front gardens and hundreds of icicle lights decorate practically every house in the neighborhood.
This would all seem alien to me if my father hadn’t traveled to
the difference between here and
Okay… welcome back.
We are in
Colonial America, and –quelle surprise - the Puritans of New England disapprove of
Christmas; its celebration is outlawed in
By the 1820s, British writers are worrying that Christmas is dying out. They imagine Tudor Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration, and efforts are made to revive the holiday. Charles Dickens' book A Christmas Carol is published in 1843, playing a major role in reinventing Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family, goodwill, and compassion over communal celebration and hedonistic excess. I guess that argument is still going on today.
Christmas is declared a
Victorian England, Father Christmas is a Post-Reformation English equivalent of
Santa Claus. St. Nicholas reference and ecclesiastical trappings completely
removed. He is portrayed as a giant, wearing a scarlet or green fur-lined robe,
has a crown of holly, ivy or mistletoe, carries a Yule log and a bowl of punch.
He distributes gifts on Christmas Eve. The "Ghost of Christmas
Present" in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, 1843, is Father
The big symbol of Christmas in
The connection between Santa Claus and Christmas is popularized by the 1822 poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, which depicts Santa driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer and distributing gifts to children. The popular image of Santa Claus is created by the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902), who draws a new image annually, beginning in 1863. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa has evolved into the form we now recognize. The image is standardized by advertisers in the 1920s, most famously by the Coca Cola Company.
The Christmas Tree is bought over and made popular by, once again, the German Immigrants from whose country it originated.
After the war,
There is a
new film out called The Nativity
which depicts the story of Christ’s birth.
The young sixteen year old actress playing the Virgin Mary became
pregnant just as the film was being publicized to coincide with its
Christmas is dangerously retrospective.
I like to think of it as a celebration of faith. Not religious necessarily, but a faith that
is powerful and deep-seated; a belief in yourself and in the world’s life
Faith was demonstrated to me very strongly some years ago. This is a true story.
Yes, let’s cue that music and ripple the screen again.
An actor is waiting for his wife to
come back from rehearsals. She has the
lead in a new tour. He is going over
lines for Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler which he starts in a week’s time. The phone rings. He is surprised to hear the voice of the
father of his step-son’s girlfriend. The father tells him he has some bad
The actor’s wife has a grown-up son. The son is a troubled soul. He has dabbled in drugs, but now his big problem is alcohol. It triggers off a huge destructive personality change and memories of old nightmarish LSD trips. The actor was concerned, but has been relieved in the last few months as the new girlfriend has seemingly brought about a stabilization of the drinking.
The girlfriend’s father explains that his daughter had walked out on the son the previous night after the son had got dunk and had become abusive. The father says that, for some reason, he just had a bad feeling and on a whim went over to the son’s flat to check up on him. There was no answer, so he let himself in with his daughter’s keys. In the bedroom he found the son. He was hanging by a belt from the post of his loft bed. The father pulled him down. The son was motionless. When the ambulance arrived they said he was in a coma and he was rushed to the hospital. The father says the doctors aren’t saying too much to him as he’s not family, but the first indications are not encouraging. The actor thanks the father and says he will keep him in touch with the son’s progress. Looking at his watch, he sees that it is an hour before his wife finishes rehearsals. His brother has dropped by for a visit, so he enlists his help. They drive into the city to meet her. The wife’s first reaction is joy that her husband has come to pick her up. His brother takes over the driving. He sits with her in the back seat and breaks the terrible news. They arrive at the hospital and are immediately met by a doctor. He tells them that the son is in a coma and his condition is critical He has no idea how long he had been hanging from the post. He believes he is unlikely to awake, and even if he does, he is very probably going to be in a vegetive state. The wife just shakes her head and announces she is staying at the hospital. The doctor takes the husband to one side and explains that the wife must eventually be made to realize the reality of the situation. Her son was not going to live and if he did he was coming back severely mentally impaired and forever bound to a wheelchair. The husband thanks the doctor for his honesty.
night he relays the doctor’s prognosis of the son’s condition. The wife reacts angrily saying “no”, over and
over. She fiercely tells her husband
that her son was going to be fine. The
next two nights the son’s condition remains critical. He lays in a deep
coma. A bed is made up for the mother
the floor above. From the window she can
look down toward the room in which her son lies motionless. She spends hours by his bedside, constantly
talking to him, holding his lifeless hand.
On the third night, at , she awakes with a start. She has an overwhelming rush of energy and
the knowledge that something is happing to her son. She looks out of the
window. The lights are on in her son’s hospital room. She rushes down the stairs. When she enters the room her son’s eyes are
open. When he sees her, he smiles.
Over the next week, the son’s condition improves remarkably. All the time, the wife and mother is by his side talking about any subject she can think of.
At the end of the week, the son is discharged. He walks out, thoroughly detoxed and looking a thousand times better before his suicide attempt. The doctor speaks to the father and tells him with wonderment in his voice that they had several hanging attempts come into the hospital over the past two years. They either died, or were crippled. The son was the first to walk out healthier than he arrived. The father retells this to the wife.
“Doctors don’t know everything, especially what goes on between a mother and son. Oh ye of little faith!”
Let’s come forward in time…to October this year.
I am sitting in a place called The
Tea Lounge. It's a very cool laid back café in Park Slope,
On my first morning in
So there I was... on the corner
Step one: I saw an ad in this online listing called Craig's List. This is the main source for all apartment letting, subletting and room sharing in
Step 2: I go to an audition for one day of filming. The only description is a man in his forties. The audition goes well, I think. I give them American and English accents. They ask me to lose my temper in the read scene. I call them "Cunts" and this seems to go down well because that evening:...
Step Three: I receive the call that I have the job. And so hence to the office of the big chief of an online trading company. He has a TV built into the wall, a big oak desk and a picture of himself, his Asian wife and children, posing with the Rolling Stones who seem to be personal friends. The advertising company who is employing me is working on a pitch to the online trading company. They have been asked to come up with a number of ideas. My particular scenario is playing a customer who has come to discuss his stocks with his unhelpful brokers - so very different from our online trading company - and is patronized. In slow motion he loses his temper. I therefore spent the afternoon calling the actor in front of me every Anglo-Saxon swear word I could think of. At one point my language was so strong that the producer began to worry that we would upset the rest of the workers in the offices where we were shooting - not that were that many working on this Friday afternoon. It was wonderful drama therapy for me and a couple of hundred bucks for my trouble which will pay the rent this week.
off to bed. I'm going to the first night of a new play in the
It'll be exciting to have a little color for an evening. I think I'll wear a suit... To compliment my new found cheekbones.
More ripples across the screen…we travel forward to December
… to the contrary. Not well.
sick. It started on Saturday night. I have moved to
Yes, there’s a different atmosphere to
Your walk from the subway takes you through
I had escaped
the area to meet a friend in the city. I had a sore throat, so I took a
couple of painkillers and later washed them down with a pint of Guinness.
Later that night I had planned to go over to the Slope to attend my friend
David Dunford’s annual seven course gourmet meal. It goes on through the night.
The first course usually arrives at . This year it wasn’t
starting until . To kill time, I went and saw the film of The History Boys. It has a good
script, nice performances, but was shot with the quality of a 1970s porn movie.
It became obvious during the movie I wasn’t going to make it to Dave’s Dinner. I became feverish, my head was aching, my throat was sore and I felt sick. I made it through the movie and then struggled home on the subway, through a nightmarish nighttime Greek and Little Egypt world. I said a quick hello to Dave and excused myself grabbing a bowl from the kitchen. I then proceeded to throw up through the night. I tried to speed the process up by watching the Ashes on the Internet. For American and Canadian readers, the Ashes is a cricket Test Match series featuring
I finally got to sleep at the next morning. Sunday was dire. But I did sleep ten hours on Sunday night. I felt a lot better on Monday and had to go out today for an audition. I was weak and still had a sore throat which also gave me painful earache – really, is this interesting? I don’t think it is the done thing to go into illness details - You know what it’s like when you’ve been ill, everything is seen through a grey haze. Today it just seemed the world is closing in and fighting with my back to the wall. So to get myself in shape for the audition I walked through
“What’s your take on Iago?”
Initially startled, I then processed his voice and realized he was English. It all began to make sense. I muttered some feeble answer like: ‘that’s a deep question, but you have to know why he does what he does - no one else need know, but you must.” He asked me if I had done the play before. I said that I had, but it hadn’t been wholly satisfactory as I had been filling in for someone (I thought it politic to say so) and then dangerously told them how I incorporated Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony into Iago’s “What’s he then that says I play the villain?” soliloquy, but prefaced the description by saying it was probably a reaction to being shoehorned into the role.
see how tomorrow goes. It’s the same run length as Oleanna… something my
agent Honey could live with.
What she might have more trouble living with is that
The upshot is I fought back a little today, but feel pretty un-brave and the city seemed overwhelming today. Last night I was hoping for a good night’s sleep, but I slept fitfully, waking up nearly every hour with different worry dreams. The one I remember is being attacked in the dark but three viscous big black dogs, then somebody threw the light switch and they turned out to be three small black puppies. Go figure, Mr. Freud.
Back home now and just about to venture out to say hello to my landlords who I was surprised hadn’t painted a red cross over the bedroom door and gone past singing ‘Bring out your dead!”
In an email
my mother wrote - wistfully I thought - that perhaps it might have been better
if my brother Robin or I had turned out to be gay. I talked to Robin very
candidly about the gay thing.
“Yeah, but the thought of someone putting a willie up my bottom…”
“But Rob, it doesn’t have to be that way, you could be alpha male and be the one doing the penetrating…”
“But doesn’t it have to be reciprocal?”
To which of course the only reply can be…
“I’ll be buggered if I do that.”
One of the main added attractions of
doing Oleanna in the
Eventually my indefatigable stepmother Pat demanded that he be seen by a specialist. The specialist said my father didn’t have Parkinson’s and took him off the prescribed drugs. The effect was immediate. On my first visit there I could hold a conversation with him without any problem – well unless you call the old woman across the room singing to her self, or the old, highly intelligent gentleman who now felt compelled to sit on the floor and drag himself across the home’s lounge, a problem. On my first visit, after being with my father for over an hour, I said goodbye and told him he had to get out of there. I implored him to make an effort. He had to show them on his own. This would be especially difficult not only because of his immobility, but also that the word dementia was on his record. They already thought he was an idiot.
My visits to him continued over the summer and were painful, but I was encouraged that there was a twinkle in his eyes and that his skin had lost the deathly pale whiteness.
Christmas I will always associate with my father. As I said, he was a changed man over Christmas. My father was not an easy man. He was over six foot tall, strict and terrifying, and physical punishment was the normal way matters were dealt with in our childhood. He was also very careful with his money. He had been a war child and had endured the rationing that followed in the nineteen forties and fifties.
However at Christmas, all that changed,
His Canadian experience of Xmas had a lasting impact on him. He would start shopping for presents in September. The Christmas tree would be enormous and festooned with at least five sets of lights and laden down with decorations. Santa would bring a sack of toys and the presents under the tree took up half of the room. There was huge amounts of food, sweets, Christmas cake and my stepmother Pat’s delicious mince pies.
Late at night he would sit in his chair and stare at the tree, listening to Christmas music. In his hand he would hold a Canadian Whiskey with Ginger Ale, topped with ice and a slice of orange. As he stared at the flashing lights, he would smile and his eyes sometimes would fill up with tears. It was the one time of the year I glimpsed the boy that my father had once been. Perhaps he glimpsed it too.
So let us
come up to date… the final ripple of the screen… to a week ago…
I held the phone in disbelief. My stepmother had told me the news and I didn’t quite believe it. My father’s condition had improved so radically that he was going home!
There would a team of carers to help Pat look after him through the day, and if she needed a break he would be admitted to the nursing home whilst she was away. He couldn’t walk very well, but he could get himself up on his feet and he could move a little. She then handed the phone to my father. He sounded the same as he sounded ten years earlier. He was animated and mischevious. He was excited to hear that I was going to Canada for Christmas.
God’s Own Country,” he said dreamily.
He then talked about his visit there in great detail. He cracked jokes. He asked about my life, showing concern for my well-being.
“How do you feel about being back home?” I asked excitedly.
My father sighed.
“I’m out of jail.”
I could only listen and smile.
My God! He got himself back.
I will think of him this Christmas whilst I am in the snows of
has a strong power and miracles don’t just happen on
Merry Christmas to you all.