Okay, I’ll admit that I torture Joel on a regular basis. It’s fun for both of us in this crazy world we live in, where strangers kill each other for no apparent reason. It’s comforting to know that when your friend stabs you in the chest, it is not a random or purposeless act of a deranged demoniac. No, it’s your friend– maybe wishing you a Murray Christmas or just being socially reciprocal in an inappropriate manner. Like yesterday.
I was in a festive mood as I prepared for a busy day of what I call work. I dressed and shaved, slathered coconut oil into my wispy hair for control that does not look too moussey or controlly. (Now there’s a pair of words that spell check does not like.) I picked up the small chunk of bleached coral from my dresser that I use as a paperweight for my receipts and bank statements. “Ha! I’m going to give this to Joel as my Christmas gift. Now I just need a card and a facetious reason to go along with the gag.”
I like to set myself personal creative challenges like this, no matter how trivial, mundane or silly. I went to the file drawer where my sane and sober wife keeps cards for all seasons and reasons. Some are art cards without any messaging. I like those best. But for this occasion I wanted a stock, Dollar Store card. That’s when I found it! A cheesy get well card with a tedious message on the front cover and inside. “Yes!! Perfect!!” just like Trump’s Ukraine call. It just needed a bit of dressing up.
“Get well soon” was crudely edited to “Get Christmas soon” with a black Sharpie, again like Trump’s map of Alabama and the hurricane watch. Other references to illness were crossed out and replaced with seasonal words. “At this trying time, remember…blah, blah, blah.” became “At this festive time, remember…blah, blah, blah.” That was the easy part, doctoring the card to resemble a prison tattoo or one on an old Navy vet’s arm, where you can’t tell if it’s the Baby Jesus or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. And it’s rude to say, “May I stretch your forearm skin out to read the original tat inside?” This is how random killings occur by strangers in public parks. Totally senseless, random, and impersonal.
Joel lives for classical music, as I have recorded in previous posts about his sousaphilia and the Tubette Wilson trilogy. ‘Hmmm. Yes!!’ I thought. My sloppy marker message said, “For your love of coral music, fa la la la la la, la la la la.” With the same marker I drew a budget creche with faint blobs suggesting Joseph and Mary standing like baked potatoes over a jelly bean sized Baby Jesus. Knowing how much Joel likes camels, I drew a Moroccan camel on the outside of the stable next to a reindeer/ longhorn bull combination animal. Overcome with Yuletide joy, I signed it “Burrito” and slid it into a used-looking beige envelope that screamed “Thrift Store Sale Rack”. Ah, but the homely enveloped needed more than just “JOEL” on its water stained outside. I drew a sad looking star where the stamp would go. It’s mournfully weak ink beams reached toward his name like dribbles of decaf coffee. At the bottom left I added “Budget Cards.Com”. It was more perfecter than a homely card had a right to be. The homeliest mother of the homeliest child in Homely Land would call it homely.
I was excited to greet Joel, buy his unsweetened iced tea, and give him the homely card. He laughed like a mad man holding on to a thin sliver of reality. I believe the card hit his absurd nerve that intersects with the vagus nerve. For a moment I thought he might over-guffaw and fall out right there, slain in the spirit of regurgitated revival. But he held on like the sea worthy maritime lawyer that he is. (See previous post about his pro bono intervening for a motorcycle gang on a ferry boat ride to Cape May, N.J.)
He graciously accepted the chunk of coral, not once insinuating that it was an odd gift or asking if it were actually human bone, never mind saying, “What? Coral in my stocking, Scrooge? What about Tiny Tim? Have you eaten him?” Nope.
Yes, banal banter ensued. He promised to put this latest gift/card in his special box at home where he puts all my memorabilia. The British call such boxes, dustbins. As we parted ways, I recalled the lyrics to Harry Chapin’s song “Taxi”…
“Well another man might have been angry; and another man might have been hurt; but another man never would have picked it up; he stashed the card in his shirt.”
On my way out I sang softly to myself, “Murray Christmas to Joel, and to all a good night.”