Thursday, November 25, 2004

The well meaning friend asks, "So what do you do?"

I want to ask, 'About what?'

She would just answer, 'About Christmas, Michael. What do you do?'

I don't answer with anything other than a shrug. But I sit quietly a moment and leap backwards to 1983, as unlikely a time as any but it is the first Christmas that keeps its own company rather than being a part of its own preamble. I was 15 in 1983 and received two records from a girl I probably should have had a crush on - she did not onto me - but the general concensus is that it would have been a good fit. She was a film fanatic as well, and had given the soundtrack to two movies we had seen together- Brainstorm (Natalie Wood's last movie), and Sophie's Choice.


Holiday classics, they are not. But there's a lovely soft suite in the Brainstorm score called 'Michael's Gift to Karen', renamed 'Suite for Natalie Wood' after her accidental drowning during principal photography. Rent or buy the movie, you'll find a better-than-average sci-fi flick with an odd elegaic quality about it. Sophie's Choice speaks for itself. I think Brooke and I both liked the recorder solo, and the simplicity of the theme. Marvin Hamlish, butt of endless Gilda Radner jokes and horrible 70's pop can be forgiven several sins for his score.

So one of my first, one of the most distinct memories of Christmas has to be a strange assortment of lights and scents and gentle, lovely music from strange sources. Brooke had given me Brainstorm as a birthday present, and Sophie's Choice as a Christmas gift, both American imports, both rare and something you would have to take great care to find. I arrived home from an evening out in a blue cordouroy school jacket smelling of cigarette smoke (not mine) and 15yr old girl's perfume (also not mine). The house was asleep. My father insisted on keeping the tree lights on all night as a solemn decree- the passing traffic would know it was Christmas in our household.

I dropped the needle onto the record, the speakers barely whispering. The tree filled the room with red and yellow and icy blue light as I breathed in an assortment of air- perfume, smoke, paraffin from the candles my mother burned compulsively all through december, the pine tree, the remnants of my parent's coffee. I could taste traces of somebody's kiss - probably Brooke's - some kind of lip liner that was something close to strawberry. I could pick up each flick of dust on the record (the recording was very quiet and did not survive vinyl well), and all of it suffused into itself.

In 2004 I think of being alone in the living-room with that sound, those scents, and somewhere think that the season was still early. Close enough to childhood to remember initial thrills and the timeless sense that came with Christmas- it was something old, something mutually respected, if groused about behind closed doors- I
felt that it around me, rather that something I rode upon. I felt I was in it. I had a pocket full of birthday money and a black eyed girl's lipgloss on my lips. I was happy and lost and that moment has sealed itself into a frame that drifts behind my eyes on dark nights during the holiday season.


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