Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Previous xmases

Due to the +3hr screwup on the time, I get to write my happy christmas holiday special (or whatever) even though my watch says it’s the 24th. There’s not a whole lot to write on the day-to-day, since my day was pretty boring. I went to work, and I did a lot of cleaning tonight. It’s pretty uneventful here, just counting down the hours until 11 tomorrow, when I pick up Marie at the airport.

I think that people have kids to remind them of the holidays and the seasons, because sometimes it seems oblivious to me. It’s christmas, but I’m still wondering what happened to summer. I was cleaning out my fridge and poured out some beer that I bought back when I had to start drinking at midnight every night to fall asleep, because the apartment was hotter than hell all night long. Now the wall heater ticks away constantly, and the longest minutes of the day are the ones before my car heater kicks in.

I was trying to think of what significant events happened during various Christmases – I have a habit of remembering anniversaries, what happened 5 years ago or 10 years ago far too well. Last January, I did a pretty good job of remembering what happened on my last ten birthdays. Instead of a linear list, maybe it would be easier to think about random years.

Ten years ago is easy. First, the Camaro sat immovable, parked on the street in front of my mom’s house in Elkhart. It was under a blanket of snow, with a dead starter. I spent the few days after the holiday underneath the beast, melting snow dripping in my face with a salamander heater (which looks like a small jet engine on a stand and sounds like the same), wrenching off the starter motor(s) and having my friend Matt Wanke haul me back and forth to car places while we listened to the new Ozzy album 100 times. I had to change the started three times, but that’s another story. On Christmas, I went to the usual maternal gathering in Chicago, with my grandma and grandpa, several aunts and uncles, and the roughly 2^10*17 cousins I have on that side of the family. We stayed the night in Chicago with my aunt Terry, who has two sons Aaron and Matt, who were a couple years older and younger than me, respectively. After the gathering, we all had money burning a hole in our pocket, so we went to the movies with a couple of friends of Matt’s. We decided to go see Naked Gun, although I hadn’t heard of the movie yet. I’d heard of the original Police Squad show – I saw all of the episodes – but I thought we were going to see some kind of Die Hard movie. The total surprise of it and the great audience put it over the top. And I remember on the way home, I drove back with Aaron in his brand new Mustang, and I was telling him about some girl I liked at work or something, and told me to stop being so passive with her, which I didn’t, and the whole thing blew up about 3 days later, but that’s high school. And on the way back, we were listening to KROK and they played the Metallica song Fade to Black, which fit the mood almost perfectly.

I’m listening to some sappy CD of hippy-trippy solstice songs right now that remind me of 12/25/92. I always consider 1992 my golden year, in that so many people passed through my life, and it was a major transitional point (although almost every hour of 1989-1995 was a major transitional point.) I dated and/or messed around with a beautiful and psychotic woman named Cheryl from roughly thanksgiving to roughly the week before finals, and we had a pretty gruesome split. The fighting left me scarred and reclusive for most of December. I was sort of interested in a person I’d never met; we traded some email and were both going to our respective homes for the break. It was understood that when we returned, we’d meet and see if the letters carried over into real life. They didn’t, but it wasn’t traumatic, and there was still a certain odd magic involved. Also, I was at a very strange spiritual point, where I was going to Catholic church and trying to reconcile a relationship with God, or at least find some nice little Catholic girl to shack up with. Either way, it was the first and possibly only Christmas where I was thinking about the christ part, except for when I was a little kid and it was beaten into me. Since I didn’t have a car, I hitched a ride with a roommate and pulled into Elkhart on the 22nd, and headed back on the 26th. I don’t remember much else about this holiday, except that I was fluctuating between a calm inner peace and a sheer, detox-like depression. Cheryl was a hard habit to kick.

The Christmas before that, 1991, was a little weird, but interesting. I returned to school in Bloomington in 1991, so I actually had to come home for the holiday, in my Rabbit. Getting out of Bloomington was like when all of the X-wing fighters pull out of the death star right before it blew up, for a few reasons. First, I was at the end of my rope with Jo, my girlfriend at the time. We were fighting constantly, the kind of drop-dead fights that end with someone locking someone out of a car in the mall or throwing everything someone owns out of a window. I also had some very heavy classwork, and the last few weeks of the semester consisted of 18 hour programming days, then 8 hour physics study sessions. Anyway, the day after finals, a Saturday, I had to wake up way before dawn, maybe 2 hours after I went to bed, miss a shower and any chance at food, and drive Jo to the airport in Indianapolis. I was already packed and ready to go, so after I said goodbye, I pointed the car north, set at course for Elkhart, and drove in the dark and cold with no tape in the player, quietly laughing and thinking that I finally had some fucking peace and quiet for the next two weeks.

My big Christmas present that year was that one of my best friends in the world, Tom Sample, was returning from a semester in China. We exchanged a few airmails back and forth, but it was still good to see him. The summer before, we were very close, working at the same factory and spending a lot of free time driving around in the Rabbit, listening to the Sex Pistols or Anthrax or King Diamond or whatver we listened to in the summer of 1991. He showed up looking like a POW that spent time in the Hanoi Hilton. Tom’s not a big guy, but the diet and walking made him lose some serious weight. We worked on reversing that with pizzas and Hot and Now hamburgers, and he gave me a watercolor painting from China that’s still on my wall.

Reunion #2 was with Jim Manges, a friend of mine since childhood, who had just been paroled from prison. Jim and I were very much alike as kids, and we still think very much alike, but we followed very different paths. While I chained myself to the Apple II computers in junior high, Jim started drinking and doping and stealing and everything else. Then, in 1988, he was high and beat the shit out of a guy and his wife with a 2×4, which eventually got him an attempted murder conviction, and a 4 year sentence. After about 2.5 years, he was back, and I can’t say our first encounter was incredible. He went from a reckless youth to a drunken skeptic in only a few years. We met back up in 1995, after he spent another year or so in prison for a parole violation, and he was a lot more positive then. But, that was Jim – you’d run into him and he’d be in AA, working, living with his folks, buying a car, thinking about trade school, and then a few months later, he’d be living in a shithole with a 14 year old speed addict, selling bad dope and spending all of his cash on tattoos.

Reunion #3 was with my ex, Becky. We had what could be considered a bad breakup in the spring of that year, when I told her I didn’t want to settle down and I wanted to go back to school. She took the news okay at first, and then she destroyed everything I owned while I was at work. So, to say the reunion was dicey was an understatement. I think she knew that Jo and I were almost history, and maybe… hell, I better not speculate, since if there is one thing I know, I cannot predict these things. Anyway, we spent a little time together, and she gave me a leather diary to replace one she destroyed, since I didn’t give a fuck about anything except my journal. I didn’t write much in that journal, except everything that happened over the break.

Which was… well, I had my first PC with me, which was a total frankenstein machine with which I dialed up to Bloomington, and edited some letters on a floppy disk which I still have. I had a possible interest while the Jo thing was dissolving, someone that looked a lot like Molly Ringwald and seemed interested in me when I wasn’t interested in her and vice versa. I bought a new keyboard in South Bend, and Tom bought me a cheesy porno mag one night we were out running around Mishawaka. I bought the new guns and roses albums on tape and spent a lot of time listening to them. I also spent the bulk of my cash on a very expensive Aiwa walkman, which didn’t leave my side for about the next ten months, until I lost it. On the day of Christmas, we were in Chicago, and I remember my cousin Matt had his daughter there with him – she was only a few months old. He kept telling me that the new Skid Row album was almost thrash, and I ignored him. Jo and I fought on the phone a few times, and I knew we were at like Defcon 1, if that. The six-month relationship ended when we both got back into town.

My mom married her second husband, Tom, when I was a Freshman in high school, but they’d been together for a few years before that. I spent a lot of holidays with his family, and a lot of my memories of the 25th and especially the 24th center around them. His parents were both around, and so was his grandmother. She was married on the 24th, so it was a family gathering day, mostly to have a drink or two, take pictures, and maybe eat a dinner. I typically loathe family gatherings, because people always struggle to ask me the stupidest possible questions about computers or whatever. Since I don’t have a wife or kids or medical problems I’m willing to discuss or any of the other traditional things that people talk about at these gatherings, my best strategy was to bring a good book and sit away from the football game on TV. Although I wasn’t keen on their choice of food or the discussion (this was like Johnny Carson’s ideal demographic) I still remember going there a lot.

The gatherings at my grandma and grandpa’s in Chicago (maternal) was much more jovial. First, I don’t even know how many aunts and uncles I have on my mom’s side. I think it’s like 7 or 8 or 11, but I don’t even know. It’s a lot. And when you figure that my mom is toward the bottom of the tree, and my oldest aunts and uncles and kids that were as old as my youngest aunts and uncles, you’re basically talking about so many cousins that you need some kind of software package to keep track of them. My grandparents lives in the typical Chicago three-story apartment building, and the first floor flat was filled every year for the holidays. I got to see all of my favorite cousins, all of the ones that were just about the age of me and my sisters, and we all had toys with us. My grandfather didn’t give us toys – it was cards with money, in amounts that conformed to this mysterious yet systematic formula based on number of kids, age, and marital status. To us kids, it meant a ten-spot every year, which was fine. And the food – my grandma would cook all day, beautiful roast beef and gravy, real mashed potatoes, beautiful rolls – they had a huge wooden table in the dining room, and it would be filled with hot food that was better than anything you could get in any restaurant. If you were old enough, you got the real plates – the ones with the blue china pattern, and cloth napkins. And after dinner, there were these incredible cookies with powdered sugar. It was impossible not to eat when you visited their house, and Christmas was the pinnacle of this philosophy. There were hard candies, cookies, cakes, salads, breads – the best pumpernickel bread that you could get outside of New York City or maybe Poland itself. And when I got older and the toys got boring, all of my other cousins got older too, and we’d have fun listening to my Grandpa’s crazy stories about the depression or the Cubs or how he worked on O’Hare airport.

Great Christmas memories. It’s weird how I’ve seen so many eras in such a short time. I remember at my Grandma’s funeral, in 1989, when I was in the funeral home with a bunch of my cousins and my cousin Joey say “This means no more Christmases at grandma and grandpa’s. No more of those cookies with the powdered sugar. This is the end of an era.”

But hey, eras begin and end. This is the second Christmas I will spend away from my family, but it doesn’t freak me out too much. It’s the first Christmas I will spend with Marie, and even if we spend the whole day playing Diddy Kong Racing, it will still be cool.

Speaking of which, I need to fold one more load of laundry, and then try to sleep. I don’t know if I will get to update anything over break, so have a good one.