The Island of Misfit Toys

I’ve been doing some musing about Christmas lately. Back when I was a nurse, I worked almost every Christmas. In fact, this is only the third Christmas Lea and I have spent together without me working.

We still celebrated the holiday, but my schedule would almost always dictate the timing of anything we did.

I spent twenty-seven of the last twenty-nine Christmases hanging out with people in the hospital who had no place better to be, mostly because they were caught up in a cycle of gloom and doom, generally because of the choices they made. Like Jacob Marley, they were busy making the chains that bound them.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

I’m watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this Christmas morning. My favorite part of the show is The Island of Misfit Toys. It was where I worked. I thought it was an appropriate monicker, and certainly nicer than some of the other names given to psych units.

I didn’t look at myself as a misfit, even though I am perhaps the King of the Misfits. I’ve had trouble finding my place in the world most of my life. Feeling comfortable in my own skin was something I had never been able to do, until recently, and even that has been difficult of late given the problems I’ve had with my back and neck.

And I like Yukon Cornelius, too. It’s hard not to like him.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I have both been doing a lots of thinking about Christmases past this year. It’s our first Christmas in Mexico, the first Christmas of our retired lives. If we were isolated from our families when we lived in Arizona, well, this is taking that to a whole ‘nother level. If Christmas is meant to be spent with the people you love, then this Christmas has been bittersweet for both of us.

My family mostly lives in Minnesota. Both of our girls are up in the Great White North right now, spending Christmas with their Other Dad. Wait. Maybe that’s me. He’s their Real Dad. Either way, they’re about three thousand miles away.

And that’s probably been the toughest part of Christmas for us this year. I scroll through my Facebook page, and see all my friends’ posts with the tree and presents and family. And I am jealous.

You never miss something until its gone. I am relearning the truth of those words this year. And there are so many things, and so many people, that I am missing a lots this year.

When you’re young, you lack the capacity to see just how stupid you are. I took so many things for granted. When you’re young, you think nothing is ever going to change, and then life changes everything.

My mother died in 2007. Christmas was her favorite time of year. She decorated her house with enough lights and garland and trinkets to make Santa feel shamed. I used to look at spending the Christmas holiday with my parents as one of those odious and contemptible things I had to do. Like working for a living, and paying taxes.

I quit drinking the year before my mom died. I remember that first trip to my parents’ house to tell them. My dad offered me a beer when I walked in the house. I can still see the stunned look on his face when I told him I was an alcoholic, and I had quit drinking. Forever.

“I didn’t know you had a drinking problem!” he said.

My mother was sitting at the kitchen table next to my dad. She turned her eyes to the heavens and whispered, “Thank God!” She later told me it was the best Christmas present I could have ever gotten her.

Merry Christmas, Mom. It’s been ten years now. Sorry it took me so long to get my head out of my ass, and I’m really sorry for the shit I put you through.

* * * *

The Christmas holiday is celebrated very differently in Mexico than it is in the States. American Christmas has become a commercialized celebration of material excess. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Small Business Saturday. None of these things existed in my youth, and they have become monsters.

American Christmas, sadly seems to have become more about the stuff than the substance. When saying, Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays is an issue, there’s a problem.

No one camps out in front of the Walmart down here. There’s no such thing as Black Friday in the Lakeside area. Mexican Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. Each neighborhood has a little posada. Two children are dressed up like Joseph and Mary, and they might be riding a burro. They go from house to house looking for a place to spend the night, and they’re turned away.

One house in the neighborhood is preselected as the party house. They welcome the weary travelers in, and it’s fiesta time! The parties last all night. There’s a lots of music, food and drink, and bonfires and fireworks.

Honestly, Lea and I wonder how any work ever gets done down here because there are something like seven hundred holidays in Mexico, and there are varying degrees of celebration that correspond with each of them.

But fireworks are seemingly mandatory for all of them.

Mexican fireworks aren’t the same as American fireworks, which are kind of pretty and spectacular. Mexicans are particularly fond of a kind of rocket called a cohetone. It’s essentially an half of stick of dynamite that shoots into the sky and explodes.

Loudly.

These incredibly loud fireworks are fired off almost every day of the year down here for seemingly any and every reason imaginable.

My first week in Mexico made me think I was back in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, and I have never been in Vietnam. I have kind of a bitch of a case of PTSD, and I am particularly sensitive to loud, unexpected noises. One of my neighbors is very fond of fireworks. I’ve been thinking about becoming an hitman again…

It was a very long night for the Mexican locals. The parties lasted all night. A veritable artillery explosion greeted the rising sun, and now it’s quiet. Christmas Day in Mexico is essentially a day of rest–all the Mexicans in this area have been celebrating their asses off for about the last two months–and eating leftovers. Small gifts are exchanged. It’s actually rather sweet and beautiful.

* * * *

As much as I miss my family, and especially my girls, I don’t want to give the impression Lea and I are sitting around the house contemplating suicide. Because we’re not.

We’ve made a few friends down here, thanks to Phyllis. Lea and Phyllis are best friends, and we retired in Ajijic because of her. I tell everyone we moved here to become Phyllistines, and it seems to be the truth.

Phyllis has been here several years. Actually, there’s a whole lots of Americans and Canadians living down here, and we’re getting to know some of them.

We went to Jim and Veronica’s house last night. They have an absolutely gorgeous home that should be declared a national treasure and an historical work of art. I almost feel like making the Sign of the Cross and genuflecting when I’m at their place.

They actually have an antique confessional in their living room. I thought about going in it once, but I haven’t been to confession in over forty years. I’m going to be in there for a long time. And it might burst into flames…

Today, we’re going to Casa del Castleman, the home of Al and Jane. They’re one of the couples we’ve met as Phyllistines. Jane and Lea seem to be cut from the same cloth, so Jane is an easy person for me to like.

Al seems to be kind of a character, so I’m sure I’ll like him a lots once we get to know each other better. Last night, Al probably had the quote of the evening.

“Grunge rock is the greatest music of all time.”

What do you expect? We’re old. And we mostly hate young people. I think the only grunge rock song I like is Come as You Are by Nivana.

I invited him to come over and listen to the Icelandic rap music my crazy neighbor plays. Al didn’t know that was a musical genre either.

“I think rap music is a bunch of people bitching about stuff.” Al said.

“Yeah, but when they do it in Icelandic, you’re not sure what they’re bitching about.” But it sounds kind of cool.

Well, it’s about time to go to today’s get-together. And I’ve been working on keeping my blogs short since I finished my Dallas series. More than anything else, I attribute that series to messing up my spine.

Have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

XOXO,

Mark

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