Taking down the Christmas stuff feels like desanctifying a church that’s gone out of business. Santas are stuffed into boxes in undignified butt-up poses; snowman candles which once again survived the season unburned are stored away to spend the next 11 months living in sweaty fear. Next year! That’ll be the one they set my head on fire! It took several hours to return the house to normal. I began with a heavy heart, wondering if the silly sweet ornaments Gnat loved this year will be in favor next time; after a few hours, I was in good cheer, because I had remembered the thing that banishes the blue mood: cleaning and organization. Hello, Illusion of Control, my old friend. It’s been a while. After I got everything in boxes I manhanded the tree down the steps to the boulevard, shedding needles by the bushel. (The street is lined with dead trees standing on the boulevard like thin piney crack hos.) Then I swept, vacuumed, wet-mopped, and rearranged the storage room to get the boxes back in the remote corner they call home. It’s probably a relief for the ornaments as well. Pressure’s off. Most people are glad to be done with Christmas, I think; there’s a reason no one likes the “12 Days of Christmas” song, despite its partridge infestation and interminable length. Of all the good things that require an end, Christmas tops the list.

This time I managed to scour the house for every sign, every trace, every sprig and tittle. Got the DVDs out of the multi-disk changer, yanked out the night-lights, gathered up the towels. You’re really saying goodbye to the year, to the time you had; storing it all for the next time is an act of faith and hope.

That was my day. Well, no; I got up, drove off, picked up Gnat from a sleepover. Her friend lived in a suburb laid out in the late 60s, and the house, while neatly updated with care & skill, has the unmistakable lines of a 60s California modern rambler, right down the knob in the middle of the door and the staircase perfect for lining up Bradys. Every time I go there I feel like I should be wearing a shiny suit, thinking about NASA, smoking a Silva Thin. It’s a rare slice of sixties modernism that aged well – it’s unlike its neighbors, which makes me think it was commissioned. I would love to know who designed it; I see some squat fellow with pointy sideburns and a fat cigar and thin dark glasses, a guy who laughs a lot and pinches the secretaries. I don’t know why. But it just feels like a house for drinking Mateus Rose and talking about the “Thunderball” movie and how Mia Farrow is too thin.

On the way home Gnat informed me they had watched “The Little Rascals,” and she liked Alfafapha. I had no desire to correct her. I said they were very old shows, and she disputed the point: “They’re in color,” she said. “Not black and white.” But some old cartoons are in color. “That’s different,” she said. “Real stuff is old if it’s black and white and these were in color.” Clever girl. These must have been colorized versions, then; interesting how the presence of color overrides all other cultural signifiers (cough) in an old movie – the dress, the sets, the look of the streets. Reminded me of some Hitler MP3s I downloaded the other day – popped up on a newsgroup devoted to old radio, and I gave them a listen. Horrifying stuff, and I didn’t understand a word. Movies of Hitler always seem unreal – at this point he’s not a man, not a leader of a nation, but a thing, a symbol, a series of poses and expressions. (Yes, I’ve seen “Downfall.” Highly recommended, precisely because it does cut through the myth and humanize the bastard.) The newsreel speeches have an air of low comedy – who could take this fellow seriously? The hair parted with a windshield wiper, the rock-scissors-paper gestures. But the audio is different – a dark barking madman yelling from Hell. Is there anyone else so familiar and so unknowable?

Once home, I filed one column and wrote another. Gnat went upstairs to play with Talking Tina. Periodically she came down to tell me more plot points from The Little Rascals. Cross dressing and mouth-bubbles were involved.

That’s all I have for today. Small accomplishments. Right now it’s raining, of all things – mean needle rain, a shower of ice. Oh! I forgot to conclude the Arizona story. Well. Nothing much to add. We went to the Zoo the last day. It was Animal Ass day, judging from the pictures I took; every beast presented the audience with large scabby fundaments, and a highlight of the day was the evacuation of a rhino’s bowels. Eyes watered for a three-square-mile radius. We had a birthday party for one of the kids, which was fun – but WARNING: the Mexican restaurant at the Zoo isn’t exactly the most efficient operation, and every item ordered is wrapped in foil. So you don’t know what you have. I walked the trays back to the group with my French brother-in-law – a fine chap – and confronted the difficulties of distributing food.

Who had the chicken quesadilla.

(no response; general conversation.)

Who had the chicken quesadilla?

(Again, nothing.)


One person pipes up: "I had the bean burrito."

Great! Fine! That’s crucial information, or would be if I had, in fact, announced the distribution of a bean burrito, but at present we are dealing with a CONGEALING CHICKEN FRICKIN’ QUESADILLA.

One of the kids got a wasp in his Sprite, and ran back to the stand to complain. I followed, attempting to impress upon him the fact that it was not the fault of the owners that the insect had thus insinuated itself. I gave him money for another Sprite. Kid came back with a fresh Sprite and my money: the people running the stand had been so impressed with his argument that they gave him a fresh drink. I wanted to protest – insect insertion is not the responsibility of the vendors once the beverage is removed from the site! – but I’d already sealed my rep as Mr. Anal Retentive with the distribution of the tacos and burritos, so nevermind.

It was warm. The sun was bright. The sky was clear. We all said goodbye in the parking lot, hugs and handshakes, back-slaps and farewells. I was ready to go, but not to leave. If you know what I mean. I don’t.

The plane ride was long, perhaps because we spent an hour at the gate waiting to take off. I didn’t sleep; had a scotch, watched some iPod video, read some Michael Connoly. Screech, thump, everyone stand and whip out cell phones. The long schlep through the terminal – they turn the motorized walkways off at eleven, apparently. The sidewalks are almost literally rolled up, and you have to walk. Down to baggage. Out to the cab stand. It’s odd, but my own airport never feels like home on the return portion of the trip. DC National, LaGuardia, Sky Harbor – those feel familiar. The Minneapolis airport feels like home only when I’m leaving; coming back, it’s just a big bland tomb.

The cab driver was from Nigeria. He said nothing and frowned at the tip. Minnesota was draped in white for our return – heavy thick snow on every bough outside Jasperwood. Lovely. The house had not been burgled, the beds felt familiar, the old ways felt familiar and right. I stayed up until three watching TV, and when I woke I expected clouds. I was not disappointed.



c. 2005 j. lileks .