Stories from the Yules of My Life
Merry Christmas honorable subscribers! I gift to you light reading from the Throop archive. Cozy up by the fire and find a cat for your lap. This is the best low-class byte fiction a free subscription provides. Three short stories that remind me most of the shadows that play from the Ghost of Christmas past. I promise you’ll be snoring in minutes.
First, allow me to repeat a Christmas card. The cover:
You open it up and read the following:
I’m going to bring more craic into my life. It will involve putting my physical body before you, or yours in front of mine, and usually with good humor and a glass of wine. We have got to kill Facebook, step away from the backlit screen hells on the desks and in our hands, and walk out of our singular dark caves to look after each other again. Like we used to when we churned butter and hung our laundry on a line. Goofy men, ditch the trucks. Wise women, kick the goofy truck men up the nuts. None of us want these obscene materials. If we aren’t working for love and camaraderie after the necessaries of life have been had, then we are not working at all. We are parasites stuck on the back of a frantic beast gobbling up the world. Loosen the grip, to finally let go. I want to know you all again, like I did when I was ten.
Second, check out how I am Biblically related to Adam and Eve. My great grandfather was a wintertime genealogist. He left boxes of information and artifacts to posterity. In 2012 I edited a book on his research and mine. End of the Line is now available in paperback. Very boring unless you’re a Throop. However, this is a good format for the hobbyist geneaologist interested in publishing.
Check out this man line. Probably lots of inbreeding! Especially among the Scottish Earls.
Jesus, It’s Car Time
130 more turns of the earth needed before the soil warms up enough to bust open the buds on the trees. So many more days before the winter coats get hung back up in the closet. Time is too long and drawn out, this waiting day after day to open our windows and doors. Winter begins fast and furious in early November and won’t leave for good until mid May. Such a stubborn thing to kill, winter. A short winter lasts five months. A long one will stretch itself past the half year mark. It is difficult for human beings to remain happy in gray cold for any length of time beyond a weekend. Oswego’s cold is not unique. It’s just cold. That’s all there is to it. Cold.
After Halloween even small static shocks of joy are rare at best. Winter is such an uphill climb. Thanksgiving is happy because nothing is expected of anyone but to eat a grand meal and be lazy after the dishes. The snow is always pretty in November. The smell of no smell is new and anticipated by everyone. Then the cold is a tonic, a welcome change to warm the blood. The leaves aren’t dead. They have fallen. Gourmets feel the most open to experimentation. Now is time for cakes, pies, stews, roasts, crinkle-cut root vegetables... Slow cooking warms the heart and the home. There’s a drunkenness come over the man who can walk out into the new fallen snow and pick fresh thyme as green as it was after an evening rain in May. Wine is not necessary, but if there’s an extra ten dollars a week, it’s a whole lot more cheerful than sautéing with tap water.
These fresh new winter mornings are the reason why the majority are tricked into staying here. But there are endless days and nights to come after Christmas when all is dead quiet or appearing like it’s actually quite dead. Oswego’s face looks sinister to the gourmet after the second or third coq au vin. It sneers at him mockingly, like a delinquent searching for the right button to push, the one to finally send him over the edge. It actually calls him a liar for making a French stew in Burgertown. And then “fool” for spending that kind of money on chicken and egg noodles. Free range chicken, $4.79 a pound? Wild mushrooms? Bottle of burgundy? Unbleached flour? Twelve dollar beef stock? To keep his sanity he learns to speak the language of the car and truck. They won’t tolerate a chicken prepared like that unless he’s got fries and an oil filter to go with it. After Thanksgiving Oswego turns into the land of the automobile. Every man to his machine, the steel block engine calling from the driveway, as it warms up the plastic seat for his pallid ass. Salute to the wipers that be! Look proud to the green anti-freeze. Praise for the carpet that exists in the brain to get dirty then cleaned and dirty again. Suck in that air bag belly. Stand as tall as you can sit at thirty-five miles per hour. Signal right to turn right. Or signal left always and drive in circles until you run out of gas. That’s okay. As long as you own a car. Live once. Look silly.
On Friday after Thanksgiving everyone drives a car. You in the car want a new car. And what better time to buy a new car than on the busiest shopping day of the year? Always a sale. Marked down for the Holidays. Why pay $24,000.00? It’s yours for $23,800.00 (pronounced twenty-three-eight to new car buyers). If you get in it now and turn the key, you can be to the mall by 4:30. Turn the two hundred bucks you saved today into Christmas gifts for the kids. They should get a little something too. Two hundred dollars is enough to buy the latest video craze, and temporarily remove any traces of guilt you have for birthing the children into automobile land.
26-6. We know it’s a fix. A new drug every five years. Demanding copper as an alloy might make us men and not boys. But it’s an advisable, encouraged addiction, to be ripped off and not care. Even if the car costs as much as a warm shelter for life, us big boys like our toys. Girls get their thrills. Here is a perfect example why romantic love is dead.
“You look like a big boy Mr. Throop. You must think that you need this new car, or you wouldn’t be here today, would you? These Oswego winters are harsh on the heart. I understand. For 36-6, this one will getcha through snow up to three feet. For 46-9 this one won’t do much more, but with sunglasses on, you’ll look like a movie star! That is our guarantee. We promise. If you’re not entirely happy with this purchase, we will reimburse you up to 3/5 the total cost an hour after you drive it off the lot. And if you try to hound us for mocking your pride, we will call the police and have you arrested. Because it’s legal and encouraged by the corporate charter for us to strip you of dignity, Mr. Throop. It really is.”
“So trust us. This is what we drive. Mine was 29-7. Hers was 28-5. Together we pack the suicidal energy of several thousand shivering elk racing to leap off an ice cliff. Ford or Chevy? Volkswagen or Audi? Buy now before Christmas and we’ll throw in a Barbie doll to take home with you and your purchase. It will be easier to tell your daughter that you traded her education for a car. “Don’t cry, honey. Here. It has a retail value of 7-98,” (pronounced $7.98 to the last man in Oswego who used the last money he had to feed his children).
“You’ll throw in the barbie too?”
“Yup, for 35-5 you can make your daughter feel happy and occupied in the back seat while you day-dream freely about your next purchase, and drive the new car-truck into a tree.
“Yes, but is it safe?”
“Safe? Why Jesus yes. I should hope so. If you’re hit head on, twenty-three airbags inflate immediately.”
“Wow! That’s great, isn’t it honey? And airbags save lives, right?”
“Yes, but only if they’re installed on a tricycle and the tricycle rides into a gigantic pillow at 3 mph. In fact at any speed over 42 mph, upon impact, there’s a 95% chance that all passengers will die painfully... and without their heads attached.”
“Oh. Well heck, but it looks great! And I need something big and warm, like a womb, for me to climb into. It snows a lot in Oswego.”
“Actually, no it doesn’t. Global warming has had its affect on the county, especially in the city of Oswego. Scientists claim the warm-up is due to morons like you spending thousands of dollars to look big and clog the atmosphere. But if there was any significant accumulation... No. It would be wiser to buy a used Chevette for a hundred dollars. But, if I’m going to sell you a car today, I have to lie outright. Company policy. They already know that if you are here, then you’re dumb enough to buy one. It wouldn’t matter if I told you that while you were checking sticker prices, me and the mechanics were sticking your wife on the lift. I could say you have the balls of a cricket and and at the same time hand you a pen to sign the contract. It’s a tiny piece of yellow paper with the three words written on it— “I hate myself”, and a place at the bottom for you to sign.”
“Well okay, it’s a deal. Does the Barbie come gift wrapped?”
“No. And I think you’re making a terrible mistake.”
“No no. 35-5. That’s the price we agreed upon. You won’t get me to pay a penny more. Just roll her up in one of those paper floor mats will you?”
“The Barbie or your wife?”
“The Barbie. I’ll take my wife up front with me.”
Just before Christmas I get a renewed contempt for the new car buyer. Last December that’s all my chef talked about. His Ford Expedition. And every one wonders why I quit my job over and over again. I am one of those few curious Romans who thought Jesus of Nazareth was a smart cookie. I was no Jew about town. I was pagan out of habit and laziness mostly. And I loved being one of several personal cooks for Senator Ipicus. Mornings I got to inspect the fish the minute it was brought up to dock. He also allowed me every expense, which meant I could use however much garum and sea salt I needed to create a supper fit for the gods. So the days of my life were always pleasant and easy. I had a bath once a week and spent my coin wisely. Then one day I met Jesus. What a fanatic! He didn’t like us pagans one bit. “What’s wrong with money,” I asked him on the morning he marched down to the docks with his band of rowdies, cursing and flogging the Hebrew fishermen for selling their catch to me.
“Oh, go get a Ford Expedition. It’s shiny crabapple red with four-wheel drive!” was his answer.
What a queer Jew that Jesus! Ford Expedition? Four-wheel drive? What is a crabapple? It didn’t sound right. Like something out of the frigid northern corners of the Empire. Some curse of the Britons maybe. Nor would he tell me what it meant, either. He just looked up to the sky shaking his head, and then he took out that weird-looking prick and peed all over the Hebrew’s full nets of fine Turbot and Hake.
What a strange bird, that Jesus. They finally arrested him. I knew he would get the cross if he didn’t shut his trap. Each morning during crucifixion week, I’d hike up the hill to where the crosses were planted. “Jesus,” I pleaded, “This is driving me crazy. What the sheep’s dung does ‘Ford Expedition’ mean?”
He’d smile and say, “It’s got four-wheel drive and is crabapple red.”
Every day I made the same determined hike up to Crucifixion Hill to repeat the question. But Jesus wouldn’t budge.
Finally, on the morning of Slave Slaughter Friday I made a last ditch attempt to get my riddle answered. “Look Jesus,” I said, “Tell me now and I’ll get you off this thing. You’ll be back down at the docks in an hour. I am the cook for a powerful senator who’s back from Rome on holiday. A dinner of little lamb a lá verjuice and a bucket of wine to take along to the beheadings tonight, and it’ll be a cinch to persuade him. Just tell me what this Ford Expedition means, and why I should get one. It’s your freedom for a riddle. What’ll it be, Jesus? What will it cost? Please Jesus, I beg of you, how much for a Ford Expedition that’s shiny crabapple red with four-wheel drive?”
“What? Are you out of your mind? That much? Man, I might be a pagan Roman dog, but nobody, not even the glorious inbred Emperor himself, is that stupid! All this time I wasted and now I don’t even want to know what a Ford Expedition is. If it’s that much, you can go straight down there to Sheol. 35-5! Jesus, you can hang there all day, but I ain’t bringing you a single coin. 35-5. You know Jesus, I got a senator to cook for, and two kids to feed after that. I can walk to the docks... And Jesus Jesus, it doesn’t even snow here. Four-wheel drive for 35-5? Now you’re just pissing me off! Marcus has an ox. Tiberius a trained boar. What the Christ do I need a Ford Expedition for?”
Rather Have An Oyster Cracker?
Two thousand-thirty-five years ago Christ was born in the land without snow. He was a dark-haired baby who didn’t wear diapers. Christ was a baby and all babies live peace. Besides hitting his mother when he wanted her to play with him, he was very peaceful. Kings brought the divine child presents, not one of them a small plastic toy phone. A variety of presents, but not one that a child would want to play with. Frankincense and Mir? Don’t ask. Just receive and smile, smile and receive, and make sure the gifts are big enough not to get lodged in your new savior’s throat.
This Christmas more than one person will drive forty miles to purchase a popular candle holder. When my oldest daughter was very young, she was taught to give nothing besides love and attention, and occasional crayon drawings of devotion. Slowly, gradually, over the past couple years, Santa Claus has left her heart. It is only a matter of time before Christmas makes her deeply and hopelessly frazzled like the rest of us.
I am out of the kind of work that writes you a check for the holidays. Joy has left my body. I have no way of knowing if I will ever be able to help support this family financially. And because of the money problem, I start to wonder if I am husband or father, or anything good at all. Money is the sickness of our hearts. It is the sole cause of any depression that exists where no tragedy has occurred. Because of money I did something yesterday that I thought I would never do. I went out peddling my books all over three counties. I took a day to do it. I had to ask my wife to take off from work. I borrowed a car. It had an American flag attached out the back window waving “I am tasteless” to all and sundry on a cold, bright December morning.
I drove to every bookstore and library in Central New York. By the end of the day I sold to three stores and involuntarily donated one set to a library. I walked up to the head librarian embracing my precious books. He received me quite cordially. I expected him to escort me over to the money box and pay me for my efforts. Patiently I waited while he talked about the lack of arts and culture in the Mohawk Valley. “One bookstore,” he complained, “in a county of 250,000. Can you believe it?” Yes I thought, but here, let me put my hand out again, palm up, and hope that you get the hint. Nothing. Instead he stepped into his office and came out grasping the local swap sheet, suggesting that I advertise my books with the used cars. Then he offered me a book signing, but recanted, saying that in the past those only worked well with children’s book authors. Then I imagined that he would prefer to ram the heel of his boot against my skull rather than pay me the paltry sum necessary to justify my existence as a writer. Culture or no culture. I should have killed him on the spot and fished through the petty cash box myself.
Now the thought of peddling my own books was and is a personal nightmare. Total desperation made me do it. Man will succumb to anything when the money is tight enough to cheat his own children. Except work at a dollar store. No. I won’t do that. So what if an offer has already been made…? No. I will very calmly open up an artery before dehumanizing my existence at a dollar store.
After a day driving in and around Syracuse New York, I discovered the worst hole in all of the world to raise a sane family. You drive around for a full morning in it, penniless, in a borrowed car and see for yourself what an incurably sick and twisted, groaning hell of a city it is. Two of the bookstores on my list of ten were abandoned. Two more sold only pornography. Two were consignment, and the second one of these wouldn’t take my books unless he could get the whole set for fifteen cents.
Yesterday I lived the life of a traveling salesman in America. Except I was selling a product which I made myself. Of course one couldn’t eat my product—strike one. Nor was it something quite like holly leaf wrapping paper sold at a huge profit for charity. Strike two. Encyclopedias might have brought better luck, if I went door-to-door with the volumes I researched, wrote and published myself. Strike three and out. Actually lying prone in a basement beside a gassed Willy Loman.
A few years ago my chef left the restaurant business to peddle oyster crackers for an upstart company. Up before dawn, he drove his car over two hundred miles every day except Sunday. Boxes of light, airy oyster crackers stacked to the ceiling in the back seat. He peddled throughout a retail world that he convinced himself was in sufficient need of better oyster crackers. The best oyster crackers. In fact, over time, he couldn’t understand how restaurants stayed in business without his delicious oyster crackers in stock.
Once he got me to try them, while he stood at my side waiting for affirmation. Holy God, the blind arrogance of delusion! Every time he said “oyster cracker” I envisioned spiraling rounds of slow-motion bullets busting out the back of my skull. His behavior was beyond delusional. It was insane, maniacal—an oyster cracker… Jesus Christ! Yet I played along, chewing for his benefit, although at the time I felt like striking him down and stuffing his mouth full of oyster crackers. He wanted to sell them to everyone. He was preaching the Word about oyster crackers. Each book that I wrote and got published, no matter what value its content, was written with the dreams that appear while walking alone at night in fear of death. I collaborated and created with the body which houses my soul. It was all that I had then, and all I have now. For $12.95 I will share its story with you. That’s all the Word I know.
You say sure? As long as it’s told over a bowl of steaming hot seafood chowder? Fine. Just try to ignore the steady stream of bullets drilling holes into my head. Promise me you’ll crush those crackers quickly and take the soup onto your lap. I’m spilling blood.
Why this staunch, masochistic refusal to become equally excited over my own creations? How can man live a whole life never to stand up and lustily sing his own praises? Even if he foolishly sings to some greater power beyond him… It has got to be more stimulating than worshiping oyster crackers, right? I mean, how could my old boss become the apostle of a dry cracker company without having committed suicide yet? Hasn’t he already gone way beyond the point of just considering it? Unless the crackers are laced with enough extra preservatives to fool the rest of us into thinking that he lives, I tell you that he must be dead already. A soul must die each moment an oyster cracker gets believed in.
To tell the truth, I hate my books. I despise them. I hate the product that I wanted to sell yesterday, during a weak moment when I thought my children needed toys for Christmas.
Privately, however, I intend to sing my praises while the rest of mankind watches me bleed. But I won’t be singing for your money. I will sing, but know that I know it’s not what I write into books that makes me praise-worthy. I am 100% man. I am a man. My blood heats up my wonder and desire. I can be squeezed until warm blood spurts out of my pours. But I will continue to sing while bleeding. I believe that every man’s blood is my own blood. And every man should sing the song of watching it flow. I am singing for me and for you, even if I know that you, if given the choice, would choose a low-sodium oyster cracker over the intactness of my blood and its systems. Translated into easy, easy easy…
But would rather have an oyster cracker.
Christmas Message to False Consensus Effect Readers (2020)
When I was a young man in college I became obsessed by the star-making potential of the written word. An elective in early American Literature shorted some neuron switch in my college brain. I abandoned Business Administration for a degree in History after discovering how even bad writing of the Puritans could last the ages if written in a land of illiteracy. The Wampanoag didn’t need words to survive. They needed less Puritans who used their letters like a Protestant Dick and Jane primer on how to fear an angry God as occupiers of other people’s lands. The natives made oral sport of living. The Puritans literally chewed their fingernails off with the sin of being alive. They wrote nothing of artistic value. Page after page of catechism and historical record to last through the ages. Future History and English professors to pick apart the ONLY writing available in America pre-1680. In class we discussed William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. I could barely get through the assigned passages of glory be to god, and “we are nothing but His faithful servants”, until I realized the potential which unknown writers could gain in an intellectual or creative vacuum. Even a stuffed-shirt, religious fanatic like William Bradford could be disproportionately over-represented in a late 20th century college textbook. All he had to do was publish in a harsh land and keep it protected from the elements unto the next generation.
Voila! Future fame.
If William Bradford could make it into a survey of literature, albeit posthumously, then my chances were pretty good. I also lived in a creative and intellectual vacuum. A sorority tabling in the college union had a banner hanging that read “Nuke Panama!”. On Sunday mornings students recited partially digested pizza and beer prayers to the porcelain God. There was drinking without thinking and enough idleness for the Devil to reach full employment at a Boeing Everett factory. I could become a writer. No one else I knew was taking up the art.
The Puritan fathers wrote for posterity a literature for religion. A Puritan woman, like Anne Bradstreet, could write poetry if themes were about mothering future obedient fathers of the colony. However if she tried publishing a book touting medicinal herbs, the brothers and fathers would burn and re-burn her at the phallic stake. To get my shot at celebrity, I would write 20th century narcissistic confessions like Time Magazine beatnik Jack Kerouac, or the tripping beach bum balderdash of Jim Morrison. I could achieve with words what I knew I would never get with the harder work of rock and roll. My hair was all wrong. I feared girls. I couldn’t play notes on the guitar because practice was for losers. I figured writing, even bad writing, would provide some lasting success. If I didn’t make the grade in my lifetime, at least history proved that, in American letters, death has its advantages for the mediocre.
At the time, my roommate’s Uncle had passed away and left a daily record of bowel movements covering the last twenty years of his life. Even that crap was saved to the next round of word worshipers.
I felt I could do better.
So I took up the college hobby of wordsmithing, and was capable as one would expect any unskilled apprentice to be. I got to familiarize myself with the tools of writing. Attractive journals, sleek pens, deadly sharp pencils, and a state of the art word processing typewriter purchased for under $200 at the Ames Department Store. I was going to be self-taught, forming and sticking with a blueprint of action to last a lifetime—not just in writing, but for all my endeavors in parenting, cooking, image-making, etc.
Enter the Ghost of Christmas Past to guide me back to a more happy and humble time…
I began by mirroring beat poetry mixed in with young Bob Dylan nonsense prose. It was easy doing. No expectations. Just brick lay words around some “cool” subject matter such as hitch-hiking and social drug use. Sneak in allusions to titles of books or inspired passages by third rate authors known more for their romantic lifestyles than the literary ability to communicate. Allen Ginsburg published books. So could I.
For Christmas 1987, I printed my first volume of poems, My Brain is a Can of Worms on Speed, handmade from folded and stapled typewriter paper. I arranged five copies under the Christmas tree as presents to my parents, two best friends and girlfriend. It was a shining moment of success that filled me with immense pride. Something completely new and original, poured out of my heart and mind onto paper. What joy!
By New Years Day I received my first lesson in the power of social scorn/and or indifference. It was like I gifted my loved ones an accounting book of my own poop, and asked for critique.
Yet you, impassioned readers of the False Consensus Effect, would never look that gift reindeer in the mouth. You might sense correctly that Ron Throop could not hold a candle to a William Bradford, Jim Morrison or Allen Ginsberg. He is merely a living provincial artist of no consequence. However, tomorrow… Well, that depends on the course which human history will take. What I paint or publish in this lifetime could very well be of some value to future chroniclers of the 21st century, especially if those chroniclers are out seeking a representation of wisdom art and literature that suffered alongside banalities of celebrity. Substance might matter once again to a human world caught up in the bummer of reality. In trying times, young people seek those dead authors who in life objected to the pressures of safety careerism and sought alternative pathways to contentment. In addition, like an untalented William Bradford, they knew enough to document. I still feel as original as I felt that Christmas when I came out of the creator closet. The only difference is that, what was original to me then, was just the act of “coming out”—no different from any artist’s first realization. Today I know I am original in the manner all artists yearn to be, because I have yet to discover another person who paints or writes from the same place I do. History will preserve me, even if allocated to some dry historical attic box where great grandchildren hide the family anomaly.