Friday, December 30, 2011

Under the Eaves (reprinted from 2008)

I’ve worked some questionable neighborhoods. And by questionable, I mean the kind of place where sullen young men would just as soon shoot you, badge or no badge.

So just before midnight on New Years Eve, I’d slip out the side door of the station house, and stand there under the eaves, waiting for it: The distant report of celebratory gunfire. Semi-automatic weapons pointed straight up into the night sky, as if drunken revelers could shoot down the stars. Some years, department-wide memos are issued directing firemen to wear their helmets on New Year’s Eve during all responses—fire or medical.

I realize of course that a wooden eave offers scant protection against falling .223 steel-tips, hot loaded in copper-jacketed shells. On it’s return trip to the ground, a round of this caliber can reach a terminal velocity of 300 feet per second—more than enough to penetrate a human skull.

And while rare, a New Year’s Eve bullet can kill—it’s not simply some urban legend. In 1994, a tourist celebrating in the French Quarter of New Orleans was struck and killed by a falling slug. And on December 31, 2004, an Orlando, Florida man was hit in the heart by a wayward bullet that seconds before had been shot gleefully into the air like a colorful confetti popper. In fact, between 1985 and 1992, the ER staff at the King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles treated some 118 people for random falling-bullet injuries. Thirty-eight of them died.

Under the eaves, I think about the year past: Indistinct faces, fleeting glimpses, moments that coalesce and vanish again like indifferent ghosts in search of someone more worthy to haunt. Family and friends may remember these storied lives; I can only recall their unexpected deaths.

Others will take some new trajectory—lives deflected by a particular emergency. Frantic family members pacing amber hallways at midnight (a pale body discovered on the bathroom floor), wide-eye car wreck victims wandering aimlessly amid scattered debris, stunned homeowners staring in disbelief as their tidy lives undergo a violent pyrolysis.

Like everything else in this random world

bullets rain down where they will.

Nearly all of us are safe

But every now and then

a stray finds its mark…

* * *

Friday, December 23, 2011

How to Write a Christmas Story

A re-run of blog postings past, this one first published December 15, 2008. Merry Christmas to you all and thanks for reading "The Damage is Done"!

I was re-reading my holiday posting from last year and realized that it had all the predictable elements necessary for your standard-issue Christmas story.

In it, the narrator (and I’m making a distinction here between “narrator,” “author,” and myself—all of which, it seems to me, are merely epistemological constructs…) 

Um, where was I? Oh, OK, “predictable elements” of a Christmas story:

The protagonist starts off rather gruff and cynical. His environment—bleared by toil, greed, and commerce—seems to mirror his callous emotional state. But a turn of events cause him to have some sort of epiphany—a sudden insight into his own personal pathology, as well as the true nature of humankind. All of which leads to a melting away of his cold-hearted cynicism. Somewhere a Christmas tree ornament jingles, he wakes up tangled in his bed sheets, sleds down Mt. Crumpit, stands alone on a stage and recites from Luke chapter 2, and the true meaning of Christmas is cheerily re-discovered. By the time the ending credits roll, everything is as soft and mushy as a grocery bag full of rotting yams.

Oops…Was that cynical of me?

Looks like the three Ghosts of Christmas will be paying a visit at midnight again this year.

The problem with reliving the Christmas story arc every winter is that it can be emotionally exhausting. First there’s all those cloying Whos down in Who-ville, your obnoxiously cheerful nephew and his guilt-inducing handicapped tot, a prepubescent squeaky-voiced red-beaked reindeer, and your own beagle who mocks you while you’re trying to direct the annual pageant.

I’m no different than anyone else. It’s a lock that, at some point during the year, things will go south.

Friends move away
Family members fall ill
Relationships strain
My own attempts to be a better person inevitably fail…

Until sooner or later, I find myself standing on a metaphorical bridge, ready to leap into the icy void of despair waiting below.

And yet, what power—what force is it—that finds me once again standing beneath these December stars, gazing up a the night sky, lost in thought, contemplating all that has come before in this past year?

Until I realize I’ve been staring only at the brightest star in an otherwise black sky, while a voice inside me once again picks up a long-running, if one-sided, impassioned conversation—questions, frustrations spilling out like dark ink…


An answer of sorts
Travels back through this chill night air
And somewhere inside of me
Is reborn

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Charlie Brown-i-est.

When Charlie Brown suffers from holiday season depression, he gets help.

He goes to see his shrink, Lucy.

“My trouble is Christmas,” he confides in her. “I just don’t understand it. Instead of feeling happy, I feel sort of let down.”

Even his best friend Linus is running short on patience. “You are the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem,” Linus tells him, adding, “Of all of the Charlie Browns in the world, you are the Charlie Brown-i-est.”

But instead of recommending retreating from this world, Lucy prescribes just the opposite: “You need to get involved in some real Christmas project,” she advises. And at her encouraging, Charlie Brown agrees to direct the Christmas play, and along the way discovers the true meaning of the season.

So when a pastor at my mega-church recently cornered me and asked if I’d participate in this year’s Christmas program, I relented.  After all, maybe involvement would help cure my own holiday blues. Besides, my shrink won’t return my calls.

But what exactly did I sign up to do? I wasn’t sure, so I looked it up on the church’s website:

“The Grove Community Church is presenting a unique outdoor experience illuminating the entire story of Christmas…take part in a narrated and guided hay-ride alongside live actors and animals in scenes utilizing sound and imagery. In addition to this journey toward Bethlehem, there will be live music, crafts for the kids, free coffee and cocoa, and more…Bundle up and bring your neighbors, family, and friends. You won't want to miss on this exciting Christmas event…”

A hay ride past scenes depicting the nativity. A Christ child drive-by.

My role?

A wise man.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: It’s typecasting. Nonetheless…

I admit that my acting resume is a little out of date. The most recent credits include a supporting role in my high school play, and low budget film featuring zombies and rock band. I played the drummer. But that was in 1984.

Still, my pastor must have recognized untapped talent. That, or he was absolutely desperate and had nowhere else to turn.

For good measure, I also volunteered my 13 year-old daughter to be cast in the roll of the Virgin Mary  and drafted my 14 year-old son for the part of the angel Gabriel. He in turn has threatened to deliver his lines impersonating John Travolta’s Vinnie Barbarino Brooklyn accent.

I’m sure the pastor will love it.

Or deeply regret it.

Rehearsal is Tuesday. We open on Wednesday night.