Homeless for the Holidays

The Hyperion Chronicles

#330 Homeless for the Holidays

His eyes glaze over and he looks up at…what…I don’t know. His expression is…not lost…but traveling. In his mind I could see him taking a journey back…to places I’d never been, things I’d never seen. He stays there for some time, and then he opens his mouth and begins to speak.
-December 25, 2002

I first decided to do this about a week before. I was home alone for the month, and much like now having a lot of trouble walking. Getting to my immediate family was a luxury that wasn’t going to happen, and while there was extended family not far way who would have been more than happy to come get me, instead I isolated myself. Go figure.

I knew a little about the periphery of my neighborhood homeless population. I’d take long walks—when I could walk properly—late into the night and often run into several old mainstays. I was extremely curious about these guys and decided to spend Christmas with a few of them, hoping to see the world through their eyes and what made them tick.

The day started off a little bit after 7. I had a small tape recorder with me, and my pen and notebook. I left my wallet at home. It’s not like that would have made a difference money-wise, but I didn’t want any identity today.

I found Jesse in the same place I always found him, up against an abandoned building. Jess was a black man once, although now his skin was sallow and yellowed. Jesse had short thick hair and a coarse beard, both shot through with white and grey. Jesse wore Army fatigues—from the ‘70s, it looked like—and he was missing the small finger on his right hand.

Jesse smiled a lot, although I wouldn’t necessarily call him a happy person. The smile was more wolfish than anything else. Jesse would talk your ear off about anything and made just enough sense for you to realize there was an extremely intelligent man buried inside him. For the most part Jesse liked conspiracy theories and talking about how things used to be. (In some ways this sounds like every old person you’ve met, and in some ways it was, but the crazy homeless version)

Jesse and I knew each other by name. One of the things I liked about him was that he knew all about the origin of my name, and would frequently lecture me on it. Once, when Jesse was really drunk, he came close to saying he’d been around back with the Titans of Greek Mythology, but I could never get him to repeat it.

With Jesse were two guys I had only seen before: Jim and Black Jim. Jim was at least as old if not older than Jesse (I’m guessing mid-sixties, although the years are hard on those guys so it was hard to tell). Jim was extremely dark and he wore all dark clothes so that—and I don’t mean this flippantly—sitting in the shadows he could almost literally disappear. Jim never spoke. I knew this because Jesse told me, in his running commentary on anything and everything.

Black Jim was a white guy. When I heard his name I vowed to get to the bottom of it before the day was over. Black Jim wore a blue jean jacket and white painter’s coveralls. They were the dirtiest shade of white you have ever seen. In fact: I wouldn’t have known they were white if Jesse hadn’t mentioned it. Black Jim was quite a bit younger than the others, no more than early 30s. He was a big guy with greasy brown hair and talked slowly. At first I thought he was a bit retarded, but later I found out he’d been hit in the head by his brother-in-law on Christmas several year ago.

So there we were. Jesse knew I was coming, and took it all in stride. Black Jim seemed uncomfortable at first, but warmed to me once he ascertained I wasn’t there to hurt him. Jim said nothing, but as I mentioned earlier, this was not an out-of-character response.

At first I tried to ask questions. Did they have anywhere to go? Why were they here? How long had they been there? Things like that. Jesse answered readily, as did Black Jim when he got used to me, but after a couple of hours I soured on this approach. I felt like I was a journalist, come down to Skid Row to interview the bums for a human interest story. I wanted to—as much as possible—immerse myself in what it meant to be homeless on this day, so after awhile I gave up the interrogatory questions.

I did learn stuff, though. Jesse had been in the army. At least, I think he had. The thing with Jesse was, he had two or three versions of every event, and sometimes you had to sift through. This part seemed legit, though. Jesse told me he’d won the Purple Heart in Vietnam on account of his finger getting blown off by a grenade. I asked to see the Purple Heart but Jesse said he’d long since sold it.

I gave it to a girl,” he said, “when I couldn’t pay her.” Jesse gave his wolfish grin. “A few days later I discovered that she too had not been forthcoming about her situation. I felt like I should have gotten the Purple Dick.”

Jesse cackles at this and Black Jim laughs too (That was the way he talked, both the sophisticated vernacular and the vulgarity.) The line had the air of one he’d used many times before and I’m not sure it’s true, but it was funny and I joined in the laughter.

Black Jim’s story is more muddled. He was living with his sister and her family. Something happened with a daughter. I can’t figure out if it was just an accusation or something real. I don’t think Black Jim knows either. He was on a lot of drugs at the time, he tells me. Anyway, the husband beat him pretty good, and threw him out on the street.

Black Jim tells me he tried to clean up several times, but could never knock the habit, and finally just gave up. He sounds sad, but distant-sad, like you might feel for a tragedy you see on the news. You shake your head and wonder how these things can happen, but you don’t lose sleep over it. That’s how Black Jim is about his own life.

I asked Jesse why never tried to get a regular job and live like the others. He’s scornful, He doesn’t mind work, he tells me, but in a white job you have a paper trail, and that’s how the government finds and controls you. I’ve lived with a lot of paranoia in my day, but Jesse has me beat hands down. Either that or he just thinks it sounds good. Sometimes when Jesse says something, I get the feeling it’s new to him too and he’s trying it on for size to see if he likes it.

About 10:00 we amble over to one of the hotels that surrounds us. Jesse explains to me that this is when the hotels throw out their breakfast food, and that often the food is still hot and fresh. I knew just a little bit about this life, enough to know I know nothing.

But Jesse does. He takes me to the spot, quiet now; cautious. After a bit of Recon Jesse says it’s safe and we move quickly. He pulls open the lid and there are bags of food. It actually smells good, which I never thought I’d say about dumpster fare. The food is obviously excess from breakfast, and hasn’t been touched. We take back bacon, sausage, biscuits, some eggs and pancakes. To be honest: it’s better than I’ve eaten in nearly a month.

When we get back Jesse divides the food between the four of us. Jesse very seriously tells me that if you know what you’re doing around here, you can eat well most days. Sometimes, he says, it’s not the excess, but the scraps, but on those days it’s better to go hungry.

“To eat this food here is clean and good. They just made too much. But you don’t want to eat other people’s garbage.”

It sounds funny seeing as how we pulled this food out of the dumpster, but I understand what he was saying. This food we had was wrapped up and tossed, but other than the location we found it in, it’s wonderful. I couldn’t afford to go inside and eat it.

I ask the other guys if they ever have gotten so hungry they eat the scraps. Black Jim says, “You don’t want to do that. This way, it’s like we’re scamming them. Otherwise you’ll lose your self-respect. If I’m that hungry I’d rather eat at the soup-kitchen.”

Ah, the soup-kitchen. This is a subject of much animated debate amongst the guys, and it seems like we talk about little else for the next two hours. At one point another couple of guys came by and they started talking about it too.

The general consensus is that the guys don’t think much of those places. For one, the people there treat the guys like they are bums. I know that sounds strange, but you have to understand, in their own way, these guys are fiercely proud. It is pride more than anything that makes them believe they can survive out here. (Well, pride and alcohol.)

The way Jesse and this other guy I never got the name of explain it, it’s not that they don’t appreciate the meal. “It’s just, they never let you forget who you are and who they are.” The guy says. “It’s like you’re getting a meal because they’re so damn wonderful.”

The guys seem especially caustic towards Thanksgiving and Christmas, when, Jesse says, “All these rich white kids come down from on high to do their good deed for the year.” I squirm, as I have helped with meals on the last few Thanksgivings and a couple of Christmases. (I also should explain that these guys use “White” to mean regular people with money and jobs. Half of these guys are white or Latino, but “White” is almost a class designation.)

Nonetheless, the guys all decide to go to a local place to get a Christmas meal. I kid them a bit, after hours of them trashing it, but they want to see the “Christmas Hos.” This is their term for the girls who only work there on holidays. Plus, Black Jim claims, the Christmas meal is actually pretty good.

I was a bit nervous about fitting in at the soup-kitchen. I’d gone out of my way to wear old clothes and leave my watch at home, but I still figured I’d be called out as a fraud. Jesse tells me not to worry: “The guys are too busy eating to care about you, and the workers don’t really look at you. You’re just another mouth to feed.”

We get to the place and I can see what the guys mean about the Christmas Hos. Some youth group is here, and most of the girls are gussied up like they’re going to a dance. I have never wanted to slap a group of women so hard.

The guys, for their part, are acting like it’s a peep show, openly ogling the girls, in their well-filled-out Christmas sweaters and blouses. The girls whisper to each other and act repulsed, but from my perspective, most of them seem to enjoy the attention. The youth group boys seem happy too because by comparison they now look like prime catches.

The whole meal thing creeps me out. Not only do we have the circus that is these high school girls, but the meal is really good. I mean, REALLY good. I don’t know what I was expecting, but not this. All the times I’ve helped I never ate the food. I told myself it was because the food was for the homeless people, but I think part of it was that I felt the food was beneath me. I feel ashamed about that now.

Afterward we head back. The others have gone separate ways and it’s just Jesse and Jim and me. Black Jim has disappeared, and when I ask Jesse about it he just grins knowingly. This is when I learn the origin of “Black Jim,” but it’s not something I can share here.

We return to the same perch as Jesse starts talking about all the Christmas Hos, and which one looked the best. I try to be congenial, but I’m still disturbed by the whole thing. Black Jim shows up a while later, with two bottles of Wild Turkey and a huge smile. I can’t help but shudder.

It begins to grow dark, and with the twilight comes more somber conversation. Part of it is the cold, and part of it is the some things are only talked about in the light of day, and some are only whispered about under cover of night.

Black Jim finishes an entire fifth of whiskey in under 20 minutes. Even for a hard-core alcoholic that’s enough to get anyone stoned. He starts bellowing a little bit but soon quits talking and just stares at nothing. Jesse and Jim share the other fifth more judiciously, knowing it has to last the whole night.

It occurs to me I haven’t given you the full picture of just how big a part alcohol plays. Every single guy I ran into was either drinking, drunk, or I could smell alcohol on them. When I showed up that morning Jesse and Black Jim were downing some Bartles and James wine coolers and Jim was sipping on some Boone’s. It’s like that everywhere.

Anyway, As the night grows around us Jesse starts talking wistfully about childhood. Best I can tell, he came from a huge family, and there was never enough. Still, for the first time all day, Jesse doesn’t seem bitter, more fond of the old days. I feel like I should share too, but I don’t have any street cred here. I mean, what do I say? “I didn’t get the hydrofoil one year. I have suffered.”

Finally I start telling them about Dorsey Christmas, which is my mom’s side of the family. It’s a great story (one I’ve been banned from telling here), full of colorful characters and warm memories. Jesse is howling and Black Jim comes out of his reverie to laugh a bit too. Even Jim shows some emotion, and stirs. Jesse looks over at Jim, surprised.

His eyes glaze over and he looks up at…what…I don’t know. His expression is…not lost…but traveling. In his mind I could see him taking a journey back…to places I’d never been, things I’d never seen. He stays there for some time, and then he opens his mouth and begins to speak.

“I was born in Mississippi,” Jim begins. His voice is soft, cracked from age and disuse. He pauses to cough and take another sip. Finally, Jim begins again. “We lived in the backroom of the feed store.”

Jim pauses again, takes another long drink. While this happens, a cop car rolls by. Instinctively all the guys tense up, watchful eyes and the verge of movement everywhere. Even when it’s long past they sit still, waiting to see if their night will change. By the time they calm a bit Jim is back to the stoicism he’s displayed all day, and I gather that’s all I’ll get.

I’m frustrated, because it seems like there is a well of emotion waiting to come out. However, Jesse is impressed we got this much, and tells me to be grateful. I guess I am. It seems like much meaning was conveyed, even though Jim didn’t really say anything. I guess you had to be there.

It’s getting time for me to leave. I don’t really want to, but at the same time I do. I get up, and realize that I’d forgotten what pain was. I dance around like an Indian trying to restore feeling in my leg while Jesse laughs like a hyena.

I thank the guys and take off back home. Reflecting, I realize I learned a lot and I learned very little. I still have no idea what it really means to be homeless, and why these guys chose it, or had it chosen for them. I came close several times to grasping some sort of truth, only to have it slip through my fingers.

I guess I can say I spent a day amongst them, for what it is worth. I don’t feel like I should get a badge or anything, and I don’t feel like I accomplished much, but then again, I don’t think those guys ever feel like they accomplish anything either.

I guess I fit right in.

December 24, 2004

Christmas Anagrams

The Top Ten Anagrams of "Christmas"











"Ember Spy Tunes"
(It's an Anagram for you to figure out)

Tanenbaum goes the Dynamite

The Hyperion Chronicles
"I swear one year we had our tree up ‘till March”

#85 Christmas Tree Memories

My college roommate “Ricky” was a peculiar fellow, a True Believer some might call him. For example, Ricky loved this band called Blues Traveler—before any of you had ever heard of them—but when Blues Traveler appeared on Letterman and started to make it big, Ricky smashed all his Blues CDs. Like I said, a True Believer.

Now, Ricky and I lived on the same wing as our dorm’s Resident Director and his wife, and come December they put up a Christmas tree. Only, it wasn’t a genuine cut-down-in-the-forest real live Christmas tree, but one of those designer imposters, and Ricky was having none of it.

Ricky just stopped associating with the Director and his wife, and wouldn’t even return a hello when passing them in the hall. As Ricky is revered on campus and loved by all, the Director and his wife do everything they can to make peace, including baking Christmas cookies that I didn’t get to eat out of solidarity (to this day, the single greatest political sacrifice I’ve ever made).

Finally, while studying for finals at an all night restaurant, I see a chance to mediate. Out in the foyer of the restaurant is a Christmas tree with empty boxes around it gift wrapped for decoration. I talk Ricky into “procuring” a few of these presents, and we solemnly give them to the Director and his wife with the instruction not to open them until Christmas day. This redresses the scales in Ricky’s eyes, and the Christmas Crisis is averted.

When I was younger, decorating the tree was a family affair, and one we all got involved in. Dad would stand on his head to get all the lights put up while mom told him what he was doing wrong. Early on I noticed that other people’s trees had stars or angels on top, while we just had a white light; one of the regular string. When queried, my mother explained to me the tradition.

I guess back in the day, before my mother and her sisters were born (the 1600s), my grandparents didn’t have much money. Accordingly, it was all they could do each year to put up a tree (usually donated); a fancy ornament on top was out of the question. My grandfather, clever man that he was, didn’t want his young wife to feel bad, so he put one of the white lights on top, and told my grandmother that this was the way to do it, for it represented Jesus, the light of the world. (Which just goes to show women will believe anything if they love the guy)

Anyway, several years later times had gotten a wee bit better, and my grandfather told my grandmother they could get a star or angel or whatever she would like. By now, though, it was Tradition, and she insisted they keep the white light, as all of her progeny do to this day.

Another fun thing we would do to our tree was hanging our own ornaments. My mother had a ball for each of the years her four children were born, and my brother Achmed and I also had personal ornaments, these really cool rocking horses we had been given (and let me just say my rocking horse was way cooler than Achmed’s). We would have sort of a contest every year as to who could “hide” their ornament in the most unusual place, which often entailed disappearing into the tree to hang the ornament inside. Good times.

Speaking of Achmed, one year, the first Christmas I could drive, my parents got very busy and didn’t have time to get the tree. Being the helpful loving sons that we were, Achmed and I volunteered to secure the family’s tree, at a U-Cut-Em place just outside of town. Now, this was out in the wild, and each tree had painful thorn bushes surrounding it. I, being older and stronger, had the tougher job of sawing the tree down with our flimsy little saw. (The kind that made a crappy little oval-like rectangle. You remember them, right?)

All Achmed had to do was hold the branches out of my way so that I could see what I was doing. Easy, huh? Well, you’ve never heard such complaining. Good lord did that boy bellyache. Worse, he continually let the branches go, causing them to fly at a high rate of speed into my hands and arms, which not only impeded my sawing progress to the point of distraction, but also cut and scratched me like a gal at a shoe sale at Macy’s. I offered several times to switch roles, but Achmed couldn’t get the speed up to saw the tree down.

Finally, battered and bleeding, we got a beautiful 8-½ foot tree cut and ready to roll. Being older and stronger, I told Achmed I’d carry the tree to the car, and he could go pay the owner lady for our haul. Unfortunately, Achmed was a bit of a late bloomer, socially speaking, and the thought of conducting a financial transaction—with a woman nonetheless—terrified him. Taking pity on the poor boy, I graciously offered to pay for the purchase, if he would take the tree to the car, and I’d secure it in the trunk when I finished. Upon returning to the car, I found poor little Achmed struggling mightily to lift the tree, and of course I helped him the rest of the way. I was proud that despite the adversity, we had made it.

Then came the treachery.

At home that evening putting up our statuesque tree, I was detained by a phone call. In my absence Achmed told the story of the afternoon. However, instead of the heroic journey it was, my brother—my own flesh-and-blood—betrayed me with the most scurrilous lies ever heard this side of a Clinton deposition. In Achmed’s version, I had the sissy job of sawing, while he tamed the savage thorn bush/dinosaur hybrid that fought in his grasp. Then, I forced the lad to tote the massive evergreen half a mile (in reality it was about 100 yards) through mud and rocks and possibly man-eating dingoes to the car, while I lounged about flirting with the proprietress. What’s worse, my family believed these innuendos and half-truths—nay, these Damnable Lies!—out of whole cloth, and completely endorsed my brothers hallucinations. Not only that, but at any public gathering for some time they allowed him to retell his 30 pieces of silver while I withstood abuse and chastisement. Truthfully, I think he did it because I had a cooler rocking horse ornament than he.

Finally, I have another story of heroism, that doesn’t quite fit with my Christmas tree theme, but I can’t for the life of me figure out when I’ll get another chance to share it. In third grade, both our school and our church put on Christmas plays, and my friend Josh Ingalls and I each had the leads in both performances. In church, I was the title character, Hark, the Herald Angel (you can laugh; it’s not blasphemous), while Josh was Gabriel. At school, I was Santa Claus while Josh was Alfie, the Elf with an attitude (I think the play was something stupid called “Christmas Around the World”).

The performances were back to back on a Sunday and Monday, and memorizing the lines and keeping them separate took a good deal of compartmentalizing. I tell you the truth; it was the greatest injustice since the imprisonment of the A-Team that we didn’t sweep the Tony nominations that year.

The first play went pretty well, the lines coming off without a hitch, until we were done and out in the foyer during the offertory. Josh, not realizing his mike was hooked up, told me (and the whole audience) that Cory, the girl he loved, had been watching us. Despite that, though, we managed to survive, and accolades and huzzahs came pouring in from all concerned.

The second night was a bit tougher. After weeks of nightly back-to-back rehearsals, this was the last performance; our energy was shot and our nerves where frayed. What’s more, I had approximately 137 pounds of padding, including a pillow with Taco Bell on its mind, because it kept making a run for a border.

It’s pretty hard to visit every country in the world next to a Coppelia-like doll (our co-star, and my secret crush, the lovely Kendra) and an elf with a chip on his shoulder while continually re-stuffing a pillow up your suit. Why child welfare wasn’t called I’ll never know.

It seemed like we were going to make it, though, as we hit the home stretch with just a few more lines to wrap it up. Kendra was supposed to try to kiss Josh, who was supposed to back off and offer to shake hands (this passing for grade school avant garde humor in those days). Unfortunately, his timing was a bit off, and she kissed him, and not on the cheek, but on the mouth! You have to understand, Kendra was not only the most beautiful girl in the school, but Josh and I were in 3rd grade and she was a 4th grader! I’ll let that sink in.

Well, my buddy Josh starts to lose his composure a bit, and it didn’t help any that he knew I’d been lovesick for the girl since rehearsals began. His flustered state looked real (which it was), and would have gone over well with the audience if he could just play it off. I tied to step in with some ad-lib smooth-overs, some “Ho ho hos” and the like, but that seemed to freak Josh out even more. Suddenly he started talking, but it wasn’t Alfie’s “respect all cultures’ speech, it was Gabriel’s “For to you a son is born, for to you a son is given” monologue from the night before! The whole play teetered on the edge, threatening to turn into disaster. Thinking faster than ever before, I stepped up and said, “A doll who can make an elf find religion. I’ve finally created the perfect toy.”

Of course, this brought the house down, and we sailed through our last little song, heroes once again. It was perhaps the finest moment in Thespian history, and I’m glad I could share it with you.

Yuletide Wishes,

December 24, 2002

Greatest Santa Ever

A Child With No Name

"και αποκριθεις ο βασιλευς ερει αυτοις αμην λεγω υμιν εφ οσον εποιησατε ενι τουτων των αδελφων μου των ελαχιστων εμοι εποιησατε"

The Hyperion Chronicles
“Holding out hope someone will donate…or at least send me some Myrrh”

#374 Child with no Name

It started as a piece of dinner conversation.

“What would a child be like who had no name?”

For whatever reason—the parents were protesting hippies; psychologists looking at children as one big experiment; there was a huge custody dispute tied up in the courts—the end result the same.

The child—a boy, if that matters—on his birth certificate, under name:__________.

Nothing written. Nothing ever written. Just left blank.

What would this child be like? We talked long into the night, arguing the merits pro and con, debating the likelihood of each.

Someone posited that giving a name bestowed personhood and humanity, and that withholding it tantamount to neglect and child abuse. Another theory pointed out that dogs and boats and paintings had names and none of them acted like people (except some poodles).

Another went three steps further, claiming the act of naming robbed the thing of power, made it owned, categorized and labeled it forever, and to be sans name was to retain mystique, an aura, if you will.

And that was the end of it. I told a few friends, got their takes, forgot about it. Then one day, a few months later, I was out on a date with a nurse. I told her stories I’d seen covering the news. She was regaling me with hospital lore. She told me about a case from about ten years back, before her time, a baby who had been born in her hospital. According to the nurse, the mother was a very peculiar woman, claims she didn’t have the right to name her baby. And the mother refused to.

“What about the father?” I asked.

“There wasn’t a father.”

She was desperately poor, the nurse told me, and had obviously traveled a huge distance when she stumbled into the hospital. She said and did all sorts of strange things, “You should have heard some of the claims she made.” My companion said conspiratorially. “They had to call in Psych.”

“What was the end result?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They made her leave the hospital after a few days. Took her baby with her. I guess the government will force a name on the child, for identification purposes.”

I never went out with the woman again, but my curiosity was piqued by the story. I had a friend on the force who owed me a favor, and I had him check around. He found where the woman went, but by the time I got there the mother was long gone, child in tow. I put out feelers, tracked down every lead, but they all proved fruitless.

I kept up my efforts, and few months later they paid off. I ran into the story again, a child with no name. This time I was on a date with a teacher, and she related how this mother had come to the school with her boy, about ten or eleven, trying to register him for school for the first time. The school wasn’t going to let the boy in, because he had no name, but the mother squawked about discrimination and lawyers, and eventually they let him in.

“What do they call him?” I asked her.

“They don’t. Or at least, his teacher doesn’t. I walk around the track with her sometimes at lunch and she told me she just ignores him. All the other kids call him all sorts of things.” I could imagine.

It seemed pretty incredible that I would run into this mother and child twice in just a few months. I mean, what are the odds? (Although, if you date as much as I do….) I felt connected to the story, and as such it was my duty to make contact.

I asked the woman if she would ask the boy’s teacher if I could drop by the classroom to observe. I mentioned something about getting her name in the paper. That did it, and soon enough I had my request.

The teacher was clearly on her best behavior, but even then she didn’t call the boy anything. Not even pronouns. When she spoke to him it was directly and to the point. The boy answered her questions in a quiet but clear voice. He didn’t seem put off by how she addressed him. Nor did he pay attention to the kids whispering about him.

At lunch he sat by himself at a table in the corner. I wanted to observe with the least intrusion possible, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to talk to the boy alone.

“Mind if I sit here?” I asked, my own lunch tray in hand. He shrugged. I sat. We ate in silence for a time, and the itch came over me. I started asking questions.

“You always eat alone?” That was dumb. I’m not trying to embarrass him. But the boy nodded without emotion. Between bites he said, “The lunch lady tried to make kids sit with me, but she quit after awhile.”

I had so many questions, I didn’t know where to start. “What do they call you, you don’t mind me asking?”

“They don’t. One kid calls me ‘nigger’ and ‘faggot,’ but I think he just heard someone else say those words; I don’t think he knows what they mean.”

“What does your mother call you?” I probed.

“She doesn’t. Half the time she treats me like I’m her master, and the rest of the time she’s afraid of me like some monster. But she never says my name.”

“Does that bother you?”

“It did, but I got used to it.”

The next question is tentative, almost gentle. “Your dad ever give you a name?”

“Never met him. My mom says….” He looks lost for a moment. “I never met him.”


Recess was an appalling affair. The kids had a game: they’d run by the boy as fast as they could and try to spit on him. Harder than it looks on a dead run, and many missed, but some learned to alter their trajectory to compensate for wind and speed. The result was gobs of spit all over him. It broke my heart and I so wanted to get involved, but I was here to observe the boy, not take action. I didn’t want to become part of the story.

The recess monitor actively ignored the situation. The boy really was persona non grata out here. However, one little girl tried to help. After all the kids had grown tired and moved on she approached the boy. She didn’t have a napkin, but she used the sleeve of her sweatshirt to get up what she could. He accepted with wordless thanks, and she ran off, fearful to be seen around him.

I left then, not wanting to see any more. I struggled for a few weeks, trying to come up with a story, but no angle presented itself. I kept tabs on the boy, dropping in on him from time to time. We had lunch a few times. Once I even took him to a ball game. He remained polite, self-possessed, detached. I guess you can’t engage with a world that’s going to treat you like such a outcast.

A couple years later the mother moved him away, and I lost him again. I finally found where they were living, but there was no phone. I thought of writing a letter, but how to address it? I even thought of driving to see him, but it was a long trip, and I had my own life, you know?

It was a few years later when I ran into the boy again, now a young man. My cop buddy gave me the heads-up. The boy had said some things, apparently incited crowds, and they locked him up as a psycho. I got permission to visit. He looked mostly the same, except much more tired, the kind of tired that doesn’t come from lack of sleep, but years of carrying a burden. He also looked kind of proud, but so tired.

He remembered me. He never asked why I didn’t visit him, but I felt the sting of shame anyway. I asked about his mother.

“She left two years ago, on my sixteenth birthday. Couldn’t take it, I guess. The last year she couldn’t even look at me. Couldn’t afford me either.”

“She had a job?”

“Couldn’t keep one. She was just too unstable. Whatever happened to her before I was born…it changed her forever.” He swallowed. “Without a name, the state wouldn’t help out, so there was no assistance. I’ve been working since I was twelve, but money was always beyond tight. It’s better this way.” There was no conviction in his voice.

“You’re 18 now, I said.” You can name yourself. It would certainly help you as an adult. You kind of have to, right?” He shrugged again, and looked out the window at a sparrow hopping around on a limb of a tree.

“I’ve come this far….might as well finish it.” There was a finality by his words, which left me with nothing to say. I left soon after. It was the last time I saw him alive.

I read about him in the obituaries. I just happened to catch the headline: NO NAME MAN KILLED IN MELEE. The details were sketchy. I rang up my contact once again, now a Lieutenant. He didn’t have much more.

“We couldn’t make heads or tails of it. He was talking on the streets like a crazy person for days. We’d arrested him twice already. He said something that night, don’t know what, but a fight started. 30 different versions, but bottom line; he’s dead and nobody’s responsible.

“They couldn’t find his mother—with no name where would you look?” My buddy continued, “So they are burying him in a public plot for the homeless and indigent.”

I went to the burial—I felt like our few encounters made me almost family. It was a cold and terrible day, the kind of day that makes you just want to stay inside, but I went anyway.

The chaplain read his piece quickly and got out of there. Then there was just me. I stood there for a bit and saw a man approach. He was older, in his 60s, distinguished, in a dark suit of old-fashioned cut. He had a bouquet of pinkish white flowers—what I found out later were hibiscus syriacus. The man placed the flowers next to the cardboard placard. There was nothing written on the surface. It seemed so empty and barren. We stood in silence for some time. Finally he spoke.

“Were you a friend?”

“No, not really. We ran into each other from time to time. You?”

“I knew him.” The words were simply spoken, but seemed to have great meaning. I felt the need to speak.

“To be honest, I heard about his birth several years after the fact. I was interested in the circumstances and so I tracked him down.”

“What circumstances were those?” The man asked me, looking at me for the first time.

“You know; no name. I met with him a few times, with the idea of writing a story about him, but none ever came to me.”

The man looked at me silently, for long moments, and then offered, “He had a name.”

“He did?” I said in surprise. “Well, what was it?”

Instead of answering the man reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a permanent marker. He bent down in the rain and wrote on the placard words in an unfamiliar language. I asked the man what the words were and he spoke. I still didn’t recognize it and told him so.

The man looked at me again, really looked at me, and down at the flowers, beaten by the rain. He looked back up at me, straight in the eye, and I felt weighed and measured, and left wanting.
He said to me, “His name means ‘Least of these.’”

December 23, 2005

© 2005 The Hyperion Institute. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

...in case you were a bit slow on the uptake.

For Christ's Sake

The Hyperion Chronicles
“Once more into the breach, dear friends”

#86 For Christ’s Sake

I wonder what it took to be great; image-making, shake-the-earth-to-its-core great. I’ve made a study of the people who have achieved this, the people whom history books laud, biographies lavish, and young and old acknowledge as humankind’s greatest examples. What I have found, though, is that these great people who tread the hallways of history and lore were not so great at home to their families and the people close to them. In fact, you could make the case that to achieve greatness out in the world is to sacrifice at home. To have great ideas that move the world means to have great confidence, and to have steadfastness in purpose, but this can also translate into great arrogance and a harsh spirit. In other words, many of these great men, these Generals, these Explorers, these Statesmen, these Thinkers, and even these Peacemakers, were quite simply pricks to everyone around them. This goes for any century up to and including the last one, where the great non-violent resister was brutal on his own family, and the man who told us we should be judged on the content of our character serially cheated on his wife.

I wonder, if there is an afterlife, how the pecking order will go. I wonder if the people that history remember only as heroic will be seen as such in any cosmic heaven. I don’t know exactly how these things will work themselves out, but I’d be willing to bet that up there They don’t see things and cherish things quite the same way we do down here. I wonder if it’s the man who didn’t make it big, but took care of his family, perhaps will have a greater place in line.

And while I’m thinking along these lines, I wonder what Jesus would do if he were here today. I wonder where Jesus would be and what he’d be doing if he were here right now. Having not gotten a return email from Jesus, I can’t speak for him at the moment, but I wonder if the things we see as so important would phase Jesus in the least. I bet Jesus wouldn’t hang out in churches and with church folk all the time. No, I take that back. I know Jesus wouldn’t hang out in churches or with church folk very often. For the most part, church people don’t associate much with those who would need him.

I bet Jesus would be in the bars and brothels, and not think twice about it. I bet Jesus wouldn’t even blink at someone smoking a cigarette, sipping a beer, or using foul language, and I bet it wouldn’t dissuade him from hanging with those “types” of people. I bet Jesus would spend time talking to the Homeless, the Hookers, the Hoods. I bet Jesus would go visit the Felons, the Freaks, and the Faggots. I bet Jesus wouldn’t pay any attention to these labels we give people, whether they roll off our tongues, or just slide through our heads, unspoken, but there all the same. If Jesus were here today I bet we would be collectively shocked to find out what Jesus thinks, what he would say, where he would go, and what he would do.

So, on this holiday that bears Jesus’s name; in this season that commemorates his birth, his life, his message, his meaning, and his purpose; what do you think? What do you say? Where are you? And what are you doing?

December 13, 2002

Thanks to Kimbo for brainstorming help
Thanks to Koz for graphics, editing, the title, and anything else offensive

Motto Explanation
This comes from Henry V; Act 3, Scene 1 Line 1. It is the beginning of a speech with King Henry urging his men on at the scene of Harfleur. I meant it as an acknowledgement that some of my Christmas columns had been majorly controversial in the past (you’re lucky I didn’t resend #22), and that I was voluntarily jumping back into the fray.

Answer the Question

Like a Dove

I searched the meadow,  could not find her,
Down the valley, ‘round the bend.
In my heart a growing worry;
“Oh, God: don’t let this be the end.”

I climbed the hills, scanned horizons;
Calling ‘til my voice gave ‘way.
Knowing all the while, the story -
Once again, she wouldn’t stay.

This is how I’ve come to know it;
Why my heart so fears to love.
She discovers I am lacking:
Flies away just like a dove.

#486 It Starts With Snow

the Hyperion Chronicles
"Thumpety Thump Thump, Thumpety Thump Thump...."

#486 It Starts With Snow

It starts with snow.

After the kids have been put to bed, but before they are really asleep the snow cometh. The air is heavy and sharp, and everywhere is silence, as if the world stopped what it was doing to watch the winter ballet.

The kids in bed somehow sense what is happening, and sneak to windows, pressing little noses to panes. The glass is frozen, but they don’t mind, taking in the wonder, hearts filled with joy.

The snowfall continues unabated. This is not some fly-by-night snow, but the real deal, and all but the youngest of kids realize what that means.

They snuggle back into beds, excited and dreaming of tomorrow. For the first time in a long time they will not dread getting up, getting ready, putting on pants and sweatshirts and coats and mittens and boots for that interminable four-house walk to the bus stop, to stand miserable for at least three days until the bus comes and trudges them off to school.

No, tomorrow will be different. Though they have heard no weather report, and could not tell a barometer from a chronometer, they know what the silent snow means.

No school tomorrow.

While all around the city commuters are waking to a winter hell with frozen car locks and even more frozen windshields, missing scrapers and icy roads, the children will be at play. For them tomorrow will not be misery but a little holiday that belongs just to them.

The day breaks cold and hard, crisp and chill, but not the dreaded winds that wreak havoc on play. Breakfasts are devoured and clothes thrown on with abandon, like some sort of Axe Effect in Reverse. Parents wryly comment how their children cannot get this excited about getting dressed for school but their hearts are not in it. Their only real rancor is a spot of jealousy, recognizing a joy they no longer can summon.

Outside truly is a Winter Wonderland, as the entire street—no, the entire world!—is covered with snow. The glorious white velvet is great for packing, and soon a dozen snowball fights are ongoing, friends and enemies being forged for life, plans for castle assaults and frozen moats being drawn with birch sticks in the snow. Norman Rockwell would die of happiness, and even the most jaded would be hard-pressed not to crack a smile.

Lunchtime comes (tomato soup, grilled cheese and hot chocolate with marshmallows, or should that be marshmallows with hot chocolate?), and back out on the fields of white some boys have taken up the cause of a snowman.

Not to be outdone (and mostly ‘cause the boys wouldn’t let them help), the girls have begun their own sculpture for the ages. The girls possess considerably more artistic talent than the boys, and in short order their snow-woman has taken on a curvy outline, with hips to make a belly-dancer proud and—dare we say it?—a bodacious rack.

(Special note: the rack in question was not so much an artistic choice by the girls or some revelation of a Barbie-values-culture gone wild, but rather a determination that all passers-by be able to tell that this particular creation was a snow-woman. Believe me when I say their mission was a success, as even Google Earth would have no trouble figuring out whose snow-door to hold open.)

The boys found wonderful accoutrements for the eyes, nose and mouth, leaving the girls scrambling. Their eyes were two small black rocks, but this was accentuated by a pair of glasses little Shirley donated. They were unable to come up with nose and mouth (someone suggested using more rocks, but they were already pushing it), but then one of the girls got the bright idea to use a black ski-mask/scarf one of the girls (Shirley again) had. (Before you worry about her little ears and throat, Shirley hated the thing. It certainly kept her warm, but messed up her pretty red hair when she tried to take it off.)

The head covering sparked a creative boom in the girls, and soon they had the snow-woman covered head to toe in all black. (It was slimming, one of the girls said, not quite understanding what she meant.) In fact, when they were done, the only things that were visible on the snow-woman were the eyes peering out from underneath the glasses.

The boys had become jealous when they saw how spectacular the girls’ snow-woman was, but some of their swagger returned when they found an old silk hat on the ground. They placed it on their snowman and stood back in pride.

The girls seemed trumped, until one of them (guess who) noticed a red curly wig (also on the ground). “Hey!” Shirley said, “We could put this wig on our snow-woman up underneath the mask, with some of the red hair sticking out!”

The other girls thought this was a wonderful idea, and they were just about to step back and admire their own creation when the boys started hollering up a storm about how their snowman had come to life!

This was surely the most incredible thing the girls had ever heard of, and it immediately captivated them. One does not ordinarily see a snowman begin to dance around, and understandably, all the girls’ and boys’ attention was on the delightful creature. Because of this, they did not notice the other creation begin to stir…..

The Evil Snow-Ninja gained consciousness slowly, as if waking from a dream. She had a banger of a headache, made worse by what sounded like 700 children screaming. Looking around, she saw these kids (it turned out to be only 30 or so, but they sounded like 700) cavorting around another snow creature. The Evil Snow-Ninja recognized him: his name was Lick Renard, and he was a poofter. She would settle for him soon enough.

Casting about for a weapon the Evil Snow-Ninja spied a shovel. It had a long handle, and the edges were sharp; primed for mayhem. The E.S.N. laughed to herself, as she realized that the shovel looked like a giant spoon.

The Evil Snow-Ninja, was a fairy tale they say,
She was made of snow but the children know
How she came to life one day.
And slaughtered the children where they stood.
And gave Lick Renard what-for
You wouldn’t have wanted to see it
She cut the kids and Lick’s heads clean off with her giant spoon
And they went sailing down the street
(Bet little Shirley wishes she had her scarf/mask back now, huh?)

Thumpety Thump Thump
Thumpety Thump Thump….

The Evil Snow-Ninja stood happily, her headache slowly abating in the silent snow. Then a door opened a few houses away and a high-pitched yell. “Shirrrrrrrrrrleeeeeeeeeey. Come in for dinnnnnnnnnerrrrrrrr!”

Somebody needed a tit-punching!

The Evil Snow-Ninja hefted her giant spoon and started off.

Thumpety Thump Thump
Thumpety Thump Thump….

(originally published December 13, 2007)

There isn't a single question you'll get this month that 
wouldn't be better answered with "Evil Snow Ninja."

Is Santa Evil?

#426 Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Friends, I don't mean to alarm you, but there is danger all around us, lurking in the most innocent-seeming circumstances. The media bombards us with it daily, and it is up to us to be ever vigilant if we have any hope of stopping the menace.

Today's threat to our Values?

Christmas carols.

They’re fun, festive, all about love, peace and joy, and sung with gusto by young and old alike every December, one of the layers of the holidays everyone seems to enjoy. (Well, not the ACLU, but that’s another story.)

However, it is in exactly these situations that we must be on our guard, for who would suspect malicious coded messages in something as innocent as a carol?


Previously I've exposed the infiltration of Bolsheviks in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which not only sly endorses Communism, but has the temerity to suggest that Football is a Reindeer Game, when anyone knows that if football is played by any animals, it is played by clydesdale horses.

And who can forget my award-nominated examination into how the United Nations tried to destroy America by removing it from the Gold Standard through that most anti-captilistic of carols, "Silver Bells" ?

But today friends, today we turn an even darker corner. Today we look at a carol perniciously malignant, aimed at our very future itself: our children. Look closer, friends, and see what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

In this case, a fat avuncular trespasser, a one man moral majority who makes the Patriot Act look like purring kitten. Through sophisticated scholarly analysis I will prove to you that "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" poses the gravest threat yet to our continued existance.

The evidence:


Oh, you better not shout, you better not cry
You better not pout, I’m telling you why….
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list, and checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to Town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake!

Oh, you better not shout, you better not cry
You better not pout, I’m telling you why….
Santa Claus is coming to town

Take a look at those lyrics, friends! The Terrorist Surveillance Program (or Domestic Spy Program, depending on which side of the donkey you like to lick) has nothing on this dude. But before we even get to the spygames there is the troubling first verse. Let’s look at it in detail together:

Oh, you better not shout, you better not cry
You better not pout, I’m telling you why….
Santa Claus is coming to town

Right from the beginning we are threatening children, trying to force our repressed anglo-saxon codes of conduct on them. Hear the menace in the first line? You better not shout, you better not cry, you better not pout….

There’s a big stick behind that threat, and what is that stick? The arrival of one Santa Claus. Who is this figure, what kind of unholy influence does he wield that he can dictate behavior just with the rumor of his appearance in town?

Even more disturbing are the socio-economic implications, but we’ll get back to that later. Let’s move to the second verse:

He’s making a list, and checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to Town

Here we find that Santa is “making a list.” Sounds disturbingly like Nazi Germany, or at the very least neo-McCarthyism, holiday-style.

Not only is Santa making this so-called list, but he’s checking it twice. What does this tell us? Why, that Santa has OCD, of course.

Moving on to the dagger of the piece, we see that Santa is Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. The term “gonna find out” has an inevitability to it. What the song is saying is that no matter what you do, Santa is going to find out. In other words, “You can’t fight Big Brother, so don’t try.”

Secondly, there’s the whole “naughty” vs. “nice” angle. Taken with the first verse, we now see a clear pattern emerging: “Think as we think, act as we say, or no presents for you on Christmas day.” As we will soon see, this kind of thinking leads us off a cliff, but first: the third verse:

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake!

Think about this for a moment: Presumably Santa, moral arbiter for all behavior, has no need to watch you while you sleep. I mean, what possible misdeeds are you committing while deep in slumber? (Unless we’re now being judged on our dreams, a truly frightening prospect.)

No, it’s clear to me that watching people while they sleep serves no purpose. Well, no legitmate purpose.

People, I’m not trying to throw a wet blanket on your holiday fun, but I think it’s abundantly clear what's going on. Suddenly that “bowl full of jelly” is not so jolly, is it?

I know you feel ill, but we must press on and finish this verse:

He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake!

At this point we’re basically assigning Santa god-like powers. I mean, depending on how Calvanistic your leanings are, what’s the point of even trying to behave if Santa knows what you’re up to before you get there?

However, there is hope, of a sort, as we are cautioned to “be good for goodness’ sake.” But even here we encounter at the very least a paradox, and possibly massive hypocrisy in action.

Here we have the whole song imploring us to be good, to think good, to act good, even while unconscious, all with the unnamed threat of “no presents.” Now at the very end we’re told that our right behavior should take place for no other reason than its own sake. How disengenuous can you get? They want us to believe that after threats, intimidation, and scare tactics that enter realms thus far prohibited by Geneva Conventions (unless you’re going to claim that pajamas aren’t an Army “uniform”), the song suddenly does a 180 and implores to behave than for no other reason than the sake of all that is good. It’s a little late to throw Nicomachean Ethics on us, Santa lovers!

The last verse repeats the first, which gives me an opportunity to talk about the carol's overall implications. Fairly explicitly throughout we’re told of Santa’s impending visit, and the need to therefore behave. Never actually mentioned (and perhaps all the more effective because of it), is the reason why we should live our lives in manner pleasing to Arctic Perverts: presents.

Since most Christmas rants deal at least tengentially on the crass consumerism (and it’s underlying cause: self-absorbed hedonism) of Christmas, we will skip over that for now and return to the sociological quandries this song brings up.

I think that any clear-text reading of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” lends an interpretation that good behavior is necessary to rake in those presents. Or, to look at the matter conversely, morally “bad” behavior will have the effect of bringing no presents to the child in question.

Yet look at this world we live in. For whatever reason, poorer disadvantaged kids do not get nearly the presents that well-off children receive.

Are you (or Santa, or anyone, for that matter) going to sit there with a straight face and tell me that poor kids (which just so happens to include a much larger percentage of African-American and Latino children, you raging bigot) are simply “bad,” while their richer (ahem, whiter) counterparts are “good”???

Have you the gall?

No, friends, as much of a stretch it might be, I think that powerful logical analysis must eventually afford the conclusion that the number and quality of a child’s presents is directly proportional to the economic status of those providing for that child. (Or in some cases, proportional to the access those providers have to credit cards.)

I have taken the liberty of constucting a pictoral representation of what we are talking about (removing the higher-level math that might scare off those of you educated in the public school system).

where W is Wealth
P is parents (or Providers)
Q1 is Quantity of Presents
Q2 is Quality of Presents

Having sufficiently proven that it is Socioeconomic status which accounts the most for Presents (a position that anyone who has ever spent any time around a spoiled rich kid can attest to), and that the moral behavior argument doesn’t hold up, and adding to that the empirically true observation that disadvantaged children have a higher percentage of non-whites among them, we are led inescapably to the conclusion that “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is undeniably racist, and seeks to make us so as well.

Fight that temptation like the very devil itself! Do not let “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” prejudice your thoughts and actions. Furthermore, teach your children that presents are not the product of morally good behavior, but rather a function of buying power.

And of course by that I refer to parents trying to buy their children’s love, but that’s a column for another day.

Vowing to only watch people sleep who are OVER 18, I remain forever,

December 23, 2006

I may act good, bu it won't be for Goodness' sake!