“This day” refers, by the way, to Christmas. For those of you reading this in the Western Hemisphere, it may still be Christmas Eve. Sorry about the confusion. Here in Korea, Christmas is already in full swing, as you can tell by the yelling of neighbors and hawking of wares from the loudspeakers of trucks rolling up and down the street. Merry Christmas indeed.
You may be expecting a “bah, humbug!” from me, but I like surprises as much as the next person (except for nuclear boo-boos–they’re called boo-boos because nobody in the vicinity has the presence of mind to cheer; as a badge I bought from a trinket salesman long ago proclaimed: “Nuclear war can spoil your whole day.”). Remember, Scrooge wakes up from his catharsis to be not just a mensch but an ubermensch, much to the delighted flabbergastation of his unflappable (and seemingly interchangeably cheerful) loved ones.
Not to toot my own horn–I’m much more similar to the pre-catharsis Ebenezer than the everybody-loving life of the party at the end of the story. Just to rub it in, my wife even told me I was selfish this morning when I pointed out that the right side of the electrified mattress pad–the side of the bed she sleeps on–is warmer than the left, and told her we could switch sides if it got too hot for her. (What precipitated the exchange was my offer to turn up the heat, since the left side of the bed was as cold as the look in Vladimir Putin’s eyes–no offense intended to all you die-hard Putin fans out there.)
A few years ago one of my Korean students told me I looked like Santa Claus. I laughed and shook my head, partly out of some ingrained masochistic reflex that commands me to respond politely when insulted (hey, as J. C. said, long after he was born King of the Babies, having borrowed his bagel-sized crown from Barbie’s encephalitic sister, the one who’s not allowed to leave the house, turn the other cheek), but mainly because the student who said it thought she was paying me a compliment. (As I mentioned before in a much earlier post, another student did likewise when she compared me to “KFC haraboeji“–directly translated: “KFC old man”–in other words, Colonel Sanders, long-deceased mass-murderer of hapless chickens the world around. That was a moment after she’d told me I was “handsome.” Clearly, cultural standards of beauty are relative, to say the least.)
When I told a Korean female colleague about the Santa Claus remark, she said I should have been pleased, as “Everyone loves Santa Claus.” To hammer the theme home, I found her attractive, not least because she dressed in a fetchingly provocative manner, and I thought all the other guys who worked at the institute concurred that she was the cat’s pajamas, only to find out they thought she was no great shakes. Hearing this made me sad. It would explain why she went so far out of her way to arouse attention, dying her hair and wearing too much make-up. As a married man, I never get to have any fun anymore, but I heard from someone who’d seen this petite young lady dancing at a club with a tall foreign teacher that it was like “watching a squirrel try to climb up a giraffe.”
To get back to our original (or perhaps unoriginal) theme: despite what I wrote the other day in my usual, knee-jerk, sneering tone, I do miss Christmas Day itself. I miss my family. I love them. They’re great people. I’m lucky to have such lovable loved ones. Too bad we live in a world where the nuclear family is destined to explode and shower its various parts far and wide. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time we all celebrated Christmas together. Twenty years ago, at least. Maybe even thirty. Not that we’ve done too badly. Various configurations of the family have kept up the tradition year after year, and now that we’re adults, the commercial aspect has taken a backseat to the importance of getting together and shooting the shit. (Oh, and of eating lots and lots of lovingly prepared food. At least I assume it’s lovingly prepared, since I’ve never had to participate in the preparations. As in Korea, back home that’s left to the intrepid female members of the tribe.)
Christmas is about family. Just four days after the winter solstice, it’s a time for people to assemble with those they know the best, the ones they trust, and who know and love them. I know it’s hard for family members to get along all the time, but considering how scattered so many of us are, and that absence does in fact make the heart grow fonder, familiarity can sometimes breed affection instead of contempt. (Remind me to get as far away as possible from my wife, by the way; I hope I don’t have to resort to the Emma Bovary approach; that might be too drastic.)
If I may wax nostalgic as well as sentimental for a moment, I also miss the sight of all those shiny toys I received as a boy, especially the intricately made Corgi red fire engine, or the Vertibird helicopter my brothers and I played with for a few hours before losing interest and returning our attention to the poor, neglected television, or the Pivot Pool game advertised by the late great sell-out Lucille Ball, who intoned majestically: “If it hasn’t got a pivot, it isn’t pivot pool!”
The pool game and helicopter toy came on the same Christmas, the one where I befriended a housefly and named him David. I even made up a sadistic little song for him: “David the Fly, you’re gonna die.” I was a sick child. I think the poor fellow eventually froze to death, passed over by both Jesus and Santa Claus.
His last words were, “Buzz! Buzz!” (from the American Midwestern dialect of housefly language, I believe that translates to: “Thanks a lot, douchebags!”) (Sorry the second parenthesis from the above parenthetical interruption is in italics; that was accidental.) (Also, my apologies for being so pathologically anal-retentive. I’m sure if Freud were still alive he’d have something to say about that. Alas, he’s not, so he can keep his big fat mouth shut.)
For those who like Christmas to have an old-fashioned flavor, I recommend reading (or listening to) Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” or Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (but don’t see the movie unless you’re in the mood to commit suicide). Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, of course, never goes amiss, in any of its numerous incarnations. I’m partial to the one with George C. Scott, as well as Albert Finney in the eponymous role in the musical Scrooge; you can’t beat his rendition of “Thank You Very Much” at the end of the film. Any man who refuses to be knighted is all right by me (no offense intended to Sirs Paul McCartney or Michard Jagger). I also saw an excellent contemporary version broadcast on the BBC a few years ago, and the one with Bill Murray’s not bad either, although it is a little glitzy.
Finally, here’s a beloved passage from King Lear I’d like to leave you with. It’s from Act III, Scene IV. The king has given all his land away to his two ungrateful daughters, Regan and Goneril, and banished the third, Cordelia. R & G have shut the doors of their castle on Lear’s retinue and their father himself. So he’s hurtin’ in a big way. He’s also starting to lose his mind (the easiest diet I ever tried). Luckily, he has some company, including his fool, Kent (in disguise), and Edgar, masquerading as a homeless nomad who calls himself Poor Tom o’ Bedlam.
Brought down from his high place among the gods, as he suffers the blows of a chilly storm on an unfortified heath, Lear has an epiphany that enables him to commiserate with the neediest among us (as J. C. said, “The poor will always be with you”).
Take it away, King Lear:
Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this piteous storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just.
All but the last five lines are fairly self-explanatory, and paraphrasing the bard is always a fraught enterprise, as it means compromising the artist’s immortal poetry. Nevertheless, if I may paraphrase what I read in the footnotes (and also scribbled down and lost from the NoFearShakespeare website), “Take physic, pomp,” is an invitation or challenge to those who have too much to cure themselves of their vanity; the last several lines recommend that these stuffed shirts “take a walk on the wild side,” so to speak, and share the wealth a bit for a change, a la Ebenezer Scrooge, newly enlightened, generous-as-Jesus, man about town.
Amen to that, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews!
And while you’re at it, have yourselves a merry little Christmas.