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A Thunder Pie Christmas Special
Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!
So this is Christmas. And Christmas is great. Even when it isn’t. Which is most of the time.
You know what I mean?
I knew you probably would.
Look, I don’t care if you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza or Boxing Day or Kickboxing Day, I just don’t give a tinsel titty. You do you and I will be over here backing you up/ throwing down with anyone who has a problem with your shit, because life is too short for all that nonsense. I celebrate Christmas, but I celebrate it in my own way. I hijack the narrative and I twist it until it turns into something better for me. More digestible for me. Cleaner. Sharper.
Like pure driven snow.
On a Lynyrd Skynyrd mirror.
In a carnie’s beat up RV.
You know, I am about to dump a lot of Christmas cheer into your beautiful lap. Some sad low blue, some jolly red, some ever green, some tinged with dread. I hope you find at least some of it charming, or perhaps a bit intriguing. Maybe even a tad offensive? Is that so wrong when are discussing something as poignantly individual as the solitary human being standing in the howling wilderness that is the collective holidays? I mean, hey, this is the 21st century, and we are on the internet, and if I am not crushing someone’s will to live at any given moment then what good am I at this bloggy thing after all, you know?
Okay, okay. Let’s start the show, alright? Hand me that lit candle, will you? And move in close to me over here. Don’t be afraid. I don’t bite. Well, I do, but just one person and it ain’t you.
Hold tight to me.
Grab my arm.
We are up, now.
WE ARE UP NOW!!
Look down at the snowy fields!
Let’s go down into the village.! Let’s go sneak into the cottages in the middle of the night, shall we?? Let’s steal some Christmas trees and snag some presents! Just for devilish kicks! And then let’s return it all just in the nick of time/ as dawn breaks!! / as the kids/ who all deserve the stars/ they each rub the sand from their eyes and the booger crust from their runny noses/ yawn/ sit up in bed/ and look out at the cool blue Earthy yolk bleeding through this shell of night!
The world, it will be coming alive!
On Christmas Day in the morning!!
In Search of Christmas Spirit
So much happens to a brain and a heart during Christmastime that it often seems to me that the true meaning of the season has been lost to the idiot tides forever. I know that’s far from an original thought, so I suspect that many of you feel the same way from time to time. Gifts, money, shopping, crowds, little time and lots of responsibilities, fatty foods, dip shit songs, kids throwing up chunks of pasta because they got the latest Christmas virus, year-end exhaustion, family drama, Facebook assholes making everything look festive and great, too much booze, all of it/ everything/ it’s all too much sometimes.
The so-called “Christmas Spirit” is supposed to lift us, make us happy, feel alive. But like so much in life: other people ruin it by creating, over time, new definitions for what it means to be a peppy participant in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. But you know what? Fuck them. And fuck all that.
It’s a lot. We are hurting. Suffering. Sad and then smiling. In line at the Target, watching lovers kiss. In line at the Walmart, watching old people staring at the mints. In line at the Post Office. In line at the liquor store. In line at the top of the steps on Christmas morning/ waiting for your mom to say “Okay! Come down!”
Then one day you’re in line to thank the people for coming to her funeral.
In line to say goodbye to your friend.
In line to cash your Social Security check.
In line to see Santa.
In line to get your chemo.
I just want to eat some fruitcake and drink some red wine and hold you close on the couch during Elf because we are everything right now and we are on our way out the door.
Next to a circus there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out any quicker than the Christmas spirit. - Kin Hubbard
I got up one Christmas morning and we didn't have nothing to eat. We didn't have an apple, we didn't have an orange, we didn't have a cake, we didn't have nothing.
Jesus and God and Heaven and Space and Darkness and Goodbye Forever
I used to believe in God but now I don’t. It isn’t sad. And it isn’t stupid. The sky makes more sense to me now that I can look at it and not expect to live up there someday forever. I like knowing that my time on Earth/ right here/ right now/ is all I have and all I will ever have. I will not cross paths with my kids in Heaven. We will see each other no more, no more.
Unless, of course, we do. In which case: great. What a treat!
I love loving a few people harder than I ever loved before because we are loving each other in just a flash of swift frames before we go dark and drift back up into the wild seas of space. As micro dust. As nothingness. The same wonderful void that birthed the dream will swallow it back down again. Then we will nourish the essence of a memory for a hundred years or so. As long as we are recalled. Then the sad beautiful poetry of being totally forgotten will commence. And we will slip further under the conscious plane, until one afternoon, as the world does it’s thing/ as kids holler off the school bus at springtime blooming up from the soil/ the last person/ maybe one of your grandkids/ maybe one of your great grandkids/ but the last living veteran of your time alive/ the last human being to have any recollection of you being here in the flesh/ they will puff a little air/ twitch their eyes/ and die themselves.
And just like that: so too will die your last moments of memory. You will be forgotten at that point. Exist only in what you left behind. Your written words. Your photos. Your TikTok videos and your Twitter posts about nothing anyone gives a crap about anymore. Maybe your Amazon hologram or whatever. Some remnants of your voice, some scattered ashes of your skin dancing down the information superhighway into the faces of the tens of trillions who never ever knew you and never ever will.
Still, I figure I like Christmas just as much as anyone else because, even though I don’t really buy into much of what they say about it’s origins, I still recognize the powerful awesomeness of believing in something good. In something looking out for you and the people you love. And I think this holiday, it represents/ at its blurry buried core/ the best of us somehow. Mind you, it’s all been twisted. Mangled, really, this notion of man’s humanity towards his fellow man. And I am in no mood to guess how or why that has happened, but in there somewhere there are some very rare burning embers that connect us all. It doesn’t matter what you identify as. Christian or not, I feel like it really doesn’t make a difference anymore.
I mean, listen.
The harsh December wind. The frozen still stars. The bare branches of the night trees lit up by a pale old moon. The kids laughing in the other room. The wine mixing down in your own warm blood. The tree all lit up. The dog on the rug. The mad rush over. The money all spent. The money never came. The loneliness of the winter. Your connection with the galaxy coming down like snow/ like light evening snow in the streetlight as the church people reach their cars, fire up their motors, head home with a swish of headlights, aiming for their own version of peace in the valley.
I taste nothing but the blood on my bottom lip. You see, I bit it as I was figuring all of this out for myself.
You have your thing and I have mine. I only want us both to be okay. I only want us both to be warm in the morning, a mug of coffee cupped in our two hands like a commercial on TV. Breathing in the steam. Standing in the rising mist.
I have to piss.
You have to piss.
We are alive on Christmas morning.
How many observe Christ's birthday! How few, His precepts! - Benjamin Franklin
To believe is to know you believe, and to know you believe is not to believe.
Outlaws at the Christmas Tree
Cutting down a living thing and dragging it back to your abode so you can set it up in the living room and pretend it’s still kind of alive is so sensationally messed up that I almost can’t write about it.
But I have to try.
Of all the traditions, the Christmas tree thing is the most loco if you ask me. And yet, I live for it. I think about the idea of it all and I try, sometimes, to imagine that instead of the tree/ I am dragging back some young gunfighter outlaw to my home on the prairie. He was a bad mama jama and he killed a lot of innocents (plus a heap of fellow bad seeds) and when they offered up a reward for his body, dead or alive, well, I knew that this would be how I would earn my Christmas gift money this year.
I followed his cold trail for months. Across the Nebraska territory and down into the Texas territory, I lived on gopher beans and tumbleweed/ held my mouth up to catch the rarified dew as I sat covered in guns on the back of my horse/ and I followed the shank of the autumn moon to understand where my target was hiding.
I asked baby armadillos to whisper his direction up at me.
I told the witches that live in the desolate barns to send him to me if they could be so kind.
I made love to sad rattlesnakes in a delicate rain.
And then one day I shot him through the heart on a vacant homestead porch. He collapsed like a sack of Wyoming wampum and I tied him to my horse and traveled the many miles and many roads back to my home. Then, before I collected my reward, I set him up in the living room. I peeled his rat skin boots off his stiff pale feet and I propped his whole long body in a bucket of water. I threw a penny in the drink to stave off rot and I hung candles from his greasy jacket buttons and tiny wooden angels from the brim of his old weathered hat.
The family adored him from the get-go.
The children drank their cocoa in the flickering of his illumination and we all stared at him with real love in our eyes. Martha spoke to him when the rest of us were asleep. Martha told him her secrets, like she knew him from before.
We only rolled him out into the endless gusts beyond our walls when his skin began to speckle and his must turned wilder than we could endure.
I cashed him in the day after New Years.
His eyes were sinking back in his head and his teeth were poking out of his rolling back lips as if he was smiling something wicked at everyone who came up to see him that day we both rolled into town.
I will never forget him.
Next year I will kill his brother. Or maybe his son. It won’t matter all too much as long as the killing done gets done.
I don't like to see Christmas trees torn down. - John Prine
Santa: Through 4000 years of rich tradition Santas have revealed a selfless love exemplifying the true meaning of Christmas.
- Duncan Royale, History of Santa Claus
A Feast for the King of Our Nighttime Sky
We leave milk and cookies for Santa every year. I spent last Sunday making all the cookies and Arle is making some brownies and we will give that stuff as gifts to family and friends. The kids, our five, they get the big money shit. The rest of our people have to settle for homemade peasant presents. Cookies. Candles in old Thrift store crystal glasses that Arle made. Homemade hot chocolate mix that Arle conjures up. Maybe a drawing from one of the younger kids. Maybe a crayon Santa and a Minecraft dude running through a snowstorm towards a nice blue sea with a toothy shark waiting there to eat them. Or something like that.
I get the kids to help me leave some cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve. Some of them do it now just to keep it going for the younger ones. It makes me sad in a way, this letting go of something magic like when they all believed. Now some do and some don’t and one might be on the fence but the hounds are at the gate and running from the unstoppable truth at this point is pointless.
Before long, the cookies won’t get left anymore, I guess.
It will be like Santa died or something.
It irritates me.
Letting go of God was easier than letting go of Santa Claus.
But we still have now, huh? We still have this year for a few of them, and maybe another year or two after that if we can keep the older kids from going rogue with their sinister tongues. We still have these thin fragile traditions that we hold in our hands, me and Arle do. And they empower us with this true meaning of life. This bolt of lightning. This tiger by the tail. Everything hinging on a gossamer balance/ Christmas of yesterday vying to last/ Christmas tomorrow glaring in the window/ standing in the dark, dark storm/ tapping on the glass/ saying our names over and over and over again all night long.
Relentless bastard. Savage hungry bear. Back to your hills, you son-of-a-bitch.
I will lay some chocolate chip cookies down on the plastic Santa tray. And maybe a brownie. A glass of cold milk. Some carrots we got at Walmart. Like 9 or 10 carrots in a bag and I will only leave one or two on the table. The rest will go bad in the fridge. I don’t even know why I hold onto them. Come mid January they’ll be weird/ gross/ bleeding dark juice down in the chiller drawer.
Sweet, sweet carrots from the ground.
Big strong reindeer on the roof.
Oldish daddy-o eating to leave crumbs/ pouring most of the milk down the sink/ but leaving a little for effect.
Time like a bomb ticking in the corner.
Laying in my bed that night/ sleigh bells far away.
It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little field-mice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, "Now then, one, two, three!" and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.
- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.
-Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales
Friendship, Fellowship, Battleship Heart
Somewhere in the middle of the truest meaning of Christmas, there must be people looking for me. Seeking me. Searching the rocks on the ridge. Peering down into the crevices where the timber rattlers sleep away their days, yearning for me out of curiosity. Calling me out of momentary wonder, before the swift instant drops and I slide back into their back lots/ firewood piles/ under old cars/ into oily smelling garages that hurt with cold/ under workbenches/ behind rakes and shovels/ moving quietly back to the shadows of a world where I only exist as a picture or a post or an email or a song.
Christmas ought to be a time when you reach out to tried and true friends and wish them good peace and mean it. But I don’t do that much. I stand separate from most of all that, a man ripped out of a scene, an actor without one of his plays. The one where he shines in differing lights than just the family guy. The everyday fellow. The working stiff and the hobbyish writer.
Arle has real friends and I wonder about that sometimes. How she does it. She has known hurt too, and she has suffered a fuck ton of arrogant hurtful humans, same as me, but still. She manages to maintain the certain friendships with the certain friends where I typically let my own wither before the danger of getting my jaw smashed in can even get close. Smashed in by an old dad ghost. Or ex wife ghost. Or tricked mom ghost. Or strange brother ghost. So much battling I have done across the recent years/ so much Ghost fighting/ Ghost War/ that I now lurk at the edges of the town but I never wander into the lights, man.
No Christmas drinks with old pals.
No trading gifts with the guys.
No sense of me being sensed from far away.
I have one love, Arle. And one army, the kids. And I march them to near death, I guess, in order for me to keep moving across this wilderness without ever collapsing from uncertainty.
Was I bad? Was I cruel or uncool or just plain mean?
I think it started with my dad leaving us when I was just a kid. Then came the rest. And so much of it, too.
I have learned to live with it, trust me, but if you called me I wouldn’t probably even pick up because I’m so unsure of myself. So scared of the void after you go. It isn’t your fault. It’s not mine either. It’s them. Her. Him. Him. Her. Them.
I hold Arle’s hand on the couch. I need to take her out to dinner more often. To some bars, maybe, get a few beers out in the world. I didn’t do nothing wrong. I take the blame for so much shit. Arle puts her feet on my lap. We watch Mythic Quest. We watch Love is Blind. We watch the murder docs and the movies some nights. We watch the mudlarkers in London and the flea marketers in South Carolina. She loves me deep/ spears in my ribs/ slashing my throat and shoving her hands up into my gargling hole/ feeling my pulse in her long tapered fingers/ massaging my voice box with the warm palm of her hand. Hitting me with so much love that it scares me sometimes.
What if it goes away?
What if I never was anyone’s friend because there was something about me that made people sad?
I don’t know. I look at the Christmas tree, it’s needles sharp and the ornaments dangling heavy off it like telephone wire kicks/ and I look at the woman/ her eyes on the screen and her feet in a pair of my Vans socks and they are moving slowly in my grasp/ my thumb up and down the sides of them/ pushing knuckles into the soft undersides/ trying to tell her that I will give her my liver if she wants it.
I’ll rip out my liver with a metal spatula and hand it to her dripping/ spotting the rug with my blood/ if she would need that for any reason. Christmas is a time for love. For recognizing, at a certain age, that despite the hardships and despite the blue, blue pain, you might still be lucky, man. You might still have found something intense and galactic and inspired: not despite what you have seen and lived: but rather, because of it.
A battleship heart, all barnacles and rust. Set up on the bookshelf with the plastic thrift store Santas and all the rocks we found on hikes. Next to a pinecone from Antietam, my battleship heart slips from her hands and rests at long last. Until she picks me up again. Like Santa raising a cookie to his lips/ crumbs down in his beard/ tired eyes taking in another kitchen scene/ as Christmas Eve takes on some kind of strange new meaning.
In a little town in a little valley up in cold dark Pennsylvania, sleepy heads dream of the morning as the morning dreams right back at them.
I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel.
- Charlie Brown
Parting Words, This Christmas
Stand. Or sit. Get comfortable any way you choose. Stop the clocks. Stop the movement of the minutes and the hours. Park the car and turn off the TV. The phone, set it down. Not forever, just for now. Raise your eyes to the tree. Or if you don’t have a tree, raise your eyes to the ceiling. Ceiling as sky. Ceiling as firmament, stretching out forever from you right here, right this very moment.
Shake the day off of your bones. You need to do that and you deserve it, too. The long, long week, it never does end. But wipe it off of your arms now, donut dust snow, gently but firmly.
Wish me into your room.
Wish me into your room there with a puff of glittery smoke or however you see it happening. A magic session and here I come. Standing there, totally comfortable, holding my little jelly jar of Rioja, smiling at you like I’ve been expecting this whole shebang. Like I knew this would happen. Even if it never does happen, I still knew it would. I was sure of it. Christmastime. Sharing a few fleeting moments together, me and you. Through words. Through ideas. Through collective thoughts and separate notions. Across bewildered dreamscapes. Down through early winter creek bottoms, the frozen tracks of raccoons leading us both deeper into the lost wild lands where no one goes but the druggies looking for isolation. And the middle schoolers looking for salvation. And the deer looking for each other. And the other deer looking for some me-time.
Wish me into your instantaneous Christmas dream and then I will go, I swear. I will be off. Run me out?!? No need, no need. I’m going on my own, I promise, I promise.
I just wanted to touch base with you here a few hours before Christmas. Before it all goes down one more time. The chaos. The loneliness. The infinite joy and the inescapable bloat. The cold walk from the car to their front door. The wreath in the porch light. You don’t even knock anymore.
Look who’s here! Look who’s here! It’s you and you look great. They tell you that, too. You look great!, they say and your arms are loaded with gifts all wrapped up. And a container of cut cheese slices. And a bottle of wine. And you are beaming now, brought to this place by the randomness of the universe and nothing else. What other reason could you possibly need, though, you know? This. This is enough. This is everything. Whatever that means. It doesn’t matter.
This feels good.
And yeah, I know. You have lost me somewhere along the trail, huh? I see you haven’t even remembered that I was alongside you there not so long ago, but that’s okay. I wasn’t there to stay. It was all just temporary. Like I said, I only wanted to see you briefly. To make sure you saw me too. At Christmastime.
In each other’s eyes, we roll out. We head to our stations. To the ones we love. To the side of the tree/ to the outlaw’s dead body. Have a drink. Have some cheese. Squeeze a tiny fist and kiss your lover’s cheek. Smile into the ethereal mist floating down off the walls as if they were morning ponds leaned up against the forest itself.
Santa is coming.
Don’t be afraid, my friend.
Don’t be afraid.
Seasons Greetings to you and your loved ones.
Thank you for reading Thunder Pie.
Thank you for being in my life.
Ho ho ho.
PS: Next week there will be no new essay from me. I am taking a break to end 2022. I will be back in Paid Subscribers inboxes on Friday, January, 6, 2023. So please have a safe and Happy New Year!!!!
Edited by Arle Bielanko
Arle’s Etsy shop: gnarleART
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I wanted an electric train for Christmas but I got the saxophone instead.
peace on earth