Monday, January 02, 2006

Home for the Holidays

I was able to stop home for the holidays, which was nice, Brother/Sister. Don't ask me where home is — my enemies would love to get wind of that information, just to get to people who are close to me. I'll only say that we weren't required to break too far off our Texas-to-Boston itinerary to spend Christmas with my family.

I don't think I have to tell you, B/S, how a stop home for a few days can recharge the batteries of an Internet Personality. Hugs and home cooking from Mom, shots of festive liqueurs with Dad, a game of Scrabble with Sissy and Skip (not their real names, fellas) — it was all good.

As always, we went to Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Earvin's place for Christmas Eve. Uncle Earvin and I never really clicked, but family is family, and we all put on our holiday sweaters and arrived at my mother's sister's doorstep at around 7 p.m., holding pies. My aunt greeted us warmly at the door, took our coats and ushered us inside.

My uncle stood up abruptly, spilling his mulled wine, as I entered his living room with PePe in tow. "I KNEW IT!" he cried. "I knew it the first time I tried to throw a football with that sissy-boy!"

"Knew what?" my father asked, darkly.

"I knew he was going to come home one Christmas and try to bring a man into MY HOUSE!"

"Oh, come off it," I told my uncle. "PePe's just my Piper —"

"The two of you perverts can do whatever you want together back in the Big City, but I won't have you talking about it in my house, in front of my children!" This was a bit dramatic, I thought, given that my cousins are thirty-six and twenty-nine years old, and the younger one had been known to "experiment" sexually in college before her father cut off her tuition during her junior year.

But rather than dig up that old skeleton and provoke a full-on family brawl (I wouldn't do that to my Aunt Marjorie), I thought it better to explain my relationship with PePe to my uncle. So I told him about my training in Peru, and the tradition that calls for each Elite Incan Dance-Fighter to have in his retinue a Piper, who provides the musical accompaniment that an EIDF requires when he goes into battle. I then described to him the mutual, ceremonial oath of loyalty and friendship that PePe and I took together back in Peru.

"Well, that sounds a lot like one of those gay weddings to me," my uncle rumbled. He glared at my father while he said this, as though it were Dad's fault that I had grown up to be the kind of person a man like my Uncle Earvin would mistake for a homosexual.

"So what if it was?" my father nobly shot back. "At least we'd have a marriage to celebrate." He gestured at my two single cousins, whose prospects did not seem to have improved since I last saw them, as brother and sister had put on some eighty pounds between them. This set my Aunt Marjorie to bawling, and I realized I was going to have to act quickly before all of Christmas 2005 went straight to hell.

"EVERYBODY OUTSIDE," I said. My uncle gave me a challenging look. "FOR A DEMONSTRATION," I explained. "OUT. NOW."

My aunt and uncle's expansive front lawn — I should have described it to you earlier, Brother/Sister, on the way in — was a veritable Disneyland of Christmas animatronics. My uncle has his faults, but he is a craftsman, and over the years he had built, from scratch, a life-sized Nativity scene, with moving parts. The display was set under a oak tree just off the driveway, and the figures ran off a car battery — the Baby Jesus writhed uncomfortably in his swaddling cloths, the Virgin Mother made gestures of administration to her child, threatening shepherds brandished crooks at three foreign men proffering their gifts to Christ the Lord. An angel hung from wires extended from the roof of the house to the oak tree. Its wings flapped up and down hypnotically. Backing all this was a full-size Santa, in his sleigh, with reindeer, and flanking him were the characters from the Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV specials (one notable omission being the Elf Who Wanted To Be a Dentist, whom my uncle was known to repudiate as a promoter of alternative lifestyles).

"PePe," I said. "Do you know 'Walking in a Winter Wonderland'?"

PePe nodded.

"Play it," I instructed, pulling one foot, then the other up behind my back to stretch my quads. PePe pulled out his pipes and began performing the song. I turned fierce eyes on my Uncle Earvin. "Watch this," I said,

and I attacked his Christmas display. Took out the shepherds in three kick-steps, then sauntered over to Frosty and decapitated him. With Frosty's hat and one of the shepherds' crooks I improvised a vaudeville hat-and-cane routine that culminated in me thrashing the Christmas angel overhead, bringing him down like a piñata. I then turned my attentions to the reindeer, the Rudolph characters, and finally the wise men, obliterating all of them in turn with spectacular kicks, thrusts, and rhythmic punches. Out of deference to my aunt's renowned religious piety (she hasn't missed a Sunday church service in forty-three years, which partly explains why my uncle, who can't leave town for more than six days, is so provincial-minded a personality), I left Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child intact.

PePe wound out "Winter Wonderland", and I dropped into a crouch and twirled around to survey the carnage. The front yard was littered with plastic limbs, splintered wood, and shredded electrical wires shorting out in the snow. The family gaped at me, dumbfounded. Uncle Earvin was the first to find words:

"God damn, boy. You smashed my whole Christmas display to hell."

It occurred to me, at this point, that I had made a bit of a miscalculation. Determined as I had been to provide some clarity to my uncle on the subject of my relationship with PePe, I hadn't thought that, in the process, I was laying waste to some three decades of his work.

Surprisingly, my uncle was willing, at the moment, to overlook this fact:

"The dancing looked a little queer. But you say you have to do that when you fight?"

"I do. It's the music that gives us an edge over the conventional martial arts, the kung fu fighters and ninjas —"

"And you can do this to the Enemy?" Uncle Earvin asked.

"The Enemy?"

"You know — the Arabs."

I pointed to one of the wise men on the ground. "This one came from the East," I said.

"I owe you an apology, boy. And you, too," my uncle said, gesturing at PePe. "Let's get in out of the cold and get us some Christmas dinner."

"Amen!" cried my Aunt Marjorie.

And with that deep impression made on my hard-nosed Uncle Earvin, a good time was had by all.

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