A Christmas Story
In the year 1958 my life stunk like the part of the big city that smelled of stale beer or worse—the constant odor of yeast. Times were hard for this student. Across the street, the neighborhood tavern’s broken sign flickered drunkenly, Sch~itz Beer; one letter, the "L" had gone AWOL, but what boozer would care, as long as the watering hole was open for business?
Shadows dance in the flickering neon light; the mood’s almost perfect—for slashing my wrist. No, really, I should buy a light bulb for a dump that my stingy landlady rents out as a “studio.” But the ex-flapper girl turned landlady—I nicknamed her “Red”— doesn’t permit anything over 40 watts. Now and then, she will draw attention to her still impressive breasts, but I wish she’d offer me a 60-watt light bulb instead. It’s so dark in here, roaming roaches collide on my linoleum-covered kitchen floor.
Yucky? Not really; they clean up every unwashed cup and bowl. Why fight them? They’ve been here since Adam and Eve set up housekeeping in this place. One small thing: ask not how I can stand this kitchen’s odors. These are trifles when one lives in this city’s brewery district; trust me, I have seen my roaches heave at the stench of brewer’s yeast. It permeates the house, clings to clothes, and ferments the brain.
Tonight, by the twinkling of that neon sign, I watch the mother of all roaches lift the linoleum’s upturned corner. Crunch. Something inside me snaps. All right! I give up, and gather my belongings; I’ll humble myself before my parents, and they’ll forgive me. After all, it’s Christmas and I know, Jimmy Stewart will have softened them up by now. “It’s a Wonderful Life” will do it.
But here is the big question: Will my landlady let me pass? I owe her rent. Through her open apartment door I hear Bing and Catherine Crosby croon— I tiptoe down the hall. The old TV flickers worse than that Sch~itz sign across the street . . . . But—foiled again; my landlady can sense an escaping rent check. Nothing escapes her sharp eyes and finely-tuned ears. Caught!
Then, to my surprise, she gently speaks, “Come right in.” And then she said, “Merry Christmas, young fellow; now close your eyes.” I feel a motherly kiss on my cheek, “This is my gift to you; and never mind the rent,” and with that, she sends me on my way. See? Christmas does soften the heart—even that of a stingy landlady. Or was it because she realized that one can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip . . . me?
It is a poem’s absolute perfection that can lead to its imperfection.