Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Secret Santa.

On my father's side I am the second oldest of something like 25 grandchildren. I've lost count, actually, and the number is still occasionally growing. I have one cousin who is older than me, but she lives in Washington state, so when I was young she was rarely around to challenge me as leader of the pack. Not that I ever wanted to be leader of the pack, but there were some benefits to being oldest.

Also, no part of my father's family is Latino. The significance of this will become clear later. Members of my father's family are mutts; they're mostly German, I think, and probably some Dutch, but no one has ever really been clear about the matter. They have been in Kansas for many generations, and only with my grandparents' generation did they become city dwellers.

When I was growing up we always drove to Topeka on Christmas Eve, where my paternal grandparents lived, to celebrate. It was a special trip, because while Kansas City is only an hour from Topeka, my parents were busy with school and work and rarely had the time or resources to make the drive. My Grandma was pretty darn cool and I like hanging out with her.

And, more importantly, Santa came to deliver my Christmas gifts.

Anticipation began to build on the highway, when we'd hear reports on the radio of Santa's sleigh being spotted on the weather radars. By dinnertime I was nearly too excited to eat and both my brother and I were on full hyperactive burn. After eating a little we were all shooed downstairs to the basement family room, where a piñata was hanging from the ceiling.

Yes, a piñata. My aunt made one every year by hand and filled it with money and candy. By the time I was old enough to remember my first piñata I suppose I must have been four or five years old and I had...oh, I'd guess six or seven cousins. Actually, I don't really remember the first one, I just remember that Christmas had always been this way. It seemed to me that this was what one did for the holidays. Starting with the youngest grandchild, we all took turns swinging a plastic bat at the dangling piece of paper maîche, until finally one of the older grandchildren burst it open at the seams. My aunt was a very thorough piñata builder, so this could take quite some time. I remember the mad rush to grab candy as a vicious, every-kid-for-himself sort of dash.

Of course, this was all a diversion.

Some time after we'd gorged ourselves on chocolates, someone upstairs would yell, "I think I hear Santa!" We'd stampede up the stairs and sure enough, he'd be at the door, laughing merrily.

Santa was real. Santa called out my name and handed me my gifts. Santa had something for everyone. I believed. I never bothered to question why. Who would, regardless of age?

The first Christmas I experienced this routine after being told the truth about Santa, everything was so obvious. Where was Uncle Steve? He'd been there at dinner. I watched the spectacle from the back of the tiny living room, near the hallway where there was more room to move around. Rather than being disappointed that Santa was far less than I had believed, I was filled with a wonderful feeling of knowing something that every other kid there didn't know. I had a secret. It was precious. There would be consequences should I pass it on. I felt important and trusted and I really, really liked it.

My father's family still practices this Christmas ritual. Over the years the duty of being Santa has been passed down through my cousins. I even have a photo of my brother being made up with the Santa suit on and a beer in his hand. Somehow I managed to dodge the draft...I suppose I'm too scrawny to pull off jolly, which is fine by me. As long as there are young ones in my family, and given the apparently fertility of the ladies that looks to be forever, we'll enjoy perpetuating the secret.

My friends confide in me often. I love it, because it gives me a little bit more of that special feeling. My own secrets are not really much fun. I have relatively few, I think. The times when I slip and inadvertently let out something which has been confided in me are some of my biggest failures in life.

As an adult living in Topeka, my holiday celebrations were much less exciting, even when I was with my family. I suppose we all mellow with age and beer. My favorite thing about Chrismas Eve in Topeka during my 20s was Collins Park, a neighborhood which lined every street with brown paper bags every few feet along the curbs, each filled with sand and a candle. They lit all the candles after dark and the simple lanterns suddenly were an impressive sight. For a few hours that night the neighborhood seemed even darker for all its undulating snakes of lights. It was a quiet celebration, without red or green or glitter or snowmen or many-colored trees. The streets had a secret.

Friday, January 05, 2007


I'm a fairly verbose guy. While my life is often guided by intense shame and guilt, I rarely have any problem telling the world about it. My friends get used to hearing me go on, and on, and on, and on, and on about whatever is on my mind.

There are some milestones in life, however, about which even I won't shout when I pass them. Sometimes the road of life takes a very, very sharp bend. You don't see it coming and at first the G forces make you feel a little sick, but with any luck you begin to enjoy the exhiliration and adrenaline. And when you're standing on the other side, huffing and puffing and generally amazed to be alive, you smile a little smile and think to yourself, "That right there is nobody's business but mine."

So this is a post about what I ain't bloggin'. I am enough of a New Yorker to consider bribes, however.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


So Rare ruined me. I used to walk around the world in blissful ignorance that insults were being hurled at me right and left. And then I learned what "maricon" means. (Evidently it's "fag" in Spanish.) On a recent Friday night in our deli across the street, as I'm getting ready to pay, some guy standing there talking to the worker guys says "maricon" as I'm walking to the counter. And I said "Hey! Yes, yes, I am." He was all trying to pretend like he was calling his friend behind the counter that name, but I was like "whatever dude." I was in super-tight, super-cute clothes, and hanging with a punkish tranny boy, a tragically goth boy with hair extensions and contacts that made his entire eyes black (and who tried to make out with me by the drink cooler in back), and of course Spiky. And it was 4am. Hello! He was soooo not talking about his friend. I think he was pretty shocked to be caught, and I was shocked at myself for saying something, but I was rolling enough not to let it go by. Thank goodness he didn't look like the type to kick my ass.

Okay so then this morning I'm buying my breakfast downstairs on the concourse, and one of the cashier girls is chatting with the other, and here comes the big "maricon" again! I said, "That's not a very nice thing to say!" But I don't even think they realized I could understand them at all, as there was a lot going on around me. As a matter of fact I doubt they were even talking about me, because I look pretty nondescript (though lovely in my Hickey Freeman thanks to Jink) in my work clothes, and it didn't seem directed at me. But that's really not a word one should go blithely tossing around!

Then again, Rare likes to yell it at the top of his lungs while walking down the street in Manhattan, plus pretty much any time he needs an exclamation or an expletive, which seems to be quite often. Say it out loud a few times to yourself and you might see why he likes it. It sounds like "marry cone" only with a little tongue stop on the R. It's the Spanish/French R that is not quite rolled, but not quite English either. Now give it a couple of shouts. There! I knew you'd like it.

Now I've ruined you. It's good to pass these things on.