9 Villa Verde
San Antonio, Texas 78230
Dear Family and Friends of Jean and Henry,
I heard some astounding news on television the other day. Jesus was probably not born on December 25th. Can you believe it? In fact we don't really know when he was born. It may have been in March or September or any other month. We just can't say for sure. I've been working out some of the more important implications of this astounding bit of news. One implication, for example is that most Christmas cards probably do not arrive in time for Christmas. They're likely either too early or too late. In fact, this Christmas card, which, before this earth-shaking discovery, would have been considered late, could be more on time than all those other Christmas cards you got.
That said, let me turn to some unfinished business from last year. You may recall the story told in last year's Impersonal Christmas Form Letter from this household. (Readers who do not can refresh their memories here.) That letter consisted of a tale about a Christmas ornament with a red stain. The tale ends with a line about the stain: "Why, that's the red of the Rue de Neuse rain, dear." I told this tale to some of Jean's quaint theosophical friends, most of them remarked that it was a nice story, and some asked to see the ornament. Their reaction did not surprise me, theosophists being somewhat more credulous than most folk. But then I found that many of my closest friends had the same reaction. So, I need to take corrective action. THE STORY IS A JOKE. The only thing that's true in it is the name of my great-great-grandmother (Eve). If you didn't get the joke, practice with this one.
There was once an airline pilot, who, seeing himself getting more and more out of shape, took to lifting weights in the cockpit at lunchtime. On one flight, his plane ran into a bit of turbulence that sent him and his equipment flying across the cockpit. When he recovered his composure he noted that his first officer was quite upset. When he asked what was wrong, the first officer said, "Flyer, there's a weight in my soup."
If you don't get the flyer joke, I can't help you. Just accept the fact that there are some things beyond your ken and that the ornament story was a total falsehood. And please don't embarrass yourself by asking me if I still have the ornament. If you do get flyer joke, then read the above-quoted line ("red of the ... .") over and over to yourself until you get the ornament joke.
Now that you understand that this Impersonal Christmas Form Letter is not late and that last year's Impersonal Christmas Form Letter was not true, we can move on to news of the year.
The first event worth mention was The Great Bike Crash II. (See the 1994 Halff Impersonal Christmas Form Letter for The Great Bike Crash I.) I was tooling down the I-10 access road West of San Antonio one fine day in March when my bike decided to go off-roading'all on its own. Being a road bike, it did not understand that off-roading is not something one does at 20 mph with little thin tires. Fortunately, I managed to absorb most of the shock of the resulting crash, thus protecting the bike from major damage. However, I still bear the scars of this heroic sacrifice, to wit, a bum elbow and a right ring finger with a 15° bend at the end.
Being something of a philosopher (some would even say a great, undiscovered philosopher), I began thinking of the implications of this event for biking in general. Here is how my thinking went.
I concluded from these considerations that I would be an idiot to continue biking. So, to keep from becoming an idiot (by modus ponens or double-entendre or some such other logical principle), I no longer bike.
While we're on the subject of my well being, I should mention that for most of the year, I was moving at half speed because of a mysterious case of anemia. In tracking down the cause of this problem, my crack team of physicians explored my gut from stem to stern and worked their way through numerous diagnoses before arriving at the correct one. Sometime in September, they concluded that I suffered from the rare disorder, taking-iron-pills-with-not-enough-iron-in-them. I am now in a very successful therapy program known as taking-bigger-iron-pills.
Jean and I have been on the go this year, as in those past. A week after the Great Bike Crash II, we left on a cruise of little-known islands and vacation spots of the Caribbean. We learned a great deal from this cruise, such as why the fare was so low and why the islands and vacation spots were little known.
Then there was the trip to San Francisco and the Napa Valley with Larry. I learned a great deal about wine on this trip, such as how to talk about wines as if you know what you're talking about. Personality terms work very well. "I found that this wine has an exceptionally well-developed character," or "didn't you think that one was just a bit manic?" Whatever happened to that old standby, "light, fruity, with just a hint of oak?"
My father, about 70 years ago, got interested in civil engineering when he read about an engineering marvel known as the Panama Canal. This year, he finally took a cruise and saw the Canal. What's more he took an entire retinue with him: Jean, me, Larry, Jeremy, and my mother, who managed to fall and crack a few ribs two days before we sailed. (Bro and Dave opted for the Baltic.) Fortunately, there's probably no place better to recover from broken ribs than a cruise ship.
And what was his reaction to this amazing event. "Well, I wasn't that impressed by the canal. I've seen a lock before. I was impressed by the amount of water in the oceans. I believe I'll have to crank up my desalinization project again." This reaction will not surprise those of you who know my father.
Shortly after getting back from the cruise, Larry and I set off for Hawaii, where he was entered in the Honolulu Marathon as a member of the National Aids Marathon team. He had to raise $3,000 just to get on the team, but they bought his plane ticket and hotel room. I was the support team. This meant that I got up at 3:00 AM on race day, got instructions at the 2-mile mark, handed over a care package of Goo and sunscreen at the 9-mile mark, took back the sunscreen at the 19-mile mark, delivered sandals at the finish, and, provided a carbohydrate-free celebration dinner at a top Honolulu restaurant. It was a strange experience. My feet kept trying to jump onto the road as the runners went by, and I felt naked without a race bib at the finish line.
Christmas, this year, has been a struggle. Our Christmas tree was a bit too large for the stand. It gave us a lesson in physics by toppling over four or five times, dumping its gooey tree-food on our carpet each time and crushing Jean once. In a rare fit of rage, I dragged it outside and tried to strangle it with a string of lights. I finally conquered the monster with a borrowed chain saw. It is now a shell of its former self, is two feet shorter, and has sworn off gooey tree food.
It's my guess that many Impersonal Christmas Form Letters will, this year, contain some very personal memories of events surrounding the tragedy of September 11. This letter is no exception. The events of that Tuesday left me stranded in Orlando, Florida. By Thursday I had figured out that driving home was faster than flying, and by Friday, I was driving through Louisiana on a route just North of New Orleans. But when I came to the turnoff to New Orleans, something in me told me not to bypass the Big Easy. Maybe I needed to make sure that they were still serving beignets and coffee at the Café du Monde, that people were still sucking down oysters at Desire, and that the Mississippi still cradled the Crescent City in her arms. I took the Basin Street exit off I-10 and headed down Conti St. through the French Quarter. It was, as it has always been, full of tourists, palmists, horse-drawn carriages, and drunks. I parked in a lot near the river. I made sure that the Café du Monde was still doing business. I fortified myself with an oyster Po' Boy at Desire. I walked back to the river and climbed the levee, over to a pier where the stern-wheeler Natchez was about to take on a load of tourists. An old black guy with a trumpet was trying to make a living by entertaining the tourists. I sat down on a bench beside another guy making a model airplane out of Budweiser beer cans. The guy with the trumpet started playing It's a Wonderful World; it seemed to fit. I dropped a couple of bucks in his tip box, and he started to play again. I've forgotten what. As I was walking away, I heard the most amazing whistle coming from the Natchez. After a few notes, I realized that I was listening to the loudest, if not the largest, steam calliope in the world. I stood and watched the traffic on the river as the calliope went through a couple of George M. Cohan tunes: Grand Old Flag and Yankee Doodle Dandy. After a run at St. Louis Blues, the calliope fell silent for a moment or two. Then it swung into the song we've heard so much since the tragedy,God Bless America. The rendition was everything you could expect from the loudest, if not the largest, steam calliope in the world; it seemed to fit.
So, don't forget now. Hang a wreath on the grill of your truck. Pop the cap on an Old Foghorn, sing, dance, and let's keep the spirit of the season going as long as possible.