760 Boulevard Athens, Georgia: A True Christmas Story

Dec 18

I like Christmas. The gingko trees of downtown Athens are arrayed with lights, and there is a parade through town where High School bands, wonderfully out of tune, play yuletide songs and various community minded folks participate or attend. The university takes a break for the holiday, and the students, for the most part, leave town. And so, despite the festive season, Athens becomes a quieter place with a pared down population. You can see who really lives there. Restaurants and bars downtown have their parties and the natives and regulars all attend getting free food and booze. As the students leave, others return. People who have left and gone off to other places, and there’s a good chance that at one of the bars you’lll run into someone that you have connected with in years (at least before there was Facebook). I believe in Christmas and the magic that attends it.

However, there was a time when I hated Christmas. As the town emptied out and a quieter time settled in I was left with my life as it was. It was still, cold and dark. I was typically alone on Christmas Eve. I always made sure I worked that night and often the next day. I’d spend as much time as I could working so I could forget that it was winter outside, that it was a holiday season. I’d work until it was over and things were back to normal-if I wasn’t working I made sure I was drinking or sleeping, no idle hours where I could think about things too much. No matter what I did, though, the one unavoidable session of silent night solitude came on Christmas Eve. Inevitably, I would be in my house alone, drinking and watching bad cable television until I was tired enough to go to sleep.

But one year, things were different. One year, everything changed. I worked Christmas Eve, as usual and got off work at eleven. That year a friend of mine, Andy, was working with me. Something was up at home for Andy, I never found out what it was, but he didn’t want to go home after work. Instead, we went out. Even in Athens, there were a few places that were still open that served alcohol. Or so we thought. Everywhere we went, we just missed it. Restaurants were closed, bars weren’t serving. Everyone was-sensibly-shutting it down early. For once, I had nothing stocked at home either. So as the night progressed, it appeared as though we would not face the oncoming hours of Christmas Eve with at leas the numbing warmth of a good buzz wrapped around our heads.

The whole time, initially as a joke, I said: “Don’t worry, And, I’m sure the magic of Christmas will come through!” A refrain that mocked all the specials we saw as children. We’d get to a bar or restaurant that had just closed: “Don’t worry And, the magic of Christmas will help us!” I said it over and over.

Now, the thing is, I’ve got an interest in metaphysical things. I practice and have taught meditation. I’ve witnessed transubstantiation, I’ve heard khutbahs in masjids, I’ve walked the paths of the Tree of Life, I’ve gone on shamanic journeys. I’ve seen and experienced things that are, quite frankly, hard to believe or explain. Despite what some may think, you can tell when a ritual is working, you can feel it when an invocation is properly conducted. There are lots of metaphors for it, a current one could be that the power of a higher reality is downloaded into our own and changes it.

Even taking into account my beliefs, unorthodox as they are in the norms of today, did I ever believe in things as banal sounding as “The Magic of Christmas”? Of course not, it’s beneath my intellect. The Magic of Christmas is something you see on bad holiday specials on network television. It’s saccharine crapola dispensed to children inbetween commercials for toys you don’t need. Yet, for all that, here it was, I was saying the mantic holiday invocation, “The Magic of Christmas”, over and over like some mad tinsel clad litany. Initially, it was an ironic joke on my part, but the more I said it, the less funny it sounded.

Andy and I returned home to my abode, 760 Boulevard, unsucessful in our bid to find something to make the evening more bearably anaesthetized.

“I guess you were wrong about the Magic of Christmas, Pete.” Andy said. I didn’t make a ready response. Just then, we heard a car pull up outside. That was odd. My room-mate and best friend, Jason, was gone for the holidays. Car doors opened and slammed shut. Voices-two men whom I didn’t recognize made their way to the front door. They asked for Josh, who was Jason’s brother (he was crashing on our couch at the time) and had gone with Jason to where it was they went on Christmas Eve.

“You mind if we hang out? We’ve been driving for a long time.” one of them asked.

“Sure, come on in.” I responded. They clambered in with a case of beer and a bottle of gin and more besides. In no time, we were drinking, watching Star Wars on an old Laserdisc player, smoking glorious blue Afghan double creeper mookie-mookie, making jokes and telling stories.

“See, Andy,” I said at one point, my voice slurred, “the Magic of Christmas came through. Haha. The Magic of Christmas came through.”

The two men eventually returned to the night from which they came. I can’t remember their names. I never saw them again. Magic is like that sometimes.

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The Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Dec 06

The wolf was a predator, a creature meant to kill and eat others. It was the natural order of things: it had sharp teeth, a stout form built for long distance running-the better to harry down a meal and ultimately devour it. Life, for the wolves, invariably meant death. As yet, the wolf was still young as such things went. His father and older brothers were the ones who went out on the hunt and brought back meals for the pack. When he was coming of age, the father of the pack invited the wolf to come along and participate in the killing. The wolf was reluctant to do so and despite his best attempts to keep his recalcitrance discreet, it some became rather obvious.

The pack started talking. He doesn’t want to go out and hunt. He’s nothing like the rest of us. It was true, the wolf knew it, and inded, had always known it. But in spite of his differences, the wolf decided to explore his identity as a predator, although he resolved to do so on his own terms. This precluded hunting in a pack. How could he hunt alone? The problem seemed insurmountable, until one day, while searching for something (he forgot what it was later) in a closet, the wolf happened upon a perfectly preserved sheep-skin. It was a trophy from some hunt or other-such things weren’t unusual; however its state of preservation was. The wolf knew Providence when he saw it. Wearing the sheep-skin, he would be a predator and walk anonymously among the prey. The sheep would never know-and he could hunt solitarily.

Knowing the pack wouldn’t undestand, the wolf clad himself in the sheep-skin and swiftly departed for a nearby pasture where a herd of sheep were grazing. The disguise worked better than the wolf could have hoped-concealed, he walked incognito among the sheep. The first day, he did nothing. He could kill a sheep whenever he wanted-but resolved to wait until the right time presented itself. The wolf surreptitiously returned to the den and disrobed.

The wolf returned the next day. But still, he took no action against the sheep, and merely walked among them, occasionally taking up sheep-like behavior to avoid detection. He ate grass and bleated. This went on for a few weeks. On at least two separate occasions, he encountered other wolves who-it seemed-had the same dilemma about hunting and the same solution. He said nothing to these others, and they said nothing in return. Their gaze merely met for a few moments, and then they turned away.

The donning of the sheep-skin became so routine that the wolf became careless. No one in the pack seemed wise to what he was doing-they thought he was an odd one and generally avoided him. The wolf began to simply store the skin under his bed instead of returning it to the closet.

One day, his father found the skin, and pulled it out when all members of the pack were present. “What the hell is this?” his father demanded, holding up the skin to exemplify his point. “Have you been wearing this?”

“I have, but let me explain…” the wolf began. He had rehearsed many well thought out explanations-reasons that were not, in fact, too removed from the rationalizations that he told himself when he first put on the sheep skin.

“Oh my god, it all makes sense now,” his mother said, her voice already cracking with hysterics. His sisters went to comfort her. But his father glared with paternal wrath, and his brothers took his side, mirroring the apparent disapproval.

“I’m-I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing!’ the wolf blurted. It seemed best to toss caution aside.

“Not in this den you’re not.” the father said grimly. He held the skin out, away from him. “Take it-it’s soiled now. Take it and go.”

The wolf took the skin and departed back to the herd he had come to know. He was sad initially, but the sense of relief that he was who he was outweighed the sorrow.

The father wolf did his best to put the wayward son out of his mind. He hunted more and more frequently, often journeying out when the others were too tired to join or had other things to do. On one such day, he came along another wolf whose coat seemed to hang loosely on him.

“So, um,” the other wolf began, its voice strangely high-pitched, “hunt often?”

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