Kage Baker wasn’t always a successful writer. She wasn’t always the Well-known Name who could forget a $2,000 check on the dining room table for two months – which she actually did on a couple of occasions.
On the one hand, this was good. It kept her modest, she averred (wistfully before the money started coming in, smugly afterwards) and it kept her spending habits careful. However, her natural inclination was to spend her money free, and when her money it was all gone (to paraphrase a sea chantey), she would boldly go back to sea.*
On the other hand, that really was her natural inclination. When she upgraded from a weekly paycheck drone in the pink collar ghetto to a Real Writer with only 2 or 3 – but huge – paydays a year, she went kind of nuts for awhile. She didn’t really buy anything actually silly, except maybe a surfeit of Chinese food and a lot of British Naval memorabilia; but she had never really gotten the hang of what the balance of money in the checking account actually meant …
This was solved comfortably when Kage just tossed all our finances to me. She kept a list of things she wanted – books, music, collectibles, furniture – and every couple of weeks she’d simply inquire how much she could spend on them. I’d tell her, and she would stick to the budget I set. I paid the bills and the rent and got groceries with my weekly paycheck – Kage got to make extravagant purchases without going totally feral, and enlivened our pantry no end with adventurous comestibles. We’d both grown up poor; sticking to a budget was easy enough, once we figured out which one of us was better at it.
But she was adamant that holidays should be celebrated with as much pomp and conspicuous consumption as possible. They had to be special. We learned how to take disasters in stride, and to improvise feasts out of anything. She was an artist at improvising feasts – not just what was to be eaten and drunk, but the way they were consumed. Kage could give two peanut butter sandwiches and a can of off-market cola a sense of occasion. One of the things she introduced into our routines was Universal Toasting – whatever we had, we’d clink bits together in a toast to our great good fortune. We clinked champagne glasses and breaded oysters; halved day-old doughnuts; prime rib on decorous forks and charred bangers in greasy fingers. It always seemed to work. I recommend it.
Yestreday, we had our traditional holiday plumbing catastrophe when the dish washer refused to drain. At least, it refused to drain down the drain, although it was enthusiastic about draining out the front and out over the kitchen floor. Michael, who is exceptionally handy, set to on the ask of repairing it … but one problem led to another, and another and another … until he found that the back wall of the washer had been gnawed open, the drain pipe chewed freaking off, all the wires he could see chewed in half, and the front of the machine was stuffed full of dried grass, presumably imported by whatever had done all the chewing and gnawing. How it had been working at all was a deep mystery, and Michael considered we were lucky not to have burned the house down. The entire thing was declared dead until we can get a plumber in.
Then, this afternoon, Kimberly and Michael began the happy tasks attendant upon Christmas Day dinner. They were bustling about in the kitchen, when suddenly a silence fell. Michael came striding solemnly into the living room with the prime rib in his hands. He offered it to me and asked what I thought of it. I took a sniff and it was appallingly clear that our Christmas roast had turned to the Dark Side. Despite being purchased only 2 days before, with its sell-by date two days in the future, it freaking reeked.
No prime rib for us. Kimberly and Michael dashed out to the store to find any sort of roast as all. No luck, our part of Los Angeles was suddenly beef-free. They came home, and we sat for a little bit staring all disconsolate at one another. Then I got to work on my computer, searching local restaurants. Against all odds and popular legends, none of our local Chinese restaurants was open. We ended up ordering from Domino’s. Better a crust of pizza where love is, you know, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. Proverbs 15:17 KJV: We were content.
An hour later, the phone at Domino’s was a recording stating they were closed, and the online site showed our order had been in preparation for an hour and 9 minutes. No cheesy bread for us … there was a bit more screaming this time, mostly from me; but then Kimberly suggested Jack In The Box! Our family’s favourite junk food emporium! (Except for when 7-11 has those weird hot dog shaped hamburgers.) We quickly worked out an appalling and delicious order, and Kimberly and I made our halting way down the driveway and to our car.
AND JUST THEN … the Domino’s car with the blazing icon on its roof came rushing up to our house and screeched to a halt. A very flustered young man came running up with a pile of boxes, pushed them into Kimberly’s arms, begged her to call tomorrow and yell at his absent boss about the stupid automatic system that closed down the phones and locked customers out of the order system, and then vanished into the night like – I don’t know, an overworked elf.
I said it was a Christmas miracle. Michael said it was the craziest Christmas Night ever. Kimberly sensibly sent the food indoors with Michael and helped me back in while making sure I did not fall off the porch and down into the wet leaves in the flower bed.
So now we are sitting here, happy together in the warmth, comfortable eating pizza and pasta in Alfredo sauce. We are watching The Hogfather, laughing immoderately. The cats are stoned on socks full of catnip, and are another fine show on the floor. We have sweeties galore, the lights are lit, the fire is warm and it’s Christmas! We’re together and it’s Christmas!
Merry Christmas to all of you, or a Happy Hogswatch, or whatever celebration of eternal light you favour.
We’re together. And it’s Christmas.
*Adieu, Sweet Darling Nancy
I really want to respond in kind- warmly, merrily, but my mind will not allow me to put away the question of the stalled ox. Was it a fit of pique that brought a halt to its oxly labours? A voluntary work stoppage, or had its neurological wiring been gnawed by the teeth of time? Can you tell I’m half-way down a lovely bourbon and water and I’m beginning to free associate in public?
In any case, Mother, I trust that the coming year will bring no tasks or challenges that are beyond your (collective) ability to solve, and that they be matched by (at least) as many blessings and outright miracles. Light is returning. The Green Man has so promised. Love to you and yours.
The stalled ox apparently is the Biblical version of the car in every garage,- if you have an ox you need a stall for in the first place, you are rich. Unless you and your ox are in a dysfunctional family, and then you’re screwed. I like your suggestions better.
Having survived last night, I am optimistic about our chances for the coming year – it should be great, or at least adequate. May yours also be grand. Because the Light is returning – it always does. Sometimes it turns out to be the light on top of a delivery car, but that’s cool, too.