Home for the holidays: a bad cold, a bad mood, epic movies — and a blue-footed booby
Now, I know you wouldn’t think it, by looking at the lurid display, but Mr. wOw had a difficult time putting up his tree and turning the house into the usual Christmas bordello. I wasn’t feeling it. At all. Oh, I generally have a hard time. In recent years (the last decade!) my bouts with depression, dissatisfaction at work, and disappointment in myself have hampered what was always a lot of fun — if, a lot of effort. B. has always taken great pleasure in my tossing tinsel, overburdening a hapless fir, and garlanding the house willy-nilly. So in the end, I’ve always mustered up enough energy to do my thing. I feel I do little enough for B. and it won’t kill me to be unselfish. Even if I act like it will.
But I was way down this year. I had a bad cold. And when I have a bad cold it doesn’t fool around. In fact, I still have it. (A bad cold reminds me always of my illness back in ’97, when I kept insisting, “it’s just a cold, it’s just a sinus infection” — obstinate until it was almost too late.) I continue to hurt from my fall and various sprains of more than a month. As for work — it has been an especially fraught year. I told B. frankly I was deeply unhappy and didn’t think I could bear to do it. He nodded sympathetically, but he has his dissatisfactions and unhappiness too. He needs the tree, the lights, the glimmer of hope for a new year. And he’s Jewish, so this is a major thing for him, to anticipate and enjoy my pagan rites. We have the menorah out, of course — but there’s only so much you can do with a menorah. I suppose I could stick a few sequins on it.
I waited and waited. I dragged out the ornaments and looked at them in despair. No joy. I half-assedly decorated the window (no beads strung along the top. And I love those beads, purchased many, many years ago in Manhattan at a store specializing in Christmas frou-frou.) Then, I went and got the tree, sneezing, hacking, miserable. Brought it home, stood it up, kept in watered but still bound and bare for two days. Finally, I went to work on it, full of self-pity and dark thoughts. Poor Mr. wOw, forced to decorate a Christmas tree. (The absurdity of my intense resistance made me even more cranky — “Effie, we all got pain!” as the line from “Dreamgirls” goes.) In three hours, I was done. Was it any good? Or bad, considering my not-universally-admired tendency toward excess? I was exhausted and went to sleep. But by Christmas Eve — I’d only decorated the day before — I was feeling somewhat lighter. (At least I didn’t feel anymore like the crazy nun in “Black Narcissus” — let’s put it that way). B. really was pleased, although he kept saying, “I feel I forced you into this.” Ah, well — he did. But Mr. W. needs that at times. On my own, I can fall apart. And all the kings horses and all the kings men …
By Christmas day I was feeling much better, mentally. Physically I was still all Greta Garbo, coughing, swooning and generally being a big ham. I took to my couch and switched on Turner Classic Movies. From 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. I watched “Ben-Hur,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and “King of Kings.” I know — that’s a hell of a lot of crucifying and resurrecting for one day. Not to mention chariots races and Salome’s dance!
Mr. wOw is not especially religious. Hardly at all. But religion fascinates me — sometimes like a mongoose/cobra thing. And it is difficult not to be moved by the words of Jesus Christ, whether he was a man, the son of God or a myth. But I watched these films more out of nostalgia — I saw all of them on first release as a child. (“Ben-Hur” at a drive-in. I loved drive-ins!) And also because I’d always adored epic movies of antiquity. This sprung from my obsession with Greek and Roman mythology. If you think I know way too much about Marilyn and Liz, you should have heard me at ten years old, reciting the names of all the gods and demi-gods and nymphs and naiads; all the major and minor tales of the capricious gods. And The Trojan War? Please, I’d read “The Iliad” at bedtime. So, all movies that featured men in helmets and great marble edifices, ladies with elaborate hairstyles and lots of make-up — I was there. Quality didn’t matter much. I was crazy about everything from “Hercules Unchained” to “The Fall of the Roman Empire” to “El Cid” to “The Vikings.” Okay, okay — the cute guys bare-chested or in leg-revealing tunics? Even as a child I knew.
So my Christmas Day movie-thon was secular pleasure. Still, “Ben-Hur” is a top to bottom masterpiece, and I inevitably cry when Charlton Heston’s mother and sister are healed of their leprosy “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is cluttered with too many stellar cameos — most infamously John Wayne’s gladiator intoning “This indeed was the son of God” — but it is a beautiful-looking film and Max Von Sydow was an acceptable Jesus. “King of Kings” is high-toned camp, with Jeffrey Hunter as the most Aryan of all Christs, with his milky skin, light brown hair and blue-blue eyes. But he does his best. Even with his shaven armpits, on the cross. “King of Kings” is much enlivened by the subplots — Pilate’s wife, Herod’s wife (Rita Gam’s big moment — aside from being a bridesmaid at Grace Kelly’s wedding), and of course that nasty minx, Salome. (Brigid Bazlen played her as bloodthirsty Lolita. Her dance is erotic to the max. This gorgeous girl’s career never took off for some reason. She died in 1989.) More fun in this movie — Pilate is played by Hurd Hatfield of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” fame. I never thought Hatfield was particularly well-suited to play Dorian — too, stiff, not pretty enough — but he’s a marvelous Pontius Pilate. And had become much more handsome since his 1940’s MGM debut.
By the time Mr. Hunter was rising from his tomb — this moment is always accompanied by a lot of music — I was in tremendously better spirits. Certainly better than watching the gilt-encrusted Pope on Christmas Eve, condemn the commercialization of Christmas. Too late, now, bub. Just remember, there’s no such thing as Christmas in the Bible, and Jesus himself would be appalled by … almost everything done in his name. Shopping is the least of it.
I was even hungry. B. made a scrumptious pot-roast and I ate as I haven’t in a while.
Oh, my present! We don’t exchange presents anymore. B. lives online and orders most everything he wants during the year. My finances are no longer what they were — nor do I have any credit cards to abuse. In general, all I want for Christmas is B. I stopped wanting “things” a long time ago. But we exchange cards, B. does order me all the current Marilyn calendars for the new year, we have some champagne. But being more sensitive and playful than Mr. W., B. always comes up with something. Last year he presented me with a little stuffed animal. A blue-footed booby. It is in danger of extinction. Along with that, I received a certificate from the World Wildlife Fund that I’d actually adopted the Booby, to protect its special status. I am a very late-life parent! This year, B. said, “wOw, the Booby loves you a lot — but he’s lonely for the kind of conversation he can only have with another booby. So … B. presented me with another stuffed bird. A red-footed booby, equally in danger of disappearing. And another certificate of adoption. Men! They think we have nothing better to do than take care of the house and tend to their Boobys. Actually, the blue-footed booby was very happy. Now they cuddle close together on the chaise. I just hope they are careful. I don’t need a booby litter!
That was my Christmas. It started off bad, but thanks to B., I got my head out of my ass and stopped whining. This won’t last long, but I’m always encouraged that it can happen, and maybe someday I’ll start living again for today, rather than regretting the past and fearing the future. After all, in January I am only 59. And on a good day — today is a good day — I still feel 28.
Last but not least. I love you all. You have made recent years much more pleasant, fulfilling, and brim with “teachable moments.” Despite my anonymity, I think you know me. (Well, you kinda didn’t have a choice — I told all!) I hope yours were the happiest, healthiest of holidays and a fabulous New Year to each and every one of you.