Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Zombie Wants Brains

Just today, I've been sitting in my office, humming one of the choruses from Messiah. (I was in the stage chorus for this year's Kennedy Center Messiah sing-along. It was good to get a second use of the tux that I'd bought a year earlier, and having to learn all of the choruses from the work may prove useful in later years.) But because I was up until two am last night, doing something entirely different from what I'm typically doing if I'm still up at that hour, instead of singing "His yoke is easy; his burthen is light," I was singing, "My hands are dirty; my drainpipe is clean." It got very well lodged in my head that way until a member of my online knowledge base wrote something that led to my replacing that lyric with the probably even more obscure "The cow is angry; the zombie wants brains." It is probably best that I don't attempt to explain how that happened, but I will note that the way the melismas run in that particular chorus meant that I was suddenly having to articulate "brains," and I have always found the first half of the long a diphthong to be especially hard to articulate at speed. I recall a particular instance seven or eight years ago where I was doing a bass aria from some piece (possibly a missa brevis, but I can't be at all certain), and the music director snarled (I am not exaggerating) at me because I insisted on articulating the first syllable of "saecula" on the ee rather than on the eh. But it was so, so, so fast that I just couldn't do it any other way. I was so distressed by the ferocity of her reaction that I nearly walked out. I figured that if it was that important to her, she should have hired a professional. Besides, I reserve most of my linguistic pedantry for English. My reasoning was: it's Latin, it's a dead language, so fuck it. Also, I sounded great.

Anyway. It was an odd autumn and early winter for me. I have been both myself and not myself as the grief over my father's death became less acute and then went underground, transforming itself into a sort of mild incompetence that is not especially bothersome. I hypothesize that at some level I'm still processing the grief, and that my subconscious is busy enough with it that my conscious mind sometimes neglects to do things that ought to get done, like setting the oven timer. In any event, I am at once happier and more inept, and that seems like a pretty good trade to me, though perhaps not so much last night at 2 am when the drain clog finally yielded to, of all things, the plunger. I probably should have tried that first, though I think it's reasonable to tell myself that the plunger (which has, in fact, proved ineffectual on previous clogs of the same sink) would not have worked without the prior application of the two Turbo Snakes (as seen on TV!), the drain auger, and the multiple rounds of baking soda and vinegar (the chemical drain opener having been similarly ineffectual). Also, I am now the proud owner of a super-keen pipe wrench. Woot.

I have a history of autumnal upheaval -- my father's death, the beginning of the end of my marriage, and the dissolution of my partnership all having happened in August or September. I'm pretty sure all of that is simple coincidence, but the upshot has been that the worst of the bad is ending as the holiday season is beginning, meaning that Thanksgiving and Christmas come just as I'm truly able to appreciate how much I still have to be grateful for.

This was a really good holiday season for me. There are three things that are both necessary and sufficient for me to have a great Christmas: family, music, and food. (I can have a great Thanksgiving with just the family and the food.) I am blessed with two daughters who have a great appreciation for substance over form, so most of the trappings are not essential. I do find that the ebullience which accompanies the season makes me want to do some level of decorating, but when, for example, it's Christmas Eve and I can't find the wrapping paper, I know that the girls won't mind at all, provided that the gift is appropriate. And they're smart girls who leave little to chance: they each emailed me a Christmas wish list, with web links. If not for the decentralized nature of purchasing on Etsy, I'd have been done with the shopping in less than half an hour. As it was, it was still done quickly, and while I did end up having to make a couple of shopping trips to crowded stores in the week before Christmas (I have mostly put these out of mind, in order to avoid death of the soul: the trauma of last-minute non-Internet Christmas shopping can hardly be exaggerated.), I was mostly left with plenty of additional time to bake cookies. Also fruitcake -- against which I will hear no calumnies. (This guy who I may be dating was at my house for what may have been a date, and I served him some of my fruitcake, and he exclaimed, "Oh! It's good!" as if that were a great surprise. I was not amused; fortunately, he is the sort of person against whom it is impossible to hold a grudge, and I am supremely confident in my fruitcake, which everybody likes.)

As for music, I sang so much during the last week before the holiday that by the end of the Christmas Eve service, when I was required to hold a low D at the end of an "Alleluia," I was very nearly croaking. Christmas was on a Saturday, and in addition to the Christmas Eve service on Friday, I had the Messiah on Thursday, a full choir practice on Wednesday, and a two-hour Messiah rehearsal on Monday. On Tuesday, I went to hear the holiday concert at YFU's high school, and it was surprisingly good. YFU's group, in particular, did a fantastic job. I am aware that there was some bias in my reaction, but they were spot on in their intonation and diction. They opened with a particularly lively (and well-choreographed, by one of the members) version of "If They Could See Me Now," and it was just great. YFU was thrilled.

She was less thrilled with the candied orange slices that she asked me to make after she read about them somewhere. I had warned her that she probably wouldn't like them because they'd be bittersweet, but she wanted them, so I made them, and they were fantastic, but even as I was enjoying my first, I realized that they appealed to a more mature palate. Both girls rejected them. More for me.

Anyway, the only real trouble I went to preparing for Christmas was the 2-D tree. I realized early on that having a regular Christmas tree would mean removing furniture from the living room, and I just didn't feel like dealing with it, so I went for a 2-D tree. I went through several iterations before I wound up with a pegboard and 1x4 frame onto which I layered quilt batting, which I then covered with canvas. It happened that I had giant rolls of both in the basement for reasons which I understand completely but which are impossible to explain to anyone else without having them think I'm either eccentric or a lunatic. Neither of which is either necessarily wrong or a bad thing, but, well, let's just say that the batting and the canvas both came in happy when 2D tree versions 1.0 and 2.0 failed miserably.

Christmas day itself was blissfully relaxed. Since I couldn't/didn't have to wrap presents, I just piled things underneath the tree before I went to bed. The girls were arriving shortly after noon, so I got up at eleven o'clock. [Fair warning: carbohydrate-hating homosexuals will want to skip the next several sentences. Move immediately to the next paragraph.] Over time, I have become more and more basic with holiday meals involving my immediate family, so for Christmas dinner, I made very good macaroni and cheese. And nothing else, though there were beverages and cookies, of course. Then for Christmas supper, I made mashed potatoes. The girls were thrilled, and I could spend my time with them instead of in the kitchen. We opened presents, ate, and watched movies all day. It gets no better.


  1. I'm so glad to be able to read your prose again! Your Xmas tree is really... personal...
    As for fruitcake, an AUstralian friend of mine bakes the best one.

  2. I realize that most Americans only experience commercial fruitcake, the quality of which can be variable to say the least. But I happen to love the stuff myself and I'll bet your home-made really is quite wonderful. Any hope of a recipe being made available?