The True Samaritans

December 22, 2019

During the holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, Americans give a lot of lip service to the values of charity, compassion and care for the less fortunate. A few shining exemplars of these virtues are held up by the media, with cheery pictures and sentimental language. Typically, though, we fail to recognize the most charitable of all, the true Samaritans among us.

Whom do I mean? Which people are the greatest self-sacrificers?

Actually, they are the people you’d least suspect: the white working- and middle-class straight Americans who support conservative politicians and a right-wing agenda. For short, since their current Great Leader in the White House is President Twitterman, I’ll call them the Lesser Twitters, or LTs.

What’s compassionate about their agenda? you may ask. How can people who favor holding immigrant children in cages be considered Samaritans?

Let’s look at what LTs are giving up and on whose behalf.

Obviously, by supporting policies aimed at benefiting the rich, LTs sacrifice their own prosperity, since the idea that wealth trickles down from top to middle to bottom has been proven a hoax. Nor is it possible that obsolescent, polluting industries like coal mining can ever make a comeback. The “jobs” that right-wing politicians claim to preserve or resurrect will never again be a major force in America. If such activities persist at all in the future, they’ll be done by robots.

On the surface many LTs refuse to accept these truths, but in their hearts they understand, and they realize they are making a sacrifice. They don’t believe, of course, that they are giving up their well-being for the sake of obscenely wealthy corporate leaders, hedge fund managers, and lobbyists. No, in their view they are acting to preserve important social values, such as the right to life and the sanctity of marriage, the issues that Republican politicians have played up for at least two generations, since Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew (both later disgraced and chased from office) began appealing to the “silent majority” in 1969.

What’s interesting is that these so-called family values do not generally affect LTs themselves. If you’re against gay marriage, for example, you won’t marry another person of the same sex, and probably your family members won’t either. Similarly, if you’re against abortion, you don’t have to have one, nor does your partner. These are issues that pertain to other people. By opposing liberal laxity on these matters, LTs are trying to save the rest of us from sin.

Arguably, this is true for even the hottest of hot-button issues, immigration and refugees. Most LTs have scant personal experience with immigrants. Maybe, speeding past in their SUVs, they’ll glimpse a Latino mowing a lawn, or on occasion, through a swinging kitchen door, they’ll catch sight of a swarthy person washing dishes in a restaurant. Hardly a threat in either case. Again, this is a matter that applies to other people, and in screaming their support for cruelty at the border, LTs are acting to save the rest of us who might actually need those jobs mowing lawns or washing dishes, at least until the robots move in.

Let’s take a moment, then, to recognize the LTs as the true Samaritans among us. Yes, they may be rewarded at Armageddon—and at that point they’ll certainly get to shout “I told you so”—but we should offer some appreciation in this life as well.

Let’s each light a holiday candle for the LTs. If you don’t celebrate a holiday involving candles, you can make a cross of two sticks, set it on fire and plant it on a suspicious person’s lawn. It’s the least we can do.


December 22, 2014

DogsOnLapThis holiday season I’ve been looking forward to relaxing in bed. Instead, I’ve become popular AS a bed.

This post is dedicated to all who experience the fine line between family togetherness and too much togetherness.

Would anyone like to borrow a dog?

Elvis and the Season of Light

December 16, 2014

Photo by Ed Roberts via Wikimedia Commons

I’m pretty much a bah-humbug person, especially now that Santa sends me spam emails. (Really, Big Guy? I’m much more likely to open an offer of gifts from someone called Ashley or Courtney or Svetlana. Try changing your name.) Yet, though I refuse to celebrate in an outward fashion, I do love the so-called “spirit” of the winter holidays. Last year about this time I wrote a little essay about the “season of depression,” which ended up on the Superstition Review blog in February. That post mentioned in passing a church tradition of lighting candles on Christmas Eve, typical of the way many (or most?) religions counter the winter darkness by celebrating light. In fact, Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, begins tonight.

This year, then, I’ll post a passage relating to our reverence for light and all that it suggests. What follows is an excerpt from my novel The Big Happiness, which I’m preparing for republication as a Kindle ebook. A kind of warped love story, the novel features two protagonists who are each disabled in some way. Allison Roarty (a.k.a. Allison Wonderland) is a 45-year-old, divorced, wacky, sexually adventurous, somewhat overweight alcoholic with brain damage. By sheer accident she meets Leigh Berry, a gangling, half-blind, reclusive, 62-year-old devotee of ancient music. She seduces him and the novel is off and running—or rambling, stumbling and blundering after these weird characters.

Leigh’s language, like his mind, is often archaic and tortured. Through his relationship with Allison he has to learn to communicate again. He also has to deal with the “light,” both literal and figurative, that she insists on shining into the dim haunts of his life. One of her first acts is to throw open his curtains, and being an oddly mystical sort—though an atheist—he begins to suspect that the Light he encounters has meaning for him. On Christmas morning in Allison’s apartment, he wakes before she does and senses rays of a peculiar color—a silvery, otherworldly blue-white—on the windowsill. He’s intrigued and also scared, afraid he won’t live up to what Allison, and the God he doesn’t believe in, are demanding of him.

Then Allison wakes up. The two exchange presents, fool around in bed and listen to Elvis Presley’s recording of “White Christmas.” (It’s Allison, of course, who’s an Elvis fan—she “loved him even before he was dead.”) At last the lovers decide to venture outside:

She yawned, stood up, kissed him and proposed breakfast. “What say we splurge, sweetie? You think that coffee shop around the corner’s open today? Let’s go look. I could use a huge stack of pancakes and I think my Aunt Jemima mix has bugs in it—at least it did a few months ago.”

She dressed quickly and they bundled in their coats and gloves. Down the steps they went, arm in arm, out the door to the sidewalk. But there Allison jerked to a stop and grabbed him with both hands. “My God, look what happened! Careful, don’t fall—there’s ice all over. See it? The whole street’s coated! The rain must’ve froze, why didn’t somebody tell us?”

Leigh tried to peer about but he had forgotten his opticals. That odd silver light glittered everywhere.

“See the streetlight pole? That’s ice on it all the way up, like a, like a real cold condom, honey. It’s beautiful. The city’s deserted, no one’s going out in this. It’s all ours! Let’s pretend everybody else is dead. I mean, except the cook who’s gonna make our pancakes, he better be alive and working today or I’ll kill him.”

She nudged Leigh a step or two forward and pointed. “Look, right next to the building it’s dry, so if we take it real slow and stay close to the wall we can walk. You grab me and I’ll hold you. Those sparkly humps are parked cars, baby. That one that’s like a frozen little man, it must be the fire hydrant ’cause I don’t remember any midgets on this block. This is so cool! Hey, it’s a white Christmas, or close to white, just like Elvis said, sugar.”

The slicing crystal light reverberated in Leigh’s eyes, producing scattered bright spots, ghosts, shadows. He was reassured to learn of a meteorological explanation for the disconcerting rays through the curtains, but the direct glare was most confusing. He crept along beside the building with one arm up to shield himself.

Unearthly quiet in the city. The still air wrapping him in its cloak of silver wintriness. A dream of the afterlife come to this planet in overpowering brilliance.

“Neat-o,” exclaimed Allison when they eased round the corner. “That tree’s got, like, every tiny branch covered in ice.” She was suddenly gone a moment, during which he closed his eyes tight and faced the wall. Then she was back, tugging on one of his hands. “Here, feel this, slip off the glove so you can touch it, it’s so perfect. Trust me, Leigh, take your glove off, it won’t bite you.”

In his hand he felt a thin, hard, angular shape, sucking frostily at his fingers.

“It’s just a twig,” she said. “Off the tree. But see how perfect the ice coats it? It sparkles like diamonds. Or rhinestones anyway.”

The sharp light winked up from his palm, teasing him. A blued bodiless light of the soul—was it indeed God’s own?

“Now you have to admit,” she said, “Elvis can do magic, honey.”

Whether from heaven, humans or the spirit of Elvis, the lights of this season can indeed be magical—and challenging. May we all try to live up to their promise.

Holiday blues and greens

December 30, 2010

Relatives enjoying Christmas appetizers at the Gridley residence; note high-class footwear and napkins


The week between Christmas and New Year’s has long been for me a time of increasing sadness. The feeling goes back, I suppose, to the childhood malaise when all the presents have been opened, explored, exhausted, their magic reduced to mundanity, and a new trove of toys can’t be expected until one’s birthday. Partly, too, it’s the letdown after any big festivity, especially one accompanied by too much food.

Yet by the time I’d reached my thirties, I was also sensing a difference in character between the two holidays that bookend the Ameri-Christian winter celebration. For all its commercialization, Christmas remains a family day, when you hug relatives you barely remember and enjoy the warmth of an extended clan along with Aunt Kay’s mince, apple, pumpkin, and lemon meringue pies. (How did she ever bake so many?) New Year’s Eve, in contrast, is the quintessential party/dating time, the night of silly noisemakers when we get dressed up, get drunk, and strive to get laid. For a wallflower who was terrible at drinking and partying, the choice was clear. Christmas I loved; New Year’s I detested. All those people having fun on New Year’s—I looked down my bumpy, nerdy nose at them.

Moreover, to the extent that my secular soul could be moved by religious images and music, I always found the tale of Christ’s birth and death haunting and poignant, and this added to my enjoyment of Christmas. New Year’s was empty revelry, with no redeeming content. Party hats, streamers—bah, humbug.

Recently it occurred to me that Judaism puts its important days in a better order. The High Holy Days in the fall start with the New Year and slide inexorably toward Yom Kippur, the day of repentance, so that, in a sense, you end the holiday season on a downer. But it’s a meaningful downer, and after fasting, confessing, and perhaps participating in all five traditional prayer services, you should feel enlightened and unburdened. Unlike Christians, who exit the holidays with a hangover.

In an attempt to bring a serious note into New Year’s, then, I’ll quote from my favorite Christian holiday lyrics, which mix Christmas and New Year’s references in a philosophical blend. In his review of a recent Piffaro concert, Tom Purdom mentioned how much he admired these sixteenth-century verses. To the tune of Greensleeves:

The old year now away is fled,
The new year it is enterèd;
Then let us now our sins downtread,
And joyfully all appear.
Let’s merry be this day,
And let us all both sport and play.
Hang grief, cast care away.
God send you a happy new year!

The name day now of Christ we keep,
Who for our sins did often weep.
His hands and feet were wounded deep,
And his blessèd side, with a spear.
His head they crowned with thorn,
And at him they did laugh and scorn,
Who for our good was born.
God send us a happy New Year!

And now with New Year’s gifts each friend
Unto each other they do send;
God grant we may all our lives amend,
And that the truth may appear.
Now, like the snake, your skin
Cast off of evil thoughts and sin,
And so the year begin:
God send you a happy new year!