The holidays snuck up quick this year. One moment I was arguing with my fiancé over details associated with our upcoming early-September wedding and the next, my wife and I were arguing over which side of the family we were going to spend Thanksgiving with.
We ended up splitting the difference and making time to be with both sides because if this year has taught us anything, it’s how to survive under duress of drastic change. Yeah, things have been stressful. Especially for my wife who planned my dream wedding, had her bank account hacked three days later then watched as Donald Trump claimed the presidency by grabbing the Electoral College by the pussy.
Since then, it’s been a struggle to find any sustainable good news. But I found some. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t share it with you, you know, with the hopes of reanimating the Christmas Spirit, which has looked more like a casket model than the most wonderful time of the year.
The week after Thanksgiving, following a full day of work with a client that haunts my dreams like a mentally challenged succubus, and just before I poured the six o’ clock scotch, I decided I wanted to be at the bars, among the angels and scoundrels. As much as I love being alone, I was in the mood for people, and bar people during the holidays are my favorite kind. My wife Katie was still chained to her office desk, so I headed out.
The Blue Line Lounge and Grill in Bucktown was hopping. The place was decked with garland and pre-lit faux Christmas trees. Plastic snowflakes hung from the ceiling. The TVs replaced the usual sports with holiday favorites like A Christmas Story, Elf and It’s a Wonderful Life. Mistletoe hung at the entrance to the restrooms. There were $5 martini specials so I ordered mine. Gin. Dry. Straight.
There was a good-looking couple sitting next to me at the bar. He wore a nice blazer; she wore a remarkable smile. Jim and Tracey met back in 2011 just before Snowpocalypse at some Lincoln Park bar. She was insulting the music playing in the jukebox. He admitted to paying for that set list. They argued over musical tastes and had dinner two days later. Their second date was spent digging her mother out of her car on Lake Shore Drive during the blizzard.
“What was I going to do?” Jim said. “I couldn’t let her mother freeze to death in a Subaru.”
“That would be embarrassing,” Tracey said. She was both an angel and a scoundrel.
After her third Manhattan, she excused herself to use the restroom. I told Jim, “You gotta love a girl who drinks whiskey. It’s why I married my wife.”
“It’d be nice if she stopped drinking all of mine,” he said. Jim had a cool about him. It was the kind I wish I had more often. “But you’re right,” he continued. Then he pulled a ring from his pocket.
“Are you asking tonight?”
“As long as she doesn’t get too drunk. I’d like her to remember it in the morning.”
Tracey had a terrible memory. She routinely left her keys at home and her iPhone at work. And it was only worse when she drank. He told me she wouldn’t even remember their recent trip to Zihuatanejo if it weren’t for the photos on Facebook.
“That guy better marry me,” she said when he took his turn in the restroom. “He has a much better insurance plan at work than I do.”
“A man ought to provide,” I said.
“Plus, he’s pretty cute. And I just love the hell out of him, you know? He’s a keeper.”
The three of us chatted a bit more before they left for the bar where they met just a few years ago. That’s where he was going to propose. As he helped her with her coat, he smiled at me and mouthed the words, “She has no idea.” When he turned to get his coat she smiled at me and mouthed the words, “I’m going to get engaged tonight.”
It was late, but I couldn’t leave. Clarence Oddbody had just jumped in the river to save George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. And I can’t turn away from that movie. It always makes me feel warm inside. More so than the gin, scotch or a coat, hat and gloves ever can. It helps me forget, if only momentarily, how twisted and dangerous the real world outside of Bedford Falls can be.
So, if you find yourself feeling the holiday blues and addicted to reading the unfolding news of Trump’s cabinet picks, knock it off. This is the time of year to shove all your bad feelings under the rug until after January 1st. If you can’t enjoy the eggnog because you’re lactose intolerant, hit the spiced rum straight. If you’ve been stabbed at the mall while shopping for your sister’s boyfriend, call 911. And if you’re feeling a little lonely, drop some money into a bar’s jukebox. You never know who’s waiting to insult your taste in music. And if you’re really lucky, when you get back home, there’s a pretty, whisky-drinking lady willing to play your favorite record while she whoops your ass in rummy.
Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy Kwanza, and all the rest. I hope this helped you forget the terrible. If not, get drunk and read it again.