Christmas: I can't let it pass without at least a bit of holiday cheer. It teels like the best ones were back in my childhood. I'm sure if I had kids and they were healthy, any year could still be even better. Some people have the opposite feeling I do this time of year. Maybe they can't stop thinking of what they desire, compounded by the illusion it's being had all around them. Maybe they have every family invitation, friends are throwing parties, work's got parties, cards need to go out and gifts need bought and wrapped, and while they've seemingly got it all, they're in need of a prayer and/ or a few stiff drinks or whatnot, somewhere they can let the sheer grind of it all, go. I've had some pretty quiet Christmases in recent years, and not to be maudlin, but you rarely know when you're spending your last with someone, so by all means, share it where possible! I remember 2013 as a pretty big one, since we were freshly back from California for the first time on Christmas in years. I think it's the most fun I ever had wrapping presents. Last year my sister came down with her boyfriend, some old friends of my parents came over, and Christmas Eve, at least, was full of song, dinner, laughter-what do you know, it lived up to some of the famed hype!
I remember reading the Gospel versions of the Nativity in 2016, where I'd just scored my first slim check in a while and stuffed the stockings with games. So, it's not that I expect too much, but if I'm going to be surrounded by all this hubbub, I at least have our quiet Yule ceremony I find moving and personal, and otherwise, there's just some little ineffable something I hope to find. The side of going off adventuring for most of your adult life that no one talks about is, if you ever go back to your hometown, you'll find everyone's quite wrapped up with a bow and tags, under another Christmas tree or four already. So, I found an invitation to go to Cartersville, its one appeal being that the emcee of the event was the delightful Moriah Medina, who somehow ended up related to most everything of lasting value from our stay here. The catch, you might say: Karaoke.
And not with any particular social lubricants, either. In fact, I rather thought it might be numerous singers of a similar caliber to Mrs. Medina, herself, including her, in a coffee shop. So, OK. I had a couple of songs from the world of Rock come to mind, so maybe I'd sing, too. I even had a pre-party plan, which it turned out, didn't fall into place.
But you know, I did have a date- even if she hadn't committed to going. I only had to mope about that long enough to down half a cup of coffee before I discovered she was up for it. My Mom passed; I mean, on the invite. Considering it turned out to be outside, that might have been just as well, but since she was around, thought I'd try.
I picked the 411 route to Cartersville, which really flew by. My date- my date now for years, who was at least until March, my singing partner, too-put on a queue, not of holiday music, but some relatively obscure David Bowie tunes, while we figured out the minutiae between the highway and downtown.
If you think a public, family-friendly gig is lame, well, I recall being as cool as you think you are. Don't get me wrong, I wondered what the hell we were doing there, too. But we parked near the gorgeous Young Brothers Pharmacy window on the other side as twlight neared. We weren't close enough to see the positively maniacal display of nutcrackers ambitiously assembled, not until my date's toe had nearly frozen off and we were scrambling to get pics in the streetlight.
I remember the thrill of literally hopping back on to stage of any sort when our names were called. We'd been taking in the milling families and friends, which were locked into their cliques as usual, with an occasional 'hello!' You don't expect much more, really, so you have to enjoy the environment and the mild comedy of kids with more energy than vocal study. But we teach kids about that age, online, each morning, so we were pretty open. I haven't felt any fear in front of a crowd since I was a stand up comedian telling cleaned up racist jokes at the high school's talent show when I was fourteen. (It was the absurdity, not the epithets, that made them funny, mind you.) I was nervous taking the guitar on stage for Integr8d Soul a few times, but this was bar a toddler could hurdle, so why not have fun? As usual, when we haven't rehearsed, we take a few bars to find our exact mesh, as we rarely have a harmony planned and just dive in, but it went just fine.
We'd roasted ourselves by the fire for a bit, as the kids performed with more audacity. One Dad even shored up his two little ones long enough to get "Frosty The Snowman" out of them, and maybe three or four other words. I had to give it up for a couple of little boys and a little girl who might grow up to be as big a ham as Ye Olde Authore. It’s lovely to see humanity at an age when they haven’t learned yet you are supposed to virtually die of fright when more than one stranger is looking at you. One woman, who begged everyone to understand “I was coerced into this,” was mercifully interrupted by the train passing, which she used as her escape plan. We got a good version of “Santa Baby” from a lady who remembered the original, and of course, you’re not down South if someone doesn’t do an Elvis impersonation on “Blue Christmas.” I think the usual karaoke strategy, correct me if I’m wrong, is to select something you like to sing a few favorite words to, then muddle on through the rest. See, it applies to all ages.
I am inclined to say our next time up was “Christmas, Don’t Be Late”- complete with me using my voice for Lelly the Elephant, basically, to stand in for Alvin, while my partner pretty naturally has Chipmunk range. Our screen even gave us David Seville’s fussy direction to his rambunctious adopted animal kids, clumsily added by me. I even zipped up my Spider-Man hoodie and crouched down at the stage’s edge just for the kids who were eating it all up. I think it was as goofy as it sounds. Kids knew we were Chestnuts, roasting by an open fire, now, so they popped up complimenting us without fear afterwards. One dad took the occasion to express to his son he shouldn’t worry at all what people think- like him. Just have your fun. He didn’t specify, “but do care what I think, because I’m your father,” but the boy got it. It is funny, the things kids will give you a hat tip for doing.
Imagine if you will, thinking “if only I could be brave enough to do that” without thought for how gonzo it was.
I offered to catch the next one myself. By this point we’d succumbed to the lure of a hot dog a piece, and little did I realize, I’d decorated the front of my shirt with copious amounts of melted chocolate.
Its sheen didn’t really stand out as a stain while I roamed the stage like an expressive imitation of someone classic entertainer from days of yore. I added some interpretative dance to “Jingle Bell Rock,” which has that old rock and roll sound you can really lay into. But I’ve long been a proponent of drawing in the crowd, and had the pleasure of two little dancers- the boy was named Bristol, I recall that much- who edged their way to the side stage, where we’d been cheering them on, ourselves, minutes before. I noticed them dancing and, as you can plainly see in the video my date was kind enough to capture on our phone, bent down and sang it right to them, waving them up to come give a little kid step show. I found everyone in the crowd I saw singing along, because I wanted those people to feel the vibe, too! I checked my words a couple of times and hopped, sleighed, and picked up my feet there in Jingle Bell Square.
One of my students clapped along the entire time I showed it to him during online class, so I know it’s got...something. The look on one girl’s face- I named my newer elephant, Angela, after her, and of course, Teacher Angela- was a sheer delight I won’t ever forget. I mean, it’s really the entire reason you ever choose to be an entertainer. Besides, as my ten year-old student Kevin so blatantly put it: “It’s funny, too.”
Safe to say, we’d long since gone from just clapping to darn near directing the little performers, who just don’t think of you as a stranger at all in that setting. I’m happy to say, we inspired them, not to mention, enjoyed them. We’ll never even know each other’s names, but it was all So In The Moment.
We also ducked off by the big tree to take some lovely pictures together where the park lamp light gave us a chilly vampire tone. “We’re white,” said my date. “Get over it.”
I’d discovered and cleaned off my S’more stain before our last number, which I’d completely forgot I signed us up to do. We’d won over enough good will to survive any hairy eyeballs in the darkness out there, so Mo reminded us we were up for “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” I’d chosen punchy little numbers to that point, hearing a few things like “Holly Jolly Christmas” that had cheered me with their mirthful delivery (plus, I just watched Rudolph with my date at my Mom’s recently, being a big fan of that cast and The Island of Forgotten Toys). But here, as night fell in small town Georgia, the fireside warmth of this song, its words so tastefully rendered on the YouTube screen, really moved me to sing it like I meant it. I knew my date was fixed on the words to keep them straight, but I wanted to turn to her, just once, to sing, to serenade her there in the chilly Southern eve. I was surprised to discover, when I looked into her eyes to sing: “Through the years, we’ll always be together--” I caught such a lump in my throat!
The real substance of those words, which must’ve moved that songwriter so many decades ago, too, filled my emotional being. I was truly too caught up in their love and meaning to keep singing, because it was absolutely beautiful and true. I am glad, too, because I listened to her sing like a silver bell, stunned by the gorgeous quality of the singer I fell in love with from the day I discovered her ability to sing. It wasn’t show biz at all, and there was no one on Earth but we two for one holiday magical moment. I rejoined her, heart so full of this instance I hope never to forget.
Oh, wait, I can't forget the kids we heard on stage as we departed: they'd decided to launch into their own version of the Chimpmunks song. Voices and all. Like Mo said, seeing the next generation pop up there really warms her heart- good for some chuckles, too.
She was even patient when we left the GPS off and detoured through a back road that wound around some secret treasures of lights hidden far off in the country suburb’s hills. I was struck by how blessed I’ve been by her mellow counterpart to my enthusiastic leaps into the unknown and spotlights over the years. I may have taken us to the middle of Who Knows Where, but she was always the one who made that perfectly fine.
And so, I wish her happiness this and every holiday, for always keeping that special magic I seek, right there inside. And, dear reader, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Be chill, Cease ill