The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For the first time in my five years here in Nevada, the Yuletide has had a joyous feel. Not that the locals have brightened up the Mojave with glitter and approaches which correspond to the merriment derived from the period’s significance. After all, it remains bizarre seeing Christmas lights decorating palm trees.

Furthermore, prayer here has little to do with holiness and almost aligns entirely with cards or dice coming up right, or the ball landing in the right slot.

Transferring several Northeastern delights to the Southwest finally shook off the previous seasons’ lethargies.

Aside from the cold and gray that often prevailed from late autumn through early spring, what made the oncoming depths of Northeastern winters tolerable were the celebratory diversions which sparked the years’ ends. Little of consequence ever occurred in that gap between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Few expected anything should.

So we generally behaved accordingly.

A laissez-faire city, Las Vegas’ nature has little in common with urban environments which’ve developed into major commercial hubs. The business of Las Vegas is pleasure and entertainment. Leisure. Las Vegas produces fun. Unlike banking or insurance or manufacturing, those hours aren’t set but quite fluid. The personnel attending to such tasks or demands happily practice the same flexibility.

Therefore, if nearly every facet of life is available at any time what real need exists to schedule? Except my background developed in a place where life hewed to schedules. Those with lassitude regarding the clock and dismissing the hour didn’t last long or prosper there.

So when that last nothing week appeared on our calendars who didn’t exploit them?

Naturally there were Christmas parties to attend. And since adults predominated at these, we conducted ourselves in the manner of mature people who were given reprieves from our usual strait-laced workplace behavior. Alcohol flowed unabatedly.

Yes. Perhaps untoward actions were indulged. Maybe unfortunate comments were uttered. Did the hooch loosen inhibitions and tongues? Uh-huh. Did regrettable incidents mark the proceedings? Occasionally. Did laughter and disbelief result rather than the current mania for severe correctness occur? Indeed. Remember, back east a higher percentage of adults filled that workforce then than now.

Most importantly, were the above missteps erased from office memories at the start of the fresh year? Surely. Probably the only collectivization most Americans should ever approve.

Those final weeks of the years were unlike the prior 51. They would never resemble the next 51.

We lounged. We lolled. We chewed the fat. And when escaping our own bureaus to visit others, where the salaried and hourly also lounged, lolled, some going as far as lazing, we too would shoot the breeze. If we hosted visitors, well, then, just reverse the direct objects and their verbs.

Workplace constraints and what they imposed vanished. The players were the same and the scenery remained unchanged yet what we staged changed radically. The question remains did the week reveal or had the previously ones concealed?

Of course it was easy and fun to engage in such idle speculation. One could do it then with the break in heavy lifting.

In keeping with the season, what office didn’t have plenty to offer? Food, especially cookies, waited in abundance. Not the mass-manufactured grocery chain cookie varieties but bakery store crafted piles. With all the nibbling we must’ve resembled bears larding it away for winter.

Cheer was also conspicuously displayed. Not the attitudinal sort but the distilled kind. Before the fun police thoroughly throttled adults having good times, hooch in the office wasn’t a hanging offense. Coming along when I did, as I did, what boss’ desk drawers might not have held a bottle of something amber or brown, mellow and suitably aged?

A lot of these appeared the last 7-10 days of the year. Not from the private stock. Instead as gifts. Enough visits to the right offices and the home bar could be supplied for six months.

No need to imagine the ramifications of trying to do that today. In our be careful or be a litigant times, believing adults are responsible for themselves, our actions, must be heard as some sort of heresy.

We are predisposed, presupposed to be weak. At one time our fallacies made us interesting, not potentially damaged goods. Our rules now discourage living. The preponderance of them, then the new ones heaped on the old to further protect us from ourselves or hinder our behavior or prevent us from exercising our nature, mostly create nuisance and inconvenience where none is necessary.

No exaggeration that in some small minds giving a bottle of booze as a present can be viewed as being an accessory before the fact.

Music distinguished this Christmas season from its prior Nevada iterations. Christmas carols, naturally, but not the insipidly rendered versions by today’s simpering and reedy vocalists. Old school singers like Andy Williams, Mahalia Jackson, and Nat King Cole, as well as several lesser known bluesmen, Charles Brown among them. Naturally there are others but these form the acoustic spear.

In fact an Andy Williams’ holiday carol gives this post its title. More so than the religious themed songs predominating the airwaves or even the Ronettes’ Christmas tunes, Williams’ contributions to the genre embody its spirit.

The first three artists stem from my childhood, those comprising the fourth group a late arrival into manhood.

Hearing the pipes of the well-known singers restore a plentitude of warmth and gratitude. When life just wasn’t simpler but, looking back, secure and cossetted. In these what the hell times, who the hell doesn’t yearn for that?

The first three stylists restore the presence of family and friends who’ve slipped from this vale. It often wasn’t what they said or how they acted which stamped deepest, though the comfort provided just by their very being and having been. Doesn’t that metaphysical comment aptly suit the foundation under Christmas?

The second group is trickier. Like that kid who outgrew Santa Claus, but, hey, loved the notion anyway, blues singers negotiating through Christmas carols matched a phase entered. Though one I passed through, some remnants stuck and came along as I aged. Perhaps it’s the bleakly romantic perception a great many of us wish to occupy sometime in our lives.

On some holiday late night, settled in a dark lightly populated bar, the bartender more understanding than talky. She sets up one’s drinks at a pace guaranteeing pensively staggered consumption. That way there are segues between contemplation, elbow-bending, and letting the mixture buffer thoughts.

In the background, above the murmurs of the few other patrons, the jukebox has been programed not to serenade but complement the mood. These instances are no time for Gene Autry and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman. This place and one’s place inside never reflected a “jolly happy” holiday.

Quite the opposite. Mauve and indigo let the shadows blend what’s solid into obscurity. Instead happiness and gratitude are missing, and the search is on starting at the bottom of now empty beer, shot, rocks, highball glasses.

Among barely sociable, not boon, companions, conversation was terse. Rather than letting them flow freely, speakers tore words from their mouths. Laughter bit.

At these hours, among these people who had benefited from plenty, there existed an inexpressible dissatisfaction. If consensus had somehow been reached, the morose postures should never have mirrored their actual lives otherwise bright conditions.

Santa’s on his way. But unless he’s bringing your baby, he’s going to be a misfit guest. A lot of those blues songs at that time of life, they were entertaining misery. Not forgetting them allows measuring the distances traveled.

But the above clarity of vision and the lightening of outlook came years later.

So, yeah. Merry Christmas, Baby, still found its way on the playlist here in Las Vegas.

A chestnut and continuously recycling pageant really revived what had descended into a lifeless interregnum in Nevada. How both took me so long to call upon I don’t know. Back in New York I’d been a faithful adherent to each program.

WPIX is a television station serving the Metropolitan New York area. Annually it broadcasts Christmas Midnight Mass from Manhattan’s St. Patrick Cathedral. Officiants and soloists change yet the splendor remains constant. I’d tuned in for the longest. Though not a Catholic congregant, I’d fallen into the habit of faithfully watching, enjoying the sermon and caroling. After a five-year absence, I streamed it into Las Vegas.

A vignette of the above appears on the Slow Boat Media LLC Facebook page.

As always, what the church’s presented should’ve been enough to have cleansed Elmer Gantry.

We rightly decry the commercialism infesting the season. Watching what the archdiocese beamed went far towards scouring that cynicism … at least for a while.

The “chestnut” will forever validate the existence, no, necessity of public broadcasting. These days, I imagine PBS programmers have acquired a newer, showier version of The Nutcracker. The update of that ballet obviously features principle dancers known among today’s viewers.

If you had told me during the 1977 broadcast that 40 years on Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland might be barely acknowledged figures of the later 20th century culture scene, I then would’ve recognized a modern Philistine. But yet here we’ve arrived.

Somewhere in PBS vaults moldering along with the Ringl & Pitt documentary, one hopes the original videotape of the American Ballet Theater production has been backed digitally and upgraded. The disk I rented and watched was so faded the images appeared ghostly.

Disk and streaming services are notorious for increasingly shorting older content. There will come a night when the version I grew anticipating and accustomed to watching will need an expedition to uncover.

Like Midnight Mass and Christmas carols rendered by entertainment giants, the Baryshnikov-Kirkland Nutcracker validates the season for me.

Old appetites, like old acquaintances, should not be forgotten. Happy New Year!

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