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The Giraffe's Christmas
By david plumb
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Not rated by the Author.
A giraffe gets lost at Christmas
The Giraffeís Christmas
100 Christmas bulbs. 50 Christmas bulbs. Blinking Christmas bulbs. Inside- outside Christmas bulbs. Who needs all of these bulbs? And I canít find what I do need; a dozen bulbs for our small, beautiful tree. Itís one big circus. I swear there must be three hundred plus Santas running amuck this year. One commercial even has a family ripping off Santaís sleigh. But Iím trying. So let me tell you how this thing plays out.
Laura and I go to the Christmas Pageant at church. The first half of the pageant wraps a commercial turn-of-the century extravaganza complete with red and green dresses, long coat tails, swoon dancing, fat girls dancing with skinny girls who canít swirl them, toasts to Christmas, Christmas skits of olden days, a sleigh pulled by a live horse, chestnuts roasting on stage. Oh my! An ice skating rink slides from under stage center. A girl can ice skates while the chorus sings The Twelve Days of Christmas. Hillbilly Christmas arrives with Hillbilly singing, ďRudolph the Redneck ReindeerĒ to a small pig followed by kids dressed as flower pots, alligators and other sundry delightful creatures.
A big blond sings, ďOh Holy NightĒ, then we get the story of Christ. Gabriel whips it on Mary. Then itís on to Bethlehem. The Babe is born in a matter of seconds. Kings arrive with live camel in tow. One wears a long purple robe that spreads half the stage. Jesus zips among the multitudes and revives the blind, the deaf, the ailing. He is betrayed. The Last Supper is quiet and spellbinding. Jesus talks in whispers. Judas runs. A crazy Saint narrator runs up and down stage in his beard. Jesus is stripped (offstage) and mocked on stage. Puerto Rican Romans, Cuban Romans, Black Romans and White Romans, Vietnamese Romans and all the other Romans get it together at least once a year. Crosses are hauled on stage. One huge Roman cracks a whip across Jesusí back. Sheep blat. Crowds scream and hoot. A big bony man in a brown robe helps Jesus carry the cross.
I glance over at Laura. Sheís wiping a tear from her left eye. I am moved by Lauraís tears and I realize that we are together on Christmas just like we were at the Buddhist Temple in San Francisco. I used to help with the service following the late afternoon sitting in the Zendo. Sheíd slip in late and Iíd light up just like now. Laura takes my hand with her right hand and wraps her left hand around my left arm and she hangs on. She keeps sobbing. Thatís Laura. Thatís me.
Then they crucify Jesus way up on the backdrop. Romans stomp up and poke him in the ribs, the sympathizers give him water, the haters give him vinegar and it gets dark. They pull him down. You can hear the flesh rip when he is yanked gently off the cross in the blue shadows carried down the back way and brought around to center stage wrapped in white cloth. They stick him under a rock for three days, or at least until Mary Magdalene slips in to check him out. Bang! Lights! An angel in the tomb!
Angels swoop on wires in three directions all over the audience. Angels stage left. Angels stage right. Beautiful angels in long, soft flowing white dresses. Angels over the tomb. Bright lights. JESUS rises on the greatest wire of ALL. Triumphant organ music. Awesome, awe everywhere. Jesus ascends right up the backdropís light of lights to heaven above the stage. Angels on wires fly back to balcony landings. When they land they run behind screens. Far to my left, an angel gets flipped on the wire, butt up, just before she lands.
The house lights come on. The minister talks about how this is a spiritual, not a religious experience. If we have come to Jesus as a result of this event, would we check the appropriate box on our program and leave it with an usher with our address if we so desire. I am moved but I do not sign.
Oh, the giraffe. Yes, yes, the giraffe. Heís right around the corner. Be patient. Itís Christmas. It seems weird. The nativity and the crucifixion all in one shot. Singing to a pig? Costumes and Santa? Buy it! Get it! What can I do? Iím not one to have some one tell me to BUY.
The next day I see the Rockefeller Center Camel on TV and I wonder if itís the same camel. The following Wednesday Laura sends me out for Christmas dinner. I get so whacked in the Supermarket crowd I almost lose it, so I settle for the two big jars of oysters. Weíll have our traditional oyster stew for breakfast and instead of shrimp weíll have chicken. I drive home, stopping to get a card for Laura. We have a small tree. That cost a small fortune. Well, what can I say? The Christmas tree is actually a pagan ritual for the day of darkness and Christmas lights are German Yuletide, circa, 400 A.D. This whole Christmas worries me immensely.
My concerns are about to be answered. Two nights before Christmas, I take a walk in the neighborhood. Laura is on the phone looking for a new lawyer to take her car accident case. This is the ninth lawyer.
Whipping down 17th Avenue, in my Levis and sweat shirt, I spot a giraffe lying next to four trash cans. Itís a beautiful giraffe, about four-feel tall. Someone has thrown away this giraffe. It leans against the trashcans with its rear legs buckled and its long neck limp and hung over. I inspect the giraffe and I see it has both eyes. Its cloth nose is sewn on and its ears are still in place. I see small holes where the wire for its hips has worn through and one right rear leg is dirty. This is sinful and I want to take the giraffe home, but there is no place for this giraffe in my house. This giraffe needs a child to love it, even in the shape it is in, so I pick the giraffe up by its tail and neck and start down the street, careful not to be too conspicuous although there is not a soul on the dark, shady block. A few houses down, I decide to prop it against a tree, but Iím, not sure if the people in the house have kids. I try to remember where the children live. As Iím propping the giraffe by the tree, I hear a car bearing down on me. I scoop the giraffe and keep walking, which is good because the car pulls right into the driveway.
I remember there is a new baby around the corner on 6th Street. Bushes line the house and the father smoke cigarettes outside the front door. I think it would be nice for the baby to have this giraffe, even if it doesnít really know what a giraffe is. Father and Mother can take the baby out and show them the giraffe. Magic is what little children need. The minute I get around the corner, I see the light on 6th Street. I love my giraffe, but I know what must be done.
I sneak up to the drive. A small palm tree, with spurs, looms to the right and a line of hedges runs down the front of the lawn on the left. I sidle-up under the short palm tree and prop the giraffeís neck in a spur. I stuff the body upright underneath and it stands proudly in its great giraffe jungle night. I am so pleased to see it this Christmas night and that someone will find a giraffe in their yard in the morning. I slip across the street. As I walk off, I hear the baby start to cry and wonder if the baby picked-up on the giraffe, or maybe the giraffe scared the baby. I glance back at the little giraffe standing in the shadow of the palm tree. I slip down 17th Avenue.
My brother sends me a Christmas chicken salt and pepper shaker. Not your ordinary salt and pepper- shaker, but a salt and pepper shaker with the pepper on top, which is the white rooster; with red racing glasses, holding a yellow steering wheel, with his comb flying back in the wind. Underneath him, a black speckled egg car. The salt -shaker has three black wheels with red rims. The salt holes are on the hood of the car. My brother finds these things. He knows all about the red sunglasses, because he remembers when I raised chickens in Sonoma.
Laura wants to know what Iím going to name my salt and pepper chicken. She tries ďPatĒ, or ďGeorgeĒ, out on me. She sits in the big chair eating cream of carrot soup while we listen to CNN News. I say the roosterís name is Pablo. She laughs. I tell her not to laugh, because Pablo was one of the great roosters of all time. She thinks this is really funny. She thinks this is hilarious. Not funny, I say.
My salt and pepper rooster is Pablo. No comment. He sits in his egg car in front of the salad bowl full of gold Christmas balls on the coffee table by the couch, thank you very much.
Later that night I wonder about the giraffe and early the next morning I wake-up in the dark. I lie in bed thinking about Laura. We have been together nine plus years and Christmas is almost over. Iím not feeling quite myself. Iím tired even with sleep. I get out of bed and pull the covers over Lauraís right hip.
Itís raining and I worry immensely about the stuffed giraffe under the palm tree. I sit in the big chair, in the dark, looking at the Christmas tree lights drinking my coffee at 5:52 A.M. I know the four-foot fuzzy giraffe outside the babyís house is getting very wet. I am worried. I wonder if I can find a raincoat for the giraffe
That night I walk in heavy blue sweatshirt, Levis and my black running shoes. I find the giraffe by the palm tree; its head slipped one notch down the spurs. I lift its soft head and hoist itís behind up a notch so it remains regal. Itís dry. It has survived the rain.
The next morning I awake at 4:55 A.M. Iím not working this week. The New Year is upon us. Laura has gone north to work. She didnít call last night. I sit in the dark drinking my Bustelo and staring at the Christmas tree perched on the bookcase. It seems almost too bright, but staid in the moment, an icon to something which at this point, Iím not sure of. I see the shadows of the palm tree rise and fall outside my front curtains.
I hear a faint chirping bird and behold its daylight. Itís almost New Years.
I read in the newspaper where a Denmark study revealed that birds donít sing the way we thought they did. The song we thought came from a pair of tiny stretched membranes in the birdís voice box. This is actually controlled by two loose tissue globs (the medial ad lateral labia) that regulate air coming in and out and the song comes from the air-squeezed around the labia. The study confirms the idea that perhaps birds singing are similar to what humans do. A friend of mine thinks this is superfluous information. Sheís studying to be a Jungian Analyst.
Itís cool, very cool and Iím up for a long walk, but the night of the 30th I cut my walk short. When I start walking my heart begins to pound coming down 17th Avenue to 6th. Maybe the giraffe had been tossed out. Why am I concerned? After all, this thrown away creature belongs to the family with the baby. At the corner, I glance to my right and see its left hind leg sticking onto the sidewalk and his long neck reaching into the palm tree to its full four-foot height still attached to a palm spur. My giraffe survives.
I am so pleased. Above, Orion has just passed the zenith, Aldebaran stares down at me and to the North, Pegasus gallops silently and to the north, where Cassiopeia should be, spotted clouds sweep the sky. I listen to sound of this night. I breathe it simply, as clearly as a glass of water. I know I shall never hear this night again.
I wake up alone. Laura is still up north. I take a pillow out to the couch where the Christmas tree is lit. Iím aggravated and mesmerized by the light. I take the brown woven comforter from the back of the green chair and lie on the couch. Iím afraid I wonít sleep, but soon doze off. I awake to my orange Society Finch chirping like mad. I make coffee. I watch my ceramic racing rooster. He leans forward in his black spotted white egg car, steps on the forever gas and races across the coffee table on three wheels. Whatís the hurry Pablo?
Late evening and I see the giraffe is still there. The man who lives there stands outside his screen door smoking a cigarette and staring at the giraffe in the dark. He seems to avert his eyes as I pass as if he suspects. Is he happy? Sad? Mystified? Does he love his giraffe, which is at this moment, rich because we are both watching it? How can one hate this giraffe under the palm tree? What can one say? Should one say anything? This is, after all the Giraffeís Christmas
Laura arrives home New Yearís Eve hysterical and late. When I ask her why it took her two and half hours, she goes crazy and runs around the house screaming, ďItís the driving, driving, driving. The cars! The cars! The crazies out there. On Christmas and New Years and every day. Sheís shaking. Sheís going to the New Years Eve party RIGHT NOW. She canít take it anymore. She stands in the kitchen with two quarts of ice cream threatening to get in the car and go to the party forty-five minutes and two hours early. I tell her to go ahead and she screams louder. I walk out to the living room and stare at the blank TV screen. She calls me back to the kitchen. We hold each other. We stay home for New Years. We sleep. I wake up exhausted.
Late afternoon I add the kumquats, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, dates, onions, carrots, spices to the dressing. I take the small organic turkey out to warm to room temperature before baking. I make cranberry sauce with orange peel. We will have vanilla bean ice cream dessert. We hold hands before eating our holiday dinner. This is our ninth holiday together.
Viennese New Years with Zubin Mehta is disappointing; weak and boring except for the Traditional and the Rupensky March, the Danube. I watch cuts from ER mixed with Cirque díSoleil a choreographed feast. The high wire acts wear a safety wire that lends less to its credibility, although the costumes and makeup are most magical. I sleep.
The first night of the New Year I take my walk around 8:00 P.M. I skirt the corner and ease-up on the house. When I reach the drive, I see the man sitting on the top step of two, by the front door. He wears a gray shirt and white slacks. His hair is dark full and curly. He stares at me, but I canít make out anything else. We stare at each other for a few seconds as I pass. I pick-up the pace and walk on. The Giraffe is gone.
For a few days I harbor a sadness, an empty place in my heart for the broken giraffe. Where could it go? Who took it? Did the man out front toss it out after Christmas? Did he know I put the giraffe by his palm tree? How could he do it? Every giraffe deserves a Christmas. In a give and take world I should be grateful for the moment. I should. I should. This was HIS Christmas.
Three days later, I finally convince myself I must get on with my life. I slip out for my evening walk. Orion is just rising and the weather is cool. I loop the neighborhood and for a change I slip down 17th Way toward 5th Street. A long row of one floor apartments with a connecting porch lie to my right. Trees line the sidewalk in front. As I pass the first apartment, I see a flash in my right eye. I stop.
Right there in the first crag of a fat Banyan tree sits the giraffe. His legs dangle and his neck lies along the branch. He seems to be staring down at me. Our eyes meet. It is leaf quiet.
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