CHRISTMAS DAY, 1999
By Joshua Mohr
Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve. With Jordan. A marine. The day turning into a shroom bender in the upper Haight, drinking bloody marys at the Trophy Room. Rock and roll songs on the jukebox. The Reverend Horton Heat screaming at us. Like a drill sergeant or an angel shouting words of alcoholic encouragement. Challenging us and we will not let him down. This is what happens when your heroes are train wrecks. You race to board that same train and steer it into a tree. Tequila shots? Sure. You don’t steer trains, stupid. Jordan’s voice getting louder. The shrooms getting louder. Me disappearing inside myself. Shouldn’t someone buy a god damn Christmas gift? There are tourists from Australia explaining Boxing Day and I don’t dig their accents. That’s the Reverend Horton Heat and they should stop interrupting him. Try a bourbon now? Sure. I have to be at my parents’ house at 7 am tomorrow morning. I have young sisters who want to get the whole presents thing underway as soon as possible. The ice in my bloody mary tastes like blood. Is that true? Shit, that’s my tongue. It’s bleeding. Bleeding because I bit it. Blame the Australians. Blame Boxing Day. Chilled vodka shot? Sure. Sisters don’t want to hear any excuses about a present-dearth, especially if it’s shrooms. I say something to Jordan about buying gifts. We should be buying them now! He laughs. Marines aren’t known for their emotions. I’m known to cry after too much cocaine. The bartender says if I play that record again he’s cutting me off. If every hero of mine is a train wreck themselves, well, what did you expect of me? Emulate a lifestyle until it’s got you by the balls. By the soul. I can’t imagine walking in my parents’ house without presents tomorrow morning. What will their faces look like? Fucking Australians have an extra 24 hours to shop. I’ve changed my mind about them. Life would be easier down there. Maybe swimming in their toilets feels differently with the water spinning the other way. Me, I’m a good toilet swimmer. I can hold my breath and do hand stands and backstroke like a motherfucker. So should we do a Fernet? Yup. My tongue heals quickly. The lights in the bar flip on. I squint and shield my eyes. Unfit to feel such illumination. Got to get out of there. Now we’re coming down at my apartment. The shrooms getting softer. But Jordan staying too shrill. I can’t bear hearing him utter another syllable so I call the cops. 911. Seriously. Dialing it and saying, “You have to get him out of here,” and they say, “Who?” and I hang up and half an hour later two cops at the door asking if everything is okay. It’s not. Jordan still talks. I am eighteen inches tall. With a swollen tongue and disappointed sisters. The cops don’t want any part of this once they realize there’s no real danger, telling me to stay put for the night and don’t call them again. Jordan going bananas once they leave. You called them on me? I did. You’re fucked. Yes. I’m leaving. Good. You’re an asshole. Yes. And there are things much worse than a bitten tongue. Such as a sucker punch in the gut. Such as a marine sucker punching you. Such as you not seeing anything coming. Crumpling to the floor. Can’t breathe. Hunting every inch of your lungs for something to survive on but coming up with nothing. Emitting this wheeze and the shrooms aren’t helping and the sisters aren’t helping and Boxing Day is salt in a wound and Jordan saying, Just fuck you! and storming through the front door and days later, years later, entire generations later my lungs finally function. Breathe in, Breathe out. Surveying the scene. Still on floor. Tongue still swollen. But laughing for some reason, and I’m alone in my room and it’s Christmas Eve. No. It’s after midnight. It’s Christmas Day. It’s Christmas morning. Without gifts. I panic and run around wrapping up shit found in my apartment and the next morning my family hunkers around that fake tree exchanging presents and my parents scrutinize my contributions. Olive oil? A bottle of wine? Why would your sister want a Black Sabbath shirt that’s obviously been worn? But no one says anything. That’s the deal. I show up pissed out of my head and they never call me on it. Maybe that’s the real gift they give me. Or it’s the worst thing. I’m the worst thing. Hungover with mushrooms still in my system standing by a fake tree, faking gifts, faking feelings, faking my way through everything, faking an entire life.
JOSHUA MOHR is the author of four novels, including “Damascus,” which The New York Times called “Beat-poet cool.” He’s also written “Some Things that Meant the World to Me,” one of O Magazine’s Top 10 reads of 2009 and a San Francisco Chronicle best-seller, as well as “Termite Parade,” an Editors’ Choice on The New York Times Best Seller List. He lives in San Francisco and teaches in the MFA program at USF. His latest novel is “Fight Song.”