Heaven-Sent, Direct To My Mailbox

Those of you who are lapsed or non-Catholics might not know that this is the time in the liturgical year when the readings at church focus on the Second Coming. I figure that’s what’s prompted the mail I’ve just received from my Crazy Aunt.

Actual mail. She’s that nuts.

For five and a half handwritten, photocopied pages addressed to me by name in fresh ink at the top, she detailed what we should do now that we’re in the End Times. Apparently we should stock up on non-perishables because when Satan comes to try to reclaim the souls of the recently converted, all literal hell will in actual fact break loose. Also we need to find some blessed salt so we can spread it across the thresholds of our doors (don’t open them during the unrest, though) to keep Satan at bay.

If I had known that all it took was some blessed salt, I wouldn’t need to go to confession right now as she urges.

Does it have to be kosher salt?

My aunt, you may recall, sent out checks for a thousand dollars to each of her nieces and nephews last Christmas because it was the money my grandfather had left her and she thought he would have wanted her to do it. I think my mother did get her to understand that, if he had wanted that, he would have left it to his grandchildren instead of her.  Her response was that she was just trying to do the right thing.

Which is true, really. My aunt is an untreated mentally ill person who my social worker sister says would probably be classified as a paranoid schizophrenic with religious preoccupation if she would ever be willing to be diagnosed as anything. But she has a heart full of goodness and love and she just wants everyone to be saved. I don’t begrudge her that. I don’t begrudge anyone that, when it comes from a place of love. And she’s not dangerous; most mentally ill people aren’t. It’s far more likely that she’ll be the person who gets hurt – though she’s pretty paranoid and afraid of a lot of things, so she might never be in a dangerous situation.

One of the things she’s afraid of, apparently, is the Affordable Care Act. more colloquially known as Obamacare.

After the five and a half pages of her letter, she tossed off another paragraph on different paper (no lines) about how the law is against Christianity because it “pushes abortion funding and the implantation of the chip under the skin, which is forbidden in the Bible.”

Where to begin, eh?

Aside from the fact that a lot of things are forbidden in the Bible, like footballs and cheeseburgers, the ACA does not push funding for abortion. It provides members of Congress and their staffers the option, if they choose to be part of the health care exchange rather than private insurance, to pay a premium for insurance in case of abortion. They don’t have to pay into the exchange at all if they don’t buy that particular feature of protection. It’s like a la carte.

It also says nothing about chips.

What we have here, I think, is a bit of confusion on my aunt’s part, because the only CHIP to which the ACA refers is the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And it is not implanted, it is implemented.

Oh.

See, now I definitely don’t believe the thing about the salt on the threshold.

There is one thing, though, that I find to favor my aunt’s way of looking at the world: the 4×6 envelope in which the letter arrived bore no sign of the postal service. The stamps were not cancelled and no meter mark was affixed. There’s no date of mailing. It appears never to have been touched. I’m sure this is a miracle of postal delivery. Deliverance. One of those.

Heaven-sent?

 

 

As We Understood Him

I feel like I’m breaking a rule right now.

It is Good Friday, between the hours of noon and 3:00pm, and I am using something electronic.

In my house growing up, Good Friday between the hours of noon and 3:00pm meant absolute silence. My mother believed that we should use that time – that teensy amount of time in our big long noisy childhood lives – to cease almost all stimulation and just be aware of what happened with Jesus right then.

It’s actually kind of a nice tradition, but when you’re a kid it means only one thing:

Thinking about Jesus? Was. Boring.

As an avid reader, I had more of an out than my sisters did. I was allowed to read during Good Friday No TV Or Music While Jesus Was On the Cross Time. So for me it was less boring than it was for my sisters, even though I do distinctly remember sitting on a swing in the backyard, staring at the ground and actually watching the grass grow one year, contemplating how it seemed like every Good Friday, no matter what the weather was, the sky got cloudy at noon.

That didn’t happen today. It’s a brilliantly blue-skied cloudless day.

Weird.

As an adult, I still like to honor the tradition my mother established. The only sound in my house right now is the dishwasher. Turns out, we’re not Amish. I’m allowed to use electricity during the Crucifixion Hours, I’m just not allowed to use stimulation unless it’s a book. But I’ve decided that writing and reading blog posts counts as the same as reading a book. I’m avoiding Facebook, though. That’s a little over-the-line, and if my mother sees that I was on and posted something, she’ll be disappointed in me. There’s no fun allowed on Good Friday.

Yes, that’s right. I’m 35, and my mother lives more than two hours away, and I’m still talking in terms of what I’m allowed to do.

And she thought I never listened.

Anyway, today is my day off. For many years, I’ve found myself  at work wishing I had taken Good Friday off so that I wasn’t ignoring the import of the day while I was surrounded by stimulating work-associated things. I felt disconnected from the most mournful and meaningful week of the Christian calendar, and even though I’m not the most religious person, I don’t like to ignore that. I like the opportunity to reconnect and reboot.

What saves me from that disconnection is my music.  Before I had to leave my choirs because of stupid work, Holy Week was the biggest week of the year for music. Rehearsal Monday; rehearsal Wednesday; Holy Thursday Mass to remember the Last Supper and the washing of the feet; Good Friday service to remember the Passion, crucifixion and death of Jesus;  Holy Saturday Mass-A-Thon when all the converts are baptized/confirmed/receive First Communion (“Yes, yes, welcome to the Church, hurry up already, this is a two-hour thing tonight and we’re here all week plus there’s a quick turn-around and we have to be back here in less than 12 hours”); and Easter Sunday Mass.

We were always in great moods come Easter Sunday. The sad strings gave way to triumphant trumpets, and the purple choir robes were cast off to reveal joyful springtime colors. Some of the women in the group busted out their Easter hats. But mostly we were in great moods because we knew we were finally done.  Also, though I didn’t do it this year, I generally give up sugar for Lent (the whole time, not just Monday through Saturday like the Church supposedly allows), and so on Easter Sunday morning I am hopped up on the brownies I had for breakfast.

Now I don’t get to sing as much and don’t generally go to church all four days. (Most Catholics don’t, and in fact are not required to.) But I have to admit… I miss it. I miss having the music and the low lights and candles to pull me in and wrap me up in the melancholy of what we’re commemorating and the impact of what it meant for the world. I’ve always found a soulful connectedness in churches at night. And whether you believe in Jesus as the Messiah or not, if you’ve been to any of the services, you know it’s a deeply touching time in the Church year.

Tonight, I will sing for the Good Friday service. (It’s the only time in the Church year when we have the full hour-long worship with Communion and don’t call it Mass, because there is no consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. We also do not genuflect to the tabernacle when we enter or leave a pew, because we are mindful that Jesus has died and therefore the tabernacle is empty.) The woeful cello and violins will play and my breath will connect with my spirit to sing a message of sacrifice, sorrow and reflection. My co-cantor and the choir will fill my ears and the service will fill my heart. I will be still, and I will remember what it is to be profoundly human and profoundly hopeless. I will remember, so the joy of forgiveness and hope can be renewed.

Yesterday, Sister 1 was taking Twin Nephs to the babysitter for the day and one of them piped up that Easter was coming soon.

“Do you know what happens on Easter?” my sister asked.

“We go to Aunt Beth’s house!” Neph 2 replied with his arms in the air from happiness.

“Well, yes,” Sister 1 said. “But something else happens, too.” And then she started trying to explain the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to a couple of four-year-olds. Godspeed, sis.

Neph 1, ever serious and sensitive, said, “But why did Jesus die?”

“Well,” said Sister 1, clearly in over her head with these kids, “He died for us, because He thinks we’re special.”

God love him, Neph 1 seemed content with this explanation, and Neph 2 had already moved on to other interests.

Ten minutes later, they arrived at the babysitter’s house, and Neph 1 ran in and excitedly exclaimed, “I’m special! And Jesus dies tomorrow!”

Later in the day, the babysitter was talking to the kids about how they were going to make pizzas the next day, as part of their regular Friday routine. She always has to remind them that they have to wait for the dough to rise. And sure enough, Neph 2 proved he had been listening in the car after all.

“Jesus will rise like our dough!” he declared.

Now I’m a little worried there will be a Jesus-like image in the pizza.

However you understand God or your soul… I hope you take the chance to reconnect and renew your spirit this week!

 

Mass Confusion

Creatures of habit and ritual do not generally react well to change. Oh, you should be with me when I cantor Sunday mass these days.

For those of you who aren’t Catholic (or are, but haven’t been to church in a length of time not to be judged or even discussed herein): there is a very set ritual of prayers we say during mass. Recently, the Church changed the words to some of those prayers. The whole Church. Every Catholic who goes to mass now has to say different words, no matter what country they’re in (presumably). It’s because Pope John Paul II years ago ordered a re-translation from the original language into all the languages of the world, because things strayed a bit too far from home and now not everyone was really saying the same thing. He spoke seven languages, so I guess he would know. And we’re all supposed to be saying the exact same thing. It’s about unity. One Church.

So anyway. The answer to a priest’s “The Lord be with you” used to be “And also with you.” Now it’s “And with your spirit.” We’ve been saying “And also with you” since 1963 when the Church ixnayed Atin-Lay, but now, holy hell, the words are different. We say “And with your spirit” no fewer than five times during a mass. For the first several weeks of the new translation, we took special care to remind people of this before mass started. It got to a point when sometimes we were practically yelling it.

~”The Lord be with you.”
~”AND WITH YOUR SPIRIT! I got it that time!”

I was incensed (haha, Catholic joke – get it? Incense?) when the most pious of our priests decided to sing a high mass a couple of weeks ago. No, high mass does not refer to too much incense. It’s when a bunch of the prayers are chanted. I actually gave him a dirty look when he started in. People weren’t comfortable with those chants before we changed all the words. Now, there’s absolutely no musical precedent for them. I don’t know what to sing. The people are all, “Uh, hey cantor, what do we do?” and I’m all, “Uhhh, just… wiggle your voice around a little.” I hope you’re happy, Father.

My music director wisely changed some of the prayers we sing to the new translation weeks ahead of time. The idea was that people would be comfortable with them by the time we got to the mandatory switch-over, and they’d sing them confidently.

False.

We’ve been doing the new music for three months now, and I still see all these people with their faces buried in the prayer cheat sheets. Where the music, which they know, is not written.

I don’t know why, but for a Church based entirely on believing what cannot be seen, these people have some serious trust issues.

I’m not even going to start on the Nicene Creed or how everyone panics every week because “maybe they changed the Lord’s Prayer, too.” (They didn’t.)

Catholics are accustomed not only to ritual but also to a certain rhythm. We have a way we say things, you know? A cadence. When they changed the words, the cadence got all screwed up and now nothing is said together. Which is ironic, given the purpose of changing the words. Now everything’s scattered all to hell, and it comes out sounding like, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive my roof under you, but only say the word and I shall heal my own soul or …something. *Cough.* And with your spirit?”

That bit gets said at the most important moment of the mass: the consecration. It’s the moment when the bread and wine is turned into the body and blood of Christ. This is a very holy moment. Which makes it an excellent time for Patrick, the deeply baritone and hard-of-hearing usher/sacristan, to hock up a crapload of phlegm on the other side of the altar wall, very loudly, out of sight, like the Voice of God has been stricken by post-nasal drip. He does it at the exact same time every week.

Priest: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father,–“

Patrick (off): “Aaachhhuugggllll!”

Priest: “–almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation–“

Patrick (off): “AAAYYYYAACHHHHUUUGGGGLLLLL. Uh-gull-accchhhh.”

Priest: “–that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope.”

(I don’t have that memorized. I looked it up. I had the old prayer there memorized. But that’s gone the way of the backward-facing celebrant.)

Sadly, another fairly regular ritual at my church is the Fainting of the Faithful. The vast majority of attendees are seniors. And, God love them, sometimes they don’t have breakfast, or they forget to take a pill, or whatever, and boom. Down goes Mrs. Frazier. It’s happened so frequently that the parish has had to mark off a little connecting road between two parking lots with orange cones so that nobody (read: me) parks along the side of it because, if they do, the ambulance can’t get through.

I almost parked there yesterday, in defiance, because I was late and I really hate having to drive to the lower lot and hoof it up the hill to get to the church, out of breath just in time to sing the entrance hymn. Good thing I didn’t park there, though, because all of a sudden, right at the very beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist (the part leading up to that all-important moment of the consecration)… down went poor old Mr. McKinley.

I made that up, I don’t know his name.

Father saw it happen, and, when he finished the prayer he was on, he discreetly asked for any medical professionals present to attend to this parishioner. Apparently I worship at a very medical church. About six people rushed over. Had the choir been there, three more would have joined them. My church is, for reasons both spiritually and practically obvious, a pretty good place to lose consciousness.

This is always a very awkward thing for the celebrant. He has to continue with the mass. But he kind of doesn’t want to. He feels like he’s plainly ignoring the fact that one of his parishioners may or may not be dying about 20 feet away. Yesterday, because Mr. McKinley’s episode went on for so long, he calmly told the server girls as they prepared the altar for the consecration to go and get the other priest over in the rectory.

I remained prone, remembering I’m supposed to be an example up here in my lay ministry, kneeling as Saint Peter or whomever told us to do, but wondering what was taking the ambulance so long. They’re right across the street. Naturally, half the church was basically staring at the spot where Mr. McKinley had keeled over instead of paying much attention to that most holy of liturgical ceremonies, and I have to say that, as I watched the priest, he was a little distracted, too. It’s good, though, kind of, because it distracted everyone from Patrick’s lung evacuations.  And then, of course, the medics arrived exactly when the bread and wine were elevated for the big moment. (Former Catholics: think “ringing bells.”) You cannot pick a worse time to be disruptive.

(left): “Sir, are you having trouble breathing?”
(from altar): “Through Him, with Him, in Him…”
(off): “Ayyyucchhhhgggllll!”
(left): “Any chest pain?”
(from altar): “In the unity of the Holy Spirit…”
(off): “Bllluuugrrrghhuhgglll…”

Adding to all of this? The words to the hymn we sang at closing. “Let All Things Now Living.” Really? Oh, this is awkward. “Let all things now living (I hope) a song of thanksgiving to God our creator triumphantly raise! Whose passion has made us, protected and stayed us by guiding us on to the end of our days! (Which is hopefully not today)… Til shadows have vanished and darkness is banished as onward we travel from light into light!” (Go toward the light!)

I don’t know what happened to Mr. McKinley. The medics carted him off just before it was time to line up for Communion, with Father Pious High Mass tagging along.

I wonder if the prayers for the Anointing of the Sick changed, too.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

The twelfth day of Christmas is the feast of the Epiphany in the Catholic Church. And I had one.

I finally. Got. Wi-fi.

Epiphany!

Yes, that’s right. Since I moved into this place, 16 months ago, I have been chained to the modem via etherlink connection. The modem is in the only possible place it can be – on the floor next to the TV/cable box in my living room. Which meant I had to be on the floor to use the computer.

Yeah.

For the longest time, it was because they were supposed to set up wi-fi when they installed my cable, but they didn’t, and I just never called them to come back and do it because who wants to call the cable company and invite them over again? And then, one of my coworkers looked at me like I had three heads and said, “Just go buy a router, for crying out loud!”

Oh. I can do that?

We are not terribly technologically savvy here at thesinglecell. I’m not an idiot or anything – I just thought the cable company had to provide the wi-fi service and if I hooked up something else they’d know and accuse me of breach of contract or something. I totally made that whole thing up in my head, though. Turns out.

So yesterday, I got a router. It wasn’t hard. I told an associate at the store what I wanted, she asked if I knew what kind I wanted, I said no, she said she’d send someone right over, I stood in the aisle for five minutes looking at boxes, nobody came, I picked one that looked reasonable (Belkin 300 N with dual something), paid for it and left. The hardest thing about installing it was finding a place to plug it in. And now, I’m on my couch, under a blanket, with the laptop where it was made to be… and I’m online.

It’s like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black and white to color.

Obviously, my regular readers have stuck with me through twelve days of the same title for my posts, except for one word that changed. I always celebrate the twelve days of Christmas. I don’t do pear trees or gold rings (note to self: find someone to supply gold rings for future Christmases) or drummers drumming, since they’d just make me nuts. But all my decorations stay up until the Epiphany, the celebration of the occasion when the three kings arrived at the stable to find the baby Jesus.

The little drummer boy may have been with them. I’m not sure.

Rembrandt's "Adoration of the Magi"

Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar brought the infant expensive gifts often given to kings, gifts that may have foreshadowed the path Jesus’ life and death would take: gold, because He was the newborn king; frankincense, which symbolized deity; and myrrh, an embalming oil associated with death. These days, two of those gifts are relatively obscure, and gold is no longer a gift fit only for kings. Most of the meaning has washed away.

It’s easy for us to forget the meaning of the little gifts we get on a daily basis. We are not royalty, not deities. But this year, for the twelve days of Christmas, I wanted to be more mindful of those gifts I receive every day, and how valuable they are.

The first day: Family.

The second day: Love.

The third day: Self-awareness.

The fourth day: Friendship.

The fifth day: Health.

The sixth day: Wisdom (and humor).

The seventh day: Contentedness.

The eighth day: Music.

The ninth day: Fruits of labor.

The tenth day: Freedom.

The eleventh day: Little pleasures.

The twelfth day: Connection.

By no means are these the only gifts I receive daily. There are so many more. Writing about these made me grateful for them, mindful of them. I hope I can continue that throughout the year.

Today, the decorations come down and get put away, and I yank a big, beautiful tree through a doorway nowhere near wide enough for it to pass through. After a considerable amount of vacuuming, my home goes back to its 11-month state, feeling bare and stark for a few days at first. I’ll consider keeping the Dickens Village houses out, at least, with their warm glow and old-world charm. And then I’ll decide, like I always do, that I might as well pack them away now so I don’t have to rejigger all the boxes in storage again when I eventually take them down.

There is no thirteenth day of Christmas.

But I still hope to receive a gift.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

The eighth day of Christmas should have been sparkly and shiny and new. I should have woken up to find that all kinds of things were different and everything was positive and diamonds had rained down from the sky during the night. The eighth day of Christmas was New Year’s Day, and none of that crap happened.

None of it.

It was sunny, though, which was good for my fuzzy head. No, it was not fuzzy from a night of partying. (See previous post.) My head tends to get a little cottony on New Year’s Day, I think precisely because I expect things to be different and they’re totally not, except there’s a whiff of some sort of expectation in the air and everybody’s off and I get the feeling like everybody has something to do, and I feel bamboozled by the whole magic trick-that’s-not-really-a-trick. “Oh! Behold! A shiny new year!”

“Madeja look.”

New Year’s Day is a holy day in the Catholic church: the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The purpose is to honor the role Mary played in bringing about the salvation of the world. I’m not the most religious person – mild to moderate at best. But I am a cantor at my church, and I sang the noon mass. Just me, my favorite accompanist and the contemporary group, who showed up ready to really play. Music is an alive thing, breathing and morphing, and sometimes the group just doesn’t gel. But other times, it really gets into a groove. And the instruments tend to change from week to week, which keeps things fresh even though it’s mostly because someone flaked out and another person stepped up. (A violin this time!) As a singer, I get inspired by this kind of stuff – people who just know what they’re doing and don’t need much direction, who can look at the music and play, and elevate the experience without saying a word. When you’re Catholic and a music person and a good two decades younger than nearly all of the people you see in front of you, you will take every chance you get to change things up and get them out of the rut of the status quo. The people in the pews usually respond.

I think they respond because the music becomes a spiritual power boost, which everybody can use. It doesn’t have to be some big thing. It doesn’t have to scream “religion” or “God” or “miracle” at you. It can just be an old hymn you hear in a new way, by virtue, even, of where you do and don’t take a breath. Like reading a poem and not stopping your momentum at the end of a line. Oh! That’s what that means!

The mass was a minute from starting when I looked at the accompanist and pointed to sheet music that was sitting on top of the organ (which she wouldn’t play today – the contemporary group is more of a piano crew). “Are we doing this?” I mouthed.

“Oh! We can,” she mouthed back.

“Offertory?” I suggested. It’s the moment when the altar is prepared for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when the gifts are brought forward by parishioners. Technically, this piece is not liturgically correct to sing at that time, but it’s the only place to do it without making the mass longer. And nobody likes it when the mass is longer.

She nodded. “What key?”

“A-flat.”

The contemporary group zinged up the music enough that we were fairly enjoying ourselves from the beginning of the service, and I could tell the Frozen Chosen were, as well. Cantoring is like teaching, I think: you look out at a sea of dead faces and you’re trying to think of something that’s going to wake them up and bring light to their eyes. Music can do that if you play and sing it right. Even the old stuff. Plus it helps that we’re still in Christmas carols.

But when it came time for the Offertory, we took it down a notch. The contemporary group left their instruments. On the piano, the accompanist played the first few measures of Schubert, measures most people recognize very quickly. And I sang.

Ave Maria, gratia plena…

It is one of my favorite pieces to sing. The only trick is that it’s a bit of a pressure piece. It’s not something you sing all the time; it’s for special occasions. Weddings. Funerals. Feasts and solemnities of Mary. So when you do it, it has to be special.

It has to shine.

I sang the Ave Maria for my grandmother’s funeral in 2007. She had basically ordered me to do it, and I knew if I chickened out, or sang it badly, she would haunt me with murmured “That was nice, dear” sentiments that really meant, “I would have thought my eternal sendoff would be a bit better.” I was medicated and prayed to every saint I could think of for help as I climbed the stairs to the choir loft to sing it. I didn’t love how it went, but it was enough, thankfully, to keep my grandmother quiet.

I sang it for my sister’s wedding in 2002. Sister 2 played piano.

I sang it for my brother-in-law’s grandmother’s funeral two weeks ago. The family had requested it. They remembered it from the wedding.

It’s a piece that matters, that means something to people. A piece they close their eyes to. A piece that rings in their breath-filled chests when it’s over.

If you do it right.

For me, the only way to do it right is not to sing it myself. Rather, I have to open my mouth and let it come through me from somewhere else. Otherwise I worry too much about tempo and tone and where I can breathe, and it just doesn’t do. I run out of air, I go a little flat, I push a little. I make it about me, and it loses something. It loses shine.

On the eighth day of Christmas, I turned it all over to the gift I’ve been given instead of the brain I use, and I let it come through me instead of from me. I sang it for my grandmother all over again, for my sister and her husband, for his grandmother. The pews stilled. Eyes closed. My cottony head cleared.

It shined.

And a new year began.

Funeral, and A Good Time Was Had By All

Have you ever wished you had a camera at a funeral?

My father’s uncle, Larry, died last week, peacefully in his sleep at the age of 87. I’m glad somebody in my family got to go like that; it’s not usually the way things work for my people. My parents were unable to make the trip for the funeral, but Tuesday night, after work, I headed to my sister’s house, crashed for a few hours and then went to the service Wednesday morning.

You have to understand my family in order to understand the way we do funerals. There are a few key words:

Irish
Catholic
Big
Loud
Honest
Lively
Completely inappropriate in almost every possible way

Alright, so that last item was several words unto itself. But they’re probably the most key keywords.

So somehow we all managed to arrive at the church at the exact same time, coming at each other in all different directions to centralize in the parking lot. Within seconds, at least five people were standing in the middle of that lot, in mourning clothes, eating soft pretzels. This is Philadelphia’s version of breakfast. And the pretzels were warm, so it qualifies as gourmet.

Generally speaking, when we all get together for funerals, we start reminiscing about other family members’ funerals. This gathering was no different, and before long we were waxing nostalgic for that time in 1994 when my father’s cousin Diana was killed in a car accident. Diana was Uncle Larry’s daughter. She was… um… not small. My father, his two brothers, two of their male cousins and three other grown men were pallbearers. None of them are small men, but between Diana’s size and their limited ability to move when they were all in place, they struggled to get the casket where it needed to go. In fact, they almost dropped her once. My youngest uncle, Joe, recounted his reaction when everyone arrived for Diana’s burial Mass.

“I wasn’t playin’ around,” he told us Wednesday morning as he held part of a pretzel. When he’d sized up Diana’s coffin, he had known enough about physics to voice a preferred position in the honored cadre of men. “I pointed at that casket, I said, ‘I call middle,'” he laughed.

His cousin’s husband, Carl, cracked up. “You ass,” he said. “You stuck me on an end!” (Carl, being an in-law, is of a somewhat less bullish build.)

“Damn right I did!” Uncle Joe crowed, polishing off the last of his breakfast.

“You missed the night before, at the viewing,” I told Carl. “Uncle Joe and my dad, standing at the back of the funeral home next to each other, staring at Diana, talking out the sides of their mouths to each other: ‘How we gonna do this?'”

Uncle Joe broke up again with laughter. Choking on carbs, he painted a clearer picture. “We didn’t think they’d even be able to close the casket.”

Carl rolled his eyes and nodded with a groan as if to say, “I hear ya.”

“And then,” I said, “I was up kneeling on the prie-dieu with Dad, and he bumped her arm. All he saw was, her arm moved. And he opened one eye at me–” I gave the proper look, one eye wide, the other closed, the beginnings of terror evident– “I had to tell him, ‘Dad, you bumped her. You bumped her arm.’ Dad goes” — I dropped my voice low and quiet, sotto voce, and barely moved my lips — “‘Are you sure?'” Back to my normal voice, I finished.  “I said, ‘Yes, Dad, you bumped her arm. What, you think she’s moving?'”

Howling from Uncle Joe and my dad’s oldest brother, Jim. It wasn’t just because my dad wasn’t there to defend himself. He would have been mocked if he were there, too. But he also would have been joining in.

“Remember Aunt Beth standing outside?” Sister 1 asked me. Did I. Because Diana had been killed in a car accident, certain modifications had to be made at the funeral home. No one would have known that if it weren’t for Aunt Beth standing outside, telling everyone as they walked in for the viewing, “Don’t touch her head. Don’t touch her head.” To some people who couldn’t help but throw a curious look her way, she drew an oval around her forehead with her finger and broadly mouthed “wax” with a grimace.

(You’re welcome for that image. I’ll spare you the story I got to hear later about an Italian guy whose mother, in her dramatic sorrow, lifted his head up off the casket’s pillow. You don’t want to know.)

After twenty minutes of eating and clowning around in the parking lot while our dearly departed uncle lay in blessed repose inside, we decided we should probably act like grown-ups and go in. The funeral director had brought Uncle Larry over from the funeral home for a final calling hour before the Mass began. Greeting scattered relatives as we passed by them, we worked our way to the back of the church where the casket stood, open. But before you get to the body, you have to peruse the obligatory photo collage.

Oh dear.

Uncle Larry had some outfits.

In one photo, he and his late wife, Aunt Gennie, were wearing matching clothes. His shirt and her dress were both excruciatingly loud orange and brown patterns. They were reclining on a twin bed. The color that had faded from the photo – which I’m putting at a good 45 years old – did little to dampen the visual assault. Below that photo were two snapshots of Uncle Larry seemingly surrounded by snow. It was piled well above his head. He wore a fur-lined hat, with the front of the hat folded up so the lining showed. He was hunkered down and appeared to be in winter military dress, which would put this photogenic moment in the era of World War II. In his left arm, he cradled, of all things, a black and white cat.

“How the hell did he find a cat in all that snow?” Carl asked, but I was already on to a family dinner photo  – you know, the ones where everyone gathers at one end of the table – which not only featured Uncle Larry in a hugely plaid button-down shirt, but also a far hairier version of Carl in a tight and fuzzy v-neck.

“This is a flattering shot of you, Carl,” I directed his attention to the mustachioed, long-haired guy who had morphed into a present-day man shaved bald in every place north of his shoulders.

“Yeah, those were my porn star days,” Carl quipped.

“Oh my God, what the hell is that?!” came from Carl’s left. Another cousin, and she was pointing at a photo in the upper right corner of the poster board. It was Uncle Larry, shirtless (please God, only shirtless), in a red, heart-shaped tub full of bubbles. Some of them were piled on top of his bald head. (Uncle Larry never did have hair. The only picture I’ve ever seen in which he had hair was the one taken of him, my grandmother and their youngest sister when Uncle Larry was probably four.)

At first I wondered why Aunt Gennie wasn’t in that bubbly tub shot (which I guessed had been taken in the Poconos), but then again, I was glad; Lord only knows what would have been going on in that picture, and this was church, after all. Cackling from the “mourners” in the back notwithstanding.

Directly below that photo was a shot of dear old bald and portly Uncle Larry in his best tux. By which I mean his only tux.  I believe the event was his late daughter Sara’s wedding sometime in the latter part of the ’70s. (Yes, Uncle Larry and Aunt Gennie lost both of their daughters young; Sara had severe diabetes and died in 2001 when she was about 50). The tux featured a shirt so ruffled down the front that it looked more like a costume. The ruffles were edged in black piping.

My dad’s youngest sister, Anne, is the executor of the estate and power of attorney. She tells me that Uncle Larry wanted to be buried in that tux. Which means he still had it. She had told me on the phone shortly after his death that she and Uncle Jim were looking at two suit options, one of which had been purchased in 1956 and the other of which had been purchased in 1957. She wisely nixed the tux and had the funeral home put Uncle Larry in one of those black, loose-knit suits.

After I knelt at my great-uncle’s casket, said a prayer for his peaceful rest and took a good look at him (They never get the mouth right, I mused with disdain. People always say, “Oh, he looks so good!” but they never get the mouth right.), my eyes roamed over the sprays of flowers around him.

And then I saw it.

Uncle Larry spent every Sunday for the last decade in Atlantic City at the casinos. He’d ride a bus down, collect $20 in quarters from the tour company, eat the meal they fed him and play the slots all day. When I see seniors squandering away hours and prescription co-payment money sitting in front of a ca-chinging, blinging, dinging machine in a vast, windowless room with mirrored walls and hideously patterned carpet meant to make you forget what day or time it is, it makes me really sad. But Uncle Larry loved it. He did not miss a Sunday. And he did not care if someone in the family was being Christened, or making their First Communion, or having some other sort of party. There were no exceptions. If it was Sunday, Larry was in AC playing the slots. Invite him anyway if you want, but he ain’t comin’.

Days before the funeral, the florist had asked Aunt Anne, and Uncle Larry’s only grandchild, Patrick, if they wanted anything special. Jokingly, Patrick had asked, “Got a slot machine?”

And behold, I present unto thee…

Why yes, it IS a slot machine floral arrangement.

Yes. I took a picture at a funeral. I mean, somebody had to.

I left the body out. You’re welcome for that, too. If you’d like the layout (no pun intended), this gem of a floral creation was at the immediate foot of Uncle Larry’s casket.

My mouth dropped when I saw this thing and I looked at Aunt Anne.

“No.” I said flatly.

“Oh yeah,” she said, nodding. “Yep. It is.”

I looked at it more closely, taking in the details: the 7-7-7 on the roll, the spillover of floral silver coins coming through the mouth at the bottom of the machine. The only thing that would have made it better (and by “better” I mean “more horrifyingly, deliciously inappropriate”) would have been a swirling light on top and sound effects, and maybe a rig-up that made it sound off and spit out more floral silver coins every time Uncle Larry’s name was mentioned.

“Oh, I wish I had my camera,” I said. “Is that wrong?”

“Hell, no!” Aunt Anne replied, pointing at a cousin. “He took a picture. Do you have your phone? Post it on Facebook and tag me in it.”

I dug my phone (which I had respectfully turned off) out of my purse and snapped the shot. If my mother had been there, she would have chidingly said my name and tsked her tongue.

But my mother wasn’t there.

Neener neener neener.

The casket also featured one of those mesh-backed ball caps with the name of Uncle Larry’s favorite gambling establishment emblazoned on the front above a bill that had never been bent. I’d seen that red, white and blue cap perched on Uncle Larry’s head many times, hitting far above his brow so that the mesh left his bald head air-conditioned. The hat now lay at his feet, along with old framed photos of him with Aunt Gennie, Diana, Sara, Sara’s late husband Tom (Agent Orange vaccine, Vietnam: Hep C and then liver cancer) and Patrick.

Taken as a whole, the display was just stunning. As my family often says, “All class. Lower-middle, but all class.”

The Mass proceeded as it usually does, and those of us with parts to read did well, including my father’s cousin Margaret, who was terrified that when she got to the word “hoary” in her reading from the Book of Wisdom, Aunt Beth would make her laugh. Even Aunt Beth herself, who is not at all fond of speaking in front of groups, did well with the second reading. Sister 1 and I handled the Intercessions (non-Catholics: this is the “we pray to the Lord/Lord hear our prayer” part). Nobody tripped or fell or slipped and banged their head on the casket, which is an improvement over some other family eternal send-offs.

We behaved.

We cried when Uncle Jim did the eulogy and mentioned after all the laughs that Uncle Larry didn’t warm up to goodbye kisses at parties until very late in life, and only once is on record as having picked up a child for that purpose. It was my nephew, and my sister had captured the moment with her camera. It was one of the photos on the poster board in the back of the church. We cried again when the funeral director and his assistants removed the traditional white drape from the casket and replaced it with an American flag to signify Uncle Larry’s service in World War II. We sang “How Great Thou Art.” We filed out.

And, standing at the back of the hearse as the funeral director firmly but solemnly told my cousins and uncles how to put Uncle Larry’s casket into the back of the vehicle, someone cracked, “Aw hell, just put him on the truck.”

Uncle Larry had been an over-the-road trucker. Apparently, this is exactly what he himself would have said, because several people nodded and agreed that’s what he’d want.

Lovely, no?

I had to leave straight from Mass and drive back home to go to work, so I missed the procession to the cemetery, but Patrick posted photos on Facebook later. (Yes. Photos on Facebook of his grandfather’s funeral procession, taken from the vehicle behind the hearse.) He really only took two, and it was so he could show everyone what led the funeral procession: a big, shiny red rig.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s things like this that tell us who our loved ones really were when we send them on to their final resting place. I have no doubt that there were a lot of honest, hard-working, blue-collar people who saw that rig leading that procession and thought, “There goes a hard-working man. May he rest in peace.” And I’m grateful for that. But considering that my grandfather was buried with two Navy sailors flanking his grave and a gun salute from the police department of which he’d been a member for 25 years, this big rig and slot machine stuff was… well…

Tacky, okay? There, I said it. Incredibly, stuff-I-thought-onlyother-families-did tacky.

But it was Uncle Larry. Uncle Larry, who wanted to be buried in the ruffly tuxedo shirt from 1978. Uncle Larry, who was known by name to every casino employee in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Uncle Larry, who pushed his false teeth out at the young kids until Aunt Gennie yelled at him to stop.

You may not be surprised at this point to learn that Uncle Larry was the one guy in the family who actually used to tell people to pull his finger.

Uncle Larry, may flights of angels wing thee to thy rest, and may you have one hell of a reunion party up there with your sister, your brothers-in-law, your parents, your wife, your daughters and your son-in-law. Down here, we’ll miss your crooked smile and your curmudgeonly grunts that stood in for greetings. We’ll miss your laugh and the way you could sit in the same spot with your arms folded for hours.

But never again will we buy a slot machine floral arrangement.

Because that thing is hideous and wrong.

And I have the picture to prove it.

I think the spray of greens behind it really classes it up, don't you?

——-
Sadly, the lovely featured image is not from Uncle Larry’s funeral. It’s from gordonandthewhale.com.

Music Monday #4: Holy Commercial

Last week, I regaled you with the amazingness of the Flower Duet from Lakme’ and mentioned how it’s been used in commercials. I think it’s sort of bizarre when commercials use classical and opera pieces that are seemingly completely unrelated to the product they’re pushing. Case in point: this week’s Music Monday sampling.

I have Comcast cable, and the monopoly company has been running an ad lately in which people and objects sort of jump out of a television screen at a viewer who’s rather blown away by the whole thing. Nevermind that I don’t want that to happen in my house, ever, and I find it to be a fairly meaningless ad. The reason it caught my attention at all is because of the music it uses.

It’s the “Sanctus” movement from Mozart’s Requiem.

Ah, Mozart’s Requiem. I said in my first Music Monday post that I have had a love affair with it for years. I sang it in France. I’m letting that sentence fall flat because of the link; I don’t want to launch into the whole thing right now, so you can read a bit about it in that previous entry if you want. Point is, the Mozart Requiem is a very well-known work in choral circles, and it absolutely rings and echoes and soars in French churches, be they made of marble or humble stone with dirt floors. We did it in both, plus a more modern, plaster-walled place, just because we could.

The work has a back story that’s almost mythical: Mozart was commissioned to write it for the late wife of a stranger. Our Wolfgang and his wife Constanze were desperate for money and she was getting increasingly anxious about it. (Wolfgang was a bit devil-may-care about things like this; he had other things to worry about, like the Emperor.) But Mozart was becoming increasingly ill, and seemingly going mad; he felt the work would kill him.

He was right. Though he wrote the foundation of the entire work and had completed parts of it, he died in the middle of writing the “Lacrimosa” movement (coincidentally, the only movement in the work that concentrates on grief).

With her husband dead, Constanze was left to search out someone who could finish the commissioned piece so she could get the much-needed payment. Constanze was not a gold digger… she was just really strapped for cash, with mouths to feed and a husband dead at 36. Eventually, she convinced one of Mozart’s associates, Franz Sussmayr, to complete the work.

That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

The “Sanctus,” for those unfamiliar with the Catholic rite of worship and, more specifically, the funeral mass (which is what a requiem traditionally is), is the part of the mass that translates to the Holy Holy Holy. It beatifies God during the consecration of the bread and wine, in the liturgy of the eucharist. It’s a song of praise, and Mozart makes it triumphant in the midst of mourning and fear and heartfelt requests for the forgiveness of sins… but it still has plenty of the darkness that comes with the fear of God in that moment when a soul hovers between Earth and either Heaven or Hell.

Which is why I find it odd that Comcast uses it in their commercial.

There are so many beautiful moments in the work, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite, but the “Sanctus” movement is one of mine, for the sake of one single line. Throughout all the rehearsals and performances of the Requiem, I was next to my friend Bill, who has a gorgeous tenor voice. Every time we got to this one phrase, when my soprano part dipped lower and his complementary tenor part soared higher, it was all I could do to keep my sound going; the phrase just takes my breath away. It boils down to one note, really, but Mozart was so brilliant in the way he structured the chord that it just opens the whole thing wide. Below, the link to the movement, conducted by Sir Colin Davis. I regret that I do not know which choir he is conducting or when and where the recording was made. The phrase I adore begins at 1:09, and the tenor note to listen for is at 1:14-1:15. As usual, I encourage you to find better quality recordings on your downloadable music provider of choice; if you do, I suggest a recording on the London Digital label, of the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Georg Solti and featuring Cecilia Bartoli, Arleen Auger, Vinson Cole and Rene Pape as soloists, with the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsoperchor. (That’s a choir.) It was recorded live in Vienna in 1992, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death. If you want to buy the CD, the cover looks like this:

 

Apart from checking on the time for that tenor note… close your eyes and listen. Happy Music Monday.

Mozart Requiem, K 626, V. Sanctus

Bumper sticker mentalities

I would like to ban bumper stickers. I have many reasons for this, not least of which is that they make your car look crappy. There’s really no such thing as a classy bumper sticker, I don’t care what the message is. You’re still putting a cheap piece of inelegant plasticized schlock on your car. Ick.

A few examples of things that are unnecessarily expressed via vehicular communcation:

“My child is on the Honor Roll at <school>!”
I’m glad your child is smart enough to be on the honor roll, and I applaud the fact that you want to visibly support that child in his/her academic endeavors. But I was on the honor roll, and I forbade my parents from putting those stickers on the car. Because the only thing more nerdy than consistently being on the honor roll is riding around in a car that screams about it to everyone behind you.

“This car climbed Mt. Washington.”
First of all, by all outward appearances, that was 20 years ago. But congrats. Now, can the car accelerate past 42 miles per hour on the highway? Get out of the way.

“Hunt with your kids, not for them.”
I don’t even know what that means. I puzzled over it until my puzzler was sore. I called other people, people who hunt, and asked them. They didn’t know, either. I couldn’t find a supporting foundation or organization that put out this sticker. It’s baffling.

But the biggest reason I want to ban bumper stickers, by far, is because I really didn’t ask for your opinion, and I certainly don’t want to read it while I’m stuck in already irritating traffic.

I don’t mind that you have opinions. Obviously, I have a few, myself. It’s just that I don’t want to know your stand on war, or a given politician, or abortion, or cancer (which universally is believed to suck, so I don’t need your bumper sticker to state the obvious), or mean people (also universally believed to suck), or the United Nations, or whatever.

Why do so many bumper stickers have something to do with politics or religion? There’s ample room for debate on the topics that we slap on our cars, so why are we constantly insulting everyone’s intelligence by implying that it’s really so simple that we can fit it on a sticker? It’s not that simple. In fact, I bet there are a lot of people on this road who know a lot more than you do about the topic your bumper is yelling at me about in all caps. This bumper sticker mentality is, I believe, partly responsible for the circus that is our present political and campaign system. The bumper sticker is the abbreviated form of the soundbite, which is the abbreviated form of an explanation for an actual political concept way too complicated to be boiled down into any of the above things.

I don’t believe people who have these bumper stickers want to “start a national conversation.” I believe they want to argue, gloat, and/or insist they were right all along.

“Don’t blame me – I voted for <Name>.”
Okay, well, I don’t blame you for anything except being a narcissist and a bad driver. And I don’t really care who you voted for. Even if I voted for the same person, I’m annoyed, because I realize I’m now lumped into a category with you.

“I’ll keep my money, my freedom and my guns. You can keep the ‘change.'”
How ’bout you keep moving. Preferably away from me.

“It’s a child, not a choice”/”It is a poverty that a child must die so that you may live the way you wish. ~Mother Teresa”/”Abortion stops a beating heart”, etc.
Okay… deep breath. I happen to agree. But that’s me. And I’m Catholic, so I kind of have to agree with everything Mother Teresa ever said. It’s tough to find a case where she was wrong, because she was just super-nice. But not everyone believes the same things, not everyone understands life in the same way, not everyone has the same life, choices, education, resources, home life, opportunity… Reducing this incredibly sensitive and complex issue down to something that fits on a bumper sticker is just irresponsible and will do nothing to change anyone’s mind. It will only make people angry. Including me, and I agree with you. So take the sticker off your car and mind your own business before I rear-end you on purpose.

“Visualize world peace.”
Visualize your accelerator. Long pedal on the right.

There is, however, one kind of bumper sticker I can appreciate. That, as you might imagine, is the genuinely funny kind.

“Jesus loves you. Everyone else thinks you’re an a$$hole.”
Now that’s the kind of bumper sticker mentality I can get behind.

Half-Assed Holy Days

I’m not Pat Robertson’s daughter or anything, but Easter has always been a joyous day for me. It’s not that I go overboard celebrating; I keep a pretty low candy profile (though I have been known to have brownies for breakfast on this festive day of our eternal salvation, because eternal salvation food has no calories). But I’m always in a good mood on Easter Sunday morning, despite invariably being up late the night before and up early on the holiday to sing. I’m a cantor at my church, and I often get the 9am mass on Easter. Aside from the challenge of getting the vocal chords to flap properly at that hour, I’m happy to do it. But from the second I get up there in front of the rest of the church, I can tell: Easter is not joyous for everyone.

It’s the dead faces that give it away.

Yo. Jesus died… and then rose from the dead. You think you could at least look alive?

Leading people in song (allegedly), I figure, is a lot like teaching. You look out and see some animated faces and a lot of completely dispassionate ones. And you spend the next hour trying to drag people along. Anyone who sings, dances, acts or speaks to groups knows this feeling. You draw from the energy the audience or congregation gives you. When you get nothing, you feel like you’re falling flat.

I was gettin’ nothin’. No joy. I was Bettye LaVette, lookin’ for my joy. Except white and not nearly as distinct-sounding.

It’s interesting, because the parishioners all certainly seemed chatty before the mass started, while our newest priest was futzing around in the sacristy and running really quite late.

(You know you totally love that I just used a Yiddish word in the middle of an Easter blog.)

Now, this whole phenomenon is not new to me. We have a very musically-oriented parish, but there is always that lot what refuses to sing, and the cantors can sense it as soon as the entrance hymn starts: “Oh, it’s gonna be that kind of mass, is it? Okay, dig deep.” I could get on my soapbox here about how everybody in the pews will probably sing in their cars to Bruce Springsteen or Olivia Newton-John or Justin Bieber, but they just won’t do it in church…

Yup!


       Yup!


 Yup! (Own it)


                            Nope.

…and about how if you listen to live recordings of pop star concerts and hear everyone sing, they sound pretty darned good, so I don’t want to hear the “my voice is terrible” excuse. But I won’t get on my soapbox.

(Sorry I lied on Easter about getting on my soapbox, Jesus. Just tryin’ to do You a solid, here.)

(Did you know Jesus reads my blog? See? You’re in good company.)

My point is, I’m not up here singing for the sake of performance art. This is not a concert. You’re supposed to sing with me. You won’t sing at all without me. I know because if I cough, you have no idea what to do. You know the words, and you know the tunes, because we’re Catholic and this is Easter and it’s not, like, you know, new. So what’s your excuse?

I guarantee you, if I asked that question and waded through the “my voice is terrible” and “I don’t like to sing” excuses, what I’d really find is… “I’m half-assing the holy day.”

Let’s face it: you’re at the 9am mass because you want to get this thing over with so you can go get the kids to the Easter Egg Hunt and then go have brunch at your parents’ house before you get home to change back into your sweats to watch golf/hockey/baseball. It’s called a Holy Day of Obligation for a reason, right?

Don’t lie. It’s Easter.

Look. I’m never going to tell you you’re a bad person for coming to church and not really participating. You’re here, and I don’t know how the Jesus Jackpot really works, so who am I to say? We’re all just hoping for the best, here. But I am the head singer in charge, and I would really appreciate it if you would help me out. Every Catholic knows: the things that distinguish one parish from the other are A) the caliber of the priests’ homilies, and 2) the music. You will totally complain if you don’t like either one. We’re here to enrich your worship experience. So if we’re making the music good for you, please consider returning the favor. It really does matter to us. It’s not that we take it personally; it’s that hearing voices joined together makes us happy. If you sing, you make my day more joyful.

Happy Easter!

The Creepster Bunny

Ah, spring… the air is fresh, flowers are blooming, bunnies are hopping, birds are singing, April showers are… well, they kind of suck, but only because my birthday is in April and it always rains on my birthday.

But back to our happy vision… it’s finally no longer winter. That means hippity hoppity Easter is on its way. Thoughts turn to children in their best dresses or suits, little girls in bonnets, and eggs of pretty colors decorating baskets. And, of course, the Easter Bunny.

Or, as I’ve taken to calling him: the Creepster Bunny.

It is my belief that there is no childhood fantasy deliverer-of-goodies creepier than this guy.

Come ON.

Santa Claus is magical and brings tidings of comfort and joy and goodwill and childhood wonder and lessons of what it means to give, as God gave the world His Son out of love. The Tooth Fairy is also magical, comes to take our nasty fallen-out teeth, because who wants those laying around?, and leaves cold, hard cash under the pillow. Total score. Also, she’s probably kind of hot, or at least she is in my head, and though I’m straight, it’s always better when they’re pretty. Pretty = fairy. Ugly = witch. Fact.

Pretty.

Ugly. (Photo from the Tennessee Theater Company)

 

The Cree– uh, Easter Bunny is a six-foot tall furry animal with huge ears and giant buck teeth, fundamentally unrelated to anything religious but using Easter as an excuse to show up. Nobody knows how he gets into your house, and he leaves you unwrapped candy and unrefrigerated eggs.

Really? We allow this?

Which of these is the most likely to be a total perv? The Creepster Bunny. You know it. Because even though Santa lets you sit on his lap and tug on his beard and whisper in his ear, and even though the Tooth Fairy flies into your bedroom and gets super-close to you while you sleep, the Creepster Bunny is worse. He isn’t so much as marginally human. He’s not even necessary. He’s a feverish nightmare. Where do we come up with this stuff?

And why does he bring candy and eggs? Bunnies can’t eat candy and they don’t eat eggs. They don’t even lay eggs.

WTF is up with this guy?

Highly suspicious, I tell you.

So I looked it up. Rabbits are symbols of fertility. Eggs are also symbols of fertility. Spring is the time when everything comes to life, so okay, fine, that’s lovely. I get the premise there. I still argue that rabbits don’t lay eggs, so we’re confusing the children with that whole thing. Where the candy comes from I have not been able to ascertain, although there is the argument that chocolate is an aphrodisiac and that, too, is about fertility. But I made up that argument.

There is no explanation of how he gets into your house. No coming down the chimney, or having a magic key (which is what Santa has for people who don’t have chimneys, FYI). There’s no way the thing can flutter in on gossamer wings. You never hear stories about how this thing hops around the world to every (Christian) kid’s house in one night without the aid of flight.

It’s all wrong, and I’m having none of it.

I asked my sister, who is the mother of a 13-month-old, whether she and her husband are taking the kid to see the Creepster Bunny. She said, “Good Lord, no.” She and I agree on the Bunny. We remember the photo of our twin nephews, at four months old, lying in the arms of a giant, disproportionate rabbit at a mall. We discussed the photo when it came in the mail. We both thought it was so terrifying that we cringed every time we looked at it.

Now, those twins are three, and one of them is actually skeeved out by the idea of an old dude sneaking into his house in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, even if he does bring presents.

Smart kid. I’m worried about what will happen when he finds the picture of him and his brother with the Creepster Bunny.

This cracks me up every time I see it.