Sunday, December 31, 2006

They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!!

Holidays just aren't the same without the Francises.

In any ordinary suburban neighborhood New Year's Eve is celebrated by watching the ball drop on TV, making nugatory promises for the coming year, and toasting memories. These quiet, conventional, and thoroughly American customs have been tossed aside by the former residents of a certain dark and rather foreboding dead end street where I happen to live.

There were five boys in the Francis family. Each one was taller and crazier than the next, with long lanky legs and ashen complexions from drinking too much alcohol and staying up late every night. They dropped dummies on passing cars, swam in the putrid canal, vandalized fence posts, and stole Ron Lewis's freshly killed bloody sheep head out of his barn and mounted it for all to see on a pole in their front yard. They were hooligans and hellions in every respect. Every time a dog was poisoned or a shed caught fire the residents of my road pointed their fingers at the infamous Francis Five.
They were the bane of 10755, the annual hosts of the New Year's Insanity, and they lived across the street from me.

Every New Year I recall as a child was ushered in by the raucous parties they would throw. Sleeping on this special night was difficult when Beastie Boys kept pervading my dreams and every time I looked out my window I could see my neighbors chain smoking and drinking beer on their front lawn. Often illegal fireworks were added to the mess of drugs and music and dancing, but if they were unattainable there would surely be an added bonus show of colored lights from homemade rockets and various explosive chemicals.

Life with untrustworthy neighbors is not easy. Young and innocent children are easily impressed upon. Because of this I was absolutely forbidden to associate with the Francises; I was not allowed to approach, speak, or even so much as to look at them. Because I was sheltered-- or perhaps to spite that fact-- I could not deny a lurid fascination with them. I enjoyed analyzing them because it was like gazing into bent glass: the reflection was completely contorted and twisted and crazy, but I could still see a bit of the original shape in the image.

The Francises moved away years ago. They simply packed up and left unexpectedly, taking only what they could fit in the bed of a pick-up truck and returning for the rest later.
After they left, the neighborhood gossips congregated in my kitchen and surmised the cause of this sudden departure. They ended the discussion with the assumption that Donna had gotten pregnant, or Tex had been expelled from high school, or the boys had started making a bomb in the basement and the toxic fumes had forced the whole family to leave.
I suppose we will never know the truth.
Today is New Year's Eve once again. All is still and peaceful-- a completely different greeting for the New Year than what the residents of my neighborhood have come to expect. There are no fires, no rowdy boys riding goats, no fireworks, and no boom boxes blasting Duran Duran.
Even so, on nights like this I hear in my head the faint beat of a drum and the elusive whine of a synthesizer a little way down the road. The Francises are gone, but their obstreperous ways will forever haunt 10755 every New Year's Eve until the city inevitably decides to take a steamroller to this hill-- causing my quirky neighborhood to be evened out and average once again.

Friday, December 22, 2006

It's Christmas! Let's be glad.

Even today the slightest mention of Christmas shopping leaves an empty gnawing in my stomach-- a dull and colorless pain that reminds me of fluorescent department store lights and tube socks. It is no wonder that after years of enduring The Christensen Family Christmas Crisis I have grown to despise the holidays with the same deep antipathy that one usually reserves for truly horrendous things: like racism, terrorism, and corporate fraud.
All my life I have been trying to reconcile this phenomenal event--the incarnation of God-- with Santa Clause and blue-light specials at Kmart and the weird preoccupation people have with buying a lot of junk and giving it to each other every twenty-fifth of December. There is something incredibly phony about Christmas. Or maybe it's just the commercialized holiday cheer speaking.
And then again, I can be a bit of a curmudgeon at this time of year.
The guest bedroom in my house is present-wrapping central. Idle hands in the month of December earns any family member several locked hours in this gift wrap purgatory, with no hope of release until that day's load is safely bundled in brightly colored paper. This crinkly, gaudy, and extraneous material will litter the living room floor on Christmas morning, and then will quickly be torn into millions of shreds by The Babes. Then the gift wrap crumb shavings will sit and sit and catch on jeans as people try to wade through the mess and then will float and slide under the couches and rugs until it is eaten eventually by the vacuum sometime in mid-January. This is just like the pine needles from the fake Christmas tree (that we didn't put up this year) that become embedded in the carpet where the cat finds and eats them, and then gets sick and throws up.
The worst part of Christmas is not the hoarfrost on the windshield or the schmaltzy yuletide carols on the radio or even the extra thick eggnog and fruitcake. The very worst part of Christmas is how it is advantageously stuck between Thanksgiving and New Years, and how when you least expect it, it tiptoes from behind and bites until you bleed... until you bleed money and sleep and health out your wallet and eyes and nose and before you know it you are completely obliterated and Christmas is still three days away.
And then it sinks in-- something that I privately refer to as, "that Creepy Christmas Feeling".
It comes around when families act out the nativity scene and we picture the baby Jesus wrapped up in swaddling clothes- burping and spitting and smiling- a supreme being come to the Earth to save mankind from their sins. It comes on bright snowy nights when every sound is muffled by whiteness and everything is clear and cool and perfect, and the houses are lit up by a hodgepodge of blinking colored lights strung haphazardly from rooftops with the most tacky best intentions. It comes on Christmas Eve when I am lying in my bed, and even in my most mature state and Scrooge-like persona I can't close my eyes because that Creepy Christmas Feeling has spread from my chest to every appendage and extremity of my body until my heart is feverish with the warmth that comes with the Creepiness of Christmas.
Bah humbug!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Don't forget to drink your Ovaltine!

I am an Ovaltine addict.
The vast quantities of this powdery and sometimes chalky beverage consumed by my family is an abnormal custom in almost every respect, but one which I enjoy immensely. In fact, I believe my life with Ovaltine as a daily ritual makes up for any lack of sugar I may have complained of in other areas of my diet.
Ovaltine has been shunned by society as a healthy form of hot chocolate, or as a mineral-enriched fortified drink for old people. No doubt this is because of the creepy commercials with the pedophile like Ovaltine man calling together a force of unattractive children who simultaneously chorus, "More Ovaltine please!" with just the perfect degree of cheesiness as to induce vomiting in the spectator. But Ovaltine doesn't usually have that effect on me. It's my comfort food.
I'm not the only crazy one around these parts either. One in ten people have heard of Ovaltine, and one in seventy-five actually like it. About half of the Ovaltine drinking population of Utah belongs to my family. Everybody else is extended or distantly related. In the rare occurence that I should meet a fellow Ovaltine fan, an instant connection is forged and an automatic friendship is inevitable. The easiest path to my heart? Drink Ovaltine.
Sunday nights are dedicated solely to Ovaltine drinking and classic cinema. I have another confession; I love masterpiece theater, and I watch it every week. Daniel Deronda, Wives and Daughters, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Doctor Zhivago... My first taste of the classics came from KUED and a pitcher full of Ovaltine. Koseli and I would camp out on our living room floor and squeal over the gory Mysteries as we cuddled in our blankets.
Because of this I became an Ovaltine advocate; the first ever, and probably the last. Without any benefit to myself I began to promote this drink in the hope to spread health, happiness, and the intellectual stimulation that a delicious glass of frothy Ovaltine can stimulate. This is why the League of Ovaltineys was started, and why its legacy still lives on today. If you are curious about the advantages of drinking Ovaltine- over Nesquik or regular chocolate milk- just take a good look at me. I'm completely healthy, loaded to the brim with strong muscles, and practically the next Albert Einstein.
Who knew a ballyhooed and puffed up beverage could be so beneficial?