This morning I was out walking and I suddenly heard this teeny-tiny frantic barking. I stopped and looked toward the sound and saw a little brown blur flying towards me.
I bent down to either block or pat the furry projectile and had one of those moments when your brain can’t quite figure out what your eyes are seeing. Then suddenly, pure delight.
It turned out to be a very excited, very happy, very tiny weiner dog. Dressed like an elf.
Well, not entirely dressed like an elf, but close enough with a big red and green velvet collar with bells on the tips. She was so beside herself with pride that she was literally prancing in circles, showing off and wagging her tail so hard her whole body was involved in the process.
The owner appeared, running up all apologetic, but I couldn’t stop laughing and he joined in. He actually seemed abashed about the “outfit” saying he didn’t really believe in dressing dogs up. Someone had given the dog this elf costume a couple of years ago and she would hunt it out of the Christmas box every year, evidently either liking the velvet, the bells, or all of the attention she attracts in her elvin splendor.
The encounter with the weiner dog got me to thinking — how often do we actually get to experience delight?
It reminded me of the Christmas when I was 16. That was one tough year. I’d been technically on my own for awhile, but that was the year when I ran out of friends’ families to stay with. That autumn was when whatever flimsy ties I’d had to family, schools, or the system were severed. It was around Thanksgiving and I was out of options when my friend, Steve, said I could move in with him.
Steve seemed almost like a grown man to me but, looking back, he was a kid himself, about 18 or 19. Steve was a somewhat shy, really nice guy. He was also Jewish and he was gay. He wasn’t sure what to do with himself and his Beverly Hills family didn’t quite know what to do with him either, so they’d given him some money for an apartment and said he was on his own.
Steve’s apartment in Hollywood was in what had been one of the original farmhouses before the city grew up around it. His unit had been the pantry and was only big enough for two twin mattresses to lie in an L shape, but he had graciously made room for me. He also got me a job where he worked. He didn’t have much money, but had used what he had buying me food and bus fare until I got my first check, so we were broke.
I’d gone with him to his parents’ house for dinner at Hannukkah and, shortly after, he asked me if I had any requirements for Christmas. In the manner of jaded teenagers everywhere, I decided I was slightly offended by the mere suggestion — of course not! Fuck Christmas! What the hell did I need Christmas for anyway?
Christmas was nothing but a symbol of excess and greed. A useless exercise in gift swapping and card sending in the place of true caring. It let people off the hook is what it did. Who needed it? And it’s not like I had any family traditions or anything to miss. It was never anything but trouble and I was better off without it. The whole idea was ludicrous. I was fine.
But nearing midnight on Christmas Eve, Steve asked me to go for a walk with him. Now, this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary — we sometimes would go for cigarettes or just to walk late at night, the pantry was pretty constricting, after all. We walked until we came to a fence about a half-block long. Steve stopped and asked me to wait for him for a few minutes and he disappeared around the corner. I stood for a few minutes, smoking and shivering a bit, wondering what Steve could possibly be doing.
I heard him, suddenly, call my name through the fence. I came up close and he asked if any cars were coming or if anyone was on the street. When I said no, he told me to stand back, away from the fence. I heard a rustling noise and looked up and I couldn’t believe it — something huge, flying over the fence! A Christmas tree! A six foot fucking Christmas tree just sailing through the sky! I stood there, momentarily stunned. Then suddenly, pure delight.
I heard a loud crashing noise and Steve comes scrambling over the fence, hissing at me to get the tree. I was suddenly galvanized with joy and purpose. We grabbed the tree and took off running for home, my heart swooping.
The tree barely fit in the apartment and the lower branches overlapped our mattresses, but it didn’t matter. We borrowed some tin foil from the neighbor and decorated our tree with stars. Steve spent some time rationalizing the theft of the tree — they weren’t open on Christmas, were they? He didn’t think they could have sold the tree anyway at this late date — it wasn’t really stealing, just making use of something that would be discarded.
Really, I had to marvel at his courage — he obviously didn’t have a thieving nature, yet look at this tree!
I fell asleep that night with the bottom branches crowding my pillow, comforted by the glint of foil stars and dazzled by the kindness of my friend. The smell of pine trees always takes me right back to that night and I’m reminded of how unexpected, how delightful, the human heart can be.
cross-posted from Unbossed