Sunday, December 26, 2004

the outsider at Christmas

I intended to write something last night, but ended up using all of my creative energy trying to keep myself entertained in spite of a very boring day. I'm still recovering, but believe it or not, what I want to write about today is actually a positive experience that I had yesterday. This took place before the heavy boredom kicked in. Naturally, anything positive that I have to say will probably have a pretty hefty leading of negative material.

I'm not big on family gatherings. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly bothers me about them so much, but I think that's the case because there are ever so many things on the list. The way I see it is being trapped in a house, filled with a ton of people who assume they 'get' you because they changed your diapers, all the while, they're trying to parent you from a point of view of pure idiocy that actually requires you to come in and parent them in response. In family members, I often see a few of the good things that I like about myself, a great deal of the negative things that I work to remove (or removed years ago), and even worse, a great deal of things that I can't relate to at all, but am supposed to because there's a level of shared DNA.

My Mom's side of the family basically stems from thoughtless Catholicism, thoughtless tradition of how to live life, thoughtless activity, thoughtless conversation, and thoughtlessness. There aren't too many original or tangible ideas floating around through that genepool, and they like it that way. "That's the way things are supposed to be." These guys are big on family, although they don't make any effort to bring the family together. Everyone clearly has the same interests and motives in life, so what's to consider? "Rand, come up for dinner sometime." "To do what?" "We can eat and play cards." I don't want to be reminded that the only thing passing through your mind is, "Regis was good, but Meridith is good too." It disgusts me to think that we're related when I'm seeking to understand everything I can about life, while you're trying your damnedest to float over its surface on a little, fluffy, white cloud.

Everything's a family conspiracy with them, and the standard for right and wrong is whatever their ancestors decided. They never engage eachother in direct conversation. If they want to know how things are going for you with your new house, they'll ask anyone but you. Conversation with you is either about finding out what's going on with someone else or finding out what the weather's like today where you live (this is a hot topic for some reason). Even when they find out the big news about your new house, the only thing that passes through their mind is "Hmm, that's good." or "Hmm, that's bad." and of course, there's the quick follow up of "Hmm, when is 'Millionaire' on tonight?" If something's 'bad', they might hold it against you, but won't tell you that they're mad... you have to find out indirectly. One of my cousins did something 'bad' a few years ago, and it caused a subgrouping of them to push against eachother, while trying to pull back in at the same time. Do you have any idea how long I've been trying to get pushed away? When's my turn?... do it once, and I'll make sure it's a clean break.

Usually Christmas goes like this: I'm watching everyone amuse themselves with all of the pretty colors in the room and what the weather was like where and when. Eventually, I get frustrated and start acting like an asshole... a funny asshole, but a very annoying one. My brother does the same thing, and when we're stuck in situations like this together, we feed off eachother... his wife is a balancing factor, but she'll come around to our side soon enough. For example, a couple Christmases ago, my brother and I were taking turns standing in front of our grandfather, flexing our ass cheeks... 'left, then right, then left, then...'. My grandfather was sitting in a chair (with an ass constantly in his face), and was too old to push the ass away or to escape. He was pretty much stuck there, having to pretend to find it funny to save face. "Rand!... that's horrible!" Yes, but I like to think that it's also funny.

Here's the problem with me being an asshole or 'bad' in any way around them... it becomes an issue for debate. "Why would Rand want to be an asshole? Why would Rand not want to do nice things? What can we do to make Rand do nice things? Do you think that it's raining right now in Nebraska?" So as I'm trying to distance myself from them (and to blow off steam in creative and annoying ways), they're seeing my actions as a reflection of theirs. The only course of action in such a case is to resort to poorly thought out, counter-productive, confrontation. You know... the peaceful approach (looking like you're upset so that the other person might notice, care, and ask what's wrong), the frontal assault (a lecture on your life without having even asked about your life), the flank attack (asking another family member to reinforce your statement to the person, as if it was a coincidental same topic), or the ever effective 'pulling of rank':

Grandma walks into the room as others are halfway through a movie.
Grandma: "Oh! You're watching this movie?!"
Me: "Yeah."
Grandma: "This is the one with that sex scene!"
Me: "Yeah. That part's over, and that was just a ten second scene with no visible nudity. Sit down... you can probably handle the rest of it."
Grandma: "I'm too disgusted to even look at that actor's face!"
Me: "Right on. I'm pretty sure you won't see it if you go back to the other room."

I should probably translate this conversation:
Grandma walks into the room as others are halfway though a movie.
Grandma: "Why's this on?... I want to watch Millionaire!"
Me: "You don't learn anything from watching that show... you just like the light effects and the repetitive music. There's nothing impressive about seeing how many questions others can answer when it's staring you in the face that you'd be lucky to win your $300 on that show."
Grandma: "That point was entirely lost on me. Hey, this is that movie with the sex scene!... Sex is 'bad'!"
Me: "I know, and this movie doesn't have nearly enough sex in it. Pretty interesting story though. Why don't you sit down and shut the fuck up?"
Grandma: "Bad, I said! BAD!!!"
Me: "Somebody's cranky... anyone here know how to change an adult's diaper?"

I wasn't obligated to head out for Christmas with them this year, because I moved to another state (yet again), and am still getting established here. Instead, I went to my Dad's brother's, in upstate New York. They're Jewish, but celebrate Christmas. Everyone that I know who's Jewish can't stand to have that label thrown around without the explanation 'I'm Jewish by culture... the religion isn't so important to me'. My uncle and family wear this disclaimer just as much as anyone else I know... I gotta tell you.. it was pretty nice being around Jews who celebrate Christmas, completely discarding all of the thoughtless religion so that we could get to the real meat of the holiday.

(Meanwhile, somewhere on the western coast of the United States): "Lord, I want to thank you for this wonderful meal and all of the rain in Nebraska."

Things were chill. My two cousins on my dad's side were bouncing around like 6-year-olds because we were about to open presents; one's 27 and the other's 31. They weren't concerned about setting a stuffy example for others so that they can emulate their age... they enjoy this shit... no strings attached. They didn't give me books on becoming a better Christian (even though I'm not a Christian)... they gave me shit that they thought I'd enjoy. They didn't wake my ass up at 8:30 AM because I had to get dressed for church... they got my ass up because they couldn't wait to open their presents.

Of course, it's tradition for me to be an asshole around family... we covered that already. The great thing here was that they knew me enough to expect it and laugh along with me, but were strangers enough to not take it personally.
"Aunt Joan... do you have hair gel?"
"Yeah, in the top bathroom drawer closest to the door."
"All I'm seeing are tampons and douche kits."
This didn't mean that they failed humanity in their raising of me... this was just Rand's clever and obnoxious wit touching the minds and hearts of those around him. All should be so lucky.

Anyway, this is just an observation. No real Christmas family warmth here, but for once, no guilt for the lack of it. Things just were what they were, and we were all able to enjoy it. Strangers showed up later, and they were old... that killed it of course, but it was interesting to experience while it lasted.