HomePublicationBurbankChris Erskine: A COVID Christmas — Cringy and Grand

Chris Erskine: A COVID Christmas — Cringy and Grand

When Santa showed up, the toddlers ran for their mothers.

Christmas was an apocalypse in a teacup, to borrow from the great Hortense Calisher.
I came down with COVID-19 on the eve of Christmas Eve, and Dr. Steve came through with the meds (Paxlovid). Six pills the size of surfboards for five straight days. I’m now mostly made by Pfizer — from my teeth to my toes.
Props to all the readers on our holiday Zoom who urged the Paxlovid, which is now my favorite party drug. I have all the pre-existing conditions one could imagine. I’m older than Santa, and hopelessly cynical. Other times, I’m hopelessly hopeful.
As in: “Bummer that the Dodgers are breaking the grand old game of baseball. But think of the cool trophies!”
I read recently that optimists are plagued by impaired verbal skills and poor decision making. A sunny disposition may be “a side product of … low cognitive ability.”
Well, at least we know what’s causing it. That, and now this Christmas COVID, a viral cloud in my sinus membranes.
It came on as a cruddy cold. Took the COVID test just in case, since we were going to be around gobs of people. Smartacus tested negative, and so did Suzanne, yet she ran a 102 fever. By Christmas morning, she’d tested positive as well.
You know, sometimes I wish God had gone to med school.
So, Suzanne and I spent Christmas Eve alone in our respective homes, phoning back and forth during commercial breaks of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the handbook for optimists like me with impaired verbal skills and low cognitive ability.
“See how he’s trapped now?” I explain to her. “Now Donna Reed is pregnant, and the adulting begins. He’ll never get out of Bedford Falls alive.”
“Do you relate?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “I wanted to escape L.A. and get back to Bedford Falls. It just didn’t work out.”
“You disappointed?”
Not really. I’m just a smalltown kid — kinda quiet — lucky to be living in a bejeweled city that reinvents itself every 20 seconds. L.A. schools are great. The politicians are amazing. The men are prettier than the women.
Sure, I’m probably suited to a simpler, more-pastoral life … cows and cheese curds. But I can get all that stuff online now.
“See the sheen of desperation on Stewart’s forehead?” I ask Suzanne. “He was born to this role — the cynical optimist … wise yet broken.”
“Donna Reed just glows,” Suzanne says.
“She’s the Christmas ideal,” I explain, “the real American Dream.”
Holiday rule No. 1: You should watch at least one old black-and-white holiday movie every year (I shun “colorized” classics as you might porcupines or Irish wines).
Holiday rule No. 2: At Christmas, at least one person in every family gets sick. In our house, it’s usually Rapunzel. This year, me. Forget tinsel; we now decorate with Kleenex and Nyquil.
Holiday rule No. 3: A little Baileys Irish Cream in your coffee is a nod to all the unsung George Baileys of the world. It’s also your secret weapon for handling high expectations, family drama, a stubborn cough and bad parties. Try it.
Holiday Rule No. 4: If you’ve scheduled a holiday Zoom with readers, and you come down with COVID that morning, try to go through with it anyway. It gives you a rallying point. Besides, what else do you have to do?
I was a little loopy at the beginning of the Zoom, then really loopy toward the end. My buddy Jeff pitched in with a terrific reading.
Through all of it, you folks were so sweet and appreciative. Some wore plaid, in response to my ode to “dad plaid” earlier that week. Nearly everyone had our bear book.
Smartacus poked his head in for a moment, and Suzanne kneeled at my knee just off camera, clicking the keyboard to admit Zoom guests. It was one of those charming/awkward moments — one part cringy and one part glorious.
That sort of sums up the holidays, doesn’t it? Cringy meets glorious. They hit it off. Have kids together. And that becomes Christmas.
I will say this: Though I missed out on the party where Uncle Truck came dressed like Santa, and all the toddlers ran screaming to their mothers — as if serpents were raining from the sky. A Christmas Eve alone is a cause for reflection on all we sometimes take for granted.
I may not be the richest man in town, like George Bailey. But I have a few friends. And devoted and wonderful kids. And my modern Donna Reed.
And a big silly dog snoring against my feet.
Such frankincense. Such fur.

Thanks to all those who propelled “What the Bears Know” to the best-seller lists, with gifts under the tree. Hope everyone is enjoying Steve Searles’ memoir of the California wilderness. From our homes to yours, happy New Year.

First published December 28-29 in Outlook Newspapers.


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