A little Christmas joy and a lot of N.Y. attitude

Published 5:05 pm Saturday, December 12, 2009

I was not ready to see Bruce Springsteen bemedalled at the Kennedy Center Honors last week and I still am not ready. It was less than a year ago the Boss did that fantastic slide across the stage on his knees at the Super Bowl halftime show, thrusting his crotch at 90 million Americans on live TV, and here he was, listening to various nobodies tell him how great he is, with a medal around his neck, and his neck looked a little jowly. The Kennedy Honors is for the Extinguished: it’s America’s way of saying, “Sit down and take a load off, time’s up, old-timer.” Does this mean Bruce won’t sing his angry lost-soul-on-the-highway songs anymore? Will he come out with a Christmas album and sing “Little Drummer Boy”?

Christmas is a joyful time, or so we’re told, but a person gets tired of enforced joyfulness, especially when it’s WalMart and Amazon doing the prompting, and you sort of appreciate a little anger to season the season. One more good reason to be in New York. Christmas has some opposition there. And people don’t stifle themselves just because the Messiah is on the way.

Saturday night in New York, a skinny lady in a stylish coat walked toward me saying, “You did a terrible, terrible thing and I can never forgive you. I’m done with you. You hear me?” She was furious. Then I noticed the cell phone in her hand. So she wasn’t angry with me. Not this time. Other women may be but not her, thank goodness.

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In New York people can express anger in a frank and open way, Christmas or no Christmas, and surely this is a good thing. A man in a big gray SUV was outraged that I stepped off the curb on West 43rd Street and walked in front of his vehicle and he went to the trouble of rolling his window down and shouting the name of a bodily orifice. “Use the sidewalk!” he said. I pointed out that his behemoth was blocking the sidewalk. “So? What’s wrong with waiting, Orifice?”

He was probably in a hurry to visit his ailing mother and was torn up with anxiety about the old lady, so I didn’t point out that the street he was trying to enter, was jammed tight with cars idling, waiting for the green light, so I wasn’t exactly detaining him from the swift completion of his appointed rounds. I just said, “Merry Christmas.” This irked him. He told me to go molest myself.

Well, that’s just how it is. You can’t go through life without making some people angry: keep that in mind and you’ll save yourself a lot of misery. Even though you practice the Golden Rule with a vengeance, you cannot be so kind and gentle as to avoid giving offense. So when people hiss at you, nod and smile and wish them a good day.

Somewhere, someone is furious at the Dalai Lama. Probably there were people in Calcutta who thought Mother Teresa was a showboat. Back in 000 A.D., some people looked at the Infant Jesus and said, “What’s with the ring of light around his head? Why should we capitalize his pronouns? The little bugger loads his pants same as any other kid.”

When I was 11, I asked my elders if Our Lord did defecate and was there such a thing as holy excrement, and that upset them and there was anguished discussion about whether I was perhaps unsaved and bound for perdition, and then they decided to ignore the whole thing and put supper on the table. Food was how we solved a lot of problems. Supper was grilled cheese sandwiches and Hormel chili from a can. A wonderful meal, and it took the edge off their anger.

In New York the night I was yelled at, I polished off six Malpeque oysters, a bowl of pumpkin bisque, a mound of mushroom risotto, and a chocolate sundae with walnuts, and felt charitably atoward all mankind, until the maitre d’ said, “You’re looking good.” People only say that when you’re old and saggy and it just irritates the bejesus out of me. I’m a few years older than Bruce but I’m not ready to be beloved quite yet. I gave the little weasel a knee to the groin and he fell face first onto the stinky end of the cheese cart. No honors for me, sweetheart. I’m not done yet.

Garrison Keillor is the author of “77 Love Sonnets,” published by Common Good Books.