Secular Memory: Or Kafka Goes to the Video Store
Our wonderful little neighborhood video store is closed on Christmas, so I went to a Blockbuster after Christmas dinner - it was late but we were all wired from the day and ready for some mindless frivolity. After waiting at least four and a half hours for the couple in front of me to complete their extremely complicated transaction, which seemed to involve something about trading their first born son for their movie, an antsy 3 year old and I got to the counter.
Me: I used to have an account at the Blockbuster in my old neighborhood. Can I use that account here? Stay right here by me, honey.
Him; (with extreme hostility) Do you have your CARD?
Me: Gee, I dont think so. I havent gotten a movie there in more than a year. Eli! Don't touch that, ok?
Him: Well, then you can't. Wait a minute. Let me call the store and see if they have you in their system, then I can issue you a new card.
Me: Can I just open a new account here now?
[There is now a long pause while the manager tries to call the other store and then hangs up and starts paging thru a huge book - the book of life? No. Evidently this is the book of all the other Blockbuster stores in the world.]
Me: Elijah, come back over here! Um, what's happening now?
Marginally Nicer Girl Behind The Counter: You didn't have an account at that store, he's going to call another store and try them.
Me: Wait. Can't I just open a new account? No, I CAN'T take you to the potty right now.
Him: Oh, no, we can't do that.
MNGBTC: Now that we know you have an account, we have to be sure you don't have a big bunch of late fees or something.
Me: So you're saying, I COULD have opened an account, if I hadn't told you about the other store?
Him: Well, it's too late for that NOW, isn't it?
Unbelievably, I continued to negotiate (with both the manager and the toddler) and eventually actually rented the movie, which was Elf, but now every time I look at the box, I remember that horrible, horrible conversation and all the fun goes right out of the idea of actually watching it.
I keep thinking about what I should have said, but didn't.
Something like, "Look, you stupid fuckers, I had to work today too, but you don't see ME being an asshole, do you?" comes to mind.
The movie is due today. But, according to the MNGBTC who handed to me, I have a "seven-day grace period." Which starts tomorrow, so I guess it'll probably sit there for another week, unwatched. I'm sure there's something profound about forgiveness, love and the True Meaning Of Christmas to be said about the "seven day grace period", but I'm sure I don't know what it is.
Church Memory or Room At The Inn
We organized this spontaneous Christmas pagent at church on the morning of the 25th. The senior pastor and I passed out costumes and the people there - almost all grownups - dressed up and acted out the story.
The only baby was with a visiting couple who also had a 3-year-old with them. They said they'd be willing, honored even, to be the holy family. They walked up as relaxed and confident as if they were Mary and Joseph every Sunday of the year. When it was time, they put that baby right down in the manger on top of the scratchy burlap that we hadn't covered with anything softer because we expected to have a doll-baby there, and she kicked her legs and waved her arms, all sweet and charming.
All of the other folk (mostly the hard-core types you'd expect at a church that only worships together on Christmas Day once every seven years or so) were as kind and welcoming as I could have hoped to this new couple, and circled around them when their part of the story came. Angels, the halos all crooked on their gray hair; wise men in bathrobes over their church clothes; shepherds, lugging those stuffed lambs we got somewhere under their arms. We were all laughing and joking about how silly and fun the whole thing was. But for just a moment, as we all stood or knelt around the four of them - Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and Toddler Jesus - everyone took one big breath and let it out at once, like sometimes happens in a group. And everyone was quiet for just a second.
And the Christmas story (which frankly after weeks of preparation and then re-telling and re-hearing and re-singing in different ways, I was pretty much all over) was new again, for me at least. Of course, I thought. This is JUST what it was LIKE. They came as strangers, they laid their baby in an uncomfortable place and then people started arriving. Uncertain, not expecting anything particularly holy to happen, maybe even joking around. And suddenly, all at once and all together, they knew the angels' words were no joke - they were as true and real as anything they had ever heard, and anything they would ever hear again.
Do not be afraid. This is the good news. This the Messiah.
Gloria in excelsis. Amen.