Haz-Mat

By Laura Waldon

Essay

A dead human body, like an animal corpse on the side of the road, bloats after several days. What I didn’t realize until recently, though, is that a bloated body left unattended will eventually explode. All that pressure and built-up gas needs to go somewhere, so it finds the weakest spot in the skin and exits through it. Under force.

Kimberly and I had for a few months exchanged idle suggestions that I come to New York to read at one of the Literary Experiences.  Then United had a special.  Buy a ticket with the moon and Pleiades in Acme special configuration, and get another ticket free.  I happened to be traveling for business under that auspicious astronomical prodigy, so I thought to myself, still with an idle inflection, “hey, what better use for that free ticket I have coming?”

I asked Kimberly what she thought, and after a while she responded, “Well, you know, late March is about right for the next TNBLE.  I’ve got you down.”  Oh shit.  So much for idleness.  As I firmed up travel plans I increasingly looked forward to meeting Kimberly and others with whom I was familiar from TNB, including Kristen Elde and Tod Goldberg.  Kimberly set the theme “Growing Pains”, which gave me plenty of space for creation (which is to be expected, since this is the most prominent theme of TNB pieces).

I wrote and re-wrote my piece, a poem called “Growing up Misfit” which I’ll post in a day or two. [Done].  I picked out an appropriate Senegalese kaftan with Djellaba stylings (minus the hood, of course,) made by the excellent tailor Dantata near the Muslim Quarter, Bogobiri Corner, of Calabar.  I was ready.  After an uneventful trip Friday morning I arrived at LaGuardia and took the shuttle to the hotel, taking a moment to puzzle at the groups of soldiers with prominent sidearms hanging out ostentatiously with police at the Queens–Midtown Tunnel.  “What, do they think they’re the Comitatus Posse?” I wondered.

 

A friendly reminder:

The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience, NYC will soon be bloomin’!

Mark your calendars now for Friday, March 26th for readings from your favorite TNB writers, centered around the theme: GROWING PAINS!!

The details:


When we were kids, we thought that our cousin Mike was the Incredible Hulk.

I can’t recall if Mike “suggested” to my brother Chad and me that he was the mean green man, or if Chad simply saw the resemblance and thought that he had uncovered the Hulk’s plain-guy identity, but we thought we were related to a comic book hero.

At the very least, we figured that Mike was Lou Forigno’s body double: he was a short, sculpted bodybuilder with a massive, muscular chest and arms, and he had that signature Lou Forigno/Patrick Swayze feathered hair. Certainly they wouldn’t overlook him as Forigno’s wingman to take a stunt-beating on-film.

We were maybe six and seven—Chad my elder by a year—when Chad charged the neighbor kids a nickel admission to our garage to see the Incredible Hulk, right there in the flesh in Douglas Drive. He had a whole following on our block.

The Hulk’s most impressive performance was flexing his pecks to the tune of “Jingle Bells,” making his chest muscles jump up and down to the beat of the song as he hummed it. We begged him to do it every time he came up from Peoria to visit.

In his late 30s and early 40s, Mike was a hero to us in the way that older cousins can be: someone you admire because 1.) they’re older than you are, and 2.) they’re the model of the kind of adult you want to become: smart, funny, and successful. He drove a convertible Alfa Romeo Spider and made the five-and-a-half-hour drive to our cabin in four hours.

He was cool as hell.

Our family didn’t discover that Mike was an alcoholic until 1996, when, following his divorce, he came to live with us during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.

My dad noticed Mike sipping Cokes at our cabin during the day—all day—and caught a whiff of vodka in the can one afternoon. Then the booze in our house started disappearing. Mom and Dad (to remove temptation) gave the rest of it away; resourceful Mike drank the cooking sherry. Bottles and beer cans started appearing in strange places, and we would continue to find them for months to come: behind my dad’s shaving cream in the medicine cabinet, under the counter with the Tupperware, beneath a pile of sheets in the linen closet. He hid his habit all over our house.

Over the summer, Mike’s drinking escalated until the day he led a drunken high-speed police chase along Lake Pulaski to our front lawn. When the squad cars circled around our driveway, the curious neighbors thought my teenage brother was getting into trouble—not our grown cousin, with his master’s degree, his (now-lost) business, and his (now-ex) wife.

It was jail time or rehab, and Mike opted for the latter. It was the first of two treatment programs he would undergo during his foray at my folks’ that summer, followed by the first of two times that he would begin drinking shortly after release.

By fall, Mike was barely coherent. Red-faced and glassy-eyed, he would take his seat at the dinner table with a dopey, vacant smile on his face and contribute awkwardly, with delayed timing, to family conversations.

Then one night before I went off to watch a high school football game, Mom and I found Mike unconscious in the basement, propped upright in a recliner. He was unresponsive. We called 911.

The paramedics managed to wake Mike before taking him off to detox. He looked around the room in a haze, blinking, blinking, blinking, with no one steering the ship. He was an empty shell. The paramedics told my parents later that they had never seen a person with as high of a blood alcohol content as Mike’s was who was still alive and not in a coma.

After rehab stint #2, Mike resumed drinking before he even made it back to our house. Mom and Dad told him if he wouldn’t stop, he had to leave.

He disappeared for more than a year after that. No one in the family knew where he was, or if he was even still alive.

Over the next 13 years, Mike surfaced sporadically: in Illinois, in Texas, living for periods of time with family, on the streets, with a girlfriend.

 

Mike was 56 years old when he died last month, with my father and uncle holding his hands in a hospital room in Texas.

Before slipping into a coma, his dying request was that there be no funeral, no wake, no memorial service. Nothing to mark that he ever existed. Just a cremation of his body and disposal of the ashes.

Surely there would be something: some words said over his body or uttered before a photograph of him when he was healthy, with his urn on display by a bouquet of flowers. Or perhaps a gravestone marking his life, carved with a wise and warning epitaph: “Don’t follow my path. Choose life!”

But there was, as Mike requested, nothing.

In the end, he was simply snuffed from life by a sickness that stole from him even the desire to be remembered as sober Bruce Banner, a god of my youth, the Incredible Hulk.


You always hear that “the Lord works in mysterious ways.” But sometimes, he’s really fucking obvious.

Two years ago, I completed graduate school and continued working on a book that I drafted during my MFA program. I worked part-time at the University of New Hampshire, where I got my degree, and took on freelance writing gigs to pay my bills.

But when my “writing life” laxed and became my “cleaning the house and hanging out with grad school friends” life, my wife gave me a not-so-subtle nudge:

Get a job.

So I started searching—half-heartedly at first. My wife had a steady paycheck, and I was a writer and a teacher, so I was used to having a meager income. My motivation was low. There was no job-fire burning at my feet.

But one day I went to pay my month’s bills, and the checkbook cookie jar was empty.

The flames began licking. Something had ignited my search.

I plunged in and began a serious job quest then, networking with current and former colleagues, posting my resume on Monster, checking the newspaper, and clicking my way through online job sites like Craigslist, WhisperJobs, Boston.com, Mediabistro, and awpwriter.org.

Over the course of more months than I care to confess, I landed multiple interviews—three of which led me to the coveted second interview. After all three second interviews, I was convinced: They loved me! This job is mine! My boss at the time even told me that he had gotten a reference call from one potential workplace, and from the way they raved about me, he was certain they’d be calling shortly to offer me the post.

One by one, though, the HR specialists called me (or, in one case, only sent an email) to inform me that it was such a pleasure meeting me, but they had decided to offer the position to another candidate.

Strike out.

In the first double-interview strike-out, I was one of four final candidates. In the second, I was one of three finalists. And in the third: You guessed it. One of two. Only one other person stood between me and an income, and that other person beat me to it.

I was shattered. Why was I always falling short? What was it about me that made a company, upon closer inspection, turn their noses up and say, “Nah. Throw this one back. She’s not what we were looking for.”

Traditional job searching was a bust. Plain old praying (which I did a lot of) had gotten me nowhere. So I turned to witchcraft, consulting what I now refer to as the “voodoo witch mat” to divine my future.

The voodoo witch mat was a purchase I made at a Wicca shop in Salem during Halloween. This black velvet mat, roughly 8” x 8”, promised to answer my questions with responses like, “Yes,” “No,” and “Ask Again” when I concentrated on a question and swung a pendulum over the mat. In the end, the pendulum would settle on a single answer. It’s like a witch’s Magic 8 Ball. (However, after I brought this talisman into the house, a mirror in an unoccupied room mysteriously shattered, and objects began propelling themselves from shelves, which is where the “voodoo” part of the name comes in.)

When I focused my energy and asked the voodoo witch mat about my career status, it assured me that by Christmas 2008, I would have a full-time job.

Like a magical-thinking fool, I believed it. Because the witch mat said so. And because I was desperate.

December: Christmas comes and goes. No job.

January: I plunge into despair, spending my days sunk down inside my bathtub beneath a frothy white mountain of bubbles, wondering if I’ll ever be able to crawl out of my accumulating debt. The pages of multiple books become rippled from the heat of the tub: stories that I grip with damp hands, my skin turning pruney as I cling to the hope of escape through fiction.

February: I realize that January sucked. I was a moping mess. And that was not fun. So I decide to start doing healthy things for myself, and to begin checking off some of the To-Do boxes that have blinked blankly at me for eons.

One of those things: go to church. With the exception of occasional holidays with my parents and in-laws, I hadn’t been to church in almost five years. My soul was hungry. I had been feeling selfish and lost, absorbed in being sorry for myself over not having full-time work. I thought that perhaps church would help me find my center again.

(My other option, if church didn’t work out, was yoga. However, I’m not flexible, and in a hot room where I’d be bending over and twisting an out-of-shape body in all manner of unflattering positions, the possibilities for making an ass of myself seemed to outweigh any perceived benefits.)

So I found myself a little gay-friendly house of worship—the First Universalist Church of Salem—and I went to church. After the service, a lovely woman named Sally greeted me and ushered me towards tables of cookies, fresh fruit, and coffee. Sally introduced me to other parishioners (do non-Catholics use that term?) and discovered that I was job searching.

Without me even asking, Sally became my new job networker. After each service, Sally told my story to the people she introduced me to during coffee hour: This is Laura. She lives in Salem and she’s a writer, and she’s looking for a job. Do you know of anyone looking for a writer?

On the third Sunday, a woman at my coffee-and-cookie table mentioned that the U.S. Census Bureau was hiring census takers in Salem and Beverly. It was only a temporary position, and it wasn’t at all in my career field, but it supposedly paid well.

That was all I needed to hear.

On the designated day, I went to the YMCA in Salem and took a pre-qualification test for the job. During the testing session, the census representative told us that there were also management jobs posted online. As soon as I got home, I checked out the website, 2010censusjobs.gov, and lo and behold, I found two jobs for which I knew I was qualified. “Partnership Specialist” was the title of one.

I applied for the position. Three hours after my interview, and after my fourth “They loved me! I totally have the job!” engagement, I was finally offered a job.

When I heard the news, I did a dance in my sister’s architecture office. I called my wife. I called my mom. I texted my friends. The debt-vice that had been gripping my chest was loosened.

On my train ride home from Boston, I was mentally ripping up all of my other job applications and cover letters, and telling everyone who hadn’t hired me to suck it.

And then I was struck by how I got the job in the first place:

I heard about the position only because I went to church.

Some people believe that all things happen for a reason. They think that we are given obstacles to teach us lessons that we might not otherwise learn, and thus, any suffering we encounter along the way is both valuable and essential for our growth.

As I pay down my debt with the salary from my new job, I sometimes console myself with that notion that this all happened for a reason: That I searched for a job for two years because the right one was waiting for me. That I met now-close friends at UNH who would’ve never come into my life, had I left my part-time university job sooner. That I gained a deep appreciation for structured work time and an understanding that spending every day in one’s pajamas is NOT an ideal way to live one’s life.

On my self-disparaging days, I simply believe that I was lazy, and that I didn’t search hard enough.

But my Evangelical mother would simply say, “You should’ve gone to church sooner.”

Just in case Mom’s right: If you’re one of the tens of millions of people looking for a job during the worst economy in recent history, maybe it’s time you paid a visit to one of your local houses of worship.

Even if you don’t get a job out of it, at the very least, they usually have good snacks.


I did something this morning that I swore I would never do:

I picked up a steaming pile of dog shit—with my hand.

Dog owners do it all the time, and I assume it’s no big deal to them. They carry around their extra plastic bags from Target and Stop & Shop, and when their dogs take a crap, they stick their hands in a baggie, lightly grasp the turds, turn the bag inside out, and tie it shut at the top. Done. No shit on the street, no shit in your hands. Everything contained neatly in plastic.

But I’m not a dog owner. And the idea of touching a hot crap while it still holds the body’s heat disgusts me—even if there is a layer (or two) of plastic separating skin from excrement.

Before any pet owners jump on me, let me say: I see the need for this, and I support it wholeheartedly. Out here in Boston, where green space is limited and houses lack the spacious yards that I grew up with in Minnesota, the hand-bag-crap grasping is a necessity. Unless you want shit everywhere on every sidewalk, you’ve gotta do it. (When I went to Paris several years ago, I never saw Parisians chasing their puppies with plastic bags, so turds littered the sidewalks like confetti after Mardi Gras. It was repulsive.)

But I don’t own a dog. So I wasn’t planning on doing it.

Where I grew up, in a farming community 45 miles west of Minneapolis, my dog shit in your yard and your dog shit in my yard, and we called it even. Or, more often, my dog shit in her outdoor enclosure, and I took care of it later: hours later or days later. When I picked up the poo, I did it with a shovel; there was never any risk of physical contact.

This week, I’m dog-sitting for my sister and her partner, who are vacationing in Sanibel Island. It was 70 degrees and sunny there this morning. Here in Dorchester, it was 30 degrees: cold enough for shit to steam when it comes out.

They have four dogs. Four dogs make a lot of steaming hot crap.

Before my sister left, she asked me to pick up dog shit once a day or once every other day. “There are baggies under the kitchen counter, and you just reach inside, grab the poo through the plastic, and jooooooop!” she said, retracting her hand fast to illustrate.

That’s what she thinks.

I eyed the snow shovel on her pack porch. Yes, I will pick up Luca, Lily, Sweetie Pie, and Ginger’s crap. But, no, I will not do it with my hands.

The first day out in her yard on crap duty, I spent 15 minutes chasing turds with a shovel. It was like a frustrating game of hockey. Every time I thought I had a log ready for bagging, it would roll back off of the shovel onto the grass. Chase, roll, repeat. Quickly, I changed my strategy: instead of shoveling willy-nilly at the turds and futilely chasing them across the grass, I would scoop uphill or into a stationary object, like a fence, to keep the hardened logs from rolling away.

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes the turds just smashed all over the shovel, making a second mess for me to clean up.

I gave up and went inside.

This morning, after letting two days pass, I wielded the shovel again. I engaged in chase, roll, repeat with two piles of hardened turds. But then I came square against a mustardy-brown pile of hot, steaming crap, fresh out of Lily’s Chow Chow ass.

This would make a dastardly mess of the snow shovel. Then I would have to clean it off with paper towels—increasing the hand-poop proximity.

I exhaled, defeated.

Stuck my hand inside of two bags.

And gingerly retracted the poop claw.

I swear the dogs were laughing at me.

“I don’t know how to break this to you, but I’m baking the penis cake.”

My wife shook her head, defeated. She knew that morning that there was nothing she could do to stop me. So instead, she made me promise that if the cake wasn’t well-received at the party, I would make a public announcement saying that she had not approved of it.

I agreed.

The brilliant idea had come to me the night before, when I was thinking of what hors d’oeuvres to bring for my friend Jessie’s Inaugural Ball. This hang out, drink and dance party was an excuse for a bunch of graduate and post-graduate students to dress up in formal wear and celebrate the joyous swearing in of Barack Obama.

Looking over recipes in my kitchen, I was struck with what my filthy mind perceived as pure genius: What if I made a chocolate penis cake in honor of the first black president? It would even come with its own tagline: Barack Obama—Breaking our nation’s long history of white dicks in the Oval Office.

It was perfect. But was it so completely politically incorrect that my cohorts would recoil in horror? Would I become a social pariah? The “inappropriate girl” who doesn’t realize that she has grossly offended everyone in the room?

I needed a second opinion. So I emailed my friend Travis.

And I found my first measure of support with him. “Two things come to mind,” he wrote. “1) It would only be a social faux pas if the penis were anything shorter than 12 inches, because let’s face it, Obama ain’t swinging a little dick, and 2) try to avoid having any white icing spewing forth from the tip in a celebratory, I-just-got-a-new-president load.  Otherwise, I think you’d be fine.”

Before bed, I floated the idea past my wife, who would be accompanying me to the party the next night.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “Not if I’m coming with you.”

“But what if I snuck it in and it just ‘showed up’ on the snack table?” I asked.

She raised an eyebrow. “Everyone would know it was you.”

She was right.

In the morning, I called my older sister—who shares my corrupt mind, as do all my siblings—and mentioned my vetoed pastry creation.

“Oh my God! You HAVE to do it,” my sister insisted. “That would totally make the party.”

My second measure of support was all the more justification that I needed. I hung up the phone and went to the store to get cake mix.

Fast forward to the party: When I walked in the door with a large bag in-hand, someone asked, “What’d you bring?”

“Oh. Snacks,” I said, and made a bee-line for the kitchen. I set the cake out on the counter, along with its accompanying “inaugural balls” cupcakes. Then I abandoned ship.

“Did you bring cake?” my friend Sara asked before I could get away.

“What?” I said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She leaned over the cake pan and gasped. “Oh my God,” Sara said. “This is fabulous.” She picked up the cake and brought it to the living room. The other guests passed it around like communion, changing it from hand to hand and laughing. When it made its way back to the kitchen, it came with friends.”

“This is fucking hilarious.”

“Awesome cake, Laura.”

“Did you have a mold for this? Or how did you make it?”

All night long, I received a stream of compliments. They shook my hand. They hugged me. People I didn’t even know greeted me in a warm embrace. The chocolate fudge phallus cake—extra moist—was a raging success.

I wish the same for our new leader.


I have found that it’s difficult for people to be rude to you when you’re dressed as a 5’4” hot dog.

Desperate for cash like so many others in this crap economy, I took a seasonal job this fall working as a cashier at iParty, a party supply store that sells costumes by the truckload during Halloween season. One afternoon in early October, I walked into the store looking for a costume and left with a job. The assistant manager looked over my application, saw my degrees and my years of teaching and writing experience, and said, “Yeah, you’re way overqualified. You’ll start on Thursday.”

Yes, I was overqualified. And yes, I hoped that the manager wouldn’t actually call my references, thus informing these respected individuals that I was putting my master’s degree to use as an iParty cashier.

But the thing is, I love Halloween. Love it. I love dressing in costume, I love Halloween decorations, and I love seeing other people and animals in costumes: babies, adults, dogs. Perhaps it’s the escapism from reality that I enjoy, or perhaps it’s just that I get to be a kid again and make a justified ass of myself in public, but I love walking around as a cloaked witch or a giant fairy and just tooling down the sidewalk like it’s nothing. Back home in Minnesota, only children walk around dressed up for All Hallows Eve. Here in Salem, though, tens of thousands of tourists march through the city in tens of thousands of costumes during each October’s Haunted Happenings celebration. The city even holds a pet costume contest—in the morning for cats, and in the afternoon for dogs, so as to avoid a furry bloodbath on the Common.

So that’s why I took a job that severely underpaid me: I could dress every day in a different costume and walk around showing other people cool costumes. It’d be like playtime, like I wasn’t even working.

Laura as a 5'4" hot dog.

During my five weeks’ employment at iParty, I indulged in a prolonged Halloween celebration and dressed at work as an angel, a witch, a cowgirl, a Greek goddess, a hot dog, a giant chicken, a Saturday Night Live Spartan cheerleader, the Cat in the Hat, Tinky Winky, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (complete with a stuffed Toto in a basket), the Scarecrow, Captain America, and Snow White.

Customers loved it. They joked with me. They laughed at my costumes. I flexed my foam muscles as Captain America and they giggled at my foolishness. When I rang their purchases and asked them, as instructed by my boss, “Would you like to donate a dollar to Boston Medical today to help kids in need?” they smiled congenially and said, “Oh, sure,” and, “Absolutely.”

The parents especially loved me. They told their children, “Look, honey: it’s Dorothy. Isn’t she pretty?” or, “See, baby, she’s an angel. She must have been very good today.” The kids dug me, too. They peeked over the countertop at me and smiled shyly when I asked them what they were going to be for Halloween. One toddler toddled up to me when I was in my velvet witch costume and started petting my dress. “You’re soft,” she said, and her mother, embarrassed, collected the little girl from my side of the counter.

But that was all while I was in costume. The glory days were soon to end.

Nov. 3: my last day at work.

When I walked into the store that Monday, I found that the weekend crew had gutted the place. The shelves and lowboys in the large aisle just inside the door were empty. The Halloween makeup and costumes had been put away or re-shelved in a smaller aisle to make room for Christmas décor. The glow-in-the-dark fangs, the false boobs, the trick-or-treat buckets, the sickles and swords, the naughty nurse kits, the Chuckey masks—all of it had been put away. Banished until next fall.

This devil can't afford to wear Prada.

The reason I had taken the job in the first place was gone. No more costumes = no more fun. Now it was just an $8-an-hour job bagging paper goods and shower favors for people who were too busy or self-important to hang up their cell phones during checkout.

That last morning, I donned my purple iParty t-shirt and pinned the yellow “Laura” nametag over my left breast. I felt nude. I had always been in costume at this job, so without an alter identity, I was out of place. Devoid of personality.

On my way to the cash registers from the back room, I took a police hat off the shelf and slid it down over my ponytail. It was only a halfhearted gesture, though; fifteen minutes later, I took the hat off and put it over my register’s broken credit card machine. I would live out my last day at iParty costumeless.

Not long after I let go of my costumed identity, a blonde-haired woman with a doo-rag, cloth purse, and flowy cotton skirt stepped up to the check-out counter. She looked like a hippy, so I (mistakenly) assumed she’d be friendly. I was straightening out the front displays, so I had to walk around the middle bank of registers to get to my register in Aisle One.

I gestured to the check-out counter closest to the front door. “I can help you over here if you’re all set.”

The woman rolled her eyes, annoyed that she had to walk further to pay for her paper plates. She pushed her cart over to me, a scowl set firmly in her jaw. Only slightly miffed by her rudeness, I smiled at the woman and revised my first impression: she’s not a hippy at all, but a yuppie “slumming it” in a doo-rag on her day off. I, in my purple iParty t-shirt, am apparently beneath her.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” I asked, still smiling.

She looked back at me like I was a spiteful spouse, taunting her with Round Two of an argument. She held my eyes but didn’t respond. She said nothing.

Now I was irritated.

“Your total today is $22.47.”

The woman sighed and raised an eyebrow. Were the plates too expensive? Was she bothered that she had to flip through her wallet for her credit card? Did my breath smell?

I took her Visa, slipped it through the computer, and snapped the receipt off before it stopped printing. I handed her her bag.

“And here’s your receipt,” I said. “Have a great day.”

She scowled at me one final time, took her purchases without any thanks or mutual well-wishes for my day, and stalked off through the front door, leaving her cart right in front of my register where it was blocking the next customer. Right there in front of me. It’s like when your dog craps on the carpet while looking you in the face.

When the other customers left, I stomped over to my shift manager, Tricia.

“No costume!” I said. “That’s why she was rude to me.”

Tricia looked up from her paperwork.

“This woman was totally just rude to me for no reason, and do you know why? It’s because I wasn’t wearing a costume!”

I knew my theory was right. I recounted to Tricia the yuppie/hippy woman’s scowls, her refusals to respond, and her crap-on-my-carpet final gesture of abandoning her cart in front of me, when the cart corral was only eight feet away.

“And do you know what?” I asked, not leaving Tricia time to answer. “That never happened to me once when I was in costume. Not once. I saw customers be rude to every single other cashier around me who wasn’t dressed up—even to Georgine” (who has the kindest grandmotherly demeanor and smile). “But no one was rude to me when I was dressed up. But now? I’m crap to them.”

“Jerks,” I added.

The good old days of being a giant chicken and the Cat in the Hat were gone. I was a lowly plebian again. Another cog in the service industry.

I finished out my shift halfheartedly, my ego slightly bruised, then turned in my purple t-shirt and nametag and punched out for the last time.

“You know,” I said later to a friend, still mulling over the woman’s rudeness, “I think we’d all be a lot nicer to each other if we walked around in costumes all the time. It’s like, who can be a jerk to a giant bunny?”

Many truths about human behavior elude me, but of this I am fairly certain.

Tinky Winky evoked the most laughs from co-workers.

Don your own costume and try it out. Go about your daily activities dressed as a hot dog or bumblebee, and just see how much levity you bring to the room, and how much kindness flows out from neighbors and strangers. Maybe it’s just a little dose of what we need during this tanking economy and the post-Christmas bleakness of winter.

And if you ever make your way to Salem and see a full-grown woman walking around as Super Woman when it’s not even Halloween, it just might be me. And you’ll probably see everyone around me laughing and smiling and sharing their nachos with strangers. Or finding homes for orphaned puppies. Or ending homelessness.

One can at least hope that a giant wiener could accomplish so much.

Dear Santa,

I’ll start by admitting that I haven’t been very good this year.

I drank too much and did many things that I regret. I wished terrible things on people that I hate. I hated people. I haven’t gone to church. I haven’t given to charity. I haven’t finished my book…four years later. I have cursed and said horrible things to my wife that have made her cry. I’ve lied—many times. I have pissed away way too much money on alcohol and office supplies at Staples. I have considered sending someone a dead cat in the mail (though she did deserve it).

All in all, it’s been a banner year. A real barn burner. And that doesn’t even count my failing to find a job and thus putting all of my financial burdens on my wife.

But I’m trying, Santa. I have seen the error of my ways and I’m trying to make it to the Nice List. Ask my therapist; after $585 in co-pays, she’s seen how hard I’m working. Or at least, how hard I’m thinking about working.

So if good intentions curry any favor with you, big guy, I would like to offer you my Christmas wish list at this time:

First and foremost, I would like a high-paying full-time job: one that’s flexible enough to allow me to write, sleep in some days, have afternoon sex, and keep my present part-time job, which I like because it allows me to have lunch with my friends. I would like this job to be fulfilling and mentally invigorating, and I want to not hate myself at the end of the day when I drive home in non-rush-hour traffic.

Second, I would like a major publisher to offer me a very large advance on my first book, and a fat deal on a second book, which I’ve yet to begin writing. If you could also make both books land on The New York Times’ Bestseller List, that would be very nice of you.

Third, please make that certain someone in my life (who shall remain unnamed, but you know who she is) kick her alcohol addiction problem. Her family would really appreciate it, and at least some of them are on the Nice List.

Fourth (and I realize that I may be treading on God’s territory here, but I figured it can’t hurt to cover all my bases), please make sure that my dad makes it through his surgery and has a full recovery, and that none of the cancer comes back. Make sure my mom is healthy, too, and that both of them live very long and happy lives.

Also, I’d like a black Toyota Prius hybrid for my friend Nicki, houses in Boston and Florida for my parents to retire in, a GPS system for my wife, some new ski equipment for my sister, a spouse who won’t cheat for my friend Ben, and more time off of work (though without less pay) for my brother to spend with his daughter.

Oh, and for me, I’d also like a 24-inch iMac computer with a 3.06 GHz processor and a stable where I can ride horses for free whenever I want.

I don’t usually ask for this much, Santa, but 2008 has been one hell of a year (thus, the excessive drinking). If it helps at all, I’m already planning to leave you extra cookies and a tin of the good nut mix with extra cashews.

If you’re unable to fulfill this request, please simply leave a note in my stocking containing the winning lottery numbers and the date on which I should play said numbers, and I’ll try to take care of this list on my own.

With love to your Kris Kringled Highness,

~ Laura Waldon

 

P.S. – I realize that I forgot to thank you for the Cabbage Patch Kid you gave me in 1986. If the events of 2008 are some sort of karmic retribution for that oversight, please accept my sincerest apologies and my belated thanks.