trailer 2

My father’s farm in Virginia is called Oak Hill. When he bought it, not long after he divorced my mother, there was in fact a cluster of enormous oak trees that shaded a white clapboard, nineteenth-century house that stood on the hill in the center of the farm, but the house burned down before my father could move into it. Some of the oaks survived the fire, which occurred on a Halloween night, but despite whispers that the previous owner had torched the house, no charges were ever filed. I remember surveying the charred remains and spotting, not charred even slightly, an old board game called Why, the Alfred Hitchock Mystery Game, which, according to the blurb on the box, involved “real thinking, planning, and memory.” I took the game home with me—I lived a twenty-minute drive from the farm with my mother, brother, and sister—but I never played it, and don’t know what became of it. Maybe my memory wouldn’t be so faulty if I had better developed it by playing Why.

After the fire, my father, who’d been living with my grandmother since the divorce, bought a trailer home, parked it on the hill, and moved into one of the two small bedrooms on either end of the trailer. This was a temporary arrangement while he designed and built a new house near the entrance to the property, assisted by friends and relatives. The other bedroom was mine during my weekend stays on the farm, where I likewise assisted with the building of the new house, though, being thirteen at the time, all I did for the most part was get in the way.

When the house was finished, a hippieish relative moved into the trailer, paying little or nothing in rent in exchange for his help on the farm. Then, if faulty memory serves, marijuana plants were discovered growing in a tucked-away corner of the farm, and while, as with the fire, no charges were filed, my hippie relative found accommodations elsewhere and my father leased the trailer to a black family. They never seemed to be around when I was around, but I certainly heard a lot about the one named Joe, who was younger than I was. “That Joe is a hell of a ballplayer,” my father said again and again. He still, in middle age, fancied himself a formidable athlete, but Joe had apparently kicked his ass, or come close to kicking his ass, one on one in basketball. I had given up on trying to kick my father’s ass in basketball or any other sport, certain that he would pause the game to provide irritating pointers, though I was quick to correct him on any factual errors when he discussed, for instance, the Civil War, a favorite topic among Virginians who live near Civil War battlefields. “Stonewall Jackson wasn’t killed at Gettysburg by the Yankees,” I would pounce; “he was killed by his own men at Chancellorsville.” Probably my father never made that particular error, but in any case, kicking his ass intellectually, which I thought I was doing, was as satisfying as kicking his ass athletically—or so I told myself.

Post-divorce, my siblings and I always spent Christmas Eve with my father, and that year, after we exchanged presents, I tagged along with my father to the sheep shed, a short distance from the house, to see if any lambs had been born, winter being lambing season. He would have walked, ordinarily, or sent me to check on the lambs, but it was raining that night, though not hard, so he took his truck. Also, it turned out, he had a second mission: to deliver presents to the family living in the trailer. We drove up the red-dirt road to the hill, where I could see a Christmas tree glowing in the trailer’s picture window, and the minute we parked, the trailer door flew open and a bevy of children charged outside and mobbed the truck. I don’t remember how many there were, but there were far too many to be living in a cramped trailer.

“Mr. Haney!” they shouted, giddy with the Christmas spirit. “Mr. Haney, we got you a present!”

“And I got some presents for you all,” my father said. He had even wrapped his presents for them, or maybe his girlfriend (now his wife) had done the wrapping. Anyway, he gathered the presents from the floorboard of the truck and turned to me and said, “Come on.”

But I didn’t want to go inside the trailer. I was shy around strangers, and I was anyway jealous of Joe, whom I tried to identify among the children standing in the drizzle.

“I’m going to stay here,” I told my father.


“I’m cold.”

“Well, it’s warm in the trailer, and it ain’t but ten feet away.”

“You go on. I’ll wait here.”

My father was used to my moodiness, which is not to say that it didn’t annoy him. He got out of the truck and walked to the trailer, followed by the kids, all of them disappearing inside. After a while, two boys emerged and dawdled near the truck, clearly hoping to engage me. I knew one of them must be Joe, but I was determined to remain aloof, pretending to be too consumed with the radio to notice Joe or his brother.

“What wrong with that boy?” I heard one of them say. “Why don’t he come inside?”

“Maybe he don’t want to come inside.”

“Sure seem strange to me.”

Then my father walked out and opened the door to the truck in a way that announced that a trip inside the trailer was a fait accompli.

“Come on in for a minute,” he said. “This nice lady wants to meet you.”

“But Dad—”

“Come on.”

I got out of the truck and slammed the door in lieu of having the last word, and, inside the trailer, I was circled by children who stared at me as if at a fractious animal released, as a kind of experiment, from its cage. Gradually, they braved questions: “Where you live?” “What school you go to?” I answered shortly when I answered at all, intent on embarrassing my father. The kids had already opened the presents he’d given them, the shredded paper here and there on the floor, but their presents to each other were still wrapped and heaped around the Christmas tree. Then their mother walked out from what had once been my father’s room, smiling so brightly that the light of the tree, the only light in the room, seemed to dim a little in favor of her.

“Well,” she said, “I finally get to meet you. Your daddy talk about you all the time.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought. “All I hear about is Joe.” She was holding a present, which I could tell had been hastily wrapped, and I expected her to place it beneath the tree or hand it to my father. Instead, she handed it to me.

“Merry Christmas,” she said.

I would like to think I thanked her, but if I didn’t, it was only because I didn’t know how. Here was a woman so poor that she lived with her many children in a two-bedroom trailer, and yet she was giving me, a stranger—and a sullen, uncommunicative stranger at that—a present. I felt humbled and ashamed, just as I did when I later opened the present and found a jean shirt, which she had undoubtedly bought for one of her sons, maybe the one I disliked before I’d set eyes on him, and transferred it to me, darting into her room to quickly wrap it or, anyway, remove the original gift tag and replace it with one with my name on it. She had even spelled my name correctly: “Daryl,” not “Darryl” or “Darrell” or “Darly,” the last a counterintuitive but surprisingly common mistake. Was it a good guess on her part, or had she asked my father about the spelling while I was in the truck?

But that’s a mystery, and so is the fate of that shirt. I know I never wore it, partly because the elite kids at my school were style despots, as kids so often are, and jean shirts were considered déclassé. Also, I didn’t feel worthy of wearing it, though I couldn’t bring myself to give it away. And until it somehow disappeared, like Why, the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Game, I kept that shirt neatly folded in a drawer, and whenever I saw it, I was reminded that sometimes people were as good as I wanted to believe they were, as good as I wanted to believe I could be, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

I have wished, if not needed, many times over the years to see that shirt again.


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D. R. HANEY is the author of a novel, Banned for Life, and a nonfiction collection, Subversia, the inaugural publication of TNB Books. Known to friends as Duke, he lives in Los Angeles.

46 responses to “The Lost Shirt: A Christmas Story”

  1. Another beautiful piece from you…and one hell of a Christmas story! Thank you very much.
    I keep repeating myself, but you write perfect prose, my friend.

    Let me know how you did in Las Vegas, whenever you find the time.


    • D.R. Haney says:

      Oh, shit, I owe you an email. Anyway, nothing came through immediately, but it may in the future. I’ll elaborate privately.

      Vegas always fascinates me in the way that it tends to fascinate European tourists. Did you ever make it there? And are you presently in Austria? That sounds like a wonderful place to be for Christmas.

      Thanks, as always, Max, for the kind words about the writing. I often wonder why I bother to write at all, but a reaction like yours has a way of putting those questions — temporarily, at least — to the side.

      • Duke,

        don’t rush with your email. It will have its time.
        As long as you pound out your beautiful pieces on The Nervous Breakdown…

        I’ve been to Vegas as a kid, travelling with my parents. I’m sure I was impressed, but the only real memory I got is being to young to watch Siegfried & Roy making love to their white tigers. Damn was I sad!

        I am in Austria now, which is in fact a beautiful place to spend Christmas…mountains and snow and all the Catholic mysthicism you need. But this year was warm as spring, so it felt unusual.
        Soon I’ll ride up to Berlin together with my brother for New Year. The city’s vortex is sucking me in again. Some poetry opportunities might open up. And then there’s a certain lady, of course.
        But I’ll write more in an email sometime soon.

        All the best,

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Well, let me answer your last email first.That’s beginning to have the same effect on me as the shirt of this piece!

          I was actually in Vegas when Roy was attacked onstage by one of his tigers, though I wasn’t at the performance. But on the drive to Vegas that time, I was joking about Siegfried and Roy with our friend Burke, the driver, and then, the next day, there was a banner headline on front page of the local paper about the attack, and I’m sorry to say that our first reaction was to make more jokes, only to have a convenience-store clerk — we were in a convenience store when we saw the paper — correct us. But Burke had once found himself, at a party, in a conga line with Siegfried and Roy, which he regarded as one of the weirdest experiences of his life, so we may have been more inclined to joke about them than most.

          I know what you mean about the strangeness of springtime weather in winter. I had similar weather when I visited NYC and Virginia in January. “You brought California with you,” people said, but I was actually hoping for cold weather, especially with snow, since of course we don’t really get it in California. And in a few years nobody will get it, not like they used to do.

          Meanwhile, New Year’s in Berlin? If only, for me, that were a possibility!

  2. jude says:

    Your teenage angst is so real it jumps off the page! Such strange little creatures we are when at that age…

    “sometimes people were as good as I wanted to believe they were, as good as I wanted to believe I could be” – love this line in particular. The idealist part of me wants to believe we start life with such pure motives/idealism… but then we go and get messed up, and somehow forget or lose what really does make us human.

    This is a true Christmas story… very poignant and of course, need I say it, beautifully written. So lovely to read your words again Duke.

    Hope your Christmas is one of many blessings xxx

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, Jude, as I said to my family on the phone last night — my siblings and their spouses, kids, etc., were all at my dad’s place for Xmas Eve, as usual — I still have four limbs and I’m not, physically anyway, a leper, so that amounts to a blessing.

      Yes, I don’t think I’ve ever fully outgrown my teenage angst, unfortunately.

      I’m sure my father would know the name of the wonderful woman who gave me the shirt, but I didn’t consult with him before working on the piece. Meanwhile, my brother kept in touch with Joe. I know he mentioned something about him not long ago, but I don’t remember what he said. Again, maybe I should have played Why as a kid.

      Hope your Xmas wonderful. It’s Boxing Day there now, yes? In America, Boxing Day is called Gift Exchange Day, or Children Still Pouting About Receiving the Wrong Presents Day.


  3. Matt says:

    What a finely-honed gem of a story this is, Duke. The photo at the top evokes a sense of sadness, and there is one at the end, but not that which the reader expects. Well done!

    So many of us have, I think, lost shirts we could stand to catch sight of again from time to time. Humility can be just as cauterizing as a fire, and just as transitory.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thanks, Matt. I wish you would post something in this lonely ole ghost town. Will you soon?

      The photo — yeah, maybe I should’ve gone with the Alfred Hitchcock board game as an eye-catcher instead. That’s what it’s there for, of course. I wanted to run a more personal photo, say of the farm, but I don’t have a scanner, and for some reason I thought the fire… Huh, maybe I should change it.

      I don’t know what became of so many articles of clothing that I remember so well — for instance, the bomber jacket on the cover of Banned, although I think I gave that to Goodwill, or something like it, when I bought a brand-new Schott MC jacket.

      You’re right, of course, that the effects of humility don’t, unfortunately, last long. Hence the last line of the piece. Honestly, every time I saw the shirt, I was humbled by it.

      Happy holidays to you. I hope you’re getting more than just Xmas off from work this week.

      • Matt says:

        No, don’t change it! This essay is in many ways about things that burn (the shame of poverty or of athletic ineptitude only two among many) so it’s an appropriate visual to kick things off with.

        I have a piece that I’ve been tinkering with which I may post soon, as we’re coming up on the anniversary date of the events it chronicles. I’ve been directing more of my energies lately back towards fiction, including a novel I’m hoping to get some wheels under in the next few months.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          You caught me just before I was going to make the switch, Matt. Maybe you’re right. Oh, well. It’s hardly a chart-busting sort of piece anyway. I didn’t have the time this year to work on anything but a few small pieces, aside from the one big piece about MM. I wish I could say the time had been put toward progress on a novel, and while I tried to get a novel going, as I have been ever since Banned, nothing caught fire, so to speak.

          Am I wrong in remembering that you were, at one time anyway, working on two novels? Now, that’s what I would like to be doing — full time, of course. Anyway, I wish you much progress on the novel and the new TNB piece, which I expect to see here soon.

          • Matt says:

            Technically I am currently working on two, in the sense that I’m composing one, while the other exists in a pupal thought-state in my brain, to be dealt with ones this one’s in decent enough shape to be sent out into the world.

            Writing full-time would be nice, wouldn’t it? Alas, I’m still dealing with the doldrums of a day job. Though since I have a roof over my head and enough to eat three times a day (after having been broke and homeless twice in five years) I shouldn’t complain too much.

            • D.R. Haney says:

              I share your day-job doldrums, and if you complain too much, you can count on me doing the same alongside you, two cats on a midnight fence. I haven’t been homeless in a while, but I’ve been broke for as long as I can remember, and still am, even with a day job.

              I’ve composed a number of novels in my head, but somehow they’ve refused to transfer themselves from my head to the page. But I think, in a way, that it’s only a matter of finding the beginning. If I start from the wrong place, it all quickly collapses, and with a novel, unlike a short piece, there’s just so much to be included that it’s hard to know where to start.

  4. Man, Duke, another short, powerful piece. For me, such lean stories set around the holidays always carry the real heft (maybe because the original Christmas story, as we incessantly forget, is as lean and as penniless a tale as we have, but that’s another tangent). Anyway, that moment of the kids pouring out of the too-small trailer has more heart than an entire tabernacle of red and green halleujahs, as far as I’m concerned. Though I probably don’t need to tell you that.

    Otherwise, Jude already mentioned the beautiful line that closes out this story. Regardless of evidence to the contrary, I’m taking your sentiment and your reliable presence here as a hopeful sign.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Your comment is a sight for sore eyes. I was afraid I was going to have to consult your lists of reasons you don’t comment on posts, and try to determine which of them applied, if you didn’t materialize.

      I suppose I haven’t been too reliable here, but I haven’t abandoned TNB, as you haven’t either, and if you take my presence here as a hopeful sign, believe me, I do the same with you. I always meant to go back to your last piece about L.A. and remark again as to how much I liked it. If last year’s Best of TNB had been extended to this year, that piece would’ve gotten my vote.

      Of course you never know how people are going to respond to something you’ve written, so I didn’t presume anything about the moment when the kids pour out of the trailer. That particular paragraph gave me more trouble than any other, I think, because I was making a transition from the background story to the key event, and, as strange as it may sound, I had to rewrite the paragraph a number of times to, for instance, gracefully work in that it was night, which is obviously important; in my first attempts, I simply wrote that it was Christmas Eve, presuming that the reader would understand that it was night — eve meaning much the same thing, except with Christmas Eve it doesn’t. Anyway, this is an overlong way of saying that I do need you to tell me that, and thank you for saying it.

      From one TNB old timer to another, I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas, Nat.

  5. jmblaine says:

    I hope you know me
    well enough by now
    to know
    this is exactly
    the kind of story
    that is Christmas to me.
    & the last line?

    Man, Haney.
    I miss you when you aren’t here.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, JMB, I guess you could say I’m home for the holidays, and it’s good to see you, too, cuz.

      I’m so glad you liked the piece. I’ve been meaning to write about this incident every Christmas since I arrived at TNB, and I finally got around to it.

  6. Rendered with master strokes, as always! So, I’m back to teaching creative writing after a four-year hiatus, and you’re on our reading list. I love the way this one in particular unwinds (there must be a better word than that but one isn’t coming to me) to deposit the reader in a pleasantly unexpected place. And one of these days you must tell me your secret for getting at the perfect closing lines. Closing lines and titles — man, I’m the worst with these. I think because of the importance I put on them and my fear that I’m laying it on too thick …. but, anyway, main point: enjoyed this.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Oh, man, I’m a little nervous now. I keep picturing all these kids in your class rolling their eyes as they read something by me, or texting each other: “You read that thing?” “Tried but so BORING!” But this must be a version of what teachers think when they become teachers. Anyway, I’m humbled, which may be a tiresome thing to say following a piece about humility.

      I just mentioned to JMB that I’ve been meaning to write about this experience for a while now, but in all that time I never considered a title, and only named it at the last minute. I think it’s kind of a dull title, but it did seem to sum up the story and, particularly, the last line of it, which I had also never considered until I was in the trench, so to speak. You know, it was that idea of lost faith, or of anyway needing to renew faith.

      I tried to write poetry when I was a kid, like so many kids, and of course my poetry was awful, but I would go back every so often and try again, and finally I seemed to figure out something about how to go about it. I don’t write poetry anymore, but I think it was crucial to learning how to write prose, because with poetry, of course, every word counts, and it has to be the right word, both in terms of meter and the word’s meaning, or meanings, or implied meanings. Of course I still make mistakes, and sometimes I’m bothered by them for months or even years, wondering what exactly the problem was, why a sentence or phrase didn’t, or doesn’t, quite work.

      Another great lesson of writing poetry was that, the way I approached it anyway, the final line was everything. A lot of ideas come to you while you’re writing, and some of them don’t belong but some of them do, although you don’t quite know why they do, so you keep them, and in that final lap you review and ponder everything that’s led to it and you finally think, “Oh, I understand! Yes, it’s all about this!” Which isn’t even what you necessarily thought it was about when you began. Then it’s only a matter of trying to summing up, exactly as it so often is with a title. In a way, I think the title and the final line are one and the same, or they are sometimes.

      Is it pompous of me to try to answer your question (though of course it wasn’t phrased as a question) in earnest? Anyway, it’s kept my occupied as I hide out, a la Anne Frank, from my landlords, who are skulking around my building at the moment. My every encounter with them seems to lead to trouble, however small, so I always try to pretend I’m not at home when they’re around.

      Thanks for all you say, Cynthia, and if I don’t get the chance to say it again in a few days, happy new year.

      • Oh, how slow I’ve been to say thank you for talking shop. I hope you’ve managed to escape your landlord by now. And trust me — if there’s one thing I am good at it’s knowing what will make students’ eyes roll, and you, sir, write nothing of the kind. All the best to you in the New Year, Duke!

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Thank you, Cynthia. The same to you!

          Landlords are kind of like Pac-Man ghosts, I’m afraid. Sooner or later, they catch up to you, and then it’s curtains. No, that’s wrong. Landlords don’t even supply curtains, they only supply EVIL.

          Sorry. I’m a little giddy from lack of sleep. I wrote for, like, thirty hours straight or something.

          Are you rolling your eyes?

  7. Gary Socquet says:

    It takes remarkable restraint to maintain the distance of the sullen long-ago-self narrator leading up to the moment when what happens means something in that narrator must change. You preserve that edge much better than most, Duke, which is why that last line, which is a straight hit to the softest part of the belly, is well earned. Nicely done, man.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thanks, Gary. I’m responding as fast as I am because, per my comment to Cynthia, I’m still playing Hide and Seek with my landlords, occupying myself with the computer until they finally, mercifully, leave. If you’ve ever had a difficult landlord, you’ll understand why avoidance is, or seems to me anyway, the best strategy.

      I actually thought about you while I was working on the piece, because of your own piece about rural, trailer-home living, though of course I never really lived in the trailer. (My sister and brother later lived there, though.) Also, of course, your piece was about your father, as this one is about mine. Fathers, and mothers, can certainly provide writers with material. I would guess that more writers have written about their parents than painters have painted theirs, or filmmakers made films about theirs, musicians composed songs about theirs, etc.

      I was a little concerned that the sullen part of my character here — since of course we ourselves are characters in our work — appeared a bit late in the story for it work, but I’m relieved to hear testimony to the contrary. Thanks again.

      Can we expect a new piece from you anytime soon? It’s been awhile.

      • Gary Socquet says:

        I have indeed played that brand of hide and seek, and because I also briefly played the role of landlord, I’ve gotten to play it from both sides, and it’s uncomfortable either way. As landlords go, though, I was of the mellow variety. Plus, I so desperately crave inviolable space (and I lived in one of my apartments), I was at least as reticent to encounter my tenants as they were, at times, to have me bumping around their respective areas. I can’t say I miss it.

        It has indeed been too long since I put any work out there. I’ve made the mistake of tackling time-sensitive stories the last few months, only to find someone beating me to it and doing the topic much more justice than I’d managed (e.g., Sean Beaudoin’s heartbreaking essay on Newtown at the Weeklings, your piece last month about an encounter on the bus), and I’m happy to defer under the right circumstances. Mostly I’ve been adjusting to the transient life, but with a job now part of the equation. We’ll see how those variables combine to inspire. Should be something worthy coming down the pike relatively soon.

        Be well.


        • D.R. Haney says:

          It’s somehow difficult to see you in the role of landlord, Gary. You don’t have a handlebar mustache, or not that I’ve seen in photos, just as photos don’t reveal a top hat or vest.

          The movies lost their most convincing villain when replaced the landlord with the gangster, the mad scientist, the corrupt official, and so on. Bring back the landlord, I say! Let maidens galore be tied to railroad tracks!

          It’s tricky, obviously, with time-sensitive pieces, though, really, with the last three times I’ve posted at TNB, that’s, in a sense, what I’ve done, including this piece, which would’ve felt out of place in, say, July. As it was, I waited until the last minute before beginning it, like a shopper trying to do Christmas shopping two days before Christmas, and didn’t finish until the early morning hours of Christmas morning, and even then it needed refinement after going live. But I almost always go on tweaking whatever I write, even months after it’s supposedly done and it’s in the archive like a body without a headstone. Still, it embarrasses me to have mistakes out there.

          Also, I personally feel uncomfortable writing about current events, because I figure others are always going to do them more justice to them than I could manage. There are people who write about current events for a living — though, what with the interwebs, there are fewer and fewer of them all the time — and of course there are a great many citizen journalists these days, self-described news junkies, which I’m not, so I leave current events to them. I mean, hell, anyone adding a slogan to a photo on Facebook can do a better job with politics, for instance, than I can do.

          I’m not sure if I should be glad that you’ve joined the workforce or not. I mean, of course, I’m glad you’ve got money coming in, but a job job — it’s tough if you’ve been at liberty for a spell, as I can testify based on personal recent experience. Speaking of which, I have to get ready for work. Yesterday it was the landlords, now it’s this. As Kurtz said in “Heart of Darkness” — well, you know.

          Here’s hoping we hear from you at TNB sooner than later.


  8. Another great story, Duke. I have a big soft spot for Christmas stories, it being a particularly important holiday for me. I have always attached absurd importance to every goddamn gift I’ve gotten at Christmas, regardless of who it’s from or what it is. There have been so many that I’ve never used or even looked at again, but the fact that someone cared enough to give it… That’s what it’s about, right? People laugh at an atheist celebrating Christmas and caring so deeply about it, but it really does bring out the best in so many people. People give so deeply at this time of year. It’s inspiring. The one day of the year that so many people just take the time to think about what would make someone else happy.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Well, unless you’re a kid, in which case you’re naturally a psychopath. (As I know you know, “psychopath” or “sociopath” are interchangeable, though people tend to think the first implies a propensity for violence that the second doesn’t.) Then, slowly, you’re taught to actually care about others, or at least that was the case once upon a time. Lately, I’m not so sure, going by the selfish behavior I see everywhere, on a daily basis, such people colliding with me on sidewalks and in the aisles of stores as if I’m invisible, and not even acknowledging the collisions after they’ve occurred. If the don’t occur, it’s only because I’ve stepped aside as I see people walking straight at me, clearly without any intent of stopping. Why would they stop when you’re invisible?

      Anyway, there’s another Christmas story that I always think of, involving my grandmother. One year, when I was living in NYC, I was so poor that I was unable to do any shopping until Christmas Eve, on the drive from NYC to Virginia. I barely had any money, so I ran into some store and and bought some candy for my grandmother, candy being the only thing I could afford. I didn’t even know what kind of candy it was, but I gave it to my grandmother, and for years afterward she would bring it up: “That candy was so good!” My mom always said she was grateful for everything she ever got, and it was true. She was truly, I think, the sweetest person I’ve ever known. But every time she brought up that candy, I felt terribly guilty, knowing how I’d just grabbed it, without any thought, at the last minute.

      Meanwhile, I saw pictures of you on FB, spreading Christmas cheer in China. Personally, I see no contradiction between being an atheist and celebrating Christmas, which, of course, borrows so many of its traditions from pagan winter-solstice practices.

      Do you have any plans to see the “On the Road” movie? I swore I never would, but I’m starting to think I might, if only because it might be worth writing about. According to the dreaded IMDb, there are three other movies about Kerouac coming next year; but speaking of psychopaths, I don’t think there’s an actor capable of playing Neal Cassady. Even Nick Nolte couldn’t pull it off in the movie adaptation of Carolyn Cassady’s book. You can’t find that movie anywhere now. Apparently it never made it to DVD. I watched one scene from the “On the Road” movie on YouTub, and it was clear that the filmmakers were trying to give it the “sensitive” treatment, providing Luanne, or Marylou, with soul-searching dialogue, or something approaching it.


      If they were going to make shit up, they should’ve gone with the scroll version of “On the Road,” in which Neal is called Neal and not Dean, Luanne is called Luanne and not Marylou, and so on, instead of pretending that this is an adaptation of the novel everyone knows. Oh, well. It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would, and maybe it’s good that it took well over fifty years before it was brought to the screen. A version made in the 50s or 6os would necessarily have been tamer, per “The Subterraneans,” in which Aline’s character underwent a shift in race. But I think Jack’s character stabbed somebody, or something like that, and that’s kind of spicy.

      • I’ve definitely done the same last minute cheap present grab and felt that pang of guilt afterwards. But it really is amazing how some people appreciate the little things so much. It’s sad how many ungrateful little fuckers you see these days screaming because their parents got them the wrong kind of iPad or something. Spoiled brats.

        China has taken quite well to Christmas. As you point out, it’s not as Christian as the Christians seem to think it is. For me, it’s a family tradition. For Chinese people, it fills a gap in the calendar where there probably should be a holiday to keep away the winter blues. Besides, everything is red. These people love red stuff. And cheesy music.

        I watched On the Road a couple of months ago. I picked it up on DVD here maybe 2 months before it was released in the U.S. There’s something odd about that, with it being one of the classic American novels. Honestly, I always wanted to see it. I was just curious about it, and if it was shit then it meant nothing. I’ve never really cared about movies butchering books. But I did rather like it. I thought the Ginsberg and Cassady characters were a little weak, but Kerouac and Burroughs were great. In fact, if everyone was as good as Viggo Mortensen playing Burroughs…. we’d had a movie as epic as the book. There’s another one coming up: Big Sur. It looks pretty decent, too.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Green being the other Christmas color, I wonder how the Chinese feel about green. I think the Maoist uniforms they were always pictured wearing were green, yes? Although I remember pictures of dignitaries in pale gray.

          I’m so used to American kids misbehaving at Christmastime, throwing tantrums and so on, that I don’t even think about it anymore. When I was a kid, I didn’t throw tantrums after Christmas so much as as before. I had my highly specific lists of what I wanted, and as Christmas crept closer, I would suddenly require proof, or anyway strong hints, that I was getting precisely what I had listed. But my parents usually refused to provide that proof, so I would act like a perfect brat until Christmas morning, when I found all my listed items waiting for me, and if an item or was missing or I hadn’t gotten the exact brand of it, I was usually content with what I’d been given. There was always so much of it anyway, and of course I didn’t really need any of it, while the stuff I did need — clothes, mainly — was stuff that didn’t interest me.

          I suspect there are terrible clues to my present-day personality in all of this.

          I think my aversion to the “On the Road” movie was based on the fear that the movie will, in a sense, replace the book, as happens sometimes. Not that I even like the book all that much anymore (though the scroll version, to my way of thinking, is much better than the version edited by Malcolm Cowley). But I suppose I want to believe that book will go on inspiring teenagers, as it did me, and if the movie supplanted the book…

          Anyway, I’m over that now, and I can begin to worry about the movie version of “Big Sur,” which I much prefer to “On the Road.” I’m kidding. But I figured Viggo would be good, since he always is, and Kristen Dunst is, physically, good casting for Carolyn, but I must say I’ve had serious doubts about Sam Riley as Kerouac, though I can see the logic of it; Riley looks reflective, and he’s a bit of a second banana, and with “On the Road” it’s Neal who’s got to stand out. Yet, again, it would be almost impossible to find an actor who could play Neal well. On the face of it, Nick Nolte would have seemed a good choice, as would Thomas Jane, who played Neal in “The Last Time I Committed Suicide,” but neither of them could quite pull it off. I don’t think people like Neal exist anymore. Even in his time, his mania was off-putting to a great many people (though it attracted many others), but since then, we really frown, in America anyway, on people as manic as Neal, so that I think that sort of acting out is deeply repressed in those inclined to it, except for the real crazies, who usually end up homeless and going even crazier as they scream at, or about, God on the street. Also, Neal was so bright and so verbose, except when he entered his “silent” phases, per what was likely manic-depression, when he wouldn’t communicate with anyone, and it’s hard to imagine someone today who could manage stream-of-consciousness monologues about Proust or whatever while driving like a bat of hell, stopping only to try to put the moves on a comely hitchhiker or steal gas or another car, and resuming the monologue a minute later.

          • I think the people most like Neal nowadays are probably putting it on a bit. Like rather than being naturally Neal-like, they’re Neal-inspired. I’ve certainly never met anyone genuinely like him, although I’ve met many an interesting character, and had several of my own Moriarty-type influences. But yes, to imagine a genuine Neal Cassady roaming around the United States these days… It’s a little far-fetched.

            I’m not sure how likely it is that the book will replace the movie. Probably a lot of people will see it who haven’t read the book, and might not read the book, but the majority will indulge in both. And I’m fairly sure that 20 yrs from now, people will still be talking about Kerouac’s book and the movie will be an insignificant side note. Actually, I’ve come to be fond of the movie as it, like the Howl one, has simply pushed new readers towards Beatdom!

            Well I’m afraid I must keep this comment short. Working like crazy this past few months and I thought the end was in sight, but I was wrong. Gotta get back to the grind. Happy New Year, man. Hope it’s a great one for ya.

            • D.R. Haney says:

              Thanks, David. I hope it’s a good one for you, too.

              Of course the danger with long comments is that people may feel that you’re obliging them to respond at similar length, though I wasn’t. Anyway, I’m no longer anxious that “On the Road” as a book will be supplanted by the movie version, and if it makes people aware of Kerouac and the Beats — to say nothing of an increased readership for Beatdom — then so much the better. I was introduced to Kerouac by a movie, after all, and look what happened there: I’m now being ignored as a loser writer!

              That’s a joke. I think.

              Also, that’s an interesting point, about guys pouring it as they try to imitate Neal. I don’t think I ever did that. I’m naturally manic, but Neal seemed impossible to imitate, so that I gravitated much more toward Kerouac, the record keeper as opposed to the subject of the record. Anyway, yeah, I don’t think there are any more Neals. He was unique even in his own time, which was the very reason that people were drawn to him. What’s sad is that I’m not sure that unique people elicit much reaction now. It’s a karaoke era. We prefer increasingly faded copies of copies of copies.

              Now go have a great new year, damn it!

              • Happy New Year to you, too. I look forward to more awesome TNB posts from you. I’ll see if I can muster more than last year’s measly two.

                • D.R. Haney says:

                  Well, I only came up with four, and two were little slice-of-life things, this being one of them, and the other was a dopey list. I only managed one real piece the whole year.

                  But I’m mainly answering back, after we already exchanged notes on FB, because I just noticed that I wrote “illicit” instead of “elicit” in my previous comment. Man, what a brain fart that was! It makes me much more sympathetic to those who write “your” instead of “you’re,” not because they don’t know the difference but because they’re writing quickly or they’re anyway experiencing a brain fart, both of which were true of me when I commented earlier.

                  Anyway, I corrected the mistake, though I’m embarrassed that you saw it. And to think I consider myself a writer.

  9. Zara Potts says:

    Thank you for this Christmas gift.

  10. Dana says:

    A perfect grace note. Happy New Year!

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Huh. I didn’t receive an email notification about this comment. Oh, well. I think your comment is the perfect grace note, seeing that it’s lifted me from a momentary bout of self-pity. And now: onward! And a very happy 2013 to you, too, Dana, and yours.

  11. Nancey says:

    I love this story. How do you make it so that we are with you when you are experiencing these things? It’s wonderful writing, I saw that shirt folded in that drawer and watched you hesitate and look at it, thinking.

    I wish you still had that shirt too, and that last line really does rock. It’s perfection. Thank you again for writing.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Ah, thanks, Nancey. It’s especially nice to read what you say now that the piece has been retired, so to speak. Also, these are days when that shirt, the warm feeling it used to give, could really come in handy. It’s been a rough ride, but maybe there’s truth in the old saying that it’s darkest before dawn. You think? I’m going with yes.

  12. Kay Cole says:

    This is a beautiful story and for a moment there I felt like I was standing in your shoes. I was you. It is so genuine and heartfelt and many of us have been in a situation or time that is similar, but we are not capable enough to put in words. This is an exemplary portrayal of life, real life and love. Thank you for your humbleness in sharing such a magical story because it will make me a better person.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      You’re already a good person, Kay, but it is indeed humbling to hear that you feel that it has the capacity to improve. Also it’s humbling to hear that you could imagine yourself in my place, though I doubt you were ever the brat I was — or am still, possibly. Thanks for the lift.

  13. Spike says:

    The spirit of Christmas, whatever that may be, is tethered within every word of this story. Perhaps I am a lazy reader, quite possibly dyslexic, but your writing always flows for me. I often need to pause, and re-read a paragraph for it to make sense, sometimes speaking the words out loud. Maybe this is why I became a songwriter, I can’t say.
    You write similarly to song lyric, stanzas even. I have no need to re-read, your words absorb on the first run, it feels natural.
    Not sure if that even makes sense, but you have a way with capturing a reader, allowing them to see, hear, and feel what you’re hoping to convey. Or what I think you’re hoping to convey. I was sitting in that truck with you, and i am glad they encouraged ‘us’ to get out and see the tree.
    I want to know more about Joe. I know lots of ‘Joes’ from my youth, and I’m curious what happened to this Joe.
    I hope you get the Why game, ebay has a few versions…. and you should get a denim shirt, if you don’t already have one. Better yet, maybe you know someone who needs to be gifted a denim shirt for some future Christmas.
    Whatever happens, I am glad you shared this story. I know you better now. Happy December bro.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      You know, Spike, that’s a damn good idea, about giving someone else a jean shirt. Also maybe I really ought to pick up the Why game on eBay — though at the moment I would have to play it alone, what with the pandemic and all. I really got into jigsaw puzzles at the beginning of the pandemic — I bought, like, thirty of them, and I’ve done some of them more than once. Now I’m a little puzzled out.

      I’m always aiming for musicality in the way I construct sentences and paragraphs and so on, which is common, of course, though some writers are more successful at it than others. I’m never sure how successful I am — that is, I may think I’ve pulled it off in the moment, but after the writing is out there, I’ll go back to reread it and wince because something is off in the meter. Anyway I approach prose as if it were poetry, where every syllable is crucial, as well as the sound of specific words, though they may not be read aloud, and in fact they seldom are.

      I don’t know what became of Joe. My brother would might know, but my brother and I aren’t on speaking terms at the moment. You know what I would like? I would like us to get together, you and me, when it’s safe to do so. It’s kind of ridiculous that it’s been so long, yes?

      Happy December to you — and a wonderful 2021. I mean, anything seems better than 2020.

  14. Ken Tobias says:

    Duke you are such a perfect writer. I loved this story and what intrigues me most you don’t build yourself up you show your true flaws and feelings Merry Holidays 🎄

    • D.R. Haney says:

      What a surprise to see a comment from you here, Ken, and please know, if you don’t already, that the admiration goes both ways. As to my flaws — well, I would say you’ve already been alerted to a few of them, what with the many emails I’ve sent you these last few weeks, but I’m annoying with a purpose, or so I tell myself. Merry happy to you and yours also.

  15. Tammy Allen says:

    Love, love, love. It feels like Virginia and being a teenager.

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