Christmas was a full-contact sport in Little Aleppo; dominatrices wielded tinsel whips, and assassins used garrotes made of stringed popcorn. Santas were in charge of elf-gangs, and they battled for turf. Old ladies rang bells for the Salvation Air Force–they were saving up for their first plane–and sometimes they’d just whack you with their buckets as you passed by. Stockings have been known to contain feet, and the carolers are occasionally there to distract you while their accomplices sneak in the backdoor to steal your flatware and eggs. Christmas got all over the place, into cracks in the sidewalk and the corners of your eye; Christmas was context and stuck to situations like barnacles: made love deeper, and coincidence more meaningful, and the suicides far more poignant.
The Hidalgo Brothers bombed Vafunculo’s on Christmas Eve of ’79, which led to what would become known as the Pizza Wars. Christmas of 1923 is still known as Hairy Christmas: it was the last stand of the squatch, who snuck into the Main Drag in the middle of the night and ate a couple tavern’s worth of locals before the cops broke the Gatling gun out of the armory. The Town Fathers went to the Cenotaph office to demand the photos be turned over. As you might guess, the journalists refused, yelling about their First Amendment rights; as you might further guess, the Town Fathers had the cops bring the Gatling gun to the newspaper office and fire off a few rounds. The pictures of the squatch lying dead on the Main Drag have not been published to this day. 1892 was the year that everyone got smallpox for Christmas.
No bombings in 1985, and squatch were an urban legend and everyone had been inoculated; getting boring around here, some old-timers thought to themselves but did not say out loud because if you were an old-timer in Little Aleppo you knew better than to tempt fate. Fate was a slut, the Poet Laureate once said, and she’ll fuck you if you give her a chance; no one listened to the Poet Laureate. Tree went up, kids got toys, sing a little song: a quiet Christmas in the neighborhood.
Or you could go see The Snug, Little Aleppo’s very own–The motherfuggin’ Snug, man–at the Absalom Ballroom on the Upside, you could have yourself a rock and roll Christmas. It was a local tradition, and those are the best traditions because they don’t have to make any sense. The Snug brought their pyro and trousers and all of their immaculate hair back where they came from and showed the crowd their dicks while singing songs about their dicks. Bells did not jingle, and the little drummer boy was a burly man whose sweatbands were sopping up the blood running from weeping sores in the crooks of his elbows. They only knew one Christmas song, and they had written it themselves.
I don’t need no stocking
Just go get my cockring
Get down to Christmas Head
Babe, I ain’t no Rudolph
Now take your brassiere off
Yule give me Christmas Head
They had written the words, at least; the chords were stolen from Chuck Berry and the beat from The Meters. The kids down front didn’t care. They cheered every year. It was nice of them to make the effort, the kids thought.
The Snug were 15 in ’85 and hitting their stride; their pants had never been tighter. The last album, Memory Gangsters, was still selling, even though it was a mess: half of it was Johnny Mister’s half-finished sci-fi cycle about an intertrimensional crime syndicate that stole the past from you while you slept, and the other half were Holiday Rhodes’ tunes, which were about parties and pussy and parties plentiful in pussy. The whole record was credited to Rhodes/Mister, even though they had not been speaking to one another since February of ’82, and even though one of the songs–Say Goodbye Again, a power ballad that went to #7 on the charts in Europe–was written by Dave Ronn.
Fill on in, fill on in, come closer and storm the stage. General Admission at the Absalom Ballroom, at least down front. The building took up the whole block and opened onto Puncheon Street under a fifty-foot long marquee, and inside was a sprung floor that rode up and down with you while you danced. Guy named Montrose Ringler opened the place in 1927. It’s where the big bands used to come and play, which led to miscegenation, which led to the joint being shut down in ’35, and ’36, and again in ’38. The demon music was making white girls sleep with negroes, the Town Fathers complained; luckily for the white girls and the negroes, World War II broke out and everyone had more important things to worry about. Then came the crooners and the bobby-soxers–Tommy Amici played the Absalom quite a few times–and then roller derby was a thing for a while. Fancifully-named women concussed one another for the amusement of spectators, most of whom were perverts, and then came the rock and roll promoters, most of whom were also perverts. The ceiling was vaulted (and buckling just a bit) and the outer walls were whitewashed (as it was cheaper than paint) and the bathrooms smelled like the piss of your ancestors, but hot damn that sprung floor when it would get rocking.
That British band played the Absalom with tiny little amplifiers and giant teenage shrieks, and that other British band, too. The swivelly hillbilly with the fat manager and the greasy daddy, and that little fellow with the curly hair and the complicated songs. Ugly bands from New York whose only fans were critics, and pretty bands from Hollywood who sold records. Those assholes with the makeup. The fat little piano player, and the skinny lady with the snub nose who tuned her guitar wrong. A semi-functioning choogly-type band. The ones that almost made it, and the ones that fizzled out after an album, and the ones that got two or three songs into their sets and started biting each other. Killers and queens and hard-working men and red-headed strangers and the only band that mattered. Brother Ray, too.
All the kids were there, half the high school and most of the college, and the grown-ups, too, the ones who still confused themselves for teenagers before they met the morning’s mirror, and the drug dealers and groupies all lined up with care in hope that The Snug would soon enough be there.
They would be there soon enough. Rock Stars showed up when they showed up, and sometimes not even then. The Snug had been on a yearlong tour which ended in late November; they’d scattered. Jay Biscayne went to London, where he drank heavily and let people talk him into buying artwork. Holiday Rhodes went to the studio he’d just built but not yet paid for in Jamaica, where he picked up work on the reggae album he’d been recording for seven years. Dave Ronn met with his divorce attorneys again. Johnny Mister checked back into the Hotel Synod and got high. They would be there when they got there, even though the kids were already there and pressed against each other. Hot dogs for a buck, soda in a paper cup for less than that. First kisses and complicated handshakes. A beach ball had been produced, inflated, loosed, bopped, enjoyed communally.
The Absalom was rectangular, and the stage was at one end and the merch stand was at the other, just the way God intended it, and around the floor was a a balcony of ten rows (except where the seats had been stolen and replaced by picnic tables or sit-down arcade games) into which neither cop nor security guard nor janitor had ever ventured. The ballroom might be a temporary autonomous zone, but the balcony was autonomouser. There was a man in the balcony with a graying mustache and a row of neat, white teeth. He was sitting with a small woman and a large one; the former was wearing a tee-shirt from The Snug’s ’78 tour. The silkscreen was chafing and flaking off in patterns like a salmon’s scales: it was of Johnny and Holiday and they were Rock Starring. What else could you call it? The two of them, and their hair, posing together for the cheap seats and thrusting their cocks at God and all His angels. Rock Starring! They were good at it, good enough to immortalize them on any piece of merch their road manager could get his hands on; took a special sort to Rock Star properly. You try it. Go grab a guitar, try it: lean back and let it blow let it all blow down. You’ll look like a simp. Rock Starring could only be done by Rock Stars. Some folks call this line of thinking tautological, but all of them look terrible in leather pants.
The lights hadn’t dimmed because the lights wouldn’t dim until the man said so, and the man could only say so when the band had gotten out of their limos, but only three limos were idling in the alley that contained the stage door, which was open and throwing out light into the otherwise-dark alley that held three idling limos and one man in a tee-shirt he had not paid for who was flitting between limo windows like a bee, but instead of searching for nectar, he was trying to negotiate with three malfeasant pricks wearing too much eye makeup when the fourth limo, which contained the most malfeasant prick of them all (who, coincidentally, was also wearing the most eye makeup) entered the alley and when it had just barely stopped, the man in the tee-shirt he had not paid for wrenched the backseat door open and yanked out the skinny guitarist by his upper arm, hurling him through the open stage doors of the Absalom Ballroom, and then the man turned to the other three limos and said,
And only then did the other three car doors open and only then did the malfeasant pricks enter the venue.
The tape cuts out and the lights go down and the crowd swells and plumps and edges forward, and the balcony leans out to watch the roadies WHANG the guitar one last time and THRUMP the drums and they scatter like sloppy gnomes, leaving duct tape and backstage passes in their wake and then nothing at all but hushed breathing in and WOO from the back of the audience where a high school girl with black, curly hair whose father used to own a movie theater is sneaking a joint with her friends. Right before something happens is the last moment when anything can happen. Taking action collapses possibility into fact, but the instant before that is where magick comes from.
And then the deer started screaming.
Shitting, too, and the crowd ran into itself trying to get out of the way of the pellets, which somehow smelled of fear. The Snug’s road manager had argued against using live animals for the big intro, but the band overruled him and now there were nine deer strapped into a harness covered with jingle bells that was attached to a sleigh containing Jay Biscayne’s kid brother Felipe in a Santa outift, all of which was suspended thirty feet above the floor. The whole deal was on a track and should have glided gracefully towards the stage while Felipe tossed Christmas joints to the kids below, but the deer had in their terror knocked the contraption out of whack and so now the sleigh and “rein” deer were stuck directly in the middle of the room. The deer bellowed and shat for ten minutes until all of their hearts had exploded from panic, and they slumped in their harnesses.
After a moment, the crowd looked from the ceiling to the stage.
The Snug looked from the ceiling to the crowd.
Holiday Rhodes, man. Holiday fucking Rhodes. He always knew what to say, Holiday Rhodes. He said,
“ROCK AND FUCKING ROLL!”
And the crowd always knew what to say, too. They said,
Guitar first, then the drums and bass, and there’s the pyro FWAMP and everyone’s tongue was in anyone’s mouth; beers went flying into the air, bouncing off of deer carcasses, the whole mass of teenage fuckery bouncing and pulsing with the beat: they had become a non-Newtonian fluid and they surged and chopped and jumped and praised. The balcony lit doobies and straddled each other as the Super Troopers flung stardom the length of the room to capture The Snug–the motherfuggin’ Snug, man–in their sights, and that meant it really was Christmas. Local traditions are the best kind of traditions because they don’t have to make sense, and nowhere has traditions more local than Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.