It was Christmas Eve in Little Aleppo, and the Poet Laureate was running naked down the Main Drag blessing all he saw. He had not taken a haircut in months, nor shaved his black beard, and the neighborhood was glad for this. No functioning society could countenance the clean-cut running naked down the Main Drag: that’s an omen. But a scrawny, shaggy, wild-eyed nude man sprinting through town and calling upon the Lord’s favor? Well, that sounded about right. Bad luck for a neighborhood to go too long without a prophet. Can’t let the Old Testament get too old; need to let some pressure out from the ancient madness underneath the sidewalks where everyone’s so fucking civilized lately; no Christmas without John the Baptist.
Watch him fly. You can hear him coming. Dopplerized beatification.
“Merry Christmas, Town Fathers! We’ll drag you down those stairs and beat you to death if you fuck up too bad! Merry Christmas!”
And there they were, all five of them, three men and two women waving to their constituents and smiling and surrounded by security. The Town Fathers smiled the widest when they were surrounded by security.
“Merry Christmas to the judges and to the bailiffs and to stenographers and to the juries and Happy Hanukkah to the lawyers!”
The steps of the Valentine Courthouse were packed from Doric column to Doric column by people wearing uncomfortable clothes and comfortable shoes. Judge Rollo held his seasonal gavel high.
By the Verdance, where everything grows, even now in winter because Little Aleppo has a temperate pico-climate that never freezes and only scorches for three days in the summer, and the rains come regular every 18 days. The Segovian Hills form a barrier against the continent that curls into the sea and protects the harbor from the ocean. There are no tornadoes or hurricanes or blizzards or droughts; it is a wonderful place to settle. The Pulaski thought so, and they are still here, in the Verdance helping everything grow.
The bartenders at the Morning Tavern had thrown all the drunks out onto Widow Way, and they walked east to the Main Drag smoking and shouting and singing and swaying and holding onto each other, mostly consensually. Visions of empty apartments danced in their heads to Stones tunes, and they sloshed their harmonies together as old ladies leaned out their windows and scowled.
The Poet Laureate’s balls bounced as he ran, occasionally settling into a thigh-to-thigh rhythm for four or five beats and then reverting to random, hairy positionality. His nipples were symbolic as hell.
Two women with Santa hats on had smuggled their last-call bottles of Arrow beer out of the bar.
“Better than last year.”
“Anything would be better than last year. She stole a car.”
“The crash did detract a bit from the magic. AAAAAHahaha!”
His chest was flushed and pouncing outwards–you could see the Poet Laureate’s heart from the sidewalk, its presence at least–and his feet were already bloody and his wet footprints limped behind him on the blacktop of the Main Drag.
“Merry Christmas, Harper Zoo! Merry Christmas, Harper College! All the animals and their keepers! All the students and their professors! And the bookstore and the souvenir shop! May your merchandising rights be respected!”
Off in the distance, off to the west, an elephant trumpeted and a dog barked and a campus cried GO, PROFESSIONAL MOURNERS! (No one had liked being a Professional Mourner at first, especially when they saw the mascot costume, but opinion changed once everyone saw how freaked out the opposing teams got when they were ululated at.)
Car traffic had stopped out of respect, but the pizza boys on their scooters buzzed the Poet Laureate like King Kong and counted coup by slapping his bare ass.
“Merry Christmas, Tahitian! God bless your sticky floors and happy endings, and God forgive the balcony!”
A women in a red dress with white trim stood outside the theater with teenagers in identical tunics. The shutters were locked down in front of the glass doors.
“I think we’re okay.”
“Shutters stay down until he’s done, Julio.”
PAP PAP PAP the feet on the concrete and BOBBLE BOBBLE BOBBLE the dick.
The streetlights had come on so they could lie to moths, and store frontage all lit up with reds, greens, silvers, that frosty bullshit you sprayed onto glass. Snowmen where it had never snowed, and reindeer wandering about at far too low a latitude, and a saint from Asia Minor who had certainly taken the most circuitous route to the neighborhood. Randy’s Record Barn had speakers outside playing every Little Aleppian’s favorite holiday record.
Sleigh bells will jingle,
But snow’s not as cold as my heart;
When there’s only
A Jolly Christmas with Tommy Amici. Everyone grew up listening to it as they opened their presents. The Mistletoe Missed Me kicked off the first side. You Left Me A Letter (Under the Tree) and Nightcap In My Nightcap and Tinsel Turns To Rust.
The tree is out back;
The garbageman’s coming.
The kids will grow tired of their toys.
It’s a must.
When you said you loved me
That cold Christmas Eve,
That tinsel tuuuuuuuurns into rust.
He did Little Drummer Boy, too, but his heart wasn’t in it.
“Merry Christmas, Rose Street! Merry Christmas to your monsters, and Merry Christmas to your choirs, and Merry Christmas to your holy books without authors! Merry Christmas to your sermons and tax-free status!”
An enormous man in sky-blue suit and a man-sized man in a suit-colored suit watched the Poet Laureate go by.
“That’s why we have a Poet Laureate.”
“I don’t understand why this is a tradition.”
“Me, either. Usually when people run naked down the Main Drag shouting about God, it’s more spontaneous.”
The enormous man smiled and did not make eye contact with the man-sized man, who smiled wider. They turned and walked into the First Church of the Iterated Christ. Midnight Mass was in a few hours. The First Church of the Iterated Christ was not a Catholic church, but it was a catholic church, and so held Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. So did the Hindu temple and the mosque; the synagogue used to, until it burnt down. Christmas was an American holiday in Little Aleppo, and everyone was invited in.
“Merry Christmas, all you failures! Merry Christmas, all you cowards! Merry Christmas, all you liars!”
A man with uncombed hair in a faded suit stood next to a tortoiseshell cat.
“I think he’s talking about you.”
“At least this one didn’t crash into the theater.”
There was spittle and spray spewing from the Poet Laureate’s mouth and his whole body was covered with visible sweat that foamed like on the haunches of a racehorse; he took no exercise during the year and his muscles were slack and his skin was loose; it shifted and bubbled like a pie baking during an earthquake. He had stumbled, fallen–his pinky on his left hand broke–and when he got up, there were cuts on his knees and hands, which he wiped them on his chest. The blood mixed with the sweat and ran in Brownian rivulets down his torso.
“And the teevee shows and the radio programs! God bless you for whatever the fuck it is you do! Merry Christmas to the lake that none of you knew about it! It’s still there if you pay less attention to time! It’s all still here if you don’t pay attention to time! Bless the Cenotaph! Bless the newspaper! You turned a tree into the sports section, and bless you for that!”
The entrance to the Emergency Room at St Agatha’s has an inscription over the doors–Quid hoc fecisti, ut tibi?–and all the doctors and nurses and most of the patients stood outside. Far more nurses were smoking than you would assume. A woman in scrubs and a man who was not currently a werewolf held hands and stood tight against each other.
“Merry Christmas, St. Agatha’s! You can’t cure any of us! You’ll never win, and God bless you!”
And the doctors and nurses and most of the patients gave the Poet Laureate the finger. Tradition was tradition.
Besides, he’d be back.
“Merry Christmas to the cops! Merry Christmas to the firemen!”
They were on opposite sides of the Main Drag.
“Merry Christmas to the whores and the junkies! Merry Christmas to the bass players! Merry Christmas to the crazy fucks with suspicious coughs! Merry Christmas to the streetsweepers and Merry Christmas to the streetsleepers and Merry Christmas to the veterans who can’t do paperwork! God bless you, God bless you, God help you, God bless you!”
High atop Pulaski Peak, the tallest of the seven Segovian Hills, was Harper Observatory; and in between the observatory on the diamond-shaped summit of the mountain and the rocky precipice that led to it was a bench, and on that bench were an old man, who was not a ghost, and a young man and an old woman, who were.
“Christmas ain’t an American holiday, no matter what anyone thinks. Religious. Old-time religion.”
“So some asshole’s gotta run down the street naked?”
“Yeah. Like I said: old-time religion.”
“Wouldn’t be a tradition otherwise.”
Car horns and big-band music drifted up. In the parking lots, teens fucked.
“Cops just tackled him.”
“You can’t see that.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
The cops strapped the Poet Laureate to a body-board as gently as one can be strapped to a body-board, and then they walked him back to St. Agatha’s, where he would be stitched up and bathed and told what a good job he had done. He would not be charged for his stay and many unnecessary prescriptions would be written for him. When the sun came up on Christmas morning, the Poet Laureate would emerge from the hospital wearing scrubs and a pair of someone else’s tennis sneakers and walk back to his apartment along the Main Drag, which cuts through the heart of Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.