COLUMN TWENTY-EIGHT, DECEMBER 1, 1997
(Copyright © 1997 Al Aronowitz)
A CHRISTMAS CARD (AGAIN)
[Because many readers have complained they were unable to read the text of my Christmas Card in my Column Four ( /column4.html ), I offer this more readable version in honor of the current holiday season. I wrote this Christmas Card for my dying wife's last Christmas in 1971 and I published it in my POP SCENE column in the New York Post]
This a Christmas card for the blessed and the meek of this city, for the sick and the dying, for the miserable and the poor, for my friends, the suffering. This is a Christmas card for the burdened and the fearful, for the weary and the hopeless, for the coughing and the cancered, for all of you who live crowded with cockroaches, children and rats, with toilets that don't work or that just barely do, with empty refrigerators, with failing hearts, sentenced to this salt mine, New York. Somehow, I know, you will fan the last spark in you this Christmas Eve until it glows enough to warm those around you. How many of you will spend all day Christmas fighting with your wife, having to suffer the agony of putting her down because you couldn't afford to buy her all the things she really wanted?
This is a Christmas card for the candy store owner on Houston Street who has to get up at 5 o'clock on Sunday mornings with his 13-year-old daughter to earn the pennies that are his reward for selling coffee to the shabby dressed men waiting at the bus stop, going to God knows what kind of degradation they call jobs.
I saw him once, this candy store owner, and I will always remember him, a man about my own age, with whitened hair and the echo of the beaten in the dark tunnels of his eyes. Where have all his fantasies gone, the dreams of his boyhood, worn away like shoe leather on the sidewalk? What is there left for him but the vicious battle to keep the respect of his daughter, so pretty and earnest and anxious to please, just the same as her father once was?
It's expensive to be poor. You have to pay more for everything. You write a check and rush to cover it with another. You're too late, the first check bounces, and it costs you another $4 to pay the service charge.
This is a Christmas card for the wiry, dark-skinned Puerto Rican I once saw, pushing a rack hung with dimestore looking dresses through the stalled, exhaustpipe traffic on Seventh Avenue and 37th Street, maneuvering with all the flash and style of a pizza maker tossing a circle of dough into the air. I will always remember him, too, sallow and serious, the skin stretched tight over the high cheek bones of his skeleton face, cursing at the truck drivers who tried to inch in his way, "Pendejo!" How much does he take home a week, $67.50?
At the end of the day he walks up to 40th Street and takes the shuttle over to the Lexington Avenue, strap-hanging through the jarring ride uptown amid the sweaty, rumpy bodies of the rush-hour crush, secretly blessing the fathers and mothers who gave birth to such luscious daughters. Does he dare pinch a few? He gets off, maybe, at 103rd Street walking up the stairs to where the gang hangs out in front of the candy store or the luncheonette across the street, coming on to the mini-skirted thighs of the girl operators also getting back from work in the Garment District.
He turns his back on the brick wall of the Greek church and disappears into one of the tenement hovels between Third and Lex.
What is his Christmas going to be like? He's got maybe three kids and a tiny tree,
It's expensive to be poor
decorated with multicolored chains pasted together from school construction paper. There's hardly any room for it in his two-bedroom slum. For his wife, he's ripped off one of those dimestore looking dresses, if only he remembered her right size. For his daughter, he got sucked into buying one of those dolls that pee, $14.98, because she kept seeing the commercial on TV.
It's expensive to be poor. Fourteen-ninety-eight, with most of the price going to pay for the time the manufacturer had to buy to huckster the doll over the tube. Fourteen-ninety-eight and his teeth are rotting in his mouth because he can't afford the dentist.
They ache at night but what is that kind of pain compared to the torture he goes through knowing that his children's teeth are rotting too? What is that kind of pain compared to the helplessness that robs a man of his cojones? He day dreams about winning some big money at a cock fight. Do you blame him?
This is a Christmas card for the couple I used to know on Stanton Street. He had cancer and she had arteriosclerosis. He was a truck driver, husky, strong and rough until the disease wore him to a helpless cadaver. His only joy was his Speed Graphic, like the press photographers used to use, but the last I saw of him he didn't even have the strength to click the shutter. His wife kept punishing herself for wishing he'd die and end her misery, but what was she going to do afterwards, who would have her? What kind of Christmas will they have this year, if they're still alive?
This is a Christmas card for the emphysemiac cripple I know in Park Slope, oh what a swinger he used to be. This is a Christmas card for the debt-ridden Vita Herring routeman in Queens, his only happiness is in his children. This is a Christmas card for the guy with the bum heart on W. 93rd Street. He's a shut-in now. He's lived in the same apartment for 30 years and watched the street fall apart. There've been six bloody muggings in the elevator of his building within the past couple of years. Once upon a time, people would get out of his way when he walked down the street. How's he going to defend himself now?
Do you know what it's like to be desperate and lost? If you do, this is my Christmas card for you. I give you the warmth of knowing you are not alone. It's little warmth to give, and yet what is there to a Christmas card but paper, some bright colors and sentiment?
This Christmas, huddle together. Then go out and fight till you drop. The fight is to breathe. The fight is to maintain your dignity as a human being. This is a Christmas card for all my friends. They are the people who won't give up the struggle to live. ##NEXT:PART 8: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ: JUNE 12, 1998 IN CENTRAL PARK; AN INTERNATIONAL CONVOCATION OF THE BEST MINDS!
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