Wednesday, December 11, 2013



      Every year, I'd circle hundreds of items in the Sears and JCPenny catalogues — circle first, then go through a second time, add a check to the things I really needed, and, on third time through, star the items that were essential for life — easy peasy for your shopping convenience. But my needs went unfulfilled, it was as if my parents didn't understand the meaning of Christmas.

      December 1977, top of the list — pocket knife. Testosterone had finally kicked in. It was going to be A Very, Very, Butch Christmas Special. A knife and an eight-year-old boy — what could possibly go wrong?

 "No," Mom said, in a sporadic moment of parental clarity. "It's not happening, no knives." Some version the following conversation played out through the month of December.

 Mom — He's going to cut himself.
Me — No, I'm not.
Dad — Loretta, quit babying him.

      I could tell from the way Dad looked at me, brow furrowed and head cocked, he too thought it was a bad idea. But honestly, I think he was just thrilled it wasn't an EZ-Bake oven like last year.

      Christmas 1976 I asked for an EZ-Bake Oven. Perfect, right? Cakes. Who doesn't want cake on demand? Sorry, while you schmucks spend your time choking down Mother's cabbage rolls at the dinner table, I'll be in my room having a freshly baked cake. Ah freedom, it smelled like cream-cheese frosting.

     My mom, the answer — “EZ bake oven? No. That’s a girl’s toy.”

      Toy? It wasn't a toy. It was a means to end. Are you really going to refuse me piping-hot chocolate cake in the privacy of my room to satisfy your own heterosexual agenda, hateful,wicked, cake-depriving woman?

     Apparently, yes, she was. She was determined to mold me into the man she wanted me to be. That man was not a pastry chef, a gymnast, or a tap dancer. No. No. No.

     So, I didn’t get the oven, but it was a mixed-message Christmas miracle. Without even having asked for him, I got Stretch Armstrong. Stretch in all his muscly glory and blue Speedo was crazy hot. So, I took the perfectly smooth, tan-skinned doll and begged my sister to use her oven. I had my eye on the devil's food cake. How exotic, food from the devil, one of Satan’s tasty little treats right there in my sister’s closet.

      She, of course, power hungry and cake stingy, declined. She said it was too much trouble to get the oven out of the box — lazy, just plain lazy. But the chocolate devil tempted me and I devised a plan to sneak into her room, take the oven back to mine, and bake the cake.

     I'd definitely have to sneak as I'd been banned from going into her room when she wasn't in it. The week before I'd cut Barbie's hair — Dorothy Hamil Wedge, the latest style. Under her bed, hidden away, all Anne Frank-like, was a box overflowing with Barbies. The wedge was not as easy of cut as you might imagine, especially given Barbie's over-processed hair. But by the time I'd gotten to the last Barbie, I was pretty good at it. Do you think my sister was grateful? No, she was not.

      Sensing I was up to no good, she lingered in her room, and I was unable to get to the oven. Perhaps I'd stared too longingly at the closet doors that hid the EZ- Bake. Satan's delicious treatsies and Christmas — a combination that wasn't meant to be. After the previous year's girl-centric toy obsession,

     Surely, Christmas 1977 would be different. There was a good chance I would get the macho, tough-guy, present I'd asked for. You would've thought my parents would be fumbling over themselves to buy me a pocket knife - a knife, a hand grenade, a hooker, anything that screamed, "Yes, my son is a heterosexual. Thank you for noticing."

     "Why do you want a pocket knife?" Mom asked.

     Why? Why was hard to explain, other than to whittle. That's what Jed did, and he was millionaire living in Beverly Hills. And that's what I wanted — to sit in front of my mansion whittling with Jethro and Granny.

     "I plan to carve a wooden flute."

     Mommy's face soured. Flutes apparently were not macho. Fortunately, I saved her from having an outright stroke. I didn't tell her the master plan was to eventually carve a French horn, perhaps the gayest instrument of all time.

     December 24 came. The presents were neatly packed beneath the tree. I rifled through them. None were small enough to be a pocket knife. The stores closed early on Christmas Eve. There was precious little time for Mom and Dad to fulfill their parental obligations.

     "Walmart is open until five, maybe six. You better leave now, just to be safe. I'm sure they have pocket knives."

     "Bill, I told you, you're too young. Maybe next year."

     "How old do you have to be to actually start getting stuff you want?"
     "You get more than you need. Don't be greedy."

     Here's the thing — It's not greed if you really want it. And I wanted it. But she didn't understand eight-year-old-boy logic. Christmas-Eve sleep was always fitful, but especially so when you know you're doomed to stay unarmed for eternity. But that morning, in my stocking was a crudely wrapped package. Twisted red paper and enough tape to restrain a small dog — It had been dad-wrapped.
     The size, the weight, the shape — all were perfect for a pocket knife. It was a Christmas conundrum. The pocket knife was in my hand, but it would take a pocket knife to get through the Fort Knox wrapping. Like a wolf trying to free its leg from a trap, I gnawed at the tape until it gave way.

      Pocket knife! Thank you, baby Jesus.

     With my weak girly arms I was unable to spring the blade from the handle, a defeat I didn't see coming. When Dad finally opened it for me, it smelled of WD-40 and danger. Closing it was easier, and I assume, since I was unable to reopen it, Mom and Dad figured there would be no blood spilled Christmas morning.

     However, once in the safety of my room, using my teeth and every bit of strength in my neck, I freed the blade from its prison. I had a block of wood from The Cub Scout Pinewood Derby still in its original, uncarved, rectangular shape. That was about to change. It was time to commence a'whittling.

     The blade felt cold as it sliced through my flesh, not at all what I would've thought. Less then a minute after opening the knife, I got to see what the tendons in my thumb look like — white with a bit of clear fluid. The key to whittling is to whittle away from the hand holding the wood, not towards. Who knew a lesson awaited on Christmas morn.

      It was the longest, deepest cut anyone, anywhere, had ever, ever had. Yet, there was surprisingly little blood. I assume it was because my heart stopped the minute I cut myself.

     Mom — He's going to cut himself.
     Me — No, I'm not.

      I couldn't risk putting a Band Aid on my thumb and letting Mom know she'd been right. That would be a bad precedent to set. If I kept my thumb hyperextended the edges of the cut stayed approximated and there was no bleeding. So, I spent Christmas Day pretending I was Arthur Fonzerelli. "Ay!"

     They never found out.
     And I never whittled a flute.
     That's not a euphemism. Get your mind out of the gutter.