A blue moon of a different color. As the full moon rose this evening, I was struck by the plain-vanilla look and feel of our nearest celestial neighbor. There was nothing blue about it, and my eyes were open wide, as they always are when they expect a special treat.

I won't say I'm disappointed, because that would imply an expectation of some sort. That's never a good idea where lunar phenomena are concerned. Instead, I'll just chalk it up to poor timing, and hope the hues are more favorable where you live, moonwise.

Up next: 2010. Is this getting predictable, or what?


Improvising Stew

A colorful holiday dish.

Holiday cheer may be muted by unfortunate events, but that doesn't mean it has to be kicked in the ribs afterward. That sort of thuggish behavior has no place at the table, and doesn't sit well in the ornamental chairs my grandmother so lovingly painted while she waited for the stew to congeal.

This year, it was tradition I had in mind as I prepared my own version of her celebrated holiday stew. The exact ingredients she used are lost, alas, in the mists of time, but that's where improvisation comes in. During the holiday season the air is thick with candy canes, which lend credibility to any festive dish. The small citrus fruit is a crucial ingredient, because holiday stew isn't worth beans if it isn't colorful.

Having accounted for the primary ingredients, I turned my attention to the stethoscope around my neck. I use this to listen for the telltale sound of boiling water, which, as my grandmother so relentlessly pointed out, is the crucial point in any culinary process. Then, satisfied that the liquid had reached its optimum state, I added the final ingredients.

I believe granny would agree that cotton socks simply make better stew, but as the kids are so fond of saying nowadays, your mileage may vary. In a similar way, the cigarette you choose for your own holiday stew is largely a matter of taste, while the number of miles you're willing to walk to obtain the smoothest blend is not.


My Stained Christmas

O, those ugly stains . . . Oh mama. Yesterday's attempt to short-circuit the holiday wishing well has gone terribly wrong, and it's all my fault. I thought I was so smart wishing for a lump of coal and some cramps, but the reverse psychology that should have saved me has backfired, leaving me with a waterlogged ceiling that willif all goes according to planfall into my open mouth during the night.

Like furnace failure, plumbing defects always come to light on holidays. Whether or not this is attributable to a secret agreement between Santa and the local plumbers' union, it's plain that the root of this evil lies squarely in the realm of karmic backlash.

So the joke is on me, and I'll do the crying myself. I hate you, Santa Clause.


All We Really Need

Light Teetering on the edge of Christmas, custom dictates what we wish upon others. Old favorites like Peace and Joy, All Our Best, and the all-encompassing Season's Greetings make a long story short. After all, I don't know what you really want for Christmas, do I?

Of course not. But whatever it is, I hope you don't get it. Instead, I hope you get what you need, especially if you aren't sure what that might be.

I hope I do, too.


Vanishing Point

Gone, but not forgotten. What a strange week. I knew something was missing the minute I saw Monday, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I tried everything, but nothing provided the sort of insight needed to solve the puzzle. Putting my finger on the shriveled grape I found under the refrigerator was fruitless, and the bit of lint in my navel only made me giggle when I touched it. I'm ticklish anyway, but my bellybutton is exceptionally reactive. I worry about it coming undone, which might be a dangerous situation if rudder control is lost and I accidentally fly through the kitchen window before someone has the chance to open it first. I didn't want to touch the old woman who lives next door, because sometimes people don't understand my motives as well as I do.

Tuesday came and went, but I wasn't any closer to an answer than I had been the day before, which was Monday. I'm going to skip over Wednesday and Thursday, which were so much like the first part of the week that there wouldn't be any point in discussing them. Friday was different, but not in the sense that I had anything figured out, so I'm going to jump ahead to Sunday. I don't like Sundays, but I think the reasons for that go back to childhood, where I was forced to sit at the table all day and eat sauerkraut and red cabbages without anything to drink. I hate short pants, too, but that doesn't really have anything to do with my story.

As it turns out, there were five or six drops of irony in the feeling that something was missing, because the missing thing was a feeling, so I wasn't feeling something so much as I wasn't feeling it, if you see what I mean. The gradual tapering of head pain at the end of a cluster-headache cycle means that I haven't been entirely pain-free since Julythat is, until this past week. It's a strange sensation, this nothingness between my ears. I'm not sure what to do with it.

Since you're sitting there wondering what happened to Saturday, I may as well come out and admit that I have no memory of anything that happened after foolishly downloading a certain ballad, and even more foolishly, listening to it . . .

Holding back the flood
Just don't do no good
You can't unclench your teeth
To howl the way you should

. . . before bursting into tears. Music is funny that way.


Lightness and Darkitude

Every picture tells a story, but not every story makes sense. Whenever I hear someone say that life isn't black and white, I have to laugh. Well, I don't have to, exactly. I know it's a decision, like spreading grape jelly on my shirts before ironing them, or staring directly into oncoming headlights instead of stepping onto the shoulder. Not that I would actually do that, of course. I haven't ironed my shirts in years.

Whether I decide to laugh out loud or cry in quiet, the little voice in my head reminds me that both are just two sides of the same coina Roosevelt dime, specificallywhich doesn't go very far when the time comes to buy favors from local politicians. "Caw!" says the little voice, and I can only nod and smile. I don't think laughter is an appropriate response, because that only encourages it.

Like a square wave at sea, life's binary, on-or-off, yes-or-no nature deserves an in-kind response from its participants. The frustrating palette of black and white thrust upon us by angry gods and their ambivalent overseers needn't lock us into a life of groping and bruised mouths. Just because it's too dark to find the switch doesn't mean we shouldn't go out and buy fireflies, or glowworms.


Tic Talk

How many tics in a jitter? Are you working? If you have a job, this question is as familiar to you as the locations of the stairwells and closets you use to escape the incessant hazing by superiors and coworkers, whose unwelcome intrusions into your none-of-their-business activities so often ruin an otherwise productive day. Fortunately, whether your response to the question is delivered with a carefree toss of the head or in a more venomous way, repeated insinuations of shiftlessness simply indicate a lack of understanding of the proper definition of work, which really isn't your problem at all.

Work equals force times distance. Take, for example, the hypercaffeinated worker whose spastic jittering could be mistaken for actual work by similarly incapacitated coworkers struggling to control the sparking within their own fields of vision. Converted to their kinetic equivalents, facial tics and other bodily Force equals work divided by distance. vibrations are sometimes evaluated with the primitive work equals force times distance formula used to justify continued employment, but rearranging the formulaas I've done on the rightdemonstrates just how misguided that approach really is.

Clearly, when distance is equal to zeroas it must be, since the twitchy employee never left her deskthe resulting force takes on the same irrational character that always comes from dividing something by nothing. In other words, it doesn't matter how many ticks there are in an houror an eight-hour daywhen no work is being done in the first place.

In the second place, simply exerting a force doesn't necessarily mean that work is being done, because if life were that simple I could spend my entire workday pushing on the wall. As it is, I can only do that for six hours, give or take, before my boss begins to wonder if I'm really working. I hate my job.


My Irrational Evening

Division by zero: It's what's for dinner. I got up this evening
On the inside of zero
Subtraction left nothing
Addition the same
The product of nothing
And nothing left nothing
But wide empty spaces
With nothing between
But then I saw zero
Below me
And suddenly nothing
Was real anymore.

Thanks to Craig and Gary for triggering this irrationality.

Consonants on Ice

Don't let negative temperatures rob you of meaningful speech. Stay away from that flagpole! We got up this morning
On the wrong side of zero
The flagpoles were covered
With neighborhood tongues
"Don't do it!" we shouted
But they wouldn't listen
So now they have vowels
With nothing between.

Eating Friends

Half-eaten friend. I am the eater of donuts
And kind of small
Am I empty?
Donuts fill the void
Distended but happy
A small price to pay
For small donuts
Small chocolate donuts
My friends
I love them
And they love me
But I think their feelings
Were stronger
Before I bit them.