Season 6, Episode 9: We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Ahhh! Season 6! Is that you? You snuck up me so quietly and boringly for the first few episodes that I totally wasn’t prepared for all the Big Things that happened in this one. You’ve got to be more careful when you do things all sudden-like. I totally almost stabbed you with this tricked out broom handle.

Father Abraham Had 7 Sons

7 sons had father Abraham. And they never laughed (ha!) And they never cried (boo!) All they did was go like this:

Peggy Olson Had 2 Dads

And she’s used to being their favorite child, but they both put her in unfair positions and then left her feeling alone and rejected this week. The show has never really addressed it, but I think it’s worth noting that Peggy’s actual father died when she was relatively young, leaving her in the care of an overprotective, conservative mother. Does her uncertainty about what she needs from other male role models in her life stem from her lack of a father figure in her formative years? And if so, is this confusion of sexual desire with parental approval a factor in her intangible kindred-spirit-ship with Don? (“Why is sex the definition of being close to someone?”)

Bobby Draper Had 4 Parents

And he seems to genuinely like them all. Poor kid’s gonna have some issues when he gets old enough to understand the whole picture a little better, but he seems pretty happy for now, so good on him.

Don Draper Had 3 Wives

Not all at the same time, but, ya know. And the one he had the most meaningful, honest connection with was the one with whom he was never physically or romantically intimate. Hm.

I find myself thinking about Season 1’s Kodak Carousel presentation pretty often when dissecting newer episodes. So much on this show is about nostalgia for a past that didn’t really exist the way you remember it. Don and Betty are both perfectly aware that the good moments of their marriage were few and far between, but there were enough of them to reminisce about. We’ve all been there; having a momentary set-back in which we miss a relationship that we know was ultamately damaging, but it takes exceptional screenwriting and acting talent to bring the audience there with the characters. I distinctly remembering the violent hatred I had for Don’s treatment of Betty when they were married, and yet when they were sitting there on those cabin steps I was aching for them to kiss like it was the last scene of a Meg Ryan movie. I’m not proud of it, but I was.

Roger Sterling Had 1 Grandson Who Is Older Than His Son

Seriously. Take a minute and wrap your head around that. I can’t wait for the episode of the super trashy 80’s spin-off when the two little Sterlings both fall in love with Tammy Campbell and fight it out, not realizing their relationship to each other.

Also, to everyone who wasn’t convinced that Kevin was Roger’s biological son, do you believe me now?

Joan Harris Had 1 Husband, 1 Baby-Daddy, and Bob

I forget: Are Joan and The Rapist Greg divorced or what? I was surprised to hear her say that she’s raising her son to think his father is a war hero. That’s a lie in so many ways it just doesn’t even seem worth it. Also, are she and Bob, like, dating now? There’s been some rumblings around the internet that he might be gay. I don’t think so, but if he is, Joan knows it. This is a woman you can’t fool. If he’s using her a beard, she’s in on it, and getting at least as much out of the bargain as he is. What I want to know is how did they get to the point in their relationship where they’re spending weekends at the beach together? Are they friends? Lovers? Something in between? I love the way the show makes you feel like you’ve missed something. Only AMC has the cojones to take a potentially alientating approach like that.

Sterling-Cooper-Cutler-Gleason-Chaeiouyghugh-Harris-Campbell-Krane-Draper-Pryce Had Too Many Partners

Although as Pete Campbell’s Bitchface so tactfully noted, “two of those men are as dead as door nails.” Is that how they’re going to sort out the name, direction, and organization of their new agency? Cage-fight to the death? It would certainly be fun to watch. We haven’t seen fisticuffs in quite awhile. Plus, anything’s got to be a more solid career move than whining to Duck. How did he end up a head-hunter anyway? Does anyone take him seriously?

 

As a concluding thought, a quick piece of advice to all the gentlemen reading this: If you kiss a girl and she asks, “What are you doing?” the correct answer is, “Waiting for you to tell me to stop.”

Mad Men Season 6, Episode 3: Thanks, Clearasil

I admire Matthew Weiner’s daring. No other show I can think of jumps around so much from place to place and character to character, disorienting the audience with unclearly presented flashbacks and sudden references to minor details from early seasons.

One of the main story lines in “The Collaborators” was the next phase of Peggy’s five-year-and-counting transformation from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. We see her trying, and failing, to achieve the status of Respected Superior without crossing over into Ridiculed Tyrant territory, and contemplating using a friend’s confidence against him. Both these things keep her working late which, we can only assume, will take a toll on her relationship with Abe, a relationship which, in turn, has damaged her already fragile relationship with her family. (I sure hope we haven’t seen the last of Ma Olson. I wonder how she feels about this whole Copy Chief thing. Probably not good. Also, are we ever gonna talk about the baby again? Please tell me he ends up in school with Gene Draper or something. How does everybody feel about a “Mad Men: The New Class” style spin-off that takes place in the 70’s? I can totally see teenage Sally and Creepy Glen hanging out in Eric Foreman’s basement.)

ANYWAY, amid all the hubbub over at Peggy’s new job, did you notice that subtle reference to the fact that they represent Clearasil? What do you think this is all about? An Easter Egg for Mad Men nerds who will get a chuckle out of Pete Campbell’s Epic Failure at Everything? A planted seed to remember for a later episode in which Pete puts on his best bitchface at the realization that Peggy got something he lost? Or better yet, a face-to-face meeting between Peggy and Trudy’s dad? Or is it simply the fact that the writers have created this world so perfectly down to the last detail that they had long ago decided Clearasil had gone to Ted Chaough and the reference to the account was just conversational filler?

This is the stuff that makes the show endlessly re-watchable. You can watch every episode as many time as there are characters and focus on a different point of view each time and find something that you missed before.

What are your thoughts? Will Peggy betray Stan? Does she care that she has the account that Pete should have or has she turned Draper enough that it doesn’t even occur to her? Are Don and Megan gonna have a baby? If they do, will it come out with really funny teeth? Which characters are the most sympathetic this season?

Embracing the madness,

Jane

Mad Men Season 6 Premier: Oh My God They Killed Kenny

The Mad Men Season 6 premier, like my friend I watched it with who halfway through the evening casually dropped the fact that she got married last month, threw out a whole bunch of critical information with such little context as to be severely disorienting.

Oh…so apparently Megan got a job on a soap opera. Don’s back to cheating. Roger’s in therapy. SCDP bought more office space and a whole new supporting cast. Peggy is the new Don. Something about a violin.

It becomes difficult to separate the important from the parenthetical.

I won’t dwell on the episode’s themes of existential angst and preoccupation with death, as everyone else on the internet has already done that. I want to point out something that you may have missed amid all the rest of the mess. Something that made me sad in a small and unexpected way.

Remember little Kenny Cosgove? The fun-loving frat boy who wasn’t smart enough to be as mean spirited and ruthless as his coworkers? Ken is the guy who’s completely oblivious to Sal’s big gay crush on him, going so far as to say that he wishes he could have as happy a marriage someday as Sal and Kitty have. The guy who cheerfully and graciously accepts the awkward news that he’ll be going directly against his best buddy, Pete Campbell’s Bitchface, for the Head of Account Services job. The genius who brings a ride-on lawnmower into an office populated by the short-sighted and chronically drunk.

Ken has never done anything really mean, with the exception of that time he called Peggy fat, but that read more like a twelve-year-old excited to use a dirty word he just learned than an actual insult.

And yet, somewhere between the end of season 5 and the beginning of season 6, he seems to have finally let the cut-throat mentality of SCDP rub off on him just a little bit. Remember that scene in the lobby where he yells at Random New Guy #6 (or whatever his name is) for sending the deli plate to Roger’s mother’s funeral? He publicly berates him for making the misguided but thoughtful gesture, reminds him that he was not invited, and then tells him to get back to work so that it doesn’t look like people are just sitting around the office with nothing to do.

When have we ever seen Ken Cosgrove do anything at the office other drink with the boys and sexually harass secretaries? This outburst from him had Betty’s venom combined with Roger’s hypocrisy and Pete’s tact.

Peggy’s transformation into The Creature from the Black Madison Avenue was a bigger deal for several reasons, but at least we saw that coming. Anyone who’s been paying attention from the beginning knows that Don got some on her when he visited her at the hospital and she’s never been quite the same. But how are we expected to make it through this season if they keep taking away what little likeability and comic relief effect that the minor characters have?

“Burlington”

There’s package in the mail.  Well, “package” is a strong word.  It was really just a brown paper grocery bag wrapped around a small bundle of cloth.  It’s postmarked Bethesda, Maryland, and with no return address.  It has been sent to my street address in Framingham, but the ZIP code, instead of 01701, says 01721; the area code I had last year when I lived in Ashland.  As I make my way upstairs with the brown bag in my hands, I do all the stupid things you do with a gift whose surprise you want to prolong.  I shake it, squeeze it, try to guess what it could possibly be.

Anna Goodman is the only person I know in Bethesda, Maryland.  I try to remember the last time I hear from her, and I can’t.  I’m pretty sure I sent her our routine “I’m not engaged or pregnant” check-in text message at some point in the last few weeks, but she hasn’t gotten back to me.  I’m due for some sign, however eccentric, that was she’s still alive and well.

Once inside my apartment, I pull a chair out from the dining room table- careful not to pull too hard on the top and have it come off as it has a tendency to do (for sixty-five dollars at Goodwill, what do you expect?)- and sit down to unwrap the package.

The paper breaks away to reveal a shirt:  A black tank top with orange and green writing.  “Nectar’s: Since 1975” it read.  And on the back: “Fresh Music Served Daily”.

I sit and stare at it for a moment, blinking and shaking my head, searching for a clue to the puzzle.  And then, there the answer is. Of course! Nectar’s!  How could I forget?

Anna and I go back a long way.  Almost twenty years now, to when we were both in the second grade and taking piano lessons from Ms. McJunkin.  At that year’s spring’s recital, all the children performing were sitting together in the audience, and during the boredom that was waiting for everyone else to go on, Anna and I became fast friends through a game that we made up which involved ripping up the programs and making silly sentences based on names of songs and performers.

Take a poll of Anna’s large, diverse body of friends and acquaintances and ask them how they met her.  A few will give you normal answers like “we work together”, but the majority will say something like “She was in line behind me at a coffee shop and when I dropped my change she helped me pick it up” or “We sat next to each other on a Greyhound from Hartford to Newark”.

So, in that context, it’s not so strange that in my mid-20’s I’m still friends with the girl I chatted with at piano recitals in elementary school.  I’m no longer in touch with any of Ms. McJunkin’s other students, but I believe Anna still speaks to a few of them.

Now, this is great on one level.  Every crowd needs someone like Anna to break the ice in case of social awkwardness around new people, or to come up with an adult equivalent of the ripping the program game in case of an otherwise boring night in.  But her ever-expanding social circle coupled with her spontaneous personality make keeping up with her on more than a superficial level very difficult.  Even when we lived in the same town, I was rarely able to pin her down for more than half an hour at a time before she had to go skipping off to the next engagement.  The farther in advance I would try to carve out time, the more likely it was that she would cancel on me.

And so, the summer before our senior year of college, when we were both back home in Guilford, Connecticut and throwing around the idea of taking a road trip, I waited until the last possible moment to ask for the time off work.

But on the scheduled day, there she was, in her beat-up blue Volvo station wagon, ready to hit the open road.  I tossed my overnight bag in her back seat, popped the playlist I’d made entitled “The Most Amazing Road Tip Mix Ever” into the CD player, and off we went.

We didn’t have a set-in-stone itinerary of course.  There were some friends in New Hampshire and Massachusetts we wanted to visit, some places we wanted to see, a financial budget that was comically small, and a time constraint of one week.

We also had goals we’d set for ourselves, just to see if we could do it.  Some were more attainable than others.  For example, we wanted to be vegetarian the whole week (not so bad) and we wanted to go the entire time only buying from independent stores; no chains or franchises (We clearly hadn’t factored in the idea of gasoline.)

A relative early start allowed us to make it to Northampton by lunch time.  No particular reason why Northampton, except that Anna had been there for a track meet once, and had deemed it a “cool place”.  It was everything our dirty hippy life-on-the-road hearts had desired.  We spent the afternoon eating at a vegetarian café owned by a folk musician, and browsing shops where everything seemed to be made out of hemp.

Around three o’clock we got back in the car for the second leg of that day’s journey.  The plan was to spend the night at a campground in Burlington, Vermont that was rumored to exist.  I honestly don’t remember whether we even brought a tent.  We must have at least had sleeping bags…right?

Anyway, make it to Burlington we did.  And once we got there it was love at first sight.  Anyone who has spent time in downtown Burlington knows the wonderful dichotomy of lake and mountains if you look to the left, and pedestrians-only brick street shopping district to the right.  We parked the car and made our way along the path, stopping here and there to watch the street performers that gather on the sidewalks during warm weather, hoping to part a few tourists with their money; musicians, magicians, a boy who looked to be all of sixteen juggling bowling balls on a skateboard.

There was still the problem of where we were to find a place to sleep though.  And it was getting dark.  I was all for trying to locate a library or somewhere there might be tourist information or at least a map of the town.  (This was in the days before we all constantly carried around the internet in our back pockets.)  Anna, however, opted for a much more direct approach.  I lost sight of her for a moment and when I turned around, there she was, a few blocks away, engaged in conversation with a girl about our own age with dread locks and a flowing peasant skirt.  After awhile, to my surprise and confusion, they seemed to exchange phone numbers.  They then waved goodbye and Anna ran back to where I had been staring at a bulletin board vainly trying to find a clue as to where one might find lodging in Burlington.

“Lauren says the campground is really close to here, but it’s kind of expensive.”

“Lauren?” I began.

“She says we can stay with her tonight.”

“What?”

“And she wants us to go see this band with her later at Nectar’s.”

I thought about this turn of events for a moment, and realized that deep down I had half expected something like this to happen.  After all, we were looking for an adventure, weren’t we?

“All right.”  I said.  “I’m in.  What’s Nectar’s?”

Nectar’s turned out to be exactly the kind of hippy watering hole you would expect to find in such a town.

Except that it also wasn’t.  The band, “Greg Mayo and the Groove”, had sort of a funk/soul sound that was in keeping with the whole Burlington persona.  But the band members were all wearing button-down shirts and khaki pants, as if to bridge some gap in the demographic of their audience, which, as I looked around, I realized was exactly what they were doing.  For every part-time barista/full-time starving artist at Nectar’s, there was a businessman in his forties enjoying a late happy hour with the guys from the office.  And the stranger thing was that these two groups of people were mingling with each other.  As the night wore on, everyone began to dance.  And everyone seemed to know each other, as if they did this very thing every night of the week.

This was not the New England I knew.  In the New England I knew, next-door neighbors went months in between so much as a wave at the mailbox.  In my New England, kids barely spoke to each other on the school bus.  Retail transactions were made with a bare minimum of eye contact.  When the summer people came from New York with their big cars and their noisy children, it embarrassed both our Puritan work ethic and our Catholic guilt.  Whose woods these are…I’m really not sure.

At some point in the evening, Anna and I must have worried that Lauren wouldn’t show up and we would have no place to go when the bartender finally turned the lights up and asked everyone to hurry up, please, it’s time.  I have to believe to that we must have had at least that much foresight or common sense, but I really don’t remember.  Anyway, Lauren did show up, and her offer still stood.  It must have been shortly after that that we decided we needed a souvenir.

The shirts were overpriced the way mementos and tourist junk always are, especially in places where alcohol is being served.  Remember that comically small financial budget?  We weren’t doing so well sticking to that, but we couldn’t let ourselves get out of this bar, this night, this town, without proof that it had all actually happened.  And so we decided that we would buy just one shirt and mail back and forth to each other periodically as a way of keeping in touch. (And I promise you the idea was completely original.  It was before anyone had ever heard of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.)

So we bought the shirt and shoved it in the enormous bag of tricks that Anna insists on lugging around everywhere, making room for it next the deck of cards, the roll of stamps, the pitch pipe and the avocado, and I finished off the night quietly sipping my Malibu and Coke and shaking my head as my travelling companion struck up one flighty conversation after another with Lauren’s friends, the business man who had just proposed to his girlfriend and bought a celebratory round for everyone in the place, even Greg Mayo himself.

The next morning, though, I awoke to the sun in my eyes, streaming through the window of the unfurnished spare bedroom that Lauren just happened to have.  On the other side of the room Anna still snored.  I walked through the silent house, taking stock of my surroundings.  Out the window I could see Lauren’s yard much better than I had the night before.  A tire swing hung from a maple tree, and beyond that I could see Lake Champlain.

As I got more acclimated to the new day, the worrier that I naturally am began to come to the surface with a dozen questions.  Where was everybody?  We can’t just leave without thanking our host.  Did I oversleep? Will I step on a board and wake up some room mate of Lauren’s I have yet to meet and make him or her mad?  Is the car safe where we left it? Where did we leave the car?  Does Lauren regret letting us stay at her place and now she’s left for fear that we’re murderers?

The shrill of a telephone on the kitchen counter interrupted my runaway thoughts.  I stared at it as it rang twice, three times, eight times.  There didn’t seem to be an answering machine.  On the twelfth ring I finally picked it up.  It was Lauren.

“Oh hey Jane” she said with the utmost nonchalance, as if I picked up her telephone every day. “I had to go to work.  Would you mind walking the dog?”

I’ve asked myself a dozen times since then whether Lauren would have opened her home to just anyone, or if Anna’s ineffable charm got to her too.  I’ve never met anyone who can get away with quite as much as she can.  The most improbable things just seem natural coming from this woman.  Maybe it’s in her blood.  Her sister has managed to hitch-hike across continental Europe on multiple occasions with no negative repercussions, and has actually made lasting friendships that way.  And their mother’s sister, well, she’s married to the bass guitar player of a very famous rock band.  I’m not making this up, I swear.

Back in the present, I sweep the dining room table with my hand, searching in vain for a note I may have missed.  But there is none, of course.  Anna has, on the spur of the moment no doubt, simply wrapped the shirt in brown paper, scrawled an (incorrect) address on it, and brought it down to the post office on her way to her next adventure.

“A Thrill of Hope”

The gas light is on. Shit.

Remember that band Gaslight Anthem? What did they sing? Never mind; just keep your eye out for someplace to fill up. It would be all you need to break down out here.

Or maybe it would be for the best. Just go until the car stops and wait.

How long would it take? All night? Less if I took my clothes off? What if I took my clothes off and got out of the car and lay down in the snow? Certainly it wouldn’t be long then.

What a way to go, though. It would hurt. How much am I holding? An eighth? A little less? If I drove until I ran out of gas and then smoked the whole thing and took off my clothes and rolled down the windows, would I just doze off and wake up in that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns?

No. with my luck a cop would wake me up and my family would spend Christmas Eve in jail again.

If anyone even bothered to come bail me out.

On the radio someone who isn’t even The Carpenters assures me that everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe/help to make the season bright. I change the channel and Mariah Carey wails that all she wants for Christmas is me. I doubt that, but thanks anyway, Mariah. Another switch of the station and a desperate used car salesman wishes me “Happy Honda-Days.” That’s it. Enough with the radio. I shove the fake cassette tape into the player. You remember those. The kind with a wire coming out of one side; a wire that plugged into your iPod. That’s how old my piece of shit Corrolla is.

I press play on the iPod and nothing happens. The damned thing’s batteries are dead. So much for the suicide attempt. No way I’m slowly freezing to death without a little exit music. Unless…maybe there’s something in the CD player. I pull the jack out of the iPod and shove it into the Disc-Man on the passenger seat. That’s how old my piece of shit Corrolla is.

I press that button and am confronted with the voice of chuck Palahnuik of all people. What the hell is this doing in here? Has it really been so long since I’ve listened to a CD in my car?

Michelle gave me this for my birthday back in March. And then she stuck it out for another three months. If you’re dating the kind of guy for whom you’d get a collection of live readings by Chuck Palahniuk as a birthday present, it’s a sign you’re dating some who’s not exactly stable.

You know Chuck Palahniuk, right? The guy who wrote Fight Club? If you’re unfamiliar with his other work, rest assured that Fight Club is the most well-known because that cult classic ode to violence and insanity is one of his tamer pieces. One of the ones that could legally be made into a movie. Compared to some of the stories on this particular CD, Fight Club seems downright G-rated. Compared to the story about the woman who watches all night as her co-worker’s skin slowly melts off and his organs cook after he falls into a hot spring. Compared to the story about the boy who loses most of his large intestine in an accident so unthinkable it can’t not be based on truth. Compared to the story about the journalism major who’s stuck working a job he hates for minimum wage.

I think Michelle was beginning to realize, even then, that this darkness, this obsession with the horrible things that go on every day and don’t get talked about, it wasn’t just a phase for me, or a form of escapism. I read Chuck Palahniuk and Brett Easton Ellis and Anthony Burgess and Hubert Selby, Jr.- I watched Mad Men and Breaking Bad- because I know that that’s how things are. Things aren’t just bad in third world countries where bombs go off and orphans are forced into prostitution. Things are bad everywhere. The secrets that the American middle class keeps would frighten one of those third world orphans just as much as any of the shit they’ve seen.

Michelle started calling me Alvy after the Woody Allen character who always wanted to watch The Sorrow and the Pity over and over again. It was her way of trying to make my obsession with the darkness a joke. Not just to play it off as a joke, but to actually force it to be a joke.

Last year, at Christmas with her family, I took one look at the Nativity scene on their living room floor and went on a rant about how hypocritical it is that in the winter when we need cheering up because it’s dark and cold all the time, we tell ourselves a story about a baby bringing peace, and in the spring when we’ve forgotten what it was like to be in the cold and the dark, we take this innocent little baby and we make him grow up. We have the people closest to him betray him. We have him publicly humiliated, tortured and killed by a totalitarian regime with his own people cheering them on just because they don’t have television.

As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well with Michelle’s family. But she stuck it out for another six months anyway. I don’t know why. I wanted to ask her that, when she finally ended it, but what came out of my mouth was a baser, more pointless question about whether she had someone else lined up already. When I asked her that she- I could see it in her face- she almost slapped me.

But she left instead.

And now, this year, I have nowhere to go for Christmas but to my family. My parents, fighting. My father drinking. My mother drinking. My sister Jamie’s baby crying. Her husband yelling at the baby for crying. Her yelling at him for yelling at the baby. My grandmother yelling. Not knowing who or where she is. Just yelling, because it’s all that’s left.

Shit. There was a gas station. I’ve got to pay better attention.

Michelle and I read the dark stories together at first. She liked the structure of them. She liked to say phrases like “unreliable narrator” and “tragedy of the common man.” English major phrases. They made her feel safe. As if giving something a name could really curb its power, like Rumpelstiltskin.

She’s been gone from my life for six months, but she isn’t really gone. She’s here in this car right now, in the CD she gave me, in the little tray of coins in front of the arm rest that she dug out from under the seats and put where they belonged. In the cigarette hole in the passenger seat from the night she fell asleep on the way back from the Mettalica show with the Parliament in her hand.

I should have woken her up. She could have hurt herself. Maybe the next guy will be the kind of guy who wakes her up when she falls asleep with a cigarette in her hand. He’ll be the kind of guy without holes in the seat of his car.

It’s after nine already and I’m only halfway there. Maybe Grandma’s gone to bed. Maybe Jamie isn’t coming until tomorrow. Maybe I can just sneak upstairs and not talk to anyone.

Manny asked me if I wanted to leave work early tonight. I should have said no. I could have put another hour between me and the most wonderful time of the year. I could have stayed until Sav-Mor Liquors closed. Maybe had a drink with Manny. Finished off what was left of the peppermint vodka that was out for sampling.

No. he would’ve been in a hurry to get home to his family. Some people are, I guess.

The story about a teenager’s unpleasant experience with LSD ends, and the story called “Crisis Management” comes on. It’s about a guy who puts up stickers with his phone number on them all over town. He pretends it’s a suicide hotline. Desperate, sad, young, misguided people call him, and if he doesn’t feel like talking to them he casually tells them to kill themselves. He does this for entertainment. For a sense of purpose.

Michelle was less impressed with the Narrative Structure of this one. She said she thought he wrote it just for shock value. Just to be edgy.

When it’s over, I hit the “stop” button. That’s enough for now, even for me. Especially for me. Maybe suicide is the answer. Not because of any grandiose whiny shit about how no one understands me or I just can’t take it anymore because things are too hard, but just…because I don’t really give a crap, you know? I’m not stupid. I know my family will be sad. They might even blame themselves. But someday they’ll be dead too and it just won’t matter.

The shit that I do every day. That I waste time on. How many hours, days, weeks have I spent tying my shoes? Fumbling with the keys to my apartment? Wiping my ass?

I know now that I’ll never go back for my Master’s degree. Never put serious work into trying to find a better job. Even now I’m polluting the air with the exhaust from my car to get somewhere I don’t even want to go that won’t in any way make the world a better place. I should leave what few resources are left on this planet for someone who gives a shit. Who sees a point. Who’s trying to do something good, something new. However misguided that effort may be.

Or better yet some dumb animal who just wants to eat a nut or something and then bed down for the winter and isn’t capable of failing to fulfill his potential. Some animal who never knew his father and forgot who his mother was when he didn’t need her to feed him anymore and no hard feelings, that’s just how shit works, ok?

The CD player makes that little whirr as the disc stops spinning that sounds like someone drawing a sharp breath, and then there’s a second when all I hear is the windshield wipers, and then “O Holy Night” comes on. That stupid Christmas hymn that Jamie sang in choir the year they tried sending her to Catholic school to see if that would help.

It’s a space of a couple of seconds between a man advising a desperate, drunk young woman to take her own life because he’s annoyed that she interrupted him making dinner, it’s a couple of seconds between that and not just any part of the song but the lyrics “A thrill of hope/the weary world rejoices/for yonder breaks/a new and glorious morn.”

And for just a second with the snow falling and the wind whipping and my old dirty headlights barely making the road in front of me visible, running on fumes, alone with the dark, I get it. I get what all the fuss is about. It’s not about Santa and presents and all that shit but it’s not about travelling to see your messed up extended family either. Or drinking hot cocoa in a sleigh or whatever crap people associate with this stupid holiday.

It’s about looking for a reason to still give a shit for one more day.

It must have really sucked being a Jew under the Romans. There’s no TV or penicillin or Tylenol, and you’re being oppressed by people you think are morally inferior to you but somehow they got the political power. Prophecies about the Messiah…they must have been a relief…or at least…a change. Something to think about. An idea of a future that’s not so…stagnant.

And then of course those same prophecies bite you in the ass when half the world thinks the Messiah has come already and starts mass murdering you for not believing it. Jews just can’t catch a break.

Mobil station up ahead. While I’m there maybe I’ll get a cheese stick.

Top 3 Literary Couples Who Don’t End Up Together

Spring is in the air, and you know what Emerson said about spring making one’s fancy turn to thoughts of love. For those of us who are disillusioned with that game and want to lose ourselves in some depressing escapism, here are some ideas for books to curl up with featuring romantic leads who just couldn’t make it work.

3. Rhett and Scarlett from Gone With the Wind. Usually when two people are torn apart and thrown back together multiples time by war, poverty, and death in a saga that spans over a decade, the reader gets the emotional satisfaction of seeing them together at the end. But these two stubborn lovers can’t get it together to admit their true feelings for each other until it’s too late. The pain of Rhett walk out the door frankly not giving a damn has been intense enough to spawn at least two fan-fic style sequels in which Scarlett finally gets him back and they make it stick, but I just don’t know if I buy it.

2. Pip and Estella from Great Expectations. OK I’m cheating a little bit here. This couple’s story ends ambiguously, and the optimists among us will certainly read Pip’s walking off into the mist hand in hand with the woman he’s loved all his life as him finally having this one in the bag, but I just don’t know. They’re both so emotionally scarred by this point, I wonder if either of them could really get anything good out of that marriage. Besides, in the original ending to the book, they parted on much more definite terms. Dickens’ first idea was for this dysfunctional couple to meet by chance in the street while Pip was taking Joe’s son out for a walk, leaving Estella to assume that he had found love and marriage with someone else and she had missed her shot with him even if she’d wanted one.

1. Nick and Jordan from The Great Gatsby.  Nick and Jordan’s relationship is the quintessential argument for reading a book twice. The first time around you’re concentrating on the book’s central questions: will Gatsby win Daisy from Tom? Are the sad, empty lives led by the novels parade of flappers and bootleggers really any sadder and emptier than our lives today? Is anyone remembering to feed that poor puppy? It wasn’t until the second go-round that I really noticed the dark horse of a tragic love story that is the novel’s understated narrator and his cousin Daisy’s friend, the gin swilling, golf playing Jordan Baker. Their breakup scene is very short and easy to forget amid all the, you know, death, at the end there, but it’s actually quite sad in its own way. Nick’s final words on the matter are “Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.” We all know what it’s like to want out of relationship that once made you happy, but isn’t working anymore. It’s not a pretty sight.