(In which a wax Bill Cosby and the promise of a third kidney brighten the darkest days of the year)
Not only was I not expecting much this Christmas, I was pretty much just bracing myself to survive the storm of the holidays and then work on repairing the ship that is my life in the new year. And this from a former Christmas nut. As a kid I shivered over a fire in an oil barrel with the rest of my boy scout troop selling Christmas trees in Hamden, Connecticut. One year I convinced my mom and dad to let me take home a ten-foot tree. My dad and I kept sawing away at the base till we thought it would fit under our eight-foot ceiling but it was still just a tad too tall. That's when I had the bright idea of trimming a little off the top. The result in the living room was trapezoidal, no room for a star. It looked as if it continued upstairs, as if you'd see a triangular, foot-tall shrub erupting out of the upstairs floor.
This year, as a grown, divorced dad, I knew enough not to wait on a miracle. The film business sucks right now, all of my projects are on hold. And although I feel fine, my doctor informed me that my degenerating kidneys were functioning, together, at around fifteen-percent of normal.
On the positive side I'm hopelessly in love with a wonderful woman and her spectacular three-year-old girl. I'm a single dad of a middle-schooler and a third-grader and all three kids have been inseparable ever since we all started living together almost two years ago.
But divorce wreaks havoc on the holidays and my two kids were flying down to Georgia to see their mom and grandmom. My fiancée and my soon-to-be stepdaughter and the big kids and I all celebrated a pre-Christmas Christmas before they left. Ava and Chet, my kids, tried to call it the "Fake Christmas" a few times but I immediately forbade them from calling it anything but our "New York Christmas." I wasn't exactly how sure it would work but a foot of snow got dumped on the city the night before so it was actually pretty great. After opening presents in the morning of the 21st we went sledding and made snow angels in Riverside Park overlooking the icy Hudson..
Then Monday came and I knew the next day the kids would leave and I'd miss them desperately in the limbo between Christmas and New Year.
A few days before these blues, however, my friend Mike was in town from Berkeley and had hinted that his present this year would be a big one. He's a famous gift giver. Last year he sent us a very beautiful portrait by David Maisel of a canister of the cremains of an indigent patient who died in an insane asylum.
This year an out-of-breath, sweaty FedEx driver knocked on my door asking me what to do with a seven-foot wooden crate. An hour later I was unpacking a life-size headless mannequin in a crazy sweater. Then I opened a box and pulled out Bill Cosby's grinning, waxen head.
I couldn't stop grinning as well. Amanda, my soon-to-be wife, grinned a little less. Instantly figuring out where to perch a life-size Bill Cosby is tricky. We settled on our office, off in a corner. You don't see him when you first enter but then, bam! There he is. It's been three days and even though I know he's there I still jump and then smile. I'm buying him a cigar for his waxen hand.
So when it came time to write this Christmas post I naturally wanted to write about how lucky I am to have a friend to lift my spirits through this rough Christmastide.
That's when I re-remembered Dan, my friend from the fifth grade, who agreed to give me one of his kidneys so I can stay off dialysis and, if all goes well, lead a normal, healthy life. Sure, I was grateful, I've said thank you a dozen times, but words are so much easier than volunteering for the operating table for your friend.
I say that I've always wanted to be a hero. I often fantasize about foiling a mugger or leaping into the subway to save a child. But Danny's actually doing it. He's saving me. The act is almost too enormous to understand. We're guy guys who've spent thirty-seven years ribbing and bickering. And then this. A selfless act of love.
The operation's slated for the second week in January. Everyone says I seem very blase' about it. I guess I'm trying not to think about it, about the risk, about the pain, the catheter, but Christmas makes you thinks, makes you compare. You think about who's there or not there anymore. Who's moved or moved on.
And then there are your friends who send you crazy gifts that remind you to stop worrying so much and be merry like the season says. And other friends who risk their lives to save yours.
I wish all of you the best Christmas ever. You might be under-employed, under-insured and underfed, but I bet if you ask you've got at least one friend who's just waiting to lend you a hand. Ho ho ho.
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