Strove to find a way to punch people in the face by using the Internet.


Christmas 2004: Ask your trusted family clergyman: this Web site is all about truthfulness and full disclosure. So before I get into it I’d like to come out and preface this installment of the Diary of Indignities with the admission that I did indeed receive a few decent gifts this year.

However, I am not going to write about them. Not only because getting something halfway cool just doesn’t fit the modus operandi here but also because I am, of course, primarily fixated on all the many shitty, weird and vexing things that happen to me. Any thoughts of cool presents or holiday merriment are at this point pretty much background static, dissipating away into an opaque, gray blur while my mind instead focuses its energies on tormenting me with vivid, unending loops that display every transgression inflicted on me this cheery season... Minor, imagined, you name it. Sweet booze, can’t you dull this pain? (No, that’s not a rhetorical question.)

Who knows where it all took such a sour turn? Things started off well. My employers generously gave us drones the day off on… on… What the fuck do you call that day, anyway? Christmas Eve Day? No, that’s stupid. December 24th, B.C.? The Nightmare Before Christmas? Whatever. I had the day off and took my beloved little truck in for a routine oil change.

“Can you guys check out that weird rattle for me, too?” I asked the mechanics. For a few days the truck had been making a clanking noise when I accelerated. It didn’t sound expensive, like maybe a monkey or a jolly Christmas elf had got himself stuck in a fan belt or something, so I wasn’t too concerned with it. But new bolts on the heat shield and a $50 tensioner later, I drove away still hearing that damn monkey. The adjustments to my medication have done a fine job of making the voices and such go away, so I was pretty sure the noise was coming from my truck.

Upon returning to the shop I had this conversation with the mechanic: “Man, that is… that is… That is one hell of a weird noise. I’ve never heard anything like that.”

“Uhhh, I’d like it a lot better if you say something like, ‘No problem, Mr. Hughes! I’d know that sound anywhere! It’s a ten-dollar pulley and we can fix it for you right away!’”

“Can’t help you there, bud.”

So to kick off this holiday season, I bent over and Santa stuck a $750 charge to replace a cracked flywheel waaaaay up my chimney.

I was actually less upset about this than one might guess, because there was no time to get the work done before the holiday and to my way of thinking $750 is a pretty fair price to pay to get out of being around my family. But no, the Grinch That Fixed Truckmas said it would make the trip with no problems.

“You’ll need to fix that flywheel in the next 30 days or so, but right now you could drive that thing out to California and back,” he said. “Just ease up on the throttle. And don’t tow anything. Or drive backwards too much.”

Somehow I knew if I called my dad and said, “Sorry, won’t make it this year. I’m under specific orders not to fly down I-75 doing 90 miles an hour in reverse while pulling my trailer full of Christmas anvils, and you know that’s the only way to make the trip,” the wily old man would see through my ruse. So I girded up my loins and went home to sulk.

A last-minute call from my aunt convinced me to head over to her place for Christmas Eve supper. Normally I’d contrive some sort of excuse, but the whole $750 thing had me a bit down, and I figured things couldn’t really get any worse. And I was right – they didn’t get worse. But boy oh boy, did they ever get weird.

This is the aunt that’s married to the guy I wrote about in the story about getting my eyeball scraped; the one that’s a cross between Ned Flanders and G. Gordon Liddy. Most people I know wouldn’t expect that I’d get along so well with people so enthusiastically religious, but I really enjoy their company. Despite generating that artificial, disconcertingly healthy glow that people who believe in Jesus too much always seem to have, my aunt and uncle are great folks with a great family. And they have some great guns.

When I arrived Uncle Flanders-Liddy was actually displaying some of his prize firearms. He was accompanied by Uncle Bear. Uncle Bear is his mom’s sister’s husband, visiting this year from Michigan with his wife. Who’s my uncle’s aunt…. My uncle-in-law’s aunt… Whatever. Uncle Bear has lived up to his name by getting himself extensively tattooed with pictures of bears. He also has a big, gray beard, lots of Harley-Davidson accoutrements and this Christmas was sporting a stylish leather kilt. In fact, word is that Uncle Bear just refuses to wear pants at all. I can respect that.

So it was when I was standing there with Uncle Shooty and his arsenal, and Uncle Bear and his man-skirt, looking down the sights of a real, live semiautomatic rifle, that I first thought to myself, “Now it feels like Christmas.”

I got to open my gifts after my adorable 10-year-old niece showed me her razor-sharp new lock-blade pocketknife and Uncle Bear forced me to drink this special stout from a Flint microbrewery that featured a frothy head the exact same color and texture as the water it’s made with, which is from lovely Lake Michigan. I received a book on how to effectively manage employees (something I’m not inclined or, frankly, allowed, to do) as well as a tie designed by Jerry Garcia.

…Jerry Garcia...

Now, I have nothing against the stupid, smelly hippies of the world, except for the fact that I hate them. But Jerry Garcia… Let’s just say that given half a chance I’d dig up that fat old junkie’s rotting corpse for no other reason than hitting it in the balls with a cactus would send waves of pleasure spasming through every cell of my body. So when picking out a tie a Jerry Garcia model wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice. Thankfully, I have a brother who, rumor has it, once smoked some marijuana, and who openly admits to enjoying the music of something called String Cheese Incident, so I was able to regift that motherfucker before any of its insidious commie hippie taint seeped into my skin.

My aunt’s mother-in-law also came up to me with a present that night. I thought this was a bit weird, because as a last-minute addition to the festivities none of my aunt’s in-laws knew I’d be attending. Still, I was very grateful. I even pretended not to notice the small spot where someone had surreptitiously torn off the tag naming the gift’s originally intended recipient. I removed the wrapping to find a paperback book about soup. Which is… uh… good.

A few plates of lasagna and a few more refreshing glasses of stout later I showed Uncle Bear and Uncle Ticking Time Bomb how to search for vintage German military knives on eBay while they chatted about how Patton was a great American and how people shouldn’t get flu shots because of all the shit like mercury the government puts in them, and how if you do get a flu shot your chiropractor will have to work extra hard to magically suck all the heavy metals and poisons out of your body. Normally that kind of shit is my cue to start mocking and deriding people’s cherished belief systems, but I held off this time, in the spirit of Christmas. And the spirit of not wanting to get my ass shot up by Uncle Fucking Scary Jesus Guns.

Plus I knew I’d get the chance to mock and deride something the next day at my dad’s. The trip down was fairly uneventful, except for one exciting moment where two old people in a Cadillac barreled toward me at a high speed without slowing down. I was stopped at a light with cars ahead of and beside me, and could only watch helplessly as the driver engaged in angry debate with the dog in his lap instead of paying attention to the road.

“C’mon… C’mon old people… You can do it… Just don’t break the neck or the spine… Stay away from the neck and the spine…” I whispered, but as usual my Christmas prayers went unanswered. The old prune’s shriveled wife looked up, saw me and screamed, causing the old man to slam on his brakes. His car bucked, skidded and hopped, finally coming to rest, tires smoking, just a few feet from my bumper. I had no choice but to continue on to my father’s. I did get to see the old lady sobbing and that damn dog fly around the car, though, so it wasn’t a total wash.

It was about noon when I got to my dad’s, so everyone had been drinking for several hours. They also had a typical Hughes family holiday spread, which means cheese and bacon were combined and recombined into dozens of different dips, snacks, beverages and desserts.

One of my brothers (not the hippie, the other one) mentioned that he had taken our dad to see the latest Lord of the Rings movie. Now, several years ago my dad bewildered everyone else in the family by converting from a typical Irish Catholic to the kind of Catholic who actually believes in all that pope stuff. He’s not quite as myopic as Uncle Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition, but he does tend to view everything in a religious light. Which is why my dad, my brother and I got to have this conversation:

“How’d you like that hobbity movie, pop?”

“I liked it. The battle scenes were really something. And you could really see the religious symbolism.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. The elves were very, uhhh… ethereal. They were like angels… You know, immortal. And the hobbits, ummm, symbolized… Uhhh, humanity…”

“So then what did the humans symbolize?” said my smartass little brother (a split second before I could get it out), causing my dad’s brain to seize up just long enough for us to make our escape.

Later, after a few more gallons of booze had kickstarted my old man’s gray matter, he told me a funny story about the night before, when the family played a game of charades. Apparently my sister thought pretending to calmly hold a microphone and stare into space while wordlessly opening and closing her mouth at random would be an effective way to impersonate James Brown. Her husband thought this was pretty lame, and started making fun of her. Then my dad started choking him – not to defend his daughter’s honor, but because he was on my sister’s team and was tired of hearing my brother-in-law talk trash about their shitty performance.

“You choked him?” I asked.

“Ah, I was just joking around,” dad said.

“Dad, there were marks on his neck two hours later,” my brother said.

“I don’t joke around very well.”

Dad throttling a family member during a game of charades? Now it feels like Christmas!

Presents at my dad’s included a baseball cap with a picture of a snook on it (a fish I’ve never caught, and that doesn’t live anywhere around here) and a sampler pack of three (count ‘em!) fish hooks clearly labeled “Promotional Only - Not for Sale.” I did manage to score some extra loot by dethroning my smartass little brother as the champion of Christmas Trivia. After a heated battle, I proudly walked away with a duffle bag bearing the logo of some company called Microgen Systems, while my brother in second place got a box of like 4,000 delicious cookies. I showed him!

After a light Christmas supper of cheese, bacon and liquor it was time to head home. Various family members tried everything short of roofies to get me to stay the night, but all I could think about was my dad’s birthday a few months earlier, when I had to sleep next to a hyperactive grandfather clock, and last Christmas, when I slept on my brother’s floor under a ceiling fan spinning fast enough to pin me to the floor and blow my cheeks out like that one astronaut guy. He had opened the windows too, despite it being about 40 degrees outside. And since I was heading to my loony batshit mother’s the next day, I wanted a full night’s sleep.

Strangely, because my mother is clearly the most dangerous and insane member of my family, the holiday whatnot at my mom’s was pretty uneventful. My sister’s family showed up, and Aunt Flanders brought my little niece and nephew over. Mom put out little cups of soy nog while I sat on the edge of one of her six futons, quietly gripping my knees and rocking back and forth. By the time my mom had declared that she was hot, removed her shirt and started walking around in her bra, I had almost reached a blissful, completely catatonic mindset.

Still, just before I blacked out, my mom walked by and I glanced over at my nauseated 12-year-old nephew. I noticed how the shade of green he was turning nicely complemented the poinsettias and mumbled to myself, “Now it feels like Christmas.”


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