Sky Miles (Tender Hooks)

Sleigh bells ring... I’m not listening. We’re delayed at the gate with technical problems, something about GCU’s and repetitive maintenance, or maybe the pilot just had diarrhea. It is, after all, the holiday season, but while most people are making merry in the dark days of the solstice some of us have business to fly to. As we taxi the runway the flight staff pour some old Christmas music through our monitors, and although I refuse to plug in my headphones I can hear the jolly leaking out the earbuds of the other passengers: “You can do the job when you’re in town.” I don’t know which I hate more: work or Christmas. It’s too close to call.

And soon enough, we’re all up in the air, above the land and taken to the holly heavens, flying high and wide, deep and crisp and even.

Twelve Drummers Drumming

The people on the plane with me are mostly travelling to see family, carry-ons of gifts wrapped sparkle-bright and shiny, stray cats heading home for their annual bowl of Christmas cream, and they’re more than happy to share their plans with their seatmates and me. Everybody on board running at the mouth in holiday hush, like the woman beside me, an insurance salesperson, skirt short and sock-puppet personality: “I bought my son the hottest gift this year and I can’t wait to see the look on his face... it’s the iHog and he's gonna love it!"

These things are the wonderful things we remember all through our lives. I smiled politely and poured my eggnog over her head.

Eleven Pipers Piping

Stoner kids hanging in the lobby of the Curtis Denver Hotel, and they’re looking at me and laughing as I check in, as if everything in the universe were some kind of cosmic joke. If they’re right I’m ready for the punchline. With my briefcase in my hand the bellboy grabs my bag and pilots the elevator Up- one of two complicated directional settings it took him weeks to master. Nat King Cole on the speaker overhead spooning sugar into my mouth in complete disregard of my Type 2 diabetes. If it’s been said many times, many ways, why bother saying it again? I gave the bellboy a dollar and punched him in the groin.

Ten Lords A-Leaping

In the conference room the next day the administrative assistants served ginger ale and cinnamon cookies on a tray lined with red felt. The sales numbers were served in red as well: insufficient quotas, failure to make targets, the inevitability of the upcoming audit in the next fiscal year. Jobs lost, holidays bleak. And the reason for our Colorado convening repeated in our open ears: a plea from the executives to salvage these final days, to get out and meet the customers, to beg and hustle and lock in orders for the new year which we could mark as pre-sold. Jose Feliciano kept saying “Feliz Navidad” in a song whose title currently escapes me. I threw up in the corporate urinal.

Nine Ladies Dancing

Ethan of Cheekbone, a fuzzy-faced lounge musician, a manchild who would be beaten to a pulp if he ever left the soft and chilly town of Denver and crossed over the New York State line, was singing groovy Christmas songs on his acoustic guitar at the back of the bar.

He was wearing a turtleneck.

"Holy infant so tender & mild..." he sang half-ass molasses in slo-mo, and I and my fellow salesman drowned him out as the corporate-rented escort girls provided us with drinks and personalized entertainment. They did their job, all squish and jiggle, and as I zipped up I got a piece of tinsel caught in my fly. My company may be dying slow, my business a lost art, but the old boys back at corporate can still throw a party. As I pulverized Ethan’s guitar against the wall I reminded myself to come back to “Phil’s Bar” if I was ever in town again. I wouldn’t be.

Eight Maids A-Milking

Back at the hotel I felt a mystical tingle in my belly, a feeling that comes from the kinship of all mankind at holiday time. Or I else I just had to take an epic holiday dump. Fake Paul provided the soundtrack as I made my daily foul on the toidy. “Simply having a wonderful Christmastime.” Flush.

Seven Swans A-Swimming

Seven year-old kid at the mall pelts me with snowballs as I walk in the toy store to buy gifts for my own monsters at home. The place is a madhouse as Vince Guaraldi pounds out “Linus & Lucy.” There are tiny terrors roaming the aisles all over the place, a sly grin on their face as they point to the most expensive items and sigh to their helpless parents: “I sure do wish SANTA would get that for me…” Wink. Twinkle. Gag. On my way out I threw an icy rock at the seven year-old Cy Young. He went right over but the snow cushioned his fall.

Six Geese A-Laying

I really like that Bruce Springsteen song where he says “Santa Claus is coming to town” about seven thousand times. Slapped my cab driver for his choice in music and for smelling like holiday wine. Yule, baby. Big Yule.

Five Golden Rings

Another meeting, another unhappy customer who doesn’t want me in his office. He doesn’t like sales reps making unannounced calls and he has no time “what with the holidays in full swing.” (I’m guessing that has something to do with the open Victoria’s Secret catalog on his desk, but I’m not sure how.) He gets his revenge on me by serving cheese cubes and blasting the Chipmunks Christmas song, and the high-harmony bores directly to the center of my skull, reverberating in perpetuity for the rest of eternity. He’s in a bright Christmas sweater that obliterates my retinas as he studies my sales spreadsheet with furrowed brow.

"I'm gonna say yes... but not today."

Well-played, you merry motherfucker.

Four Calling Birds

The Denver office holds its Christmas party, which might be fun, except I don’t know any of the assholes in the Denver office. That doesn’t stop the execs and salespeople from making soul boogie to “Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” which is even more pathetic than it sounds. No longer is liquor allowed in the office building so the suits and skirts go down in shifts to the bar across the street, with hired taxis on hand shuttling them the hundred paces and back, getting plaster-flabbergast on Christmas cheer and boilermakers. So it’s some to this.

I have accomplished nothing on this trip except getting away from my wife and kids for a week. It’s been a joy but that still won’t stop me from sighing, looking sad, and telling people how hard it is to be on the road during the most wonderful time of the year, away from the people that I love. Hey, I’m an asshole. In the copy room an administrative aide is gleefully scanning her heinie into a group email with her pantyhose around her ankles. We high-five and she gives me her Santa hat. Kiss her once for me.

Three French Hens

I stopped off at the local Church for a Christmas Eve mass. Because I don’t know why. There’s something exciting about experiencing Christmas alone. And when I say exciting I mean terrifying. Everybody is coupled off on this night, everybody in pairs and trios, quartets and more, even the Wise Men never travelled alone. The stature, the solemn, the scope of the service stirs in me a deep ache in which I feel that something missing, something that’s been missing all along, something everybody else gets, something I’ll never have. Is it soul? Was there Jesus? Am I fool to believe?

The boy’s choir sang Carol of the Bells while the priest moaned and bleated, gloating like a child molester at a Boy Scout picnic. He knows that on this night he is the only show in town, and he parades and preens the stage just like a diva. I want to drown him in the holy water.

As I walked back to my hotel I saw a couple coming out of a liquor store holding bags of Christmas wine and while they smiled I burst into tears.

Two Turtle Doves

Turtles can’t fly you shitfuck.

Back on the plane and headed home again. I’ll get there eventually if these wings hold up. I hate my job. I hate the holidays. I hate Christmas. I hate the noise. I hate the pain. I hate the gifts, the food, the memory of life when it was simple and I was free, the knowledge that I’ll never be back there again. I hate pretending to care about my customers. I hate the meetings. I hate the season, I hate these short days of no sun, but I fought it as I always do: work, kids, the wife, shopping trips, taxicabs, powerpoint, wrapping paper, neck tie, mistletoe, and the smell of potpourri. The shine of Vitamin D. The love you feel for me. The ache of the absentee. The dreams of what might be.

Oh yeah. And a partridge in a pear tree.

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