By Amber Peckham
In the year 2000, when I was thirteen, my mother seemed to give up on trying to surprise me with Christmas gifts. I was now allowed to choose all my presents, even stand in line with Mom while the bar codes buzzed over the checkout laser, watching as she forked over the family’s hard-earned cash for a new Playstation game or a stack of books six deep that I couldn’t wait to dig into.
Mom forced me to go to Walmart with her on Black Friday that year. She claimed it would be good bonding time for us, but really, she needed a second soldier on the field of retail battle, and my dad was too tired to tag along. For us to get all the best deals, we would have to split up. Mom would head toward the clothing side of the store to grapple for flannel pajamas, socks, and jeans, while I would be deployed to the toy section. I was a slight girl, with mousy brown hair to my waist, unassuming and small. It would be easy for me to fight the crowds, and rabid adults would be less likely to grapple with a child. The two of us would reconnoiter in electronics, where the gem I had chosen to cap off my Christmas crown waited in the video game case as my reward—Final Fantasy IX.
This particular year, there was one toy which outshone all the others, one present my little sister Antonia had talked about day and night since the commercials began airing on Nickelodeon months before. This holy grail of holiday satisfaction was known as Poo-Chi. Read the rest of this entry »
By Naomi Huffman
My grandfather’s hands were large, his knuckles knobbed like branches, his palms calloused from years spent on my family’s farm in Blackford County, Indiana, and from working the line at the Delco Battery plant in Muncie. But he handled the pieces of his Lionel model train with ease, lifting the cars from their plastic casing one by one, connecting the couplers end to end with the sort of precision mastered only with practice and care.
There was a Santa Fe locomotive, silver and shiny, with lights that flashed as it whistled, with red and orange stripes painted down either side. There were cargo cars: yellow, blue, brown. Some had plastic windows, or tiny handles on doors the size of my child thumb. The wheels were small as dimes. My favorite car was the caboose, painted red of course, with a tiny black gate at the rear.
The train came out of its box just once a year, at Christmas, when gifts were piled around the tree set up in my grandparents’ living room. As my grandfather built tunnels with the boxes for the train to run through and tinkered with the speed settings on the transformer, my grandmother worried the tinsel on the tree, and turned the ornaments so they faced just so, and wondered aloud if the star atop it all was crooked. All the fanfare, all the fuss, it was all for us, their grandchildren. Read the rest of this entry »
By Helen Kaplow
The unforgettable hat, the shining toy train, the pair of ice skates—thanks to cinematic magic, these items have come to represent Christmas joy itself. But don’t just watch them on TV, bring them home for the holidays.
Miracle on 34th Street
A perennial holiday favorite since this film’s debut in 1947, no one has ever played Santa Claus more convincingly than Edmund Gwenn. And it’s a movie filled with the exciting clamor of Christmas shopping and our yearning for just the right gifts.
Kris Kringle: What do you want for Christmas, Peter?
Peter: A fire engine, just like the big ones only smaller, that has a real hose that squirts real water. I won’t do it in the house, only in the backyard. I promise.
Harried Mother: Psst! Psst! Macy’s ain’t got any. Nobody’s got any.
Kris Kringle: Well, Peter, I can tell you’re a good boy. You’ll get your fire engine.
If in Chicago, Kringle would head to Chicago Fire and Cop Shop. A family-owned store on the Southwest Side run by a retired fire fighter and police officer, they sell a big line of fire-and-police-related gifts, including T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, Christmas ornaments and toy police cars and fire trucks. 4038 West 111th, Oak Lawn, (708)425-2884, chicagofireandcopshop.com. Read the rest of this entry »
By Vincent Francone
Thanksgiving, 1996. The Aspidistra Bookshop was open 364 days a year. If it wasn’t Christmas, the store wasn’t going to close. My family refused to believe this. Who would stay open on Thanksgiving?
I explained to my mother that I would not be coming home that year, that even though the trip was short—just an hour or so from Lakeview to the southwest suburbs—I had to open and close the store.
“Who’s going to buy books on Thanksgiving?”
Not a bad question. I didn’t expect many people to wander in, though few surely would, mostly the oddballs who fit right in among the dusty books and empty beer bottles that littered the shop. They haunted Clark Street drinking endless cups of coffee at McDonald’s and trading conspiracy theories before coming to our store to make my day a bit more surreal. They asked me questions like: “Do you know who really discovered Halley’s Comet?” But they never bought anything. Read the rest of this entry »
This season, bypass the Hallmark card aisle and spread some holiday cheer by representing Chicago and its artists with these five city-centric Christmas cards. Read the rest of this entry »
Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick
By Tony Fitzpatrick
As a kid, I liked making imaginary animals, beasts—lions with eagle heads, snakes with baby heads and naked women with bird heads. I had more fun drawing things and animals that didn’t exist except in the curious neighborhood of my own head. I remember Johnny Carson would have Jim Fowler, the animal expert from “Wild Kingdom,” on his program. Fowler often brought odd and frightening creatures to scare the shit out of Johnny—pangolins, vultures, hyenas and all manner of large constricting snakes. Once he brought a Bateleur eagle that took a monstrously slick, sticky shit on Johnny’s desk and Botany 500 suit, and Carson about puked before cutting to commercial.
Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” was one of the highlights of my childhood. The show’s host was the avuncular and kindly Marlin Perkins, who was at one time the director of the Lincoln Park Zoo. He may not have looked it, but he was a badass: his specialty was reptiles, particularly venomous reptiles—the best kind! This staid, genial older gentleman had survived many bites from poisonous snakes, including a Gaboon viper—which is lovely and deadly in equal measure. Read the rest of this entry »
By Rob Brezsny
ARIES (March 21-April 19): The poet Charles Baudelaire prayed for help, but not to God—rather he prayed to the writer Edgar Allan Poe. Novelist Malcolm Lowry sometimes pleaded with God to give him insight, but he also prayed to the writer Franz Kafka. I really like this approach to seeking guidance, and recommend it to you in the coming days. Which hero, dead or alive, could you call on to uplift you? What amazing character might bring you the inspiration you need? Be brazen and imaginative. The spirits could be of more help than you can imagine. Magic is afoot. Read the rest of this entry »
By Alex Nall. Edited by Ivan Brunetti. (Click on image to enlarge.)
By Rob Brezsny
ARIES (March 21-April 19): There’s something resembling a big red snake slithering around in your mind these days. I don’t mean that literally, of course. I’m talking about a big red imaginary snake. But it’s still quite potent. While it’s not poisonous, neither is it a pure embodiment of sweetness and light. Whether it ends up having a disorienting or benevolent influence on your life all depends on how you handle your relationship with it. I suggest you treat it with respect but also let it know that you’re the boss. Give it guidelines and a clear mandate so that it serves your noble ambitions and not your chaotic desires. If you do that, your big red snake will heal and uplift you. Read the rest of this entry »
By Rob Brezsny
ARIES (March 21-April 19): I’m not a big fan of fear. It gets far more attention than it deserves. The media and entertainment industries practically worship it, and many of us allow ourselves to be riddled with toxic amounts of the stuff. Having said that, though, I do want to put in a good word for fear. Now and then, it keeps us from doing stupid things. It prods us to be wiser and act with more integrity. It forces us to see the truth when we might prefer to wallow in delusion. Now is one of those times for you, Aries. Thank your fear for helping to wake you up. Read the rest of this entry »