A funny thing happened Pigdog Christmas Essay Contest. We got a second entry -- a raunchy, rowdy fable that seemed destined for glory, to RUN HARD and STEAL THE PRIZE, a strong contender to be this year's grand prize winner.
Remember that we're commemorating our BIG 20TH ANNIVERSARY, so the theme of the contest was:
Seeing Old Friends
- or - "Life in the Resistance"
So after choosing the winner, I looked back in my sack of Christmas essays to see which poor sap had gotten his sorry ass beat this year. And in another Christmas miracle, it turned out that the author of this year's second, runner-up essay was.... Lenny Tuberose.
Yes, Lenny wrote the first place essay AND the second place essay!
Everybody wins! Ho ho ho! MERRY CHRISTMAS, everybody!!! Ho ho ho....
Seeing Old Friends by Lenny Tuberose
After several minutes of consideration, somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, Kris settled on llama shit as the likely genesis of the vile taste in his mouth. He had never actually tasted llama shit, of course, but he imagined it would be a piquant blend of exotic, spicy, and fecal. The fecal notes were pronounced -- the rest was guesswork. Kris groaned at nothing in particular -- he liked to start his day with a groan on general principles. His chin itched and he scratched it. He felt about 4 weeks growth of beard, although he clearly remembered shaving the previous morning. Kris groaned again, this time with feeling. It was happening again, and right on schedule. Right on breath-takingly horrible schedule. He would have bounded out of bed but his bounding days were behind him. He levered himself out of bed and trundled to the bathroom with no detectable enthusiasm for the endeavour. He thought he knew what he would see. He was wrong.
It was December 1st and both his beard and belly had started to grow at a fantastic rate. By December 24th his beard would be long and white and his belly would fill out the red suit until he looked like a cotton ball sitting on an apple. This annual grotesque transformation on December 1st was the reason for the now traditional bender on November 30th. You would have thought he would be used to it by now. And I suppose he was, for his surprise at the preternatural transformation had long since been swapped out for horror and distaste. But today was different. Instead of several inches of white whiskers he was shocked to see a full, dark, lush beard. It was the beard of a young man in his prime. Why he himself had sported a beard just like it in his college days! In fact....
"Hi Kris. Long time no see!"
Kris turned quickly, sending the contents of his skull sloshing about painfully. He spun in a complete circle and had to grasp the sink to keep from falling. There was nobody there at all. He was pale and sweaty and for a moment he thought he might vomit up his last meal, which he now realized consisted largely of large red pills washed down with absinthe. He looked at himself in the mirror, hoping against hope that backwards mirror Kris might have an answer for him. Backwards mirror Kris was a perfect reflection of regular Kris' complete lack of grasp of the situation. The answer was in the mirror nonetheless.
"Hi Kris. It's me, your old beard from college! I was in the area and I thought I would drop in so we could catch up. Jeez Kris -- you have really let yourself go!"
Kris felt faint and sat down gingerly on the toilet to consider. He was not entirely sure he could cope with this.
"Yeah -- uh, hi. Been a long time. Um -- how you been?"
"It's a great time to be a beard Kris! I was on a hipster until about a week ago, but he heard about beard tinsel and I had to bail. What have you been up to? Besides eating I mean."
Kris was annoyed. His friends in college had often commented on his douchebag beard but Kris had never understood what they meant until now.
"I've been working" Kris said. It sounded a little defensive, even to him.
"Oh yeah? Fantastic! The band finally made it big?"
Kris winced. He hadn't thought about the band in ages. They had called themselves Sooey Generis, which they thought was edgy and funny and everyone else thought was a typo. They had played punk rock. Well punk jazz, really, since the entire band was rarely playing in the same key at the same time. Their lack of success had been legendary. People had flocked to their shows like moths to a golf ball.
"No. Ah -- things didn't really pan out man. I had to get a job."
The beard digested that in awkward silence for a moment. "A job? Not music?"
If Kris could have looked away from the beard on his own face he would have. Well it was out now. Strangely he felt no relief.
"No" he said softly. "Not music. I.....I'm Santa Claus now"
"Santa Claus? Really Kris? Because the Kris I knew in college would never have traded in his guitar and leathers for fat man pants and a..."
"Now wait just a minute!" Kris was angry because he knew his college beard was right -- the old Kris thought Christmas was a conspiracy to indoctrinate children into capitalist conformity, and he had regularly shat upon the holiday from a dizzying height. Now...
"So what happened to the rest of the band?" the beard demanded.
"They all got jobs!"
"None of them are playing anymore?"
"No. We grew up..."
"You got OLD! Don't tell me, let me guess -- Mary Alex is a soccer mom, Pete sells insurance and Dave is a mortician?"
Kris looked down at his feet. He hadn't thought of the band in years, but now how he hungered for those days. He knew what he had to do. "Dave died man, but Mary Alex and Pete still live in town. I think I feel a party coming on."
* * *
Party was not exactly the right word, perhaps. But Pete and Mary Alex were summoned and duly appeared. They found Kris in a profoundly agitated state, although he was sporting a beautiful, thick, dark beard which they both found jarring since the rest of him had gone to seed. Pale, sweaty, flabby seed.
Mary Alex arrived first. Honestly she looked like she could still rock a pair of tight leather pants but her eyes were haunted. Before she got her coat off there was a knock at the door. Kris opened the door to reveal a six foot tall bipedal rabbit.
"Hey Pete, come on in. How have you been, man?"
"What the fuck happened to Pete?" Kris' beard demanded. Apparently nobody could hear the beard but Kris, and he ignored it.
"How's the Easter Bunny racket, man?"
The rabbit shuddered. "They turned me into a fucking rabbit, man! And I think I have cancer!"
Pete held out his paw defying the rest of them to deny his cancer. Mary Alex rolled her eyes. "I keep telling you it's just a Shope's fibroma," Mary Alex said. It's not cancer."
"It's the big 'C', man!" Pete's eyes were wild. "I can feel it gnawing away at me like those rotten kids eating their chocolate bunnies! I probably won't make it to Christmas!"
Pete's eyes suddenly got very wide and he turned to Kris--"Fuck man -- I didn't mean to bring up..."
Kris smiled a smile that entirely failed to reach his eyes. "It's ok man. It's not like I don't know I'm Santa Claus."
Kris and Pete slumped into kitchen chairs while Mary Alex looked in vain for a clean glass. Giving up, she took the remaining empty chair and opened a can of Bud Lite. She took a sip and made a face.
"I thought you were a tequila girl!" Kris said.
"Tequila" she repeated softly. "My god it's been ages since I drank that. I can't drink the hard stuff -- I'm working tonight. I work every night -- not just one night a year like some people."
Pete and Kris both looked down at their drinks. They have been so wrapped up in their own problems they had forgotten that Mary Alex had a doozy of her own. And then Pete tried to change the subject and made it worse.
"You still riding that Hog?"
Mary Alex glared at him as if she was trying to decide if he was being mean or stupid. "Does that seem like an appropriate ride for the Tooth Fairy, Pete? I drive a fucking minivan now. A minivan with 4 bags full of spoiled children's rotten teeth in the back."
Pete and Kris both looked awkward. "I drive a fucking sleigh," Kris volunteered.
"Does it at least have a nice stereo" Pete asked.
"Like I would be able to hear anything over the sleigh bells and reindeer farts," Kris said bitterly.
"I have to take the fucking bus," Pete's general agitation drifted towards anger once more. He looked up and met the eyes of the others by turns. Pete had been their front man back in the day and he had always been a little high strung, but something decidedly hysterical had climbed inside his head and was peeking out of his red rabbit eyes. "I don't mind the eggs," he said softly, "but those little monsters eat chocolate rabbits." He slammed his paw on the table--"RABBITS, man! And I deliver them!"
"That's messed up, man," Kris agreed.
"Why can't they just eat a chocolate fucking Jesus or something? I mean they are cool with that right -- they eat those fucking Jesus crackers..."
"Jesus crackers?" Mary Alex asked.
"Yeah. Yeah -- you know those shitty little cardboard crackers they give you in church?"
"The Eucharist?" Mary Alex was actually smiling. It looked good on her, like her old leathers.
"Yeah -- whatever -- they are already eating Him and He is cool with it so just give the little monsters chocolate fucking Jesus' and leave the rabbits out of it!"
"They aren't eating REAL rabbits, Pete..." Mary Alex attempted, but Pete was beyond reason.
"It's SYMBOLIC, man! Symbolic of the Man sticking it to the little rabbit!" For a brief shining moment the old Pete sat before them, full of piss and vinegar and rage at the machine. But the illusion was unsustainable. Pete looked down at his drink, shoulders slumped in an attitude of defeat and surrender.
Kris broke the awkward silence. "Children are monsters," he agreed. "Once, a few years after I started this gig, I spent all of December eating bran. Bran muffins...bran flakes...whatever. I was hitting the sauce pretty heavy and my plan was to take a huge dump in every last fucking Christmas stocking that year..."
"I thought coal was your traditional symbol of displeasure," Mary Alex interrupted.
"Those brats don't understand symbolism, man! But a sock full of shit is fairly self explanatory."
"So what happened?"
Kris, already rosy from the drink, grew a shade more red. "I didn't shit for a month," he admitted, "and then I spent the entire month of February on the toilet binge watching Netflix on my phone."
Kris, already slumped in his chair, spread his hands in mute admission of defeat. Kris had been their guitar player back in the day -- a hard-ass street fighting punk's punk. Now he was just a fat, sad old man who aspired to shitting in children's Christmas stockings while they slept, and couldn't even manage that. Kris stared into his drink and grew quiet and sullen once more.
"Children are monsters," Mary Alex agreed. "Ungrateful little psychopaths. Every night as I stand over their tiny sleeping forms I get the urge to take the pillow and..." she made a smothering motion. The others nodded.
Mary Alex looked at each of her old friends in turn. "Being an adult is shit," she concluded. They all nodded -- this time with more enthusiasm. "Dave was the lucky one." Dave, their drummer, had died in their last year of college. He had choked to death on a chicken bone. It was a live chicken.
"Why is it that coming-of-age stories are so great and being-of-age stories are just fucking grim?" Mary Alex asked.
It was then that Kris' college beard noticed something curious -- the old fire was back in Mary Alex's eyes and the general miasma of defeat that clung to the others no longer touched her. It was then that Kris' college beard knew what he had to do.
* * *
The neighbours eventually called the police when the music in apartment 12A had played around the clock for 2 full days. There they found the bodies of Kris and Pete. Pete had died of natural causes -- his rabbit body was riddled with cancer. The coroner concluded that Kris had asphyxiated. The importance of the fact that he was clean shaven when found eluded them entirely.
On the other side of town, police responding to a call about a stolen sports car found an abandoned minivan full of bags of children's teeth.
Somewhere on the open road, Mary Alex put the hammer down and gave the stolen little red sports car its head. She was dressed in her leathers once more. The top was down and her old bass guitar was in the back. There was a half bottle of tequila on the passenger's seat. She tilted the rearview mirror down, met her own eyes and was satisfied with what she saw there. They were young eyes, and fierce. They were happy eyes. She tilted the mirror farther and regarded the full, dark beard that now graced her face.
"Where to babe?" Kris' college beard asked her.
Mary Alex looked at the dwindling supply of Tequila. "Mexico," she said at last.