By that time we were hanging the tree from a hook
in the living room ceiling, to keep our six or seven cats
from climbing into it, batting ornaments off and toppling it over.
All in vain, because they simply started leaping into it
from the couch, turning it into a holiday pendulum
that shed ornaments even faster and from higher up and
sometimes brought the whole thing down with a tinkling crash.
While other families were gathered around the tree
singing carols, our father played his favorite records
over and over ― Hitler’s Inferno, Volumes 1 and 2 ― and had us
goosestep through the house to the rousing strains
of “The Horst Wessel Song” and other Nazi anthems.
(He was not a Nazi, merely an American advertising man,
a gifted copywriter with a sick sense of humor
and a soul-deep appreciation of effective propaganda.)
It would be years before we would see anything odd about this.
One year, though, he became conventional for a few terrifying
moments, and tried to mimic what our neighbors were doing.
He lined all seven of us up under the hanging tree,
put mimeographed sheets of Christmas songs into our hands
and demanded in his best Marine Corps drill sergeant manner
that we start celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus
with enthusiasm, real or counterfeit, it didn’t matter.
We were a sorry lot of carolers, our faint, trembling voices
dying in the lower branches of the tree. He was not impressed.
“Sing, damn you, sing!” he screamed at the top of his lungs
over and over and over and over and over and over.
Merry Christmas! Sieg heil! God bless us everyone.
Notes from My Doppelganger
Kurt Luchs died quietly in his sleep last night.
Well, actually he was screaming plenty, but the pillow
I was holding over his face didn’t let much of it out.
He made one last guttural noise, expired, and as a parting gift
soiled the bed. Why do people always fight the inevitable?
I shrugged and smiled. It was all the same to me.
I put on one of his suits, pitying his taste, and went to his job.
By noon I had promoted one person and fired two,
picking their names at random from a list of employees
I found in his desk. It doesn’t matter much what one does, but one
should always do something, if merely to keep up appearances.
His girlfriend showed up expecting to go to lunch. I only
knew it was her because she walked right up and kissed me.
She seemed delighted at my suggestion to go to her place instead.
We made sweet love for an hour. Or rather, she made sweet love.
For me it was simply crazy good sex with a total stranger.
I got so caught up in the moment that I nearly offered her money.
The afternoon back at the office passed slowly as I pretended
to type at his work computer. I almost wished for a pillow to
scream into. When I got back to his apartment I expected
to find a smell and a corpse in the bed, but somehow
he was up and about again, puttering around in the kitchen.
Life is so persistent! Small wonder it has endured for so long
on this miserable excuse for a planet. He cleared his throat
and asked if I was still angry. I said no, it was all a misunderstanding.
“What do you want for dinner?” he said, somewhat hesitantly.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Why don’t we order out?” As he turned
to pick up his phone, I hit him in the head three times
with a frying pan, sat on the couch and clicked the remote.