I’m currently working as the night manager of an inn in the quaint, seaside town of Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
The three-story structure—all white-washed slats, fresh red and black trim, and bright American flag bunting—stands stately on Main street nestled snugly in between flower-dotted beach cottages, sprawling Victorian cake-icing homes with turrets and tiers, a hardware store, a bakery, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, a tiny bookstore, and an all-purpose-everything shop with neat piles of shiny new umbrellas, folding chairs, and colorful plastic beach toys waiting expectantly on the sidewalk for their new owners.
Every morning when my alarm goes off I get out of bed, check to make sure the coffee is ready for guests, grab a cup for myself, and go out to the front porch.
I bring my notebook to do my morning pages (any The Artist’s Way aficionados out there?), content to sit quietly before the muggy heat and bustle of the day.
Sometimes I spend that time alone. Other times, guests will come out to chat with me, pausing for a spell before their early-morning pastry runs or beach walks.
The tourist population does lean very retiree-heavy here, but I’ve met a pretty varied cast of characters sitting on that porch.
I met a high-school Spanish teacher and had an entire conversation in rapid español about faith, travel, the world, the spawning jellyfish in the water, and about how it’s ok to be “una fresita” about some things (like spawning jellyfish) but not about ALL things.
I met a slightly frazzled middle-aged woman with a thick Bronx accent who asked me if I lived in the town, and, when I said “Oh, I’m actually from the West Coast” she replied: “the west coast of….?”
I met a very endearing pre-teen with a bow tie and rhotacism who got locked out of his room when his dad and mom went out walking to “Asbuwy Pawk” (Asbury Park, the next town over on the boardwalk).
I met a sweet, silver-haired septuagenarian with a thick Irish brogue who, when I asked him where he was from, told me in complete sincerity: “Me? New Jersey.”
(He also told me his wife went out walking every morning, but it wasn’t his thing. “Well,” I replied, as we teetered back and forth companionably in the wooden porch chairs, “some people like walking…and some people like rocking.”)
It’s nice to sit on the porch and chat with people. It’s nice to sit on the porch alone. But regardless of whether I’ve got company or not, after I’ve been sitting on the porch for about 20-30 minutes, Holiday Cheer Guy comes by.
I don’t know if Holiday Cheer Guy is a temporary tourist. I don’t know if Holiday Cheer Guy is a townie. I don’t know if Holiday Cheer Guy is a regular summer fixture of this specific seaside spot, coming to roost like a lot of people who flock here when the season starts—filling the wooden-planked boardwalk with bodies and voices, slurping up water ices and lemonades and cheese fries, bronzing themselves brown in a west-falling sun, then slowly drifting away as the air gets crisp and the town shutters its windows for the winter.
I don’t know what Holiday Cheer Guy’s story is.
All I know is that each morning he walks by and greets the guests of the Quaker Inn (and everyone else he passes beyond its scope) with a hearty “Good morning, everyone! MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
The first couple of times this happened, I replied to HCG with a chuckle and a resounding “Merry Christmas!”
Then I started mixing it up.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” I exclaimed exuberantly. “¡Feliz Navidad!” le dije, when I was feeling muy divertida. “Habari gani?” I asked him, in an ode to my friend and esteemed professor and Jeopardy fan-favorite T.J. Tallie.
Now that Holiday Cheer Guy knows I came to PLAY, he’s started chatting with me a bit more. “What are you writing?” he asks me one morning, as I’m scrawling in the pages of my composition notebook.
“Oh, it’s stream-of-consciousness stuff,” I tell him, “you just sort of spill out whatever is in your mind to get your creativity moving.”
“Are you a poet!?” he asks, as if struck by inspiration, and before I can even respond he continues: “Have you heard the song ‘Aquarius?’ Y’know the one—it goes like this….”
He clears his throat and begins to sing in a somewhat monotone, but enthusiastic, baritone:
“When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius!
I feel the planets shift. This mortal plane I’m on begins to grumble and stretch like a wild beast thawing after a long winter’s rest. I know then that, truly, Holiday Cheer Guy is an enlightened guru sent here from above, and my eyes are open to the intricate, inexplainable magic and mysticism of the vast universe.
Just kidding, none of that happens. But I do smile and nod, encouragingly, as HCG hits his last triumphant refrain of “Aquariussss,” tips his hat, and walks off with the Cheshire cat grin of a soul well-pleased with itself.
And me? Well, I’m left better off than when Holiday Cheer Guy found me. And what more can you ask for from a stranger?
Last week, I talked about how Trying is cool.
And I think, although it sounds counter-intuitive, a companion piece to Trying is Giving No Shits.
Because if Holiday Cheer Guy got his kicks by being Holiday Cheer Guy but worried about how the general populous judged his attachment to yelling out festive winter greetings in July, he might not do it.
He might stay small, and unobtrusive, and “normal” (whatever the fuck THAT means), and be the kind of person who says “Howdy!” or “How ‘bout this weather?” (I shudder to think.)
The world is turned from pale gradient photocopy of days to colorful, vibrant memories with the weirdos and the oddballs and the Give No Shitters—the quirky and the bizarre, those marching to the beat of their own drum circle, doing what gives them fleeting, strange, and potent moments of joy just because they frickin’ feel like it.
Plus, I think I get what Holiday Cheer Guy is trying to say with his Christmas greeting.
He’s calling out: “Isn’t this great!? Aren’t we excited!? What presents did you get? Are you unwrapping your presents later? How FUN! Isn’t it neat to be here, alive, today of all days?!”
Maybe I’ll start responding to HCG with other magical things that fill me with this Christmas-morning sense of expectancy and giddiness. “Last day of school and first day of summer vacation!” I’ll shout to him in greeting, or “Playing hookie from responsibilities and going on an adventure!”
“Warm chocolate chip cookies!” I’ll call out to him, or “When you go to see a movie you’ve been really wanting to see and you get a really good seat and you’ve got your buttered popcorn and a cold coke and the lights go down!”
What about you? If you heralded the people around you with a thing that fills your heart-space with that giddy, child-like, anticipatory gladness and joy, what would YOUR greeting be?
THREE GOOD THINGS
I found a first-edition library book of Steinbeck’s Once There Was a War in a wooden give-a-book-take-a-book donation box in the shape of a boat! Has anyone read it?
It’s kinda sad, but the American Flag gives me major anxiety-meets-anger triggers with mega-Maga energy now. Can we all just agree to bounce to bunting? Is bunting problematic? Ugh. Also, this sent me down a rabbit hole of flag etiquette where I found Heather M. Edward’s medium post on a guide to disrespecting the flag (#6 killed me).
Now, important (groovy) homework: Let’s all watch this video on go on a mystic journey!
Do you have a friend who needs a festive holiday pick-me-up? Why not forward this missive to them! Or, better yet, gift them a subscription of their very own!