Along with many other people in New York, we set up our Christmas tree earlier this year, the day after Thanksgiving and three days before the end of November. It felt like a joyous gesture and a sensible move, given all the time we would be spending at home. Besides that, we had nothing else to do.
Christmas is somehow less important in the US than it is in the UK, despite the political capital made to defend it. No Boxing Day, no mince pies, no King’s Christmas carols. There is no Christmas playlist beyond the broader seasonal hits, which, for the past 10 years, has put me in the strange position of actively missing things that I was sure I hated. Every year, I yearned, in a slightly nauseating way, to walk into a store at Christmas and be mugged by Slade, Band Aid and the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, only to run into Mariah Carey and Jingle Bell Rock.
This year, the pandemic, by keeping people in Britain away from places laden with Christmas muzak, has perhaps put us all in the same mourning boat. There are other problems. Ten months of pent-up social energy has to go somewhere and the tinsel, like lead that stops radiation, can only absorb so much. Monday morning is a disappearance of the sluggish hangover behavior at my place after a rare in-person lunch the day before. Three adults around the table, two glasses of champagne, and it was like lighting a match after a gas leak. I’d still be talking now if we hadn’t run out of alcohol and I had vaguely remembered that at some point I had children.
As the first vaccines are released in the US, the submedical secondary debate continues about whether Jill Biden deserves to call herself a “doctor.” Joseph Epstein, writing in the Wall Street Journal, scoffs that the future first lady, as a doctor of education, has no right to use the honorific, a mocking view that could have passed without warning had it not been addressed to her. , in the first line of the piece, as “Madame First Lady – Mrs Biden – Jill – kiddo”.
You understand what you’re looking for here, a kind of fatherly jocularity, and since Joseph Epstein is 83 and Jill Biden 69, there’s some self-mockery involved as well. “Kiddo”, however, is one of those terms that, in addition to being condescending, I have always considered to have a slightly creepy undertone. It’s a term that I think belongs to that old Doris Day movie where she’s a tomboy in a baseball uniform and the neighbor calls his daughter before he sees her in a dress, realizes she’s a woman and tries to marry her. Furthermore, they are both 29, they pretend to be 17, and the “boy” thing is saturated with a hidden longing. It’s hard not to read Epstein’s opener and suffer from a strong physical urge to say “ew.”
And while I have no particular feelings about whether PhD holders should call themselves physicians, the mockery Epstein reserves for Jill Biden’s thesis seems off base. His dissertation bears, he observes, the “unpromising title” of “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Student Needs.” Epstein doesn’t clarify what’s wrong with this title, but one suspects he wouldn’t have scorned a Ph.D. in “Princesses in Medieval Italian Literature,” or equally obscure degrees in the posher arts. The large-scale rejection of his stretched spine acknowledges that his target is perhaps fewer doctors with non-medical degrees than the words “community college” and all that it evokes, which has brought poor Epstein into a state of collapse.
It’s anticipated the day before a blizzard hits New York and it’s morgue-cold on my deck, which is fine. Face down, burned in midair, a dove died on one of my children’s scooters, parked outside to make way for the Christmas tree. I have been fighting a war against pigeons since I live here and nothing has worked. It’s a small terrace, 13 stories up, and I’m usually too scared to go outside, but that’s not the point. I don’t want a pigeon sanctuary outside my window, the sinister coo, the presence, at any moment, of six, seven, eight birds on the railing, looking at me like malicious advice.
And now he’s dead, feet to heaven. I call on my children to come see and shout for joy. If it wasn’t frozen, I’d call maintenance to have it removed. But it’s as stiff as cod and I manage, with just a few screams, to put it in a garbage bag and throw it in the garbage disposal. For a second, I feel a jolt of sadness and a small pang of remorse, before shrugging my shoulders. Silly bird.
The fallout from Tom Cruise freaking out on the set of Mission: Impossible 7 continues to rage, and it’s hard to pick a side. Technically, he’s right to call out the crew members for disobeying social distancing rules, so well that even Clooney is on board saying to Howard Stern, “You’re in a position of power and it’s complicated, right? You have the responsibility of everyone else and he’s absolutely right about that. “Whoopi Goldberg says the guy is right too – it’s his set and he’s the one responsible.
On the other hand, hear any audio of Cruise yelling and it’s hard not to imagine him yelling at some junior Scientologist cadet. “I am clear?” he yells, after telling everyone that the future of the industry rests on his shoulders. “Do you understand?” You can hear a murmur in the background and imagine the British crew members exchanging furtive glances and thinking it’s okay, buddy, calm down, you’re going to have an aneurysm. “That’s it,” Cruise yells. “That’s.” But go on, a little more.
The subtext to all of this is: Do you have any idea how hard it is to be me, Tom Cruise? No, you’re not an insignificant little worm, and clearly no one the actor meets is going to contradict him. As Ava DuVernay Points out On Twitter, Cruise is completely justified in his anger, and also, “if I did that on set, I’d be directing icing videos for the local bakery.”
It’s a Santa thing, or a Jesus thing, or a meek submission to authority in my nature, but I’ve always instinctively trusted bearded men. Friends and I have argued about this; some see beards as a sign of cover-up: what is the guy hiding? But for me, they telegraph respectability.
There is now a study to back my instincts, conducted by the University of Texas, in which participants were asked to rate photos of sellers on a reliability scale and those with beards got the best marks. I suspect that Joseph Epstein would not go well as an academic exercise, but it works for me. Merry Christmas.
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