The First New Year's Celebration
The Mayans often receive credit for inventing the calendar, but credit actually belongs to two farmers Carter and Willis. The two men worked long days but often got distracted. They were supposed to be rending to their wheat fields, but they would get tired and eat the wheat. In the evenings, they would walk to their shed where they worked on their calendar.
“It’s all done,” said Willis.
“Finished,” said Carter.
“What?” asked Willis.
“It’s finished. ‘It’s done’ sounds like it has been cooked” said Carter. They got into useless quarrels over grammar quite often.
They had finally completed their arduous task, but Willis felt like something was missing.
“I feel like something is missing,” said Willis.
“We should include pictures for all the blank pages, so if people hang up their calendar, they can also look at a different picture for every month.”
Carter shook his head. “What pictures would we put in?
Willis thought long and hard, which was the only way people thought back then.
“Dogs. Cats. Cartoons. Maybe women in swimsuits.”
“Hmm. Those all sound intriguing to me.”
And they really were intrigued, so they wound up doing it. They didn’t know any women who would model for them. And dogs weren’t domesticated yet. So they just drew stick figure swimsuit models petting dogs. Every month had a very similar drawing. But this was 45 BCE and people weren’t very creative yet.
“It looks fantastic,” said Willis as he admired their now official final product.
Carter nodded his head in agreement.
A mosquito with a broken wing flew by and landed on Carter’s nose. Willis thought about telling him a mosquito was on his nose, but then he started scratching his own nose and forgot about Carter.
“So what day is today?” asked Willis.
“Well…It’s day one. So it should be January first.”
“That’s no fun.”
“I like it.”
“We should make today the last day. So we can celebrate the new year tomorrow.”
“Oh. That sounds like fun.”
Carter said it sounded like fun, but there was really no reason to think this meaningless celebration would be any fun at all.
“Why would we celebrate the new year?” Carter asked. “It’s just a useless system we made up.”
“That’s why it would be fun” Willis said. Willis was always looking for fun.
“Well it’s getting close to midnight,” Carter said.
They stood quiet for a while. They realized they needed to figure out how to celebrate this day, and they needed to decide quick. Time wasn’t ticking (clocks were not yet invented), but time was definitely moving.
“Happy new year.” Willis said.
Willis stared into Carter’s eyes. It was a new year, and they still hadn’t celebrated. All of a sudden, Willis leans in to Carter and plants a fat kiss on his lips.
“Sorry,” said Willis.
“What was that for?” asked Carter.
“I’m not sure. I just thought…Well, it was a new year and all so…I thought I needed a kiss to start the new…I don’t know…I just…”
Willis couldn’t explain himself. Traditions start in weird ways like this sometimes. Carter stood still. He was confused, but he didn’t seem to mind the kiss. After an awkward silence, Carter spoke up.
“Next year, we should do something else. Maybe fireworks. Or just drop a ball.
For Christmas this year, there are a few things I would like:
dear santa, i changed my mind about pete. so i could just use some advice this year
The Obnoxious Poet
“If he doesn’t choke to death right here right now, I’m gonna kill him myself.” This is what my friend Charlie said as Mr. Shrewer choked on a fried brussels sprout. But before I resolve this, I must give some back story.
If you didn’t know Jeremy Shrewer, you should be thankful. Shrewer was the most distinguished poet of his time, and he knew it. He let everybody know it. Walking down the streets of London, he would shout things like “I’m a poet and I know it” or “I’m a poet and my sister is dead.” He often wrote about his dead sister.
Shrewer once said in an interview with Ira Glass that “poems don’t have to rhyme.” What a pretentious poet thing to say. He acted like he was deep and knowledgeable, but he really didn’t know much at all. In an interview with David Letterman, Shrewer stated, “All my poems reveal a secretive truth about the world. They all have an underlying message.” Again, he talks as if he knows what he is talking about, but if you ignore his Nobel Peace Prizes and his Pulitzer Prizes, you’d realize he really is an idiot. He wrote one poem that went like this:
A dog waits for his food.
A man refuses to give him food.
The dog barks. He is mad.
Never be forgetful.
Maya Angelou said this was the most powerful poem she had ever read, but I’m pretty sure she was high when she said that.
Anyway, Shrewer spent his days writing in the mountains. He eventually relocated to Geneva, but I have been told that was only because he wanted to go straight to the source of Evian water.
My friend Charlie and I were meeting up for a quick lunch break. We always had the same lunch break on Wednesdays, so it became our thing. Charlie suggested we meet at Chez Marino because he told me, “Oh, Alfonso. The casual Italian dining room is to die for. Just wait until you see the terrace.” Sometimes Charlie made me wish I had other friends. But I met him still, and I stood outside waiting for him. As I waited, my mind was blown. The great Jeremy Shrewer passed by me and entered the restaurant. I’m pretty sure he mumbled something like “A poem a day keeps the doctor away,” but I can’t say for sure. And the fat liar clearly doesn’t write all day if he takes lunch breaks in casual Italian dining rooms.
Soon after, Charlie showed up. He was too excited about the terrace, he wasn’t even listening to what I was saying, but that all stopped when he saw Shrewer’s calves. “I’d recognize those droopy calves a mile away,” he said. He was a bad friend, but he had excellent vision.
We were seated at a table adjacent to Shrewer. Captivated by the man before us, we had lost our appetite and told the waiter to stop bothering us. We were fixed on the man. The legend. The pathetic poet. We eavesdropped carefully as he ordered a margherita pizza like we knew he would. He’s written hundreds of poems about margherita pizzas. His most famous was a haiku.
I like my pizza
Warm and fuzzy, oh yes
The pizza is mine
This one had nothing to do with the Margherita itself, but it was entitled “Ode to Margherita Pizzas.”
As Shrewer anxiously awaited his pizza, a waiter brought out some fried brussels sprouts. This was some depressing Italian dining. I expect some warm bread and oil, not fried brussels sprouts. But Shrewer ate his sprouts, and he chewed like an animal. He’s a poet, so he’s not the most coordinated person. He missed the sprout a couple times and bit his lip instead. This caused him to let out some winces of pain. As he got to the final sprout, he plopped that ball into his mouth so fast, it went straight down his esophagus. Finally, some action. He seized up and grabbed the edge of the table hard with his right hand. His veins were popping out of his forearm, but I could tell he didn’t go to the gym very often. His rapid breathing through his nose caused an annoying whistle sound, but otherwise he wasn’t able to make much noise. All of a sudden, he stood up. Mouth hanging open, he continued to nose whistle. It was almost to the tune of “Piano Man” except that the pitch was off, and it sounded more like a hippopotamus taking a bath. As he stood there, choking, his eyes were bulging, trying to find something or someone to put an end to his pain. Charlie and I sat there and watched. Shrewer wasn’t looking his best.
Charlie became impatient and told me he was going to put a quick end to this mess, but a waiter burst into the scene. Except the waiter didn’t notice the scene at all. He just adjusted the position of chairs and put some forks on a couple tables. Meanwhile Shrewer was getting purple in the face, like a plumb or a really rotten tomato. He started doing squats, and with the combination of his nose whistle it looked like a bizarre mating call. Drool slowly spilled out of his mouth like honey falls out of a jar. Flying through the air, Shrewer jumped onto the table. This got the clueless waiter’s attention. But instead of running over to do CPR, the waiter ran off to call the police because Shrewer looked like a madman causing a disturbance. The truth is he was a madman causing a disturbance. I wanted to enjoy a nice Italian lunch, not watch a madman choke on a table.
When the door to the kitchen opened again, three policemen stormed in. One was short and stubby, the second was blond like a surfer, and the third looked like Robert Frost. Shrewer had slipped and fallen hard onto the table, his head crushing a glass. He lay there with some blood on his head, still wheezing, trying to rid the brussels sprout. Stubby handcuffed him as Surfer lifted Shrewer off the table to take him away. Robert Frost spat on the ground then followed his coworkers out of the fine Italian dining room.
Shrewer died that day. There were no more poems about Margherita Pizzas, and no more poems about Evian water. And as much as I’m thankful for that day, I wish Charlie was dead too.
The Dolphin Always Stays
Snow falling on the glass window
Strong winds blow
She sleeps, she wakes, she sleeps again
Turning and tossing each night
Graceful sleep, eyes closed
She yearns for love
Arms bent, body curled
She dreams of love
Shooting stars play in her mind
As the time slowly drifts by
Her head on my stomach, I breathe
She awaits her inevitable cry
In and out the breath goes
She shakes and twitches
Mouth closed, she uses her nose
She wants to sleep at night
Golden hair, pink shirt
Lying still on the couch
No pain, no one’s hurt
Relaxed, with sleep tonight
I turn the page quietly
I am conscious of my breath
She begins to twitch again
I am conscious of my breath
Dreaming aimlessly, deep in thought
A stress-free world seems real
All the duties are forgotten
And we’re on the beach for real
The waves crash, dolphins jump
Into the sky they soar
Sand in her toes, she flexes her feet
She walks into the water's roar
The dolphin stops to say hello
Her feet are clenching sand
The dolphin stares into her eyes
The girl lends out a hand
She takes her in, she feels so free
A rush of blood to the head
Crystal clear water shines
I hope this day won’t end
Heart beats fast
Breath slows down
Have faith within
Asleep under the sea
Fish surround her
With friendly smiles
Happy to see her stand
The dolphin stares into her eyes
Oh boy, this day is grand
She approaches the surface
Her heart is racing
She wants the people she knows
Her breath slows, her head rises
Above the surface water
Water drips from golden hair
Golden droplets hit the sea
She lies awake, she lies free
Only now is she able to see
Reality approaches like a sudden intruder
She looks to the sky for hope
Her mind distracted, she turns to see
The dolphin say goodbye
Her mouth was open but now is closed
Her lips shield her teeth
She makes a smile and all the while
Has the feeling underneath
Joyfulness hides in every day
Behind roads, trees, and under the water
You seek you find, if you want
To talk to the dolphin today
Miss the water, miss the joy
Every day is a gift
Miss the dolphin, miss the sand
We miss the beach and its mist
She sleeps now and soon will wake
But the dolphin always stays
The smile can sometimes fade away
But the dolphin always stays.
Happy Birthday, Abigail
“I love you.”
Abigail stared at me for too many seconds.
“I love you.”
She didn’t mean that.
“You don’t mean that.”
“I do. I just wasn’t expecting it.”
I sat down, and I looked down. Everything about me felt down.
“Reve, I just don’t know how I feel.”
I looked up, but I still felt down.
“I fall in love too easily. And I don’t want it to happen again."
“You don’t want to fall in love with me.”
Abigail moved her eyebrows around in a way I didn’t like.
“I don’t like that word.”
She nodded her head, and I looked back down. She kept talking.
“I love pancakes, I love my life, I love this weather, I love my shoes, I love The Sun Also Rises, I love kissing you, and I love you. I say that stupid word all the time, and it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
“I know it doesn’t mean anything, but I still feel it.” Not the smartest thing I could have said.
“How do you know you feel it then?”
My head was still down. I wanted to sink into the floor and be sunken away forever. But I am also an optimist, so I was still hopeful this conversation would go somewhere that I wanted it to go.
“I don’t think love is special –
“Can we stop saying that word?”
I looked up. And I looked into her eyes. People often romanticize eyes, but they’re just eyes. I did like her eyes, though.
“I care about you more than anything. Is that not love?”
Abigail wasn’t looking down or up. She was pacing around with a stern look.
“How would you define love?”
Before I could answer, she continued.
“Love doesn’t mean anything until it does.”
I must have looked confused. She went on.
“When my dad had a heart attack, I had a panic attack, and I thought I had lost him. And I was depressed because I never told him I loved him. And now I tell him ‘I love you’ every time I see him because now it means something. It doesn’t mean anything until it does. I always cared for him and felt the same as I do now, but there was no point in saying the phrase. And now there is. But I don’t tell my mom the phrase. And I feel guilty about that sometimes, but that’s the way it is.”
She took a deep breath then continued speaking.
“I don’t think I’ll ever tell the person I marry that I love them. If something happens like a heart attack, then maybe I will. Or maybe something I can’t even fathom will happen, and I will say it all the time. But for the most part, it’s a meaningless phrase.”
She paused and stood still.
“You told me love was joy.”
I was watching her eyes, so it was difficult for me to listen at the same time.
“Do you remember that? Do you remember saying that to me?”
"Well if love is joy, what’s joy?”
I squinted my eyes and watched her feet walk around the fuzzy carpet. It felt good to walk on that carpet.
I don’t think anybody knows what joy really is, but I spend some time almost every day thinking about it. This is why I despise the English language sometimes. You can’t describe anything. You can’t understand anything. Nothing really means what you want it to mean. And you can’t articulate what you want to say because everyone feels the same way. I like speaking Spanish because they have words for everything. Like the word sobremesa. It’s the word that means the conversation you have after you finish dinner, and are still seated at the table, talking. That’s a real word. That saves time. That makes sense.
But I thought a lot about what joy means, so I felt I might as well say something.
“It’s something more.”
“Something more than what, Reve? Something more than what exactly? More than happiness? More than fun?” She always has a specific intention when she raises her voice.
“Well it lasts longer than happiness. And it lasts longer than fun.”
“So it’s permanent. That’s what you’re saying. Joy is permanent. So love is permanent. So you and I are going to get married and have kids and will always be in love. That’s what you’re saying.”
“I hope so.”
Her jaw dropped, but she wasn’t amazed or anything like that. More dumbfounded than anything.
“I hope so? That’s about the worst answer you could come up with.”
I feel the need to say that we might sound drunk, but we were both sober. Abigail has never even had a sip of alcohol. But I lie about things, so she may have lied to me as well.
“Joy is laughter,” I said. Another incredibly broad, meaningless statement. “Joy is the feeling you have when you smile for no reason. It’s the feeling I get when I sit alone at home during winter, and I stare at my Christmas tree. I sit on the floor alone and stare at the tree for hours. And I smile. And it shows on my face, and I feel it in my bones. It’s also the feeling I get when I run in the street. A rush of joy comes over me when I realize how incredible it is to be alive. So I run in the street and yell, maybe sing, and I feel joy. And it’s also the feeling I get when I’m with you. When I see you smile, I have joy. But it’s weird because when I see you cry, I have the same feeling, but it doesn’t show on my face. I just hold you tight and we cry together. That’s joy.”
Abigail stopped pacing as she listened to all this. She really did listen. She came and sat down next to me, but not too close. When she started to speak, her voice sounded different. She was trying to whisper but was not successful. It just made her sound nervous.
“But does it go away?”
I didn’t speak for a few seconds, but I wasn’t thinking about anything at all.
“And yet you yelled at me yesterday morning. And you punched a hole in the wall a couple months ago because you were so mad at me for no good reason. And last Tuesday you didn’t even speak to me, and you never told me why. So how can you say you have joy?”
“I blocked it out.”
“You blocked it out.”
“Yes. I have it. Everyone has joy, which we can agree now is a synonym for love, yes?”
When we first started going out I thought “sure” was a negative word, but she taught me that it really just means yes. I still don’t believe her sometimes.
“Okay. So everyone is born with love and joy, and you can always have it and give it, but sometimes it’s really hard to do that.“
"But why is it hard?”
I didn’t have an answer. But she did, so she continued talking.
“I think it’s difficult because people want to be sad. I’d go as far to say that people seek out being depressed. I don’t even think it’s an attention thing, but that might be part of it. Just think about all the people you know who say things like ‘man, I’m gonna kill myself.’ I don’t even care that it might be insensitive. I’m not offended. Say whatever you want. But that sort of thing doesn’t make sense to me. People enjoy feeling bad. People want to be near death, they want to curl up in a ball and cry, and they want people to know about it. They want the world to know how sad their life is. But people aren’t special. I hate when people think they’re special. I hate it. When people think they’re special, they isolate themselves and live in their head and feel superior but also feel miserable, and it’s this whole cycle that doesn’t make any sense. Everybody has terrible stuff happen to them, everybody has strange thoughts, and everybody has emotions. And sure, I think you’re right, everybody has love and joy, and people just don’t want to use it. They’re afraid because of their past or because of a lack of trust or something beyond my knowledge.”
Her knowledge is vast.
“I don’t care,” she continued. I really just don’t care.”
“You do care.”
“How do you know.”
“Because you think about it.”
“I don’t care about everything I think about.”
“Really? What are the things you think about the most?”
She shifted her position. She bent her knees and put her shirt over her knees and legs like little kids do sometimes.
“I think about food pretty constantly. I think about you a lot. I think about sex. I think about my future, like, stressing about what I have to do for the day…I think about Jamie.”
“And you care about everything you just said. All of that is meaningful to you in some way or another.”
She rocked back and forth.
“I suppose so.”
Both of us looked down at the fuzzy carpet. It needed to be vacuumed, but it wasn’t gross.
We stayed quiet until Abigail spoke again.
“I don’t love Jamie.”
I looked up at Abigail looking down at the fuzzy carpet. I couldn’t think of something to say, so I didn’t say anything.
“But I don’t love you either.”
For some reason this didn’t make me mad or sad.
“I know. Even though I don’t know what it means.”
“I don’t think it matters. But I do think there’s some truth to what you said about always having love. I think it also applies to loving people. I think there’s one person you meet in your life who you truly love. And maybe you marry the person or don’t speak too much to them, and either way maybe you don’t realize it, but it’s there and it’s there with that one person.”
“That’s a pretty dumb thing to say.”
I knew she wouldn’t like hearing me say that, but she always listens, so I continued.
“Love is a choice. You can love multiple people, and love fades away sometimes, and that’s just that. But don’t tell me everybody has one person. You know that’s ridiculous. You know love is a choice.”
“Love is a choice, sure. But I don’t want to choose you just like I didn’t want to choose Jamie. I’m going to choose the one person who I truly love.”
"How will you find that guy? How do you know I’m not that guy? How do you know it’s not Jamie?"
She pulled her legs out of her shirt and stood up. She swung her hair in my face, but she didn’t mean to.
“The guy will bring me joy.” She looked at me when she said this, which I didn’t particularly like.
“Do I not bring you joy?”
“You have it, you just don’t give it.”
I wish I spoke better Spanish. I want to move to Spain. I want to live in Madrid and live in one of those beautiful houses that look like a castle. And I want to be retired and just paint. I want to paint all day, and explore the world all night. And joy will always be rushing over me and inside me and I’d be spreading it around to all the lovely people I meet. I wouldn’t have a bad day. On the last Tuesday of December, I’d walk out of my beautiful home at night to start my usual exploration. And as I’d walk past La Rosaleda, I’d see a pretty girl, painting. And I’d know she was special because I am a painter and saw that she painted, but she didn’t know I painted so she wouldn’t realize anything yet. Then I’d tap her on the left shoulder because the right side of my face is my good side, and I’d say, “Eres mi persona especial a quien amo.” And she’d have the prettiest eyes in the world and they would glimmer with the reflection of the water and she’d say, “Ya lo sé.”
©2023 Jake Schick