Christmas in Carroll Gardens

Dominick and Mary, my landlords, live on the first two floors of our brownstone. Implausibly, Dominick is “in the Christmas business”. When I moved in last April, he sheepishly outlined the rules for Christmas decorations:

“Anything you want inside the apartment, but we like to hang plain green wreaths in each of the windows for outside.”

My previous landlord was an elderly Russian-Jewish Bond girl, and wouldn’t have cared if I’d hung a live nude Santa on my front door. Especially not in April.

During my Thanksgiving vacation, Dom and Mary left three messages on my cellphone to arrange when they could get into my apartment to hang wreaths on the windows. I was amazed that people could think about such a thing in November, but I’d never seen Carroll Gardens at Christmas before. Besides the wreaths in every window, they have three Christmas trees in their apartment, and not a scrap of green is visible on any of them beneath the decorations. The backyard is full of life-sized, brightly-lit angels. Not puny, dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin angels; these are each as big as a well-fed nine-year old.

On Saturday night, they thew a Christmas party. They hired a piano player and a show-tunes singer, and persuaded my upstairs neighbor, Matt, to dress up in an elaborate Santa costume. Santa sat in front of the fireplace and handed out treats to all the neighbors. Dominick took Polaroids as they balanced on his meaty knees.

“Ho ho ho,” Santa boomed, “Where’s my shrimp? I was promised shrimp! Ho ho ho!”

He fled from heat exhaustion before the last presents were distributed.

Someone hired two salsa dancers who danced wildly with blow-up doll women. The blow-up doll women chipped away further at my dancing confidence, though I now have hope that if I were actually strapped to the feet and hands of a competent lead, I might amount to something. Feminism’s loss is aesthetics’ gain.

Then everyone gathered around the piano and sang carols and standards. Dom and Mary danced cheek-to-cheek, expertly. We were all well-fed and glowing with wine and twinkly lights and good cheer. They weren’t my friends and neighbors, exactly, but I was glad to learn that the spirit of Christmas movies can be real, sometimes.

Is it wrong to love a borough this much?

I wore a t-shirt to the office this morning. 65 degrees and sunny on December 1st. I think Manhattan is pretending to be Santa Barbara to bring the tourists back.


On the walk home from Max’s reading last night, we stopped off at a playground in Park Slope. I’d been tempted by the swings here two Saturdays before. These are cool municipal swings, not like the truncated little set in our back garden when we were growing up. Long, solid chains, wide seats, and smooth tarmac underneath. I knew these swings would let me be a safety-harnessed Tarzan, but I didn’t want to be near the bored, jostling 14 year olds who claimed them that day.

At 1.30 last night, though, they were mine. At first, I felt exhilarated. Then I couldn’t go much higher and I started to realize I was going nowhere. Back and forth, back and forth, an endless revving up for nothing. Drunkenly, I tried to calculate how drunk I was, which made me nervous. I imagined what would happen if I let go at the top of an arc. There were butterflies in my stomach as the swing dipped each time.

Someone said that a fear of heights is really a fear of our impulse to jump, and it’s true.

Raul Malo

Went to see Raul Malo play at Irving Plaza last night. It was like an intellectual wedding band. Heavy bebop piano on ‘Guantanamera’, and soulful Roy Orbison vocals on melancholy love songs. I still don’t have a passable rumba, salsa or merengue move, despite several lessons and a whole year of going to Cuban bars in Spain. I can shuffle out the steps by myself, but as soon as someone tries to lead, I turn into I Can Dance Barbie…Now With Bendable Limbs. With a serious case of the white woman’s overbite.

Went to Great Jones Cafe for catfish afterwards. The waitress was one of The Rogers Sisters, my friend Miyuki’s excellent band. When I lived in Midtown (55th and 5th) I used to see celebrities all the time but never anyone I knew. I’d forgotten what it was like to live in a community until I moved to Carroll Gardens. Now, the people I run into are like stakes on a flysheet, anchoring me down to this place.