A Christmas Wretched Wretch Me; Make Way, Scrooge!

Into a mirror, try saying the word “Scrooge” outloud to yourself away from anyone watching you, very slowly, very, very slowly. Take careful notice of what saying that in that way does to your face. It screws up your physiognomy (which is an assessment of a person’s character or personality from his outer appearance, especially the face), doesn’t it?.

Now, try saying the word “wretched” in the same manner as you tried saying “Scrooge”, taking careful notice of what that does to your face. The nose wrinkles from being pushed up by the mouth showing the teeth in a kind of beastly wrench, a rather ugly show for anyone watching you.

Scrooge was a very lonely man, living in a huge mansion where Marley’s ghostly clatter echoes frightfully. His identifying phrase was “humbug”, as in “Bah! Humbug!” As it happens, I have a t-shirt with that phrase imprinted on it and have worn it as a joke for many years, probably for some dark reason that maybe the season can get a bit too gooey in some people’s rendition before they revert to type. But for some reason, I did not bring it out and put it on this past Xmas.

As it turned out, wearing it would have been more appropriate this past Xmas than for any of my previous seasons, when I had my wife to make merry with. On the worst Christmas Eve in my whole life, I was driving all over trying to find a place to eat as a self-treat, but they were all closed. One steak house was open, but it was jammed. With tears streaming, I was remembering past Christmasses as I drove around. Churches letting out jammed the roads as the police-directed traffic. A Kentucky Fried Chicken was open. They gave me a complimentary small paper bag if cool fries. Their leftovers. Bah! Humbug! But my word for me and that night was “Wretched! Wretched Wretch!”

I could sorta identify with old codger Scrooge. Estranged from his nephew by his own actions. Lost the love of his life. Alone. Not knowing what he was in for. Facing his future on a headstone. Revisiting his past, vividly portrayed in dreams. So I went home and put the colorized version on and watched him go through his ordeal of restoration.

I have for many years spent late on Xmas Eve, when everyone has gone to bed, watching the Alistair Simm version of “A Christmas Carol”, which I hold as the definitive performance of that classic. I remember seeing the film back when it made its debut, 1949, I believe. (Let me check that with Wiki.) Yes, I was way off. One reviewer said this: “(F)or all of these different film adaptations, I discovered that the 1951 version with Alastair Sim playing the titular role of Mr. Scrooge is one of the most beloved film versions of the story.” So I was wrong about the date. The disc has two sides, one B/W and the other colorized. For me, the black and white side is my preference, being the way it was when I first saw it, and the theme of the film goes better with B/W than color.

So! My Scroogeie word is, for me, “wretched”. I have used it well for my misery. The word leaves your mouth all twisted in an ugly smirk of lips and mouth curled up and out, if you say it right. But what does that have to do with anything?

In my physical and mental misery, there was no one to share my Christmas Eve with, in my preferred style. I enjoy watching all the colleges and universities and the Mormon Tabernacle musical programs. Great musical beauty reminds me so much of my dear wife’s beauty because she was beautiful and also enjoyed those programs. This was my first Christmas without those beauties. Then on Christmas Day I went home from my son’s house where we ate a fine dinner and exchanged gifts.

Here is the real matter I must bring up, the point of all this “humbug” feeling like a wretch. I have gained some insight about being an old man. There are many things happening that shout out at me, “You old wretch!” I mean, I am now really old, older than I ever realized. As old as that guy in the mirror that always looks back at me with that wretched look. Who would ever want to kiss that old wretch!

I think people do not have any understanding of –well, let’s take me, for example. This old man has most of his life now as a past. This old man was a teacher. When one retires from teaching, one cannot — no, I cannot — stop the impulse to teach, to be somewhat DIDACTIC as my second nature (habit). Scrooge’s “humbug” was money (“Are there no workhouses?”) for charity. My “wretched” is learning, people having “learning” experiences, especially for the young, to teach them what they need to know. My humbug is that which seems to make me wretched because there is that great resistance to being taught what needs to be learned, and the resistance especially against an old man wanting to be didactic. Discounted.

I have what might be called, “high culture” tastes. For “classical” music, plays, poetry, literature, philosophy. Over the holidays, I have watched Brahms’ “German Requiem” several times. And Wagner’s “Die Meistersänger von Nürnberg”. And Strauss’s “Rosenkavalier”. I would like to have some young people to share those grand things with me, for both me and for them, but they could not care less. I think those sorts of experiences would be valuable for them in untold ways. I find those melodies and harmonies and arrangements and individual virtuosities in playing intruments, singing, dancing and acting to be so beautiful and rare in young people’s experience, compareed to the pop stuff they regularaly hear, devour, and love. I wanted to be the instrument of their having those exposures they should have, they ought to have. It would be their gift to me if they gave their time to me for sitting still for several hours at different times and watching and hearing what I consider to be some great artistic experiences that they should have. For me, too, I would have the pleasure of sharing with them what I have known about those things for a very long time. Those are performances they can boast about having seen, at the right time, at the right place. I believe such a crucial moment for them will occur. Imagine that.

And yet, it will not happen. For a number of reasons, the most prominent one being that I am old. And who wants to associate with an old man? They’re no fun. Not in this time for the cult of youth. I am nobody’s grandfather. I do have a bunch of blog essays which readers have given high marks for writing good articles. I will pass nothing along, which is a teacher’s function. Sharing those wondrous works would have been the greatest present for me, and for them, to receive. I received clothing. Nothing fit. I am “XL”. It was all “L”. But it’s the thought that counts. Eh? I have learned that an old man is a difficult person to buy gifts for. A fruit basket might be a good idea. I have been given books, but that is a choice requiring great insight into the character of the old man. Very difficult. Many seeem to give gift cards for certain businesses. A gift of a meal or two at a local cafeteria might be appreciated. Or a gift card at a retailer like Amazon with a large variety of possibilities might be appreciated more than a pair of slippers that are too small and now causing some anguish about returns.

Form the word “wretchded” in your mouth, and see how it looks on your face as you finish the word. Now form the word “beauty” and see how that word forms on your mouth at the last syllable; it forms a smile, doesn’t it?. “Beauty”, for an old man, is the operative word, and so is “wretched”. And that is no “humbug”.


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