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The Ghost of Christmas Sideways

Can one find self-awareness in a dirty bathroom? (Some adult themes and language.)



The apparition was angry.

“Stop saying that! I am not the Ghost of Christmases Past! I am the Ghost of Christmas Sideways! I show you how past Christmases and the rest of your life might have been different…if only you had been standing ten feet to the left!”

“All I said was that you’re kind of like the Ghost of Christmases Past with a bit of a twist. What’s so bad about that? What’s the big deal?”

The apparition continued his rant.

“The Ghost of Christmases Past just shows you what happened during past Christmases and what a dick you were! My methodology is far more sophisticated and artful! I zero in on selective poignant past Christmas incidents. I use them as an appropriate tapestry or backdrop upon which I induce you to project critical memories and feelings. This results in the construction of a unique, personalized psychological milieu. I subsequently interweave that milieu with alternate life lines that can lead you to incredible insights about the essence of your being and might help you change your life. All because your existential arc can be drastically altered by moving ten feet to the left.”

“Oh,” I replied. “Thanks for the compare and contrast. I got it now.”

He had materialized while I was there in my bathroom in my underwear contemplating my biennial shower. He looked like a depraved Pillsbury Dough Boy. A smiling white chunky form with big eyes, but also sporting a four-day beard growth and sucking on a huge cigar. I put my drink down on the bathroom sink. It was my fourth or ninth or twelfth of the evening. I had lost count in the basement when I was fooling around with Sally, my neighbor’s wife.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard! It makes no sense. YOU make no sense! This whole thing makes no sense! You’re just a hallucination, or some hologram that one of my idiot nerdy high tech friends is using to play a joke on me! Get out of my bathroom!” I pointed to the bathroom door.

That’s when he stopped smiling. He rose up and hovered directly over my head. I looked up and splat!...I was completely drenched in gobs of slimy, gooey ectoplasm!

“Yecccch!” I blurted out. “Disgusting! Was that really necessary?”

“It’s actually a great skin conditioner!” he pointed out. “Try rubbing it in with your finger tips. First fifty clockwise, then fifty counter clockwise. By the way…I would have missed you if you had been ten feet to the left!”

I walked over and got a towel. I wiped away as much of the slime on my body as I could. Then I bent over and tried to wipe some of it off of the floor so I wouldn’t slip on it. He floated back down, and when I got done wiping everything he was again calmly smoking his cigar and watching me. When I was finished he spoke.

“It is time for our journey to begin,” he announced.

“Our journey? What journey?”

“Just watch. Just stare into the shower.”

“Why? There’s nothing there but soap scum stains on the tiles and mildewed grout and jelly on the bathtub floor that dribbled when I was eating a sandwich.”

“There will be something there shortly! Just look into the shower! I’m going to project images there. OK?”

“Three dimensional images?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“High Definition images?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Wow! Have I got enough bandwidth for that? Is this going to eat up my fifteen gig quota?”

“Just be quiet and watch! This won’t be charged against your quota!”

I looked into the shower. And suddenly I saw myself, much younger, looking into a case in a jewelry store!

“My gosh!” I said. “That’s me shopping for Maggie’s engagement ring forty five years ago!”

I saw myself talking to the man behind the counter. “I’ll take that one!” I said, pointing to a ring in the front row of the display.

“Are you sure?” the man said. “Based upon what you told me about her, I think she might be happier with something I have over there.” He pointed to his right. “May I show it to you?”

“No,” I said. “I’ll take this one. I’m in a hurry. Pack it up and let’s go.” Suddenly the scene faded.

“What happened after that?” the apparition asked. “Do you remember?”

Did I remember! It hadn’t been pretty. That night I had kneeled down, shown the ring to Maggie and asked her to marry me. I remembered the look of disappointment on her face when she saw the ring and involuntarily blurted out, “How ugly that is!” Boy, that was a buzz killer! That had really ruined the moment! We both got angry. We fought, broke up, and never saw one another again.

“OK,” the apparition said, interrupting my thoughts, “now watch this version.”

I looked back into the shower. I again saw myself in the store.

“Are you sure?” the man said. “Based upon what you told me about her, I think she might be happier with something I have over there.” He pointed to his right. “May I show it to you?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’d love to see it.” I walked about ten feet to my left. He pointed and I looked down into the display case. There was the most beautiful ring I had ever seen! I couldn’t take my eyes off of it! I knew that Maggie would love it!

“I want that one!” I shouted. “That one there!” I pointed to it.

The new scene faded. The apparition spoke. “See what might have happened if you had gone ten feet to your left?”

Images of Maggie and me at the altar flashed through my head. Fantasies of years of passion and thousands of orgasms. I should have gone to the left. I would have been exhausted over the years, but really happy.

“OK. Look into the shower again,” he commanded.

“Can I look towards the front of the shower?”

“Why?”

“The jelly glob distracts me.”

“Sure. Look towards the front.”

I looked. Another scene appeared. It was me again. Or at least part of me. I saw my butt protruding into a doorway. I was on the other side of the doorway, apparently leaning over. An open box was also visible on the floor inside the room. Inside the box was a wool cowboy sweater.

“My gosh!” I said. “I remember that. It was Christmas Eve! I was preparing presents for Timmy, my son. My third wife, Shirley, and I had divorced and I had Timmy that Christmas. He must have been four or five years old then.”

“That’s correct!” the apparition observed.

“But so what? What’s so significant about this?”

“Keep watching…”

Suddenly I saw the same scene from another perspective. It was from the middle of the room that I was bending over in, looking back thru the doorway. I could see all of me now, leaning over with my butt extended. And thru the doorway I could see the stairs leading to the upstairs bedrooms. Suddenly Timmy came out of his room, apparently heading to the bathroom. He looked down the stairs, apparently saw my rear end and the cowboy sweater that was visible, started crying, and ran back to his room! Then that scene faded away.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “What was all that?”

“Tell me,” the apparition asked, “did Timmy change after that night?”

He actually had. The next morning after opening up his presents he had been very quiet. And over the coming weeks he had become distant and almost resentful of me. From that point on, our relationship had steadily deteriorated. As the years passed we spoke less and less to one another. Now we hardly spoke anymore.

“You see,” the apparition explained, “that was how Timmy learned that there was no Santa Claus! He got up to go to the bathroom, looked downstairs, and saw your unmistakable rear end and the present on the floor through the doorway! When he got the sweater the next day he realized that your stories about Saint Nick and Christmas were all lies! Santa didn’t bring him presents. You did. His childhood innocence was shattered! That’s why he subsequently grew to detest you! And why he subsequently embarked upon a life of endless drinking and drugs and womanizing! And why he made a prolonged attempt at suicide by becoming a civil servant and basically succeeded when he was declared brain dead twenty years later!”

I was stunned. I could see it all so clearly now.

The apparition sighed. “If only you had been ten feet to the left, he might never have seen your fat ass in the doorway. Or the sweater! He would have thought Santa brought it! He might have had a normal, happy life!”

“Wait a second!” I interjected. “This ‘to the left’ stuff is nonsense! I also could have been ten feet to the right! The doorway is only three feet wide.”

“Really?” the apparition asked. “Think about it!”

I thought about it. I visualized the room. On the other side of the doorway was an exotic cactus plant. Ten feet to the right would have been the perfect distance to get a needle up my butt when I bent over! I could not have been ten feet to the right. It had to be ten feet to the left!

Suddenly I heard the most frightful howl that I had ever heard in my entire life! Like a wounded animal in horrible pain, writhing about in its final, hideous throes of death! I began to shudder. The ghost reached back and whipped out his phone.

“Relax,” he said. “It’s just my text message notification sound. It does seem to unnerve a lot of people, though.” I watched him read the message.

“Hey, I gotta go!” the apparition said. “Got an emergency!”

“Wait!” I shouted. “So what am I supposed to take away from all this? What was the point of all this?”

He floated up near the ceiling and headed toward the door. He paused and looked back.

“You’re bright. Figure it out! And by the way…..” He dropped his cigar butt on the bathroom floor. “Flush that for me, will ya?”

With that he disappeared.

“Well,” I thought, “from now on, it’s ten feet to my left!”

The next year of my life was dedicated to struggling with my new positional policy.

Once I went to a ballgame. Since it was a rainy weekday it was pretty empty. I started to sit down, but then thought “Ten feet to the left!” I moved from seat A3 to A13. During the game some dorky kid caught a foul ball that was hit right to him…..sitting in seat A3! The seat I had deserted! I could have had that ball instead of that stupid kid!

Once I went to a movie, started to sit down, but then thought, “No! I’m moving ten feet left to another chair!” I saw some old woman on a walker struggling down the aisle heading to the seat that I wanted. I got there a second before she did and plopped down on the seat! She scowled at me, lifted one hand off of her walker and gave me the finger. But I had the seat! Then I felt a sticky mess under my butt. I got up and realized that someone had lost their lunch on that seat!

It didn’t make any sense! After several similar incidents, I decided to abandon the new positional policy and go back to my old ways. I took a walk in the park one day, walked up to a bench, and started to pace off ten feet to the left before sitting down. But then I thought, “No! This is nonsense! I’m just sitting down right here!” I did. A pigeon pooped on my ear.

I walked up to the bus stop one day, and thought, “Screw going ten feet to the left! I’m going ten feet to the right!” I did. I had to elbow some blind homeless guy who was tapping his cane out of the way to secure the spot that I wanted. Shortly afterwards a small cement chunk from the building behind us broke off and hit me in the head. Concussion. Twelve stitches. I thought, “Damn! That could have been the stupid homeless guy and not me!” I just couldn’t figure out what was going on.

It was the following Christmas that the apparition reappeared! In my bathroom again. Smoking a cigar again! Floating up near the ceiling again. And I, of course, was drinking again. I placed my drink near the sink faucet.

“Hey,” I said, “I should take that cigar and shove it up your white, poofy you-know-what! What was all that garbage that you gave me? All that garbage about how things would be different if only I moved ten feet to the left?”

“How things would be different?” he asked.

“Yes, how things would be different!” I shouted.

He floated down from the ceiling and hovered right in front of me.

“I never said that things would be different,” he said. “I said that things could be different. I never said that your life would change. I said that it might change. If you don’t believe me, I’ll replay the whole thing for you!”

I thought back to our original encounter. My gut told me that he was right.

“OK. So it was ‘could change’ instead of 'would change’. It was ‘might be’ instead of ‘will be’. But if things could have changed, why didn’t they?”

He took a puff on his cigar and blew smoke right in my face.

“It didn’t change,” he said, “because you are such a total schmuck! You are hopeless! Who rushes and buys an ugly engagement ring? Who races an old lady on a walker for a theater seat? Who elbows a blind homeless guy?”

He was on a roll.

“And worst of all, what stupid dad buys a four-year-old boy a stupid cowboy sweater for Christmas? Little boys don’t want stupid sweaters for Christmas! They want toys that roll or shoot or light up or explode or fly or squirt or play on TV! They don’t want a dumb itchy sweater. Dumb itchy sweaters are supposed to be knitted by grandmothers who smell bad and pinch your cheek and make you go yecccch! They are not supposed to be given by dads! Or moms, for that matter!”

“There’s nothing wrong with giving a kid a sweater!” I countered.

“Oh yeah? Nothing wrong? Nothing wrong? I know one kid who started hating women and turned into a serial killer after his mother gave him a stupid itchy sweater when he was six! He’d stage the crime scenes and dress the corpses in itchy sweaters!”

“My gosh,” I said to myself, “that could have been Timmy! He could have been known as the Cowboy Sweater Killer! Only he would have hated men, not women! Hmmmmm….or was that a plot I saw on a Christmas special for that TV show Criminal Minds once.”

“So let me understand,” I said to the apparition, “Nothing ever changed because I’m just too big of a dick?”

“That’s right! There are certain immutable laws of Karma. The universe will simply not allow goods things to start happening to a totally self-centered, selfish jerk like you. In your case, things will never get better. You’re lucky that you’re still alive! You’re lucky that your neighbor’s husband hasn’t figured out what you and his wife do in the basement and strangled you.”

He floated back up towards the ceiling. “By the way, Merry Christmas!”

He dropped his cigar butt on the bathroom floor.

“Yeah, I’ll flush it for you,” I said. “But tell me. Why did you even bother to come back? Just to tell me that I’m a putz?”

“Wow! Thanks for reminding me! Hang on…..” the apparition said. Suddenly he started drifting around and scanning the bathroom floor. “There!” he shouted. “There it is!” He swooped down and picked something up that was on the floor next to the toilet.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A fastener,” he said, “for my smart phone arm pack. I use it when I power walk to hold the phone. It popped off when I was here last year. It finally dawned on me where I must have lost it.”

“And you waited a year to retrieve it?” I asked.

“I’m a Christmas Ghost!” he explained. “I only get to Earth once a year! Good thing you’re such a slob. I might never have found it.”

Then he swooped over next to me with his phone in his hand. I knew what he wanted.

“Do you mind?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Go ahead.”

He put an arm on my shoulder, held out the phone in front of the two of us, flashed a smile, and took a selfie.

“Thanks. I never had a shot with such a total asshole before,” he explained. “Anyway, gotta run!”

He started to dissolve into the wall. I plopped down on the toilet seat and took a deep breath. I heard him shout back, “And for heaven’s sake, clean up the damn jelly in the shower!”

Then he was gone.

But suddenly, alone in that room, the true gravity of the situation dawned on me. For I had no idea what I would do if he decided to post that selfie on Facebook…..and then tag it!

© 2015 by Lee Goldberg, all rights reserved

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