The Man Who Came To Christmas

"Hey, Kid, slide over a little. Give me some room!" Karl shoved my arm. "Seriously, you're crowding me over here."

Karl, I'm already over. Any more and I'm going to fall off the stool. My friend and curmudgeon, Karl, and I were sitting at our favorite Spanish bar, Escritor's, to watch the Roller Hockey World Cup final. Spain was facing Argentina, and it didn't look too good for La Roja.

"It feels like you're crowding me. I need my space."

Hey, I'm not your clingy girlfriend. You're the one who wedged yourself into the corner there. I'm sitting on my stool like a normal person, and giving you plenty of room. Karl grumped and grunted, and tried to make himself comfortable.

What's your problem, anyway? You've been a complete grouch this whole evening.

"I'm sorry, Kid," said Karl. "I'm just having problems at home."

You're single, how do you have problems at home? I knew you were a pain in the ass, but you just don't get along with anybody, do you?

"Not me! My kids. My kids are just getting underfoot and into everything. I can't have a private moment to myself."

I thought your kids were grown up and out of the house.

"They are. They're visiting for Christmas, and Sheila brought her kids and her idiot husband, Bartlett." Karl rolled his eyes at the name.

And how's that going?

"It's a zoo. Her kids are ill-mannered brats. They don't eat what's set in front of them, they don't stay at the table for more than five minutes, and neither she or her husband know the meaning of the word 'discipline.'"

That sounded bad. I'd met Karl's grandkids before. Sheila and her husband Bartlett were crunchy-granola hipsters who owned an organic farm-to-table restaurant, where they grew and served their own food. It would have been a peaceful, idyllic life, if their children weren't shrieking demon-spawn.

Is that it? I knew all that. Why do you think I mailed your Christmas present, instead of bringing it over?

"No, it gets worse. Remember Jake?"

Karl's son, Jake, was some sort of high-up muckety-muck at a corporation in Chicago. They made stereo equipment or car tires or something; I couldn't remember, and I don't think Karl knew either. This was Jack's form of rebellion — Karl was a laid-back literary type, so Jake became a cutthroat business executive who recently divorced his second wife.

"He and Bartlett are constantly arguing politics. Jake's a Ted Cruz supporter, and Bartlett's torn between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton."

I'll bet that's interesting.

"Well, Bartlett's been haranguing Jake about Cruz's stand on immigration and shouting about Cruz not being eligible to run because he was born in Canada and his dad's Cuban." Karl took a sip of his wine. "It's actually kind of funny. Last night at dinner, Bartlett was on his feet shouting at Jake, 'where's his birth certificate? Show me his birth certificate!'"

I'm sorry I missed that, I said.

"Don't be. The kids were running around the table, and Sheila was yelling at everyone to shut up, so I went up to my study and locked the door. I fell asleep on the couch with my headphones on, and woke up when Bartlett tried to break the door down because they thought I was dead." Karl snickered. "He dislocated his shoulder and has to wear a sling for a few days."

How long are they in town?

"Until after the new year. They closed the restaurant 'to let Mother Earth recover during the winter solstice—'" Karl made air quotes with his fingers and rolled his eyes "— so they're going to be here for at least 10 more days."

Well, it'll be nice to have family around. You don't get to see them that often.

"Yeah, but I like it that way. I was just with them at Thanksgiving."

How was it?

"As you might expect. The kids were brats, and Sheila only gave them vegetarian hot dogs and cheese quesadillas, which they never actually ate. The rest of us had a vegetarian Thanksgiving: tofurkey, organic sweet potatoes with artisan cane juice, and hand-mashed potatoes because a mixer was too 'violent to the spirit of the potatoes.'"

So how are you going to survive it?

"I figured I'd stay with you a few nights. You know, just to relieve some of the pressure."

Oh man, I don't know. My wife is kind of picky about having people over.

"No problem. I already talked with her. She said it'd be okay." He clapped me on the shoulder. "I really appreciate this, Kid."

Hey, Karl, give me some room. I shrugged off his hand. Seriously, you're crowding me.

Photo credit: Carlos Delgado (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

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