Don’t listen to her; listen through her.
“Blue Lamp,” Stevie Nicks
I see you looking at her. There’s no need to be shy about it. She is a conversation piece, because she’s so damned ugly. That’s part of her charm, you see. She’s one of a kind.
Yes, there is a story behind her. Would you like to hear it?
The family legend is I found her in a discard bin outside of a store. Apparently, I put up quite a tantrum, and insisted that she be rescued. You see, we already had our Christmas Tree topper, a beautiful silver star with a large blue rhinestone in the center. My older sister had picked it out. I pulled her from the trash, and was told to put her down. My mother thought she was filthy. But I called her my angel, and even gave her a name (though my sister says the name came later). Mehitabel’s her name. I don’t even know where a four year old would have heard such a name. And to be honest, Mehitabel was filthy. She was a horror. At one point, she had been a beautiful Victorian angel tree topper, with a red velvet gown embroidered with gold, a head of silken hair, and delicate wings the color of a blue jay’s. When I found her, her hair had been ripped out, half her face was burned, and her dress was in tatters. But her wings were still perfect, and the single eye she had left was a shining emerald glass bead.
She never served her original function. Our Christmas trees were always showpieces, elegant and understated. Flashing bulbs and tinsel weren’t allowed on the tree; my mother considered them tacky. The ornaments were all Murano blown glass from Italy. If one broke, Mother would go into hysterics; understandable, since they each cost a small fortune. Instead, Mehitabel would watch over me during the month of December. I always felt safe under her one-eyed gaze.
I suppose that my parents were lenient because when I was four years old, I suffered from terrible night terrors. The way Dad tells it, every night, like clockwork, I would scream like a banshee in my sleep. He would run to my room and try to wake me. It would take several tries before I finally gained consciousness. It was a recurrent nightmare. I have a crudely drawn picture of the nightmare figure: a little boy that glowed green. Dad says that I told him, through tears, that “he looks like a little boy, but he’s not really one. He’s just pretending to be a little boy.” The fake little boy would tell me terrible things. “I’m always watching you.” When Mehitabel joined the calvary of stuffed animals on my room, the nightmare visitations miraculously ended. My sister snarkily said that Mehitabel was so ugly that she even scared ghosts.
For the rest of my childhood, Mehitabel was my Christmas angel. She was as much part of the holiday tradition as eggnog and gift giving. But eventually, she fell out of favor. Or we lost her one year. I’m not sure what happened. Actually, I do know what happened. Thirteen-year olds don’t sleep with stuffed animals—or messed up angels.
But the story doesn’t end there. Flash forward about fifteen or so years later. After college, I moved west, to Silicon Valley. This was during the glory days of the dot-com boom. I was making crazy money, and spending it like a fool. I didn’t spend it on clothes or cars. I spent it on travel and restaurants. You name it, I went there. Dubai, Accra, Reykjavik… And I became quite the foodie. Sometimes, I’d go to places just to eat. There’s an Alsacian restaurant in a small French town that makes delicious galletes—buckwheat crepes. I would just fly there, have dinner, and then leave. I went to Australia for one weekend, just to taste kangaroo. (Over-rated). Another time, I went to a place in Greenland that applies molecular gastronomy techniques to Inuit cuisine. I was crazy. We all were. So when the bubble burst, it felt like we had been kicked out of the Garden of Eden. The company I worked for went bankrupt. There were no golden parachutes for anyone.