Monday, November 1, 2010

A Letter From My Old Friend Ruckert


The calendar rolls over. When I stumbled outside to take a piss at two o'clock this morning the first snow was falling. This, of course, is traditionally the cue to dig out a copy of my beloved Jackie Gleason Christmas album (I own several, as you know). From now until the icebergs begin to recede from the fields out back, Gleason's deliciously bleak and narcotic masterpiece will be the soundtrack to my nights.

I don't look forward to the icebergs, which I assure you are very real. I had one last year that was the size and shape of one of those buildings designed by that cultural abortionist masquerading as an architect; I forget the fellow's name, but I believe you once wasted my time by taking me to see some museum he created there in Minneapolis.

I await the night when one of these bergs (to use the parlance, I think, of the old explorers) heaves its way through my fence and obliterates the house along with me in it. At this time in my life such a fate would not be unwelcome.

At any rate, I like to think that you can imagine me here, abjectly slumped in my green chair, once again pondering Jackie Gleason's motives for creating this Trojan Horse of a Christmas album --what kind of sadist would attempt to deliver holiday cheer with a series of kidney punches and low blows? It would of course be wrong to claim that this record gives me any real comfort or --God forbid-- delight, yet it is nonetheless dear to me. The copy of the record I now have in my possession originally belonged to my father, and once upon a time he saw fit to write his name on the album cover, as if he actually feared someone was going to steal the thing.

I still remember the old man sitting down every evening after dinner --unlike me, he'd generally wait until after Thanksgiving-- to listen to Gleason on the hi-fi he had there in the living room. The lights would be turned down, and the stringers of colored bulbs on our hideously flocked Christmas tree would look like tiny Cambodian fishing boats lost as sea and laboring through an impenetrable fog. And there my father would sit, his third or fourth or fifth drink of the night sweating on the lamp stand next to his easy chair, listening to Gleason and staring --like a man being coerced to sign a confession-- at that album cover in his hands.

You've seen the cover, Zellar. I'm sure I've showed it to you. It looks like a crime scene buried under several feet of snow. There's a photo of a rural mailbox, a mailbox wrapped forlornly with a red bow. There appear to be gifts stuffed in that mailbox, but they are almost certainly gifts that will never be opened, because something terrible, something unspeakable, has occurred in that house at the end of the driveway. I'll never forget the look on my father's face as he listened to that music --which as a child I couldn't even begin to recognize as Christmas music, so thorough was Gleason's bleak deconstruction of the old carols-- and stared into that photograph, which I now like to believe allowed him to stare into the bottom of everything, to see the inevitable disappointment on his children's faces come Christmas morning, to see his own failures and disappointments, to see the endless dark winter stretching beyond the holidays, to see the passing of things, the unstoppable passing of everything, everything, everything. As he stared into that photograph it's entirely possible that he could even see his own neglected tombstone in a snow-swept cemetery.

I know what you're thinking, Zellar. You're thinking, there goes poor Ruckert again, projecting. And perhaps you're right. I seem to have powerful powers (powerful powers?) of projection these days, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

Believe it or not, I didn't write you to discuss the lethal, slow-acting poison of Jackie Gleason's Christmas album. No, I intended to thank you for sending along a copy of your hideous magazine. I thank you because I am your friend, and gratitude seems expected, however unwarranted it may be. In this case, I'm afraid, it is entirely unwarranted. I am, I suppose, happy to hear that you are employed, Zellar, but I can't imagine what you are thinking. Nor can I begin to tell you how much consternation I experienced while paging through that goddamned magazine. Time and again I found myself shaking my head and pining for the consistent stimulation provided by the Highlights magazines of my childhood.

Still, I did read the thing from cover to cover, even as I wish I had not. If nothing else the experience convinced me that my retreat to this miserable hermitage was necessary, and must never, under any circumstances, be reconsidered. Someday, if and when you ever again manage to pull yourself away from your odious duties long enough to pay a visit to your old friend Ruckert, you'll have to attempt to explain what the hell it is you people think you're up to.

I'm sure there's a great deal I don't understand, but shouldn't one really desire to leave a large carbon footprint, if only to demonstrate to the mutants of future generations that giants once walked the earth? How can I possibly believe in a green world when I live in a place that seems to have been created by a God who owned nothing but various shades of brown and gray crayons and hadn't yet learned to color within the lines? But the snow, you'll say, the snow, Ruckert, is white, to which I will answer, no, Zellar, the snow is in fact gray, and will get grayer by the day.

I can assure you that, spurred by much of the nonsense I read in your magazine, I am more determined than ever to leave a carbon footprint that would be the envy of the giants of the Old Testament, a carbon footprint that would swallow both Paul Bunyan and his fabled ox without a trace. Everything I use is plastic and disposable --utensils, plates, cups, immense jugs of caffeinated beverages-- and powered by gas, oil, and aerosol; all manner of contaminants line the shelves in my bathroom, kitchen, and basement. Recycling in this godforsaken place is the exclusive occupation of ragged penitents, hermits, and the homeless (you might, however, find it interesting that the place where this pitiful army is rewarded for its garbage is called a "redemption center").

If global warming finally succeeds in driving this snow from my doors and ridding the frozen fields around me of icebergs I would be nothing but delighted. And if somehow I could also manage to leave a giant carbon footprint as well? I'll be damned if that's not a dream worth living for. What have I wanted my entire life but to leave a lasting message to the world I'll leave behind?

And what does that message boil down to, Zellar, and with what words is it most succinctly expressed? RUCKERT WAS HERE, ZELLAR! RUCKERT WAS HERE, AND THE SON OF A BITCH LIVED LARGE!

Engrave those words on a monument, bub, and erect it at the edge of my gaping carbon footprint, where future generations of wheezing pilgrims, outfitted in hemp and organic cotton grown in underground bunkers, can pause and --anemic with envy and delirious with meat cravings-- ponder with wonder my lonely and heroic existence.

I guess this is my version of a Christmas letter, Zellar, and so I will sign off with as much holiday spirit as I can muster: Ho-ho-fucking-ho!

Ad astra per aspera!

Ruckert, in exile.


  1. Pretty good, Zellar. Especially the Latin at the end. Love it when my literate friends are erudite as well. Merry Christmas.

    Yr. friend,


  2. Aegri somnia, Tom. Pretty good is not good enough!