Christmas Is A Sad Season For The Poor (John Cheever)


You can find the full story on this article from the New Yorker Magazine.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1949/12/24/christmas-is-a-sad-season-for-the-poor

It is also found in the New York Times Best Seller “The Stories of John Cheever.”

(Pages 128-136.) 

Some of my classmates at my community college may not share my interest in reading more of the works by the authors I have read about in American Literature class. In this class, I was required to read works by authors dating from the Age of Realism through to the Post Modern era. Most people my age are not entirely familiar with short stories written by the late John Cheever. “The Swimmer” remains to be his most notable short story. A wealthy suburbanite male decides to take an unconventional method of transportation home via swimming pools owned by residents throughout his classy New Jersey county. He thinks this journey is going to change all of his previous failings and win the approval of people who already dislike him.

Cheever’s stories are known for their portrayals of affluence and how pretentious it can make those who are fortunate enough to live with it. However, one particular story “Christmas Is A Sad Season For The Poor” introduces a man named Charlie. He works minimum wage as an elevator operator in a swanky New York City apartment building. Of course, this means he has to get up and go to work on Christmas morning. He exhibits an expression of self-pity by claiming he is “the only one” who is expected to do so. The fourth paragraph provides some insight into why Cheever chose such a title for this story. Charlie utters many variations of the following refrain when he talks with the apartment residents.

“I think Christmas is a very sad season of the year. It isn’t that people around here aint generous – I mean, I got plenty of tips—but, you see, I live alone in a furnished room and I don’t have any family or anything and Christmas isn’t much of a holiday for me.

Naturally, most people would emphasize with someone who is in a similar situation to that of Charlie’s. Christmas is a very lonely time for many people. Finding coping mechanisms for such loneliness is essential for survival in a season that is ultimately supposed to be full of good cheer. Sometimes, we deal with such loneliness by unjustifiable actions such as lying to gain sympathy from others. He does just that when he speaks to Mr. and Mrs. Fuller. He lies about having two dead children and four who are still living. All of the apartment residents who interact with Charlie are sympathetic and empathetic towards him. His feelings of loneliness and sadness do not change.

The “woe is me” feeling is all too familiar for those of us who have gone through situations where it seems like complaining is the only way to cope. It seemed to work for Charlie. Residents shower him with all kinds of gifts as acts of kindness. The above takes place all the while being totally oblivious to the reality of his children being a pigment of his imagination. Just some of the gifts include eggnog, martinis, cocktails, a dressing gown, goose, turkey, pheasant, chicken, grouse, and pigeon. He drinks some of the drinks while he is on the job. Hilarity ensues after he begins to take Mrs. Gadshill down from the twelfth floor.

“Strap on your safety belt, Mrs. Gadshill! We’re going to make a loopty loop!”

Mrs.  Gadshill shrieked. Then, for some reason, she sat down on the floor of the elevator. Why was her face so pale; he wondered; why was she sitting on the floor? She shrieked again. He grounded the car gently, and cleverly, he thought, and opened the door. “I’m sorry if I scared you, Mrs. Gadshill,” he said meekly. “I was only fooling.” She shrieked again. Then she ran out into the lobby, screaming for the superintendent.

Drunken Charlie is now fired from his minimum wage job. This certainly does nothing for his sadness and loneliness. 

The excess of food and presents around him began to make him feel guilty and unworthy. He regretted bitterly the lie he had told about his children. He was a single man with simple needs. He had abused the goodness of the people upstairs. He was unworthy.

The final events of the story begin when he flashes back to the landlady in his apartment building. She is eating dinner with her family when Charlie knocks on the door. He offers presents to her children. He also gives her the dressing gown that was previously given to him. She accepts the offer. But, says to her children that they have received enough gifts. She encourages her children to bring the presents to the poor kids on Hudson Street. She says this as Christmas day is nearing its end. 

“Now, you kids help me get all this stuff together. Hurry, hurry, hurry,” she said, for it was benevolence for only a single day, and that day was nearly over. She was tired, but she couldn’t rest, she couldn’t rest.” 

This story can be interpreted in a few ways. The title reminds us how sad Christmas can be for people who lack the money to buy presents for their loved ones. I especially began to notice it’s portrayal of clashes between rich and poor. Charlie works a minimum wage job. Mind you, it is inside the elevator of a luxurious New York City apartment building. He has no choice but to interact with people who can afford luxuries which he can only dream of. Cheever enlightens readers about the impact it can have on one’s psyche. It made Charlie a perpetual victim who expected everyone to know about his misfortunes. Thus, it caused him to lie in a successful attempt to win the sympathy of the wealthy apartment tenants. It only provides temporary relief for his unhealthy perpetual victim complex. 

His face was blazing. He loved the world, and the world loved him. When he thought back over his life, it appeared to him in a rich and wonderful light, full of astonishing experiences and unusual friends. He thought of his job as an elevator operator – cruising up and down through hundreds of feet of perilous space – demanded the nerve and intellect of a birdman. All the contraints of his life – the green walls of his room and months of unemployment – dissolved. No one was ringing, but he got into the elevator and shot it at full speed up to the penthouse and down again, up and down, to test his wonderful mastery of space.

Finally and most importantly, those last few sentences remind me about the irony often associated with people who spend all of their time and energy to make Christmas more enjoyable for those who cannot afford it. This season only comes once a year. Like decorations, benevolence is placed in boxes and stored in the basement until next December comes around. I have tried to come up with a way, to sum up my writing about this story. All in all, I can say that reading it and interpreting it was time well spent. Charlie is a complex character. He is a con man who takes advantage of people’s kindness. Karma does come up to him. However, he looks back on his feelings of loneliness and tries to take a step in the right direction by performing an act of kindness.

 At the very least, he teaches us the right and wrong approach towards coping with the holiday blues. 

 

Being Openly Gay During The Holidays


The tree is lit up and beautifully decorated! Presents have been intricately wrapped! Christmas has returned for another year of festivities! So, why are people so mean and unhappy during this season that is really supposed to be about comfort and joy? Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays that can either bring the best or the worst out of many family relationships. Many of our LGBT brothers and sisters who live with deeply religious parents are no stranger to that fact. If the relationship turns to the worst, it can really take a toll on them during the holidays. Whether you have a supportive family or not, we must remember one thing.

 “Attitude is the mind’s paintbrush. It can color any situation!”

I remember my elementary school teachers used to display this quote on their classroom walls. These two sentences are important for us all to remember. I suppose we can say that Murphy’s Law of being openly LGBT is that you are bound to experience people who just don’t get it. Attitude can reveal our true colors. I am glad that I have gotten over the whole “coming out” phase. I can remember feeling outraged when YouTube right-wing “prodigy” Caiden Cowger made a viral video called “Obama is making kids gay.”

“Homosexuality… It is a belief. It’s not mandatory in that person! That person is not born that way, no matter what Lady Gaga says. That person is not born that way! It is a decision! You see, it is getting worse where I’m at. I see younger people that is turning to be out to be homosexuals.  Its equal boy and girl both. All of them are turning into homosexuals. We’ve got about thirty, I’d say thirty teenagers in this county that I am at that are homosexuals and it is sickening! It sickens me!” Caiden Cowger “Obama is Making Kids Gay”

It’s obvious that his parents are raising him to believe such ignorance. I remember the plethora of video responses and blogs following this video. Many of them were from the LGBTQUIA community. Others came from political commentators like Bill Maher. The internet is certainly a place where one can spread their own ignorance and find people who agree with them. Let’s face it! We are all guilty of saying ignorant things. This ignorance can not only come from strangers on the internet. It can come face to face with those who supposedly “know” and “love” us.

This begs the question. Should I discuss my sexuality or not? Well, sexuality is a taboo subject for a lot of people. Some people cannot fathom two consenting men or two consenting women “doing what they do” (if you know what I am talking about.) I am certainly convinced that a lot (but not all) of it is overly based upon religious convictions and general ignorance. When it comes to people I interact with on a daily basis, opinions range from Liberal to Conservative. The holidays are not the time for debates about divisive issues. That means that anyone who wishes to proclaim their homophobia must keep one thing in mind. I refuse to conform to people’s perceptions of what is “icky.”  It’s best to make that crystal clear as soon as they start hurling anti gay (or “pro family”) epithets. They are fully convinced their religious deity believes it is an abomination, among the many negative connotations used by the religious right.

We’ve all been forced to resist the temptation to give that judgmental zealot a bloody punch in the face. However, people like Caiden Cowger should remind us of one thing. A bloody punch in the face (or a terroristic threat in the comment section) is the reaction they want. They want to use us to their own advantage. They want to see us get into trouble so they can gloat about it in the end. They want us to feel like failures. (Caiden makes that abundantly clear in his last video complete with an overly dramatic introduction.) The best thing to do about people like this is to walk away and pretend it did not happen. You have to rise above their arrogance. Tell yourself that you are worth more than any person who ever tries to deny that fact! It took me a very long time to tell myself that.

Homophobia from outside the LGBT community often forces us to do one thing that can be very damaging during the holidays. Internalizing our anger and imposing it on innocent people is an unfortunate and under recognized problem. I am a “high functioning” Autistic male who managed to come to terms with my sexuality. There are a lot of things I still have to learn about living in this world as a double minority. I have already learned that my uniqueness does not warrant disrespect towards anyone. I should remind you that disrespect is not always intentional. We’ve all failed to do things we should have done. We have all done things we should not have done. I was that high school kid who always felt left out no matter where I went. People noticed that and they would occasionally take advantage of it. I don’t feel the necessity to elaborate on those experiences now, mainly because it was in the past. However, I urge all LGBT people to include those who may be going through those feelings now. I am asking you to help in lessening the division that exists within our own community. I cannot do this on my own, but I am willing to do it if you are!

Thank you for reading and happy holidays!

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