CHRISTMAS AT THE KIRSCHENBAUMS should be a contradiction, and would be if not for Larry Kirschenbaum’s pragmatism: If his clients come in all stripes of faith, then so can he. Each year, forty or so guests are treated to a ten-foot Christmas tree and sexy caterers, usually dressed as naughty elves, serving potato latkes. This year, the menorah will be joined by a Kwanzaa kinara, a nod to a medium-famous rap artist Larry successfully defended on gun possession charges. Still, out of deference to those Irish Catholics whose need to drive inevitably collides with their passion for drink – the bread and butter of Larry’s practice – the event itself will probably always be called “Christmas at the Kirschenbaums.” After making my regular Friday night delivery to Danny Carr, I take the train back to the Island. It’s the first time I’ve been home since I moved to the city. This time, no one’s awake to greet me. But it feels good to sleep in my old bed. When I wake up, my mother’s already in the kitchen. I sit down at the table while she makes me pancakes. “Dad sleeping in?”
“I don’t know,” Mom says. “He didn’t come home last night.” I’m pouring syrup on a stack of pancakes when Dad enters through the back door. He’s still wearing last night’s clothes. He kisses Mom, who’s joined me at the table, on the top of her head. “Goddamn Harvey made me sleep at the bar,” Dad says. “I told him I was fine, but you know Harv….” “I’m sure he just wanted to be sure you were safe,” my mother says without looking at him. “Honey, would you please pass me the syrup?” “What? You don’t believe me? Call Harv and ask him.” “Are his phones working?” she asks. “What do you mean, are his phones working?” “I mean if his phones were working, then you
could have called. Or called a taxi.” “Like I need this shit first thing in the morning,” Dad growls. Welcome home, kid. Fortunately Tana calls, giving me an excuse to go back to my room. “You’re coming tonight, right?” Tana asks. “So it’s true. Your basic greetings have finally become passé. Hello to you, too.”
“Are you coming or what?” “I’m here, aren’t I? At my parents?” “I’m just making sure,” she says. “Let me guess. You’re having some difficulties with a representative of the gruffer sex?” “Something like that.” Tana sounds anxious in a way I can’t quite pinpoint. “Is this something that can wait? Because I can come over now.” “I won’t be here. Dottie’s booked us haircuts and manipedis. Oh yeah, and a massage.” “Sucks to be you,” I say. “I’ll see you tonight.” She hangs up, good-byes apparently having gone the way of hellos. I turn to head back to the freak show in the kitchen, but the circus has come to me. Dad’s framed in the doorway like the maniac in a slasher flick. “You got a minute to talk?” he asks. “Sure,” I reply. “Is this about the money you borrowed?” “Heh,” he says, closing the door behind him. “No. I’m thinking of leaving your mother.” The silence gets awkward. “Okay,” I finally say. “That’s it? Okay?”
“What do you want me to say? ‘Don’t do it’? ‘Congratulations’?” “You’ve got every right to be angry….” “I’m not angry. We both know Mom deserves better than you. I’d say that I hope the bimbette is worth it, but knowing you, she’s probably not.” ” Janine. Her name is Janine. We didn’t mean for it to…” “Dad,” I say, “I really don’t give a fuck.