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Posted on 26 December 2009

As Meryl Streep’s character, Sister Aloysius sobs in the final moments of the heartwarming holiday film classic, Doubt — I have doubts.  Though, for the record — I have no doubt Father Flynn was guilty.  Please, with those nails?

Now I doubt there is a single theater person reading this who is not thinking: “Correction!  You unsophisticated, rustic beast — Doubt was originally a play — on Broadway.”  I also doubt any of those broadminded Broadway types know — that I know ­— all about John Patrick Shanley’s little Pulitzer Prize™-and Tony Award™-winning production.  Starring the two time Tony Award™-winning Cherry Jones.  Since I cannot cross the Shinnecock Canal without the toll being a debilitating migraine — I never saw the play.  I watched the movie.  On pay-per-view.

I doubt I will ever see the inside of a cinema again.  Not since an unfortunate dispute with a barbaric theater manager during a broiling, airless, garbage-strewn screening of WALL•E.

During the holidays (Thanksgiving through Labor Day) it’s only natural for those of us with a pulse to have doubts, lose faith, and grapple with a bout of uncertainty.  Or,  in my case — a particularly virulent, prolonged case of shingles.  When the myth of merriment eclipses the truth inside us all, how can you not question what’s really going on?  Feel a bit down?  Sob with preternatural, dramatic genius like Meryl?

I find it best to face even the most unpleasant feelings as they come up.  Head on.  Once I’m completely unconscious.

Every night for the past three weeks, I have had a recurring holiday-themed nightmare — so disturbing — I wake up swallowing my tongue.  Except for one aberrant apparition last Sunday featuring decidedly non holiday-themed cameos by Brad Paisley, Peyton Manning, George — and Rosemary — Clooney.  I still woke up gagging.  But it had its moments.

For perspective, I will provide a standardized unit for measuring fear in dreams — based on cold, hard, rogue science.  I call it: The Travis Night Terror Factor of Fear From One to Five.

A level “one” dream might contain a brief clip from the Kate Hudson/Sandra Bullock/Sarah Jessica Parker/Matthew McConaughey romantic, romp-with-an-unexpected-twist — The Wedding Sniper.  Undoubtedly due in theaters nationwide any day now.

At the far end of the scale, is a level “five” dream.  Which would involve me — finding the detached-at-the-hip leg of a daddy long legs spider mid-chew and mid-way through — a fried clam strip platter.  Again.  The first time was no dream.  Thanks un-named (sounds like “crunch”), crazy-popular local seafood joint!

The festive reverie triggering my most recent apneas is completely off the scale.  (Great!  Now I have to revisit that whole “Fear Factor Night Terror” thing.)  Lately, instead of dancing sugarplums and Pussycat Dolls — my neocortex has been churning out the following Currier and Ives negative:

It’s Christmas Eve.  And in the midst of a malignant economy, I’m strolling down a totally bogus street.  In a 100%, inauthentic seaside resort town.  Let’s say…”Newberry Lane.”  In…”  East Hamsandwich.”

As I pass by Newberry Lane’s impossibly clean storefront windows, I’m confronted by the same hollow-eyed, sallow-skinned, worried specter of my own reflection.  Apparently, certain aspects of dreams are wincingly accurate.  Gazing past my disappointed mug, I focus on the content of each retail display — featuring one criminally-out-of-touch, luxe-gone-wild, merchandising nightmare-within-a-nightmare after the next.  Did East Hamsandwich not get that memo re: The Great Recession?

One curiously named clothing store — “Fußball” — caters to recent college graduates flush with cash.  (Perhaps that memo is buried under the latest issue of Cigar Aficionado?)  Fußball’s aggressively pretty display features youthful mannequins with over-whitened, toothy grins (Dreams are so surreal — imagine bleaching one’s teeth to the cusp of translucence ever being en vogue!) — all sporting cashmere-lined, patent alligator fishing bibs and embossed anaconda leather hip waders.  With ermine trim.  Of course.

Moving on, the next window barely holds back a creatively unrestrained “Christmas in Val d’Isère” tableau — quite literally crawling with swans.  Flocks of Trumpeter swans to be precise.  Flapping, honking, snapping, live  Trumpeter swans.  Each stumbling bird wearing the same Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses.  Except for this one total jerk swan — working a pair of Tom Fords.  Interesting fact: If you really want to infuriate a swan, try hot gluing $1,200 worth of overwrought eyewear to his bill.

Tastefully framed inside the final storefront widow — on my tour of this hellish, epicenter of want — is the this sunny announcement:

“Thanks for another obscenely-profitable season!  We’re off to St. Barts.  Because we can.  You’re  staying here.  Because you have to.  Sorry.  But look for us in March!  We’ll be the bright-eyed, well-rested ones  — with creamy, glowing complexions.”

I’m shocked.  Struck numb.  I try to speak — but end up emitting a detached, swallowed howl.  Is this actually happening? There are Botox parties and proper places to get a chemical peel on a little island like St. Barts?

Good for them.  Better for me.  Because the one thing I know — without a shred of doubt  — is how blessed I am to live surrounded by friends who make me feel safe. No matter the threat.  Within the comfort of a real community.  Where we celebrate the best.  And share the rest.

Merry Christmas Sag Harbor.

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3 Responses to “Doubts”

  1. Nick says:

    Peter, this is gold. Especially the dream sequence… Swans forced wear ridulously pretentious sunglasses in an East Hamsandwich window display; the poetry of it is agonizingly beautiful. You, sir, are muy awesome.

  2. Easy Streep says:

    I can’t believe that no one is commenting on this! I thought surely the sharp witted and sophisticated Sag Harborians would be eating this up, if only to join in piling on our neighbors to the Southeast for how crass and unappealing their village has become. I guess everyone is too busy watching “It’s Complicated” and returning half-assed recession era gifts. Oh well. Love your work.

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