‘Twas the Night Before: Chapters 2 and 3: The Rest of…the Date

We are back to the present, back to Tom and Noella sharing a booth at Round-the-Clock.  It’s Black Friday and well into the evening and a blizzard has brought Chicago to a standstill, but this has not stopped our intrepid “heroes” from enjoying their weekly ritual. 

Part of this ritual is Noella ordering Tom to read his column to her. 

“I know you’ve got the copy on you.  Let me hear it.” [Noella demanded]

Back in February she had wept the first time he read her one of his columns–his idea that time.  No one could read a piece of writing better than the writer himself.  If for some reason he had needed to make it seem her idea each time since, it was worth it.

See?  He wants me to order him around like a child!  It makes him happy, that’s why I do it!

That’s an odd bit, too, about the writer being the best reader of his work.  Does Noella, a communications Ph.D., really think that?  Because I have heard plenty of audiobooks and I can tell you, sometimes other people (like oh, say, professional readers) are better at performing than the author.  (Jenkins, btw, does not read his own books for the audio versions.)

Here I will grace you with some of Tom Douten’s actual writing:

“If this blizzard depresses you as much as it does me, put yourself in the place of this year’s first caller to the Mayor’s Emergency Cold Line.  LaShawna Jackson’s two-room flat, four-tenths of a mile west of the festive United Center on Madison, is home to her and her four children under seven…”

Tom paused while Rita warmed their drinks, and when he finished, Noella’s hands were deep in her pockets, her shoulders hunched against the chill–not from the restaurant but from the Jackson flat.  In just a few hundred words she had been there.  She knew the woman’s name, her situation, her children, their names, their ages, and something each had said about the snow and cold–innocent, naive things that made you want to give them your own parka.

Tom’s column included the news that Cold Line personnel had responded.  “Most of us,” he concluded, “have twice the heat, not to mention luxuries, we need.  None of our neighbors should go to bed hungry.  Certainly, none should sleep in the cold.”

Okay, so the ending of the column is trite, but the opening isn’t bad.  And honestly, I think Jenkins is handling this in a pretty clever way.  It’s hard to write about a writer without including at least a bit of his writing.  This piece exemplifies what Tom likes to write about (the poor of Chicago), and the ending, trite though it is, showcases his inner sensitivity and sense of justice, for all he has the reputation of “cynic.”

Noella’s chocolate grew cold.  “I don’t know how you do it,” she managed to say.  “I would have written something about the beautiful snow or the uplifting season.  The tragedy in my story would have been going to a party and being caught away from home in nice shoes and without boots.”

Noella, meanwhile, exemplifies her sweetness and innocence snobbishness and self-involvement.

Oh, and speaking of having no boots, the next thing she wants (because frankly, it’s always something with this girl) is for Tom to take her for a walk outside.  In the blizzard.

Noella sighed.  “Thomas, you know I’m going to win this one…”

Is there ever any “one” that Noella doesn’t win???

“…so why don’t you just get your coat on?”

“I’m not even wearing boots.”

Oh, please, like your comfort is going to get in the way of what she wants, Tom.

“I’m not talking about crossing Siberia to the gulag,” she said.  “We’ll stick to cleared sidewalks, and I promised not to keep you out past your bedtime.”

Let me just patronize you a bit, honey. 

Oh, and I have my doubts that any sidewalks have been cleared yet.  I’m a Midwesterner, and sidewalk-plowing generally takes place some hours after a blizzard.

It was against his nature to cave.  “I’ll sweeten the deal,” she said.  “I’ll let you hold my hand.  I might even let you put your arm around me.”

Tom: But we could do that here in the warm restaurant…


He sighed.  “Lead on.”

Aw, love.  Wish I had a relationship like that.

During their blizzard date, Noella also shows Tom her favorite possession: a Christmas necklace she wears for the entire holiday season every year.  It appears to be made of platinum, has a Christmas tree cut out of it, and says “Forever And” on the front and “December 24, 1965” on the back.  It was a gift from “Santa” in 1975, and Noella’s parents didn’t like it (both denied giving it to her). 

In fact, Noella’s mother disliked the thing so much that she Accidentally On Purpose threw it away shortly thereafter, though Noella got it back.  According to Noella, her mother was “cruel and thoughtless” and the incident caused their relationship to be “strained” for TWO YEARS.

And longer than that.  Noella goes home that night (Alone, of course.  Noella and Tom may be engaged, but they’re not having any sleepovers, dammit!), thinks about the incident, and is so upset by the memory that she can’t sleep.

I’m glad Noella has such maturity and perspective.  She knows that there are important things to get upset about, like your mother trying to throw something away, and unimportant things, like your father telling you that he hates you and wishes you were dead

Hmm, what was that advice you gave Tom, Noella?  Something about “leaving the past behind,” “accepting” people as they are and not “harboring bitterness,” wasn’t it?



Posted on December 17, 2011, in Books, Christmas, Twas the Night Before. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Letting him… PUT his ARM around her?

    The shameless hussy! He hasn’t even bought her from her father yet!

  2. Since nearly everything else in this chapter drives me to frothing rage at present (yes, even Tom’s column, mainly because I have serious doubts about Jenkins applying such consideration to real poor people), I’ve just got to ask: what in hell kind of inscription is “Forever And”? Forever and what? Forever and Chrismas? That doesn’t make any sense. Forever and a tree? Neither does that. Forever and forever? Nope. Maybe it’s from someone named And, and the inscriber forgot the comma. At least “Forever, And” makes sense.

    • Tom and Noella both think it must mean “Forever and a day,” and Noella thinks it’s not necessary to add the “a day” part, because everyone would know that’s what it should be.

      Yeah, I know, obviously, right?

      But I think “Forever and a tree” is better. Mostly because to most RTCs, “environmentalism” is a dirty word. 😉

      • Really? Here I’d assumed that it was some foreshadowing and the end of the phrase would be found on another necklace’s pendant.

        How dull.

      • Wouldn’t have thought of that completion. And in Google it’s only the third completion suggestion if I type “Forever and”.

      • Oh fantastic, the “a day” is super obvious, but “I love ya” could be a cryptic message to anyone? Jenkins has some real talent for creating deplorable characters.

        How old is Noelle in 1975? I was 3. I have a hard time believing the parents hated the necklace enough to want to throw it away (unless that’s part of the mystery) or that she remembers it happening.

        Hmm, now that I think about it, how old she now? I was picturing someone my age or younger but I suppose she and Tom could be in their 50’s.

        • The book was published in 1998. The necklace has her birth day on it, except off by a day, I think, because she’s supposedly born on Christmas. She was ten in ’75. She’s thirty three or thirty two in the present day of the the story.

          Yes, I had to go poking around the internet to find this all out, because I started out just as confused as you.

          • This is all just right, except that Noella is alleged to have been born on the day after Christmas. The story is definitely meant to take place in 1998, so she was ten in 1975 and thirty-two (very soon to be thirty-three) as this story happens.

    • My brain processes “forever and” and finishes it with “ever, amen.” That still leaves the question of what is forever and ever, though. Noella’s immaturity innocence and purity, maybe?

  3. “Forever and a tree” — I love it! I should make that my email signature.

    Re: Tom’s article
    1) props to Jenkins for actually giving us some of Tom’s writing. It drives me nuts when a writer writes about a writer, tells us that the writer is good, and then never gives us any example of the so-called good writing.

    2) Opening paragraph needs one small change to make it decent for me:
    “LaShawna Jackson’s two-room flat, LESS THAN HALF A mile west of the festive United Center on Madison etc.” (4/10s of a mile — what human being talks like tha — oh, right. Jenkins.)

    3) The middle paragraph describing Noella’s reaction and why is the worst. “In just a few hundred words she had been there. She knew the woman’s name, her situation, her children, their names, their ages” um, the only thing here that should be making Noella hunch up would be the description of the situation. This might sound harsh, but you don’t need to know the ages of childen or even their names to sympathize with their plight.

    4) Last paragraph is good. Preachy, but it does have some punch to it. . . . almost impossible to believe Jenkins wrote it — it sounds too human for him!

  4. inquisitiveraven

    Gah. According to Fred Clark, Jenkins used to work at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago which means that Jenkins must’ve lived in the Chicago area. One would think that he’d have experience with major winter storms in the area, but if so, you sure can’t tell from his descriptions here.

    I should note that I’ve been known to shovel off my front steps in the middle of a snowstorm. This is largely so I can actually get the front door open after the storm is over. I’ll be able to open the door if there’s six inches of snow on the steps; I might not if there’s a foot or more. That said, in a blizzard, the steps don’t stay usable for more than a few minutes.

  5. “It was against his nature to cave.” BWAHAHA! Oh yes Tom we know. You hardly ever cave in to her, it’s against your nature. And Rayford cares a lot about Hattie and Buck is the Greatest Investigative Reporter Of All Time. We’re firmly back into Jenkins familiar territory of “tell, don’t show”, or rather “show, then tell the opposite”.

    “In just a few hundred words she had been there. She knew the woman’s name, her situation, her children, their names, their ages, and something each had said about the snow and cold–innocent, naive things that made you want to give them your own parka.”
    If Tom’s good writing is like Jenkins’ idea of good writing, this is accomplished roughly as follows: “Her name is LaShawna Jackson’s, she has two children named Sasha and John, aged 6 and 9. LaShawna said she was cold. She was feeling still very gratefull and humble towards God, knowing that every scrap of warmth she did get was a gift from him. Sasha also said it was cold and he was hungry. He already understood this was because this world is fallen and inperfect, but that he’d be nicely warm in heaven. John said he was cold. He did wonder why God would let them be cold, because he’s a filthy ungratefull brat who should hope the Rapture happens before his 12th birthday, else he’ll be left behind and he’ll be alone and in torment and realizing he was wrong in thinking God was mean. Or worse, he’ll have to star in Left Behind: The kids.”

    Okay, I don’t get that present-story. Noella got it from… somewhere, but her parents didn’t like it. So her mother decided to throw it away? Everything Ruby says about her being whiney and hypocritical is true, but I have to ask why throw it away? It’s not like it’s a huge or noisy toy that can bother you. It’s a tiny necklace she needs to take out for people to see it. Also, you don’t toss a piece of platinum large enough to make a readable inscription in. It’s dense material, so even a thin piece with several words worth of writing fitted on it will weigh several grams, and that stuff is worth a 45 bucks per gram. Actually, that’d be a good reason not to let her wear it as a small child. If anyone figures out a little girl is wearing several hundred dollars around her neck, it’s not gonna end well.

  6. Also, we haven’t heard any of her still believing in Santa yet? Or is this it? “I got a Christmass present. Mommy hated it so much she wanted to throw the thing worth several hundred dollars away just so I couldn’t have it, and then Daddy denied he was the one who gave it to me. So it must have been from Santa for realsy!”

    • That’s basically her argument, but she hasn’t stated it explicitly yet–that is, Tom doesn’t Get It.

      That’s coming today. 😀

      • Oh dear God my head. Whatever the story says, I now imagine that Christmass day as follows: Noella unwraps a present, daddy smiles proudly but then catches a glimps of mommy’s face, which suggests that for some bizare reason** she’d rather have a non-housebroken Hippo with a degestive problem in her house than this abomination, and quickly decides to feign suprise as to how that present got there, whenever his wife or daughter asks. After all, he knows that Noella got her manipulative tendencies and behavior of dumping any man she isn’t happy with at a moments notice from her mother, and he has no desire being the focal point of that again.

        **Or let me be generous in the spirit of Wintermass, and in the spirit of having a likeable character here: I’ll say it’s a combination of her thinking it’s such a wastefully extravagant present worthy of only the most overpriviliged of rich bitches, and a safety hazard for a young girl to walk around with such a highly prized and easily stealable piece of jewelery.

        • Actually, more weird stuff about the necklace occurs to me (or at least poorly explained stuff).

          It appears to be made of platinum. Um, does platinum really look significantly different from silver and/or silver plated jewelry for non-jewelers to make this distinction? It sure doesn’t look like it from google searches. (But it might in real life.)

          How old is Noella and how old was she when she was given this necklace? Is December 24, 1965 her birthday? That would make her ten when she got it. And fit with the publication date of the book. Oh, wait, wasn’t she supposed to have been born on Christmas? Why would her dad/Santa get the date wrong? Let me guess, she’s adopted and… her adoptive parents changed her birthday by one day? WTF? She was stolen from a hospital and… No, that’s still stupid.

          Also, why is the supposedly glass-half-full one (Noella) the bigger cynic? I mean, come on, look at how she’s reacted to absolutely everyone in Tom’s life and tell me she’s the optimistic nice one. I dare you.

        • My dad once bought me a ring, which I adored, but my mom was convinced I wouldn’t like it. She let me know about a hundred times after they gave it to me that I could return it if I wanted and I wouldn’t hurt my dad’s feelings.. I can see that happening and being misunderstood by a young child as “mom doesn’t like it” and a child might even add ficticious details like “she even tried to throw it away”. But Noelle is not a child anymore and all of that could have been cleared up long ago.

          I could forgive Noelle thinking “i was meant to have this” or “this mysterious pendant is part of my destiny” or some claptrap but “it wasn’t my parents so it must have Santa for real”? Added to her manipulativeness just make her sound like she never really did get past being a small child.

    • That reminds me of one Christmas morning when I was, oh, maybe 13 yrs old. There was one mysterious box left under the tree containing coal. I knew *I* hadn’t put it there. My parents exchanged looks when they saw it, so I knew *they* hadn’t put it there! It must have been Santa! Oh, wait, it wasn’t. It was my brother and his wicked sense of humor who had saved 4 pieces of charcoal bruquette from the summer.

      . . . do we have any indication that Noella’s mom threw away the necklace because her father had given his daughter an expensive piece of jewelry and gave his wife crap? And perhaps read incest into it? (like in “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” — “whatever you did to make your daddy give you that, it was a sin!”) OOOOHHHH!!!!! maybe that’s the root of Noella’s ongoing babyishness: daddy issues.

      • Uh-oh, guilty conscience here. I did that once too to my sister. (well, not with coal. We celebrate Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, which has a few of it’s own traditions, including what the bad kids get.) Worse, my sis wasn’t actually upset because she thought Sinterklaas thought she was bad. She’d already figured out he wasn’t real, she thought it meant our parents thought she’d been bad.

        I’ll go stand in the corner now.

  7. See? He wants me to order him around like a child! It makes him happy, that’s why I do it!

    But of course we can’t make this explicit and agreed upon, because that would just be perverted.

  8. “In just a few hundred words she had been there. She knew the woman’s name, her situation, her children, their names, their ages, and something each had said about the snow and cold–innocent, naive things that made you want to give them your own parka.

    I think I’ve spotted another Jenkins Trope, which is, somebody writes or says something completely banal, and their audience reacts as if it’s nonetheless brilliantly moving/convincing/etc. I say this because that passage there reminds me irresistibly of the bit in Tribulation Force where Tsion produces an argument that Christ is the Messiah which is completely circular and full of holes, and yet, we then cut to passages of Rayford and Buck thrilling to how convincing the argument is.

    • Or Nicolae reciting the names of past UN presidents!

      In just a few hundred words … She knew some facts it would take about a 100 words to convey.

      This could have been so much more effective if Jenkins had followed “she had been there” with “Noelle felt the woman’s angst, her shame at breaking down and calling the hot-line, and her fierce pride in her beautiful children”. That’s the kind of empathy that’s difficult to produce in a short column.

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