Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christmas Town: Completed Critique

Explaining to the children of Bethlehem that there might be no lights this year would be just as bad as explaining there was no Santa Claus to bring their hearts’ desire.  This year the Grinch was truly in danger of stealing Christmas, at least here in Bethlehem, South Carolina.

 

Wintermas 2012: Time for a Vote!

Chapter 1

Steeple Hill Guidelines

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

The Movie

Chapter 6

Chapter 7, Part 1

Chapter 7, Part 2

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

christmas town

(Picture from fictiondb)

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Christmas Town: Chapter Fifteen

Happy Wintermas, all!

Well, this is it: the big finale of Christmas Town!

WILL the Uncle Billys be brought to justice?

WILL Nathan get the smack upside the head that he so richly deserves?

And, most importantly, WILL Jordan tell the entire town to kiss his ass, as he rides off into the sunset with his NFL deal, never to have to see the town of Bethlehem again?

I am doubtful about all three, but let’s find out!

Christmas Eve morning dawns, and Joella is all pissy because this will be her last Christmas in Bethlehem (*sob*) and because she turned down Jordan’s proposal (OH AND ALSO STOMPED ON HIS HEART LIKE IT WAS A COCKROACH), but she still hears…

…the still quiet voice that warned her that Jordan had some changing to do before he could do anything but bring her misery.

Boy, thought Joella, good thing that I don’t need to change at all.  Life sure is easier when I’m already perfect just the way I am! 

What is it with Christmas romance novels where the men have to change and the women just…don’t?  I’ll have to find another one for next Wintermas—this is becoming quite the tradition.

Nathan busts out of the house at the earliest moment possible for “work,” and Joella heads to work, too, but it’s only for a half-day.  This gives her the afternoon to wander around town and take in the local color…such as it is.  Everyone is just as pissy as she is.

“That’s auditors, they say, from the government,” said the clerk at the supermarket, nodding in the direction of two men in inexpensive suits and slightly shabby overcoats who were walking out of the diner.

Hey, clerk at the supermarket, maybe those dudes don’t own nice suits from John Phillips – London (I have two myself).  But maybe they don’t need them.  Maybe they don’t want them.  Maybe those auditors want more important things than that.

Did you ever think of that, clerk at the supermarket?  Yeah, just see if those auditors want to marry you now.

Ahem.  Anyway…

“They say they’re here to take the rest of the Scovilles’ money for back taxes.”

WAIT, WUT?????

image

The Uncle Billys have not paid their taxes THE HELL?

Is this to be believed?  Is this clerk right even for a second?

If so, then FRAK the Uncle Billys.

But if not, then why does this clerk believe the Uncle Billys would be capable of that, but not of losing the retirement money?

I DO NOT GET THIS TOWN AT ALL.

“My husband says they’re going to get the truth out of the Scovilles before the day is up, or know the reason why,” said the clerk in the next line.

Oh, so now people are starting to get suspicious.  Bit little, too late, I’d say.

Also, is it just me, or are they starting to hint that they’re going to visit violence upon the Scovilles?

“Oh, dear,” said a little old lady whose son worked at the mill.  “My Jerry is so angry.  You know, he’s as likely to start swinging his fist as listen to what people have to say when he gets like that.  I told him he ought to just stay home today.  But he’s that much like his father was.  A hothead.”

HOLY CRAP, THEY ARE GOING TO GET VIOLENT.

Well, that’s sure in the Christmas spirit.  You horrible, horrible people.

And also, I feel really bad for this lady.  Her husband and her son were violent, eh?  I dunno, something about her phrasing makes me suspect that she might have been on the receiving end of those fists once in awhile.

It’s the water, man.  There’s something in it.

Joella heads to Jordan’s office, primarily to get Nathan but also to warn Jordan that things might go south.  But Nathan runs out of the office and away, still on his mysterious “work” mission.

Eh, I guess it’s okay for him to run willy-nilly around the town (I’m a grown-up; I say willy-nilly!).  He is, after all, SEVEN WHOLE YEARS OLD.

Joella, to her credit, actually does warn Jordan:

“Some of the men might come by today.  They want some answers.  They’re angry.”

He nodded.  Understanding seemed to sink in.  “Don’t worry, Joella.  Nothing’s going to happen to Nathan.  I promise.”

It made her sad to realize that his promise meant nothing to her at the moment.

THERE ARE ONLY NINE PAGES LEFT IN THIS BOOK, AND SHE STILL DOESN’T TRUST HIM.

(Also, seriously, she thinks that the raging mob of townsfolk might actually visit violence upon her seven-year-old son in some sort of strange guilt by association???)

THIS TOWN: SO WEIRD

Jordan is pretty nonplussed by the situation, and continues with his mission, making a quick trip to a bank in Greenville, then heading back to town to talk to the reverend.

Because it’s Christmas Eve, so what better things would the good reverend have to do than talk to the town’s most despised resident?

Basically, Jordan wants to double-check that his plan is God’s will.  It’s actually kinda sweet, not that we get to read any of the actual conversation.

After dusk falls upon this strange, cursed town, the angry mob indeed gathers torches and pitchforks, and descends upon Jordan’s office.

BECAUSE IT’S ALL HIS FAULT

/seven-year-old logic

“They’ve locked us out,” someone said angrily.

They?  Who’s “they”?  Also, yeah, on Christmas Eve…evening, the doors of an office building are locked.  Go figure.

“They’ll have to come out sometime,” came the reply.

“A lock can’t keep us out!”

“We’ve got a right to answers!”

Then hotheaded Jerry leapt onto the front steps.  “Those windows are no match for a tire iron.  I can tell you that right now.”

Oh, so not torches and pitchforks.  Just tire irons.

Same difference.

Joella cried out, “No!”  But no one seemed to hear her.

Good things never happen to those who mess with a mob, Joella.  Be warned.

But Jordan and Nathan appear just in time to diffuse the evil mob of Good Christians on Christmas Eve (I AM NEVER GETTING OVER THIS).

Jordan has Nathan pass out gift bags to every family.

“A bankbook!” someone cried.

“And look at all those zeroes.”

If only Frankenstein’s monster had thought to give the angry mob cash prizes, maybe tragedy could have been averted!

Jordan explains it all!

“What you have is the retirement account for Scoville Mill.  Four-point-six million, I think, is what it holds.  So the future of everyone here is secure, even after we close the doors.  I believe that was your concern today, gentlemen.”

The two men in cheap suits looked at one another, frowned into the bankbook.  “Well, yes, but—”

“Then I wish you a Merry Christmas.  I think you still have time to get home for the holiday, gentlemen.”

Well, probably not, but hey, it’s nice that state auditors can be dispensed with so easily!!

Then Nathan explains it all!!  To Joella!!

Jordan sold all the land for the stadium, and used it to fund the retirement account.

And he negotiated a contract for the mill to make licensed apparel for the new NFL team.

And Jordan proposes to Joella again:

“Before you answer, you have to know, I don’t have a penny to my name.”

Well, that’s great, Jordan!  Because as we’ve learned, the amount of money a person has is inversely proportionate to his ability to be a good parent.  That’s how it works.

“I’ll be starting over.  But I have…faith…that I’ll be led to the right work.”

That work turns out to be being CEO of the mill.

Because Jordan has drunk the water, and now dreams of spending the rest of his life in the town where NOT FIVE MINUTES AGO, an angry mob was preparing to DESTROY HIS OFFICE.

Man, Jordan’s going to be sleeping with one eye open…forever.  And surely his poor, sensitive tummy will never be right.

But I guess being poor and in danger is a real turn-on for Joella, because she says yes.

His silence had been necessary to protect two old men who were dear to him.

ARE YOU SERIOUSLY FIGURING THIS OUT JUST NOW, LADY???

And I see that the Uncle Billys won’t be brought to justice.

I am disappoint.

As he swept her into his arms, another cry went up from the crowd.

“Hey!  When I said ‘look at all these zeroes,’ I meant the bankbook literally had no money in it!  The evil Scovilles are trying to cheat us again!  BURN THE WITCHES!!!”

Joella looked up in time to see a million lights go on all over town, more magical and spectacular than the lights had ever been in Christmas Town, U.S.A.

I just…how…when…who…HOWWWWWWWWW

image

I got nothing left.  I just…the world makes no sense to me right now.

Okay, okay…  *deep breath*

It looks like the squatters bought the lights.

But even if that is so…

HOW DID THEY MANAGE TO PUT UP ALL THE LIGHTS WITHOUT ANYBODY NOTICING???

I can just imagine the squatters’ Christmas glee: “Ha-HA!!  Now we can come and squat here again every year!  And from now on we’ll even bring our own canned chili so we never need to spend even seventy cents in this crummy town again!”

This book…

These Wintermas books were the first on this blog that I’ve done blind, and I did wonder if I was shooting myself in the foot.  After all, what if I liked this book?  Hell, I like Christmas.  I like romance.  I even like sappy Christmas romance.

But this really took me by surprise.  I mean, I could see where things were going with the oh-so-“cute” kid, and the “cold-hearted” businessman who needs to learn The True Meaning of Christmas from the faithful woman with a heart of gold, so all the elements were there…

But the cute kid was an obnoxious, self-centered little snot.  The cold-hearted businessman was the most kind and generous character in the whole book, by far.  And the woman of faith was manipulative, condescending, and convinced that everybody needed to grow and change…except herself.

Noella Wright, meet your soulmate, Joella Ratchford.

And my poor Jordan.  I thought we had a cool, likeable hero last year with Tom Douten, but dear, decent Jordan, a man willing to give everything to save both his clueless, brainless family and the town that was ready to destroy him…

You are a character who deserves better, Jordan Scoville.  If only you could escape this story and find a cool, non-manipulative woman who would introduce you to the joys of fresh, healthy cuisine and not care how much money your family has.

So, here’s to you, Jordan Scoville.

And to you, my loyal, lovely readers.  Thanks for a great year, and please enjoy this Christmas vid from the fine folks at Gamervision:

Happy Wintermas!

See you all next year, as we continue our journey with Michael Murphy to find Noah’s ark.

Ark

Christmas Town: Chapter Fourteen

So, Jordan has land that is worth millions.  Over the next few years, as construction gets started, the land will be worth many millions.

He made the mistake of telling Venita, who is now giving him a guilt trip.

Well, it has been nearly three days since anyone in town tried to guilt him.

He shouldn’t have told her about his deal going through.

Yeah, no shit, Sherlock.

She didn’t understand that he didn’t have any ready cash on hand.  Besides, he could hardly take his own money to cover somebody else’s mistakes.  Could he?  Nobody would expect him to do that.  Would they?

YES THEY GORRAM WELL WOULD, BECAUSE ENOUGH IS APPARENTLY NEVER ENOUGH.

Even God couldn’t have had that in mind.

I’m pretty sure God figures you can suck it, Jordan.

“Is the money that important, Jordie?”

YES IT IS

“I’d be broke.  Ruined.”

“Like Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Truman, you mean?”

The dry disappointment in her voice ate at him.

Oh, do you guys want to know where MISTERS Mitchell and Truman are, right now?  They’re at “the holiday luncheon at their club.”

They gambled away the retirement fund, ruined everyone’s lives, and they still have a “club”???  Where is this club?  Do these two asshats have any idea what they’ve done?  Do they honestly feel no accountability whatsoever?

It is so sad for Jordan that not even Venita is on his side.  Even knowing the truth, as she does, she still can’t bring herself to think even one negative thought about those two old fools.

“Listen,” he said, hoping to appeal to Venita’s reasonable nature, “I’ve been talking to my attorney.  He says nobody’s going to lock up anybody their age.  The worst that will happen is that everything will be liquidated to—“

Geez, then why have you been carrying on all this time, Jordan???  Holy crap.

“The worst that will happen is that two dear, kind men will end their lives in disgrace, when all they’ve ever wanted was to do right by everyone.”

What was it Nathan had called his father?  A creep?

Wo!  Language, young man!

If the shoe fits…  “Venita—”

“I thought they’d taught you that, too.  I was obviously mistaken.”

She leveled one final, searing look on him and left.

Wow.  I never thought I’d say this, but frak you, Venita.

FRAAAAKKKKK YOUUUUUUUU

This town…there really must be something in the water.  Honestly, Venita, how dare you.  How frakking dare you?  This guy has put his life on hold, done his best for everyone, and everyone just keeps shitting on him.

It really bothers me that nobody gives a shit what Mitchell and Truman have done.  Har-har, I guess if you’re a silly, blustery old man, if you do enough glad-handing and berate sheriffs about “important” little boys, everyone will forgive you every stupid, life-ruining action you ever take.  And we’re on the second-to-last chapter, so I have a sinking feeling that they will get off scot-free, with absolutely no consequences whatsoever for their idiotic asshattedness.

But maybe not!

Jordan has a plan!

He put the image of his father and his uncle out of his mind as he headed out the door.

YES!!!

Frak them both, Jordan!  They do not deserve you!

He heads right over to Joella’s house…

WHERE HE TELLS HER HE LOVES HER AND LOVES NATHAN AND ASKS JOELLA TO MARRY HIM

And hey, guess what?

You’ll never believe this!

Joella is Not Impressed.

“And everybody else in Bethlehem?  What about them, Jordan?”

Some of his boyish enthusiasm faded.  “I can’t save everybody.  But—”

“I don’t need saving, not the way you mean it,” she said, jerking beyond his reach, rejecting the tempting warmth and comfort.  “You know, the Bible is right.  It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it would be for somebody like you to realize that money can’t buy the things I really want for Nathan.”

He just said he LOVES Nathan, you sanctimonious frakker.  Look, if you don’t love him and don’t want to marry him, then fine, but there’s no call for such personal nastiness.

But Joella’s just getting started.  She could not possibly hold Jordan in more contempt:

“You know, all you’ve ever seen me wearing is blue jeans and flannel shirts.  That’s not because I can’t afford glittery dresses and diamond earrings.  It’s because I don’t need them.  I don’t want them.  I want more important things than that.  And you’ve got so much money you’ll never be able to see that.”

Well.  I guess just excuuuuse the hell out of Jordan, little princess.

Oh, don’t get Joella wrong.  She feels really bad about saying these things.  After all, she married a bsuinessman before, and all businessmen are the same, so if she marries the kind, gentle man who’s been so good to her and her son, it will obviously be just like before.

Jesus, she doesn’t even make the excuse of “I have to lie to him to drive him away.”  Joella is a Christian and thus does not lie.  The things she said “were true and they had to be said.”

Cruel to be kind, except Joella is not beng kind to Jordan.  She’s being kind to herself.  She doesn’t want a rich man, so even though Jordan can no more help being rich than she can help being working-class, she tells him so.

“But Joella, that’s what I am.  That’s what I have to offer you.”

She smiled, her heart breaking for him.

YOU are breaking his heart, Joella.  Go ahead and do it, but you do NOT get to feel bad about his pain when YOU are the one making that pain as painful as possible.

“You have much more than that.  You just haven’t figured it out yet.  And with all that money, you probably never will.”

“Sorry I’m so much of a better person than you are, Jordan.  Just let me twist the knife a bit as a parting gift.”

Why didn’t you listen to me, Jordan?

FLEEEEEEEE!!!!!

***

Well, Nathan already knows how to poke around in other people’s desks, and now he shows he knows how to listen in on others’ conversations.  His mother tells the reverend about Jordan asking her to marry him, and Nathan just so happens to overhear.

Go figure.

Hmmm, I wonder if Joella told the good reverend about how she insulted Jordan for things that are in no way his fault, and how she ripped out his heart and danced on it.

Probably not.

Nathan is no fan of the idea of the marriage, either:

…he’d seen how mean and unfeeling his dad was, and it was clear to Nathan that, no matter how Jordan acted, the two men were just alike.  They dressed the same, didn’t they?  They were both rich, weren’t they?  And his mom had been so softhearted that she’d fallen for both of them, hadn’t she?

Yanno, I can think of a lot of words to describe Joella, but “softhearted” is not one of them.

Also, I’d just like to point out that Joella and Nathan use the exact same “logic” when it comes to Jordan.

In other words, Joella has the reasoning skills of a seven-year-old.

And that one phrase just says it all, doesn’t it?  No matter how Jordan acted.  No matter how many Christmas trees he buys, or how many hours he spends with Nathan, or how kind and loving he is to Joella, no matter what he says or does, he will always be That Rich Asshole.

And The Brat decides that he is in charge of everyone’s lives, so goes to have it out with Jordan:

“You can’t marry my mom.”

“‘Cause I know what you did.”

“And what is that?”

“About stealing the retirement money.  I’m the one who found out and told Mom.”

Intelligence is this kid’s Informed Attribute.  Yet it still doesn’t occur to him, even for a second, that anyone other than Jordan might be responsible for the loss of the money, even though Jordan hasn’t so much as set foot in Bethlehem for years until last month.

Jordan has no intention of playing Nice Guy, and tells Nathan that his mom said no, and he has no intention of pursuing her.

But Nathan is an evil little brat, let us never forget:

“But just in case, I think you ought to tell her you changed your mind.  ‘Cause if you don’t, I can see to it that everybody in town, maybe in the whole state, will know that you’re a crook and you stole all our retirement money.”

Hmmm, how to describe this kid?

Harrow: I know him, and I think he’s a psychotic lowlife.

Mal: And I think calling him that is an insult to the psychotic lowlife community.

-Firefly, “Shindig”

Instead of fleeing from this junior scumbag, or at lack smacking him upside the head, Jordan actually keeps talking.

Yeah, something’s definitely in the water.  And Jordan’s drunk it:

After all, as good-hearted as his parents had been, all the money had made it impossible for Jordan to feel that in his heart when he was growing up.  The money always got in the way.

Ah yes, the sound message of this Christian novel: Rich people can’t be loving parents.

Unbe-frakking-lievable.

Look, your parents kinda sucked, Jordan.  And they would have sucked whether they were rich or poor.  But let’s be clear about a few things: the fact that the other kids hated you wasn’t because you were rich; it was because they were jerks.  Same thing now: folks in the town hate you not because you’re rich, but because they are judgmental jerks.

So Jordan enlists Nathan’s help with a plan.  Looks like we’re back to the great theme of Twas the Night Before: woman is perfect as is, man must change.  Except instead of changing by starting to believe in a really real Santa Claus, Jordan must change to become not-rich.

Yeah, the last chapter is going to be a frakking blast.

I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but I’ve said “frak” a lot in this chapter.

Oh well.

Merry Frakking Christmas.

Christmas Town: Chapter Thirteen

The search for the brat: It’s on like Red Dawn.

The whole town and the squatters have turned out to help:

“He’s a fine boy and we’re not about to let anything happen to him.”

Hmmm…are you sure we’re thinking of the same Nathan?

Even Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Truman came out to make sure that the sheriff understood the importance of this small boy.

Um, what?  Oh yeah, if it was any other seven-year-old kid, it would be no big thing, but if it’s The Brat we’re talking about, the utterly useless (and in fact, criminally negligent) Uncle Billys are out there, throwing their weight around, making it harder for the sheriff to do his job.

Joella is sitting around in the middle of town, when I would have thought the most productive place for her to be would be her house, in case Nathan came home or anyone else brought him, but I guess no.

Venita and Jordan have been among the impromptu searchers.  Then Jordan gets back to Joella and she can’t doesn’t want to pray because…

“…it’s like I’m afraid to even say the words out loud, even to God.”

So Jordan, because HE IS THE BIGGEST SWEETIE ON THE PLANET, offers to pray for her.

I’m pretty sure that this qualifies as this story’s altar call, because immediately following the prayer (and I do mean IMMEDIATELY), Nathan is driven up in a nice car.

Well, that was…slightly anticlimactic.

***

What a chump.  That’s what everybod had to be thinking, Nathan told himself as he walked home, his mom on one side and Jordan on the other.  What a major league dope ol’ Nathan must be.

Wow.  For once, Nathan and I are united in opinion.

As all of you must have figured out, Nathan went to Charlotte to see his father.  He took a bus and all went well until he got to the city.

Guys that didn’t smell so hot gave him funny looks.  One followed him for a block, mumbling stuff Nathan couldn’t understand.

Well, I’m not a heartless atheist.

Okay, I’m not a completely heartless atheist.

Let it be written: Nathan is just a seven-year-old kid, and I feel really bad and scared for him here.

The kid finds the building where his father works, and (longish story short) his father chews him out.  It is actually unclear from context whether the dad is chewing Nathan out for showing up uninvited, interrupting his business meeting, running off without telling his mother, or a combination of all three.  In any event, the guy is a jerk for not calling Joella to tell her where the kid was.

(Yes, I know Joella wasn’t even at home to receive such a call.  I AM TRYING TO BE NICE.)

The worst of it, though, was that his own father had tickets for something called The Nutcracker and he refused to have his life disrupted by a youngster who needed more supervision than he was getting.

Well, you won’t see an argument from me that Nathan needs less supervision.

Also, this whole Nutcracker deal is strange and yet appears to go nowhere.  Why would a single man go to see The Nutcracker?  It makes it sound like Nathan’s dad is taking someone on a date, and I actually expected Nathan’s heart to be broken when he learned that his dad was taking Some Lady Not His Mom and Her Kids to the ballet for Christmas.

But no, we hear nothing more about The Nutcracker.  That was a weird detail.

Jordan is SUCH A DOLL and sticks around for awhile to make sure Joella is okay.  Thus he overhears the following as Joella puts Nathan to bed:

“He’s a real creep,” Nathan was mumbling.  “And he’s fat, too.  He wasn’t fat before, was he, Mom?”

Oh yeah, it’s one thing to abandon your kid for years on end and then, when he finally shows up, bawl him out and ship him off like an unwanted stray.  But then you had to go and gain weight.

Now we know he’s a bad guy!

Jordan smiled.  Maybe there was some justice in the world.

Yep, because there’s no greater punishment in the world than being fat.  Yanno, Jordan, with your plethora of food issues, I wouldn’t be so smug…

By the way, what is it with Christmas novels and fat characters being sneered at because of their weight?

Joella advises Nathan not to hate his father, because it will just make him “cold and sad inside“:

Jordan felt the weight of that insight.  That’s exactly what he’d been like, cold and sad inside because he’d allowed himself to hate the town.

Not to go all schoolyard or anything, but the town hated Jordan first.  I still have to call More Sinned Against Than Sinning on Jordan’s behalf.

He wondered if the way he felt now meant he was no longer that cold, sad person.  If it was true, if he’d changed, he owed it all to Joella and Nathan.

And to God, came a quiet voice in his head.

Jordan:  Hey, do you mind, God?  I’m trying to think, here!

Jordan gives Joella hugs and kissies and compliments her on how well she handles Nathan.  Like the best of Christian martyrs, she credits God with the parenting of Nathan: she just asks God for the “right words.”  (Note: RTCs in the Left Behind series are always asking for the Right Words!)

Jordan ponders this as he wanders home.  (Of course he didn’t spend the night, not even to just hold Joella and help her feel safe, not even sleeping on the couch.  Don’t be ridiculous.)

Maybe, if there was a God to help him, he could save this town.

Maybe, with that kind of help, he could even save himself from ending up like Nathan’s father.

FAT.

Jordan:  Dear God, with your help, I promise to eat only three frozen doughnuts for breakfast tomorrow morning, not six.

***

Oh, and lest you think that Joella is at all appreciative of Jordan’s help and comfort during the most frightening evening of her life…she’s not.

Like, at all.

She opens up to Claire:

“I’ve let myself fall in love with Jordan Scoville.”

“He’s rich.  He’s heartless.”

“You’ve seen what he’s done since he’s been here.”

“He’s going to bleed this town dry, then hotfoot it back to Atlanta and I’ll never see him again and Nathan’s going to be hurt all over again and…And it’s all my fault.”

That is all Joella, up there.  After all Jordan’s done, after how sweet he’s been, how supportive of her and generous with Nathan, she still distrusts him.

Isn’t love supposed to trust, Joella?  WTF?

Claire vaguely tries to talk Joella down (“you don’t know for sure what God has in mind, now, do you?“), but nothing doing.

***

Oh, and at the same time, Jordan’s amazing deal with the NFL is going through.  He now owns HUGE TRACTS OF LAND that will soon be filled with a stadium and all kinds of other shit that will make him so, so rich.

BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE

All I can say to Jordan is: run.  Run like the wind, Jordan.  Leave this hateful town in the dust, let the Uncle Billys face the music.  Go to Atlanta, enjoy your new business venture and your wealth, and hire a personal chef so you can enjoy all the fresh, delicious food you want, and never again have to live off Hungry Man and Lean Cuisine.

FLEEEEE!!!!!11!!1!!!

Christmas Town: Chapter Twelve

Jordan and Joella go to the Christmas pageant.  The brat is playing a shepherd (and more on that), but Jordan is wracked with both physical and mental anguish—despite the daily praying, he has gone and lied and done some “creative bookkeeping” to show that losing the pension fund was his fault.  This, he believes, will keep the Uncle Billys out of jail…and himself in it.

Hmmm…leaving aside the lying, I have a few questions:

1.  How in the HELL does he expect anyone to believe this?  He’s been running his own business deals in Atlanta for years, with precisely no access to or interest in the pension fund.  I get that plenty of the townsfolk would probably like to think he’s guilty, because he’s the Big Bad Who’s Ruining Christmas Forever Just Because He Hates Jesus, but how is he going to convince lawyers and a judge, who presumably do not share the town’s prejudices?

2.  Has he prepared the Uncle Billys to lie for him?  Because his uncle, at least, can’t seem to remember anything of import from one moment to the next.  How does Jordan expect them to be able to collude on this?

3.  What about Venita?  We haven’t gotten into her head much, but we know she knows the truth—hell, she’s the one who broke the news to Jordan in the first place.  So does Jordan also expect her to help put him in jail, too?  I’m going to guess that’s not too likely—Venita seems like a pretty honest and forthright person, and she’s had a soft spot for Jordan since he was a kid.

The truth will out, Jordan.

But try telling that to his poor tummy and his food issues:

The fuzzy edges of his nightmares were coming into focus and he could barely stomach what he was seeing.  In the abstract, doing the right thing had a noble ring to it.  But in living, breathing color…

Jordan’s stomach took a nasty turn.

He had no choice.  He breathed deeply against the churning inside him.

Joella senses that he doesn’t feel well (OH, YA THINK, LADY???), and tries to talk him down.

“Be patient,” Joella said as they slipped into their seats near the front of the stage.

Yeah, right, you sanctimonious jerk.  I don’t think that the starchy prison fare will agree with Jordan’s constitution.

But despite Joella’s insistence that he pray, Jordan still doesn’t exactly share her vision of God.  In fact, he assumes that God is laughing at him and his upcoming “comeuppance.”

How can it be a comeuppance if the whole situation is not of his doing?  More like Jordan’s coming-self-frame-job.

Anyway, the Christmas pageant goes off without a hitch, except that Nathan is pissed at the entire planet because he had to play a shepherd instead of a Wise Man.

“You know they got Samantha Fletcher to carry the frankincense. A girl.”  He had clearly never been so outraged in his life.  “The Bible didn’t call them the Three Wise People, you know.”

Nathan groused all the way home…

OH MY GAWD, SHUT UP, YOU LITTLE BRAT.

If he whines to his mother and Jordan for that long, can you imagine how miserable he tried to make Samantha’s life in the weeks leading up to the pageant?  I can just imagine him, sticking his Bible under her nose and stabbing at the word “Men” again and again…

Kid’s got a bright future telling women that God wants them to submit to the headship of their husbands.  After all, IT SAYS SO IN TEH BIBLE.

…and Jordan marveled at the gentle way his mother both soothed him and reminded him that he wasn’t the center of everyone’s life.  “Maybe God wanted you to learn a little humility,” she suggested.

I’m calling too little, too late, Joella.  The kid is seven, and already thinks he is the smartest, bestest, most accomplished human on the planet.  AND that’s leaving aside the fact that he appears to have little to no empathy for anyone else—Jordan, his Sunday school teacher, any other kids.  Nathan, it seems, has NO friends.  The only kids he ever seems to hang with, Claire’s sons, he just “humors.”  Little punk.

After Nathan is in bed, Joella whines to Jordan about the kid.  Not that the boy is a spawn of Satan, but that he needs “plenty of books to read” (Hey, lady, ever hear of a PUBLIC LIBRARY???).  Jordan doesn’t tell Joella that he bought Nathan a bitchin’ computer for his very own, and is just trying to think of a way to give it to him that won’t seem (to Joella) like charity.

Meanwhile, Jordan has the sweetest-heartedest idea ever for the whole NFL thing.  He wants Venita to run the operation while he’s in prison, which will give her a fantastic job and help provide for the Uncle Billys.

Jordan rocks, and deserves so much better than Joella and especially NATHAN.  I just want to tell him that it is not his responsibility and he can’t save his stupid relatives by throwing himself on a sword.  And I want to give him some peppermint pills for his erstwhile digestion.

***

Later, Joella is wrapping presents while Claire takes the boys to a movie.  Venita solved the computer problem by telling Joella (I really did start to write Noella there!) that there’s a spare computer in the office that she wants Nathan to have.

But the box it was in looked so new.

Joella’s really not all that bright, is she?  Hmmm…the scatterbrained Uncle Billys can’t possibly be responsible for the retirement fund, and jeepers this computer that is supposed to be a leftover and comes from the secretary of the guy who expressed a desire to buy my kid a computer…looks new!!!

Things appear to be looking up for Joella in other ways besides a computer, too.  She found a job as a receptionist at a real estate firm in Spartanburg, and the owner of the company has already suggested to her that she could get her real estate license down the line.

But Joella is still all upset about Jordan.  Not, mind you, that she’s put it all together and is heartbroken that an innocent man might go to prison, but…

Wasn’t she making the same mistake all over again, trusting a man with a bankbook where his heart should have been?

We’re on chapter 12 out of 15.  I feel like at this point, Joella should either know all the facts, or have complete trust in the man she professes to love.

She takes a walk to clear her head, and it turns out that the townsfolk go all Whoville around the Christmas tree that Jordan bought every night, singing carols and handing out coffee.  (That’s right, make sure that no money changes hands around Christmas in this failing town!)

Jordan is inexplicably hanging out there, and Joella drags him into the carolling.  But the happy mood is dispelled after the singing is over, when Joella meets up with Claire and discovers that she thought that Nathan wasn’t going to the movies with them.

So the brat has been missing for hours.

A missing child?  In a Christmas story?

It cannot be!!!

Christmas Town: Chapter Eleven

Well, I knew that this book would, sooner or later, become more Christian than just “they all hung out at church” and “Joella prayed for the mill to be saved.”

We’re getting serious now.

Joella goes to Jordan’s home to confront him about the whole missing-retirement-account debacle (she catches him eating a frozen dinner, JORDAN’S FOOD ISSUES).  You might think (as I did) that this would be the time for Jordan to come clean with Joella, to let her (and her alone) in on the shameful secret of the Uncle Billys, and why Jordan’s doing what he’s doing.

You and I would be wrong.

“You’re protecting somebody, aren’t you?”  Hope stirred in her heart that he would accept this easy out she offered.  Hope and dread.  Would it really be any better?

WELL, YOU CLAIM TO LOVE THIS MAN.  SO, YES.  YES, IT BLOODY WELL WOULD BE BETTER.

“Don’t, Joella.  I’m…I’m responsible.  I know how that makes me look, I know what you must think.  But trust me.  Just this once.”

Oh, Jordan.  You disappoint me just now.  Open up to her, if you claim to love her.

“I’ve trusted you all this time.”

Bullshit, Joella.  You didn’t trust Jordan for shit when you took him on your little guilt-trip tour through town, conveniently avoiding the many townsfolk who hate him.

She might be dreaming, she knew.  Might be setting herself up to be played for a fool.  But even Jordan Scoville deserved a chance to redeem himself.

Yeah, I guess even the man you proclaim to love, even the man who’s been so good to your brat son, even the man who dared be born into the wrong family, deserves that chance.  You self-righteous snot.

So, she makes a VERY Christian-novel demand:

“I’ll give you more time [before I tell anyone else],” she said.  “On one condition.”

“Anything.”

“I want you to pray.”

Oh, fer…

MOAR FACEPALM

implied facepalm

“Joella, I can’t pray.  I don’t know how.  And no God in His right mind would listen if I did.”

Well, I see Jordan’s dialed it back from “Your God isn’t going to change my mind.”

“Just ask for God’s will to be done.  That’s all you have to pray for.”

Yep, because that’s a prayer that “works” whether it works or not.

Hmmm, maybe Joella has as much faith in prayer as I do, after all.

She leaves, and Jordan goes through his Dark Night of the Soul (TM).  He ends up praying, though he’s thinking far more of Joella than of God, both before and during the actual prayer:

“Okay, this is for Joella’s God.  Work things out, how about it?”

PRAYER AWARD OF EXCELLENCE AND AWESOMENESS FOR YOU, JORDAN SCOVILLE

So, he starts praying every day, because a promise is a promise.  And every day, it gets a little bit easier, because that’s how habits work.  And he takes Joella and the brat to buy a Christmas tree, and Jordan ends up suggesting that they buy a second, huge tree for the town, since there won’t be any lights this year.

It is super sweet, as are Jordan’s mingled feelings of guilt and pain when the whole town turns out to decorate the tree.  They rope him into it, and it turns into a little party, and I guess the Ghost of Christmas Present sprinkled some of his magical whatever around, because the very people who yelled at Jordan and were all but ready to do him violence a week ago, are now holding hands and going all Whoville on him.

I expected the brat to go all Tiny Tim…

…but it’s not quite time for the heartwarming finale yet.  When next Jordan gets to his office (OH YEAH, THE MILL’S CLOSING), Venita greets him with the news that the state auditor’s office will file charges unless the retirement money turns up by Christmas Eve.

And call me crazy, but I don’t think a bunch of squatters in a tobacco field, living off canned soup, will be able to help.

Christmas Town: Chapter Ten

Well.  Now things are starting to get weird:

A few weeks before Christmas it was sunny and bright, but Joella felt as if the town was in the midst of a storm.

Bethlehem was overrun with visitors.  It seemed that almost everyone who came for the annual celebration stayed once they learned what was going on.  Lyle Exley’s tobacco field was full, and the overflow had now spilled into the vacant lot where the truck stop had shut down a year ago.

Let’s just unpack this, shall we?

These people have all come to see the Christmas lights, and all apparently have both the time to stay in town for several WEEKS, and the resources on hand to just up and CAMP on a whim.

Let’s note, once again, that the tourists aren’t exactly touristing.  They aren’t using hotels or motels and don’t even appear to be renting their “campground.”  In essence, they’re squatting.

They’re not even patronizing the Cold Coffee Diner—the brat has been using his “business” to haul canned soup to the campers in a wagon.  So they’ve probably managed to spend all of six dollars in the town.

I CAN TELL THAT THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT IS GOING TO TURN THIS TOWN’S FROWN UPSIDE-DOWN!!!

At this point, the mill can barely keep two shifts going, but despite the utter failure on every conceivable level, some of the mill workers are trying to band together to buy the mill.  Sure, they have no money, and no experience running a business, and the mill sucks, but…

Wait, actually I can’t think of a good “but.”

The interested people are having a meeting at the church (natch), and there have even been rumors of a few of the campers chipping in to this good cause (like, what A WHOLE DOLLAR???), but…

“…they want to invest thinking that’ll bring the celebration back.  We’ll be doing well to keep the mill running.  Where would we get the money for a Christmas celebration, too?”

Good point, whoever said that.  Also, what, there is NO OTHER TOWN IN THE NATION that has a Christmas light display???  Really?

The guy in charge of the “plan” turns his ire on Joella when the rest of the town isn’t one hundred percent behind his AMAZING IDEA ZOMG:

“Or has young Mr. Scoville convinced you he’s going to take care of you?”

Well, we’re ten chapters in (out of fifteen) and for the first time, I feel as bad for Joella as I do for Jordan.  The town dragooned her into being their representative, and now that things haven’t taken a turn for the miraculous, it’s all her fault, the hussy.

Well, Joella runs out of the church in tears (as you would expect, because what else can a good Christian woman do, yell back at the asshole?), and runs smack into Jordan, who’s been…kinda listening in on the whole thing.

Not that I blame him.  It’s no worse than the town has done to him.

Jordan takes Joella for a drive to make her feel better, and they end up at his mother’s sculpture garden.  Jordan is all nervous because the walls are closing in on him with the retirement account and NFL stadium problems, but he still has enough courage to ask Joella to come to Atlanta with him.

Joella responds:

“You know I can’t do that.  I have a son.  I have…things I believe in.”

Jesus, she makes it sound like he’s asking her to be his personal Companion.

atherton

But basically, Jordan wants to ask her to marry him, but he’s a little worried about the future, since he is seriously considering completely taking the fall for the Uncle Billys (as in, go to prison) for the retirement fund.

So they have to leave it at that.

***

Later, Nathan is up to his usual brattiness.  He has managed to figure out that the retirement money is all gone.  He just so happened to be at Venita’s desk and just so happened to read a memo outlining the problem…

So it’s totally not like he was snooping!

Nathan’s Sunday school teacher senses that something is wrong, and…

He imagined telling her that he’d just found out that every penny in the Scoville Mill retirement fund was missing and somebody might have to go to jail if it didn’t turn up.

She’d probably drop her false teeth right into her lap.

That made him grin.

Why, you little punk.  I see your mother has been diligent in teaching you respect for your elders.

Brat.

But he declines, and instead tells said mother, who advises him not to tell anyone else until she figures out what to do.

Sensible advice, perhaps, but not so sensible are the conclusions Joella draws:

…she simply couldn’t believe that [Jordan] was responsible for the missing money, no matter how badly he might need it for his own big business deal.

That left Mr. Mitchell or Mr. Truman, and that was, if anything, even more unbelievable.

Hmmm, thought Joella.  On one hand, we have a successful businessman, who’s had no connection with the running of our failing mill ever until a few weeks ago.  On the other, we have the two doddering old fools who’ve been running the show for years, at least one of whom appears to be having short-term memory problems.  BUT IT COULD NOT POSSIBLY BE THEM.

Holy crap, this town.  Must be something in the water.

Christmas Town: Chapter Nine

YOU GUYS YOU GUYS YOU GUYS

THIS IS IT

THE TOURISM THING—IT’S IN THIS CHAPTER!!!11!1!!!

*pant pant*

So, for days we have all been speculating: why aren’t there tourists?  Why doesn’t Bethlehem cash in on this whole Christmas Town thing?

Well, turns out they do.  Except that no one has mentioned it up to now.

People just start showing up to look at the lights, and when they see that there aren’t any, they just ask random townsfolk if there’s “some problem,” and then everyone gets sad all over again.

(My first thought was: why doesn’t Christmas Town, U.S.A. have a web presence?  Granted, this is a “Christmas Classic,” written in 1998, but still.)

But exciting news!  People have come from different states and are camping in fields and, I guess, just waiting for the lights to magically come on again.  Because there are apparently no other towns in America that have cool,Christmas light displays.

And I’m sure nobody will be surprised by this, but all the campers mean nothing good for Jordan.

There are about a dozen tents set up for families in some guy’s field.  (Um, doesn’t this guy mind?  And don’t any of these people have jobs??)

And for my loyal readers who wondered about the revenue for the town that could be obtained via tourists—doesn’t sound like it’ll be much:

[Jordan] overheard plans [of the campers] for a joint effort to prepare a community dinner of soup and fresh bread, which someone assured them could be made in skillets over a campfire.

So much for patronizing the town’s businesses, I guess.  Maybe they heard about the cold coffee and stale biscuits at the diner.

Oh and guess what…

TV crew.

The only unpleasantness [Jordan] heard came from the woman in the red suit…

Mrs. Claus???

…who finally thrust her microphone in his face and said, “Mr. Scoville, I understand you are the one responsible for stealing Christmas this year in Bethlehem, South Carolina.  Would you care to comment?”

Wow.  Wonder who’s been talking to this reporter already, eh?  Maybe some of those kind, forgiving Christian townsfolk?

Jordan tries to “no comment” his way out, but that doesn’t fly, so Joella saves the day:

“What he means is that this is a very difficult time for everyone in Bethlehem.  No one wants to see the town and the holiday tradition survive any more than the Scoville family.”

Well, we all know that rationality doesn’t stand a chance in this town, so I guess it’s all good.

***

Nathan watches on the news that night, and concludes from the looks on their faces that his mom and Jordan are in “mushy” love.  He doesn’t think that’s so bad…

…now that Jordan had learned how to be a good sport when Nathan wiped him off the face of the earth in a video game.

MY GAWD, but this child thinks a lot of himself.  No Christian humility here, it seems.

We also learn Nathan’s Super Sekrit Squirrel Plan, which is to earn enough money with his little gopher job to fund a trip to Charlotte to see his father.

And who knows what might happen once Andrew Ratchford realized what a totally cool kid he had.

image

And what a modest one, too!

Christmas Town: Chapter Eight

The hits just keep on coming for Jordan.  The one day he decides not to have a frozen dinner for breakfast, and eat at the diner instead, the waitress brings him cold coffee and stale biscuits, in retaliation for Grinching the Christmas decorations.

That is so frakking professional of her, I can’t even tell you.  BOY YOU SURE SHOWED HIM, LADY.

Guess it’s back to the microwave…

Rat Kabob

Would it be awesome if this was real, OR WHAT?  (Pic from WoW Insider.)

Also, the post office refuses to serve Jordan.

SO FRIGGING PROFESSIONAL.

And the mechanic tells him he won’t be able to work on his car for two weeks.

Okay, dude, then I guess Jordan won’t be able to pay you for two weeks.  Or maybe he’ll decide to take his car out of town to be fixed.

WOW, THAT SURE SHOWED JORDAN.  AGAIN.

OR NOT.

And wow, what a bunch of kind-hearted Christians inhabit this little burg, eh?  You can really tell that Jesus is in their hearts.

Even Venita gives him shit when he gets to the office.  Though to be fair to Venita, she gives him shit not for selling the decorations, but for not telling Joella he was selling the decorations.

And to be fair to Jordan, he didn’t think the movers were coming for another week.

They actually have a nice little conversation, and Venita is the only person so far who shows one iota of sympathy for the mess Jordan has to clean up—a mess not at all of his own making.

But of course, nothing nice can ever last for Jordan, and the brat soon shows up to make things worse:

“You’re a rat.”

Jordan replies, “At least I’m not a hideous fucker.”

Okay, maybe he didn’t say that.  Instead, Jordan falls prey to the argumentum ad populum: since the whole town thinks he’s a rat, he must be a rat.

Poor Jordan.  I wish he could take some comfort in the fact that this will all be over in a week or two, and he’ll be able to move back to Atlanta and never have to see any of these people again, but I’m sure that won’t happen.

Jordan decides to humor the brat, and sits down with him for some advice.  Naturally, Nathan’s main wonderful idea is just to give the resort back the money and take back the decorations, so I guess he forgot that Jordan explained to him that it was something that had to be done for the good of the mill.

By the way, isn’t it funny how NOBODY in town seems to put two and two together: Hmmm, the mill is on bad shape, and all the Christmas decorations were just sold.

But no, I guess Jordan just decided to come to town and be an asshole.  Just because.  That’s surely the most logical explanation.

For a few days, Jordan manages to avoid Joella, which is actually okay because Joella is busy doing…absolutely nothing.  Her best friend, Claire, The Only Other Single Mother, already has a retail job lined up, and thinks the two women and their kids should be roommates and share childcare duties.  Sounds awesome, but…

She couldn’t imagine a little apartment complex where you lived elbow-to-elbow with strangers instead of people you’d known all your life.

LISTEN LADY…

/lived in apartment complexes for ten years

She was being silly and ungrateful.

Yeah.

She’d talked to God about her attitude every night for weeks, but so far she hadn’t had a change of heart.

Hmmm…

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

– Susan B. Anthony

Joella goes to pick up the brat from his “job” for Jordan:

Joella supposed she should be concerned about the time her son was spending with the man who had betrayed them all so heartlessly.  But she wasn’t.

Because she knew Jordan wasn’t heartless, no matter what his actions implied.

Poor Jordan.  I wish he could catch a break with somebody, for something more than instincts and feelings that he might not be so bad.

Jordan is once again humoring the brat by giving him the kid’s version of his business conundrum:

“So some guy with a lot of money who used to be a big-shot quarterback is throwing his weight around at the NFL,” Nathan was saying.

WHAT SEVEN-YEAR-OLD CHILD TALKS LIKE THAT??? I WANT TO KNOW.

Nathan also has some sage advice for the grown man…

“…ask God to make the deal go through for you.  I’ll bet that rich old quarterback isn’t praying.”

Ha!  You don’t watch much football, do you, kid?

football

(Picture from Huffington Post.)

Anyway, Jordan proves himself completely snowed by the town’s extremely Christian hatred of him, and apologizes to Joella for SOMETHING THAT ISN’T EVEN HIS FAULT.

“I’m trying to figure out a way to make it up to…everybody.”

But it all works out because Jordan once again goes to sit in on choir practice than night, and THEY SHARE A LITTLE KISSY AFTERWARDS.

Bawwww…

Poor Jordan.

Christmas Town: Chapter Seven, Part 2

Now that the Christmas decorations have been sold by the evil Grinch Jordan, who just wants people to get paid, Joella has to deal with her little brat, who, needless to say, is not taking this well.

She puts up with his pouting all evening, but when she urges him to “talk to God” about his upsettedness (since he won’t talk to her), his response cuts her to the quick.

“God doesn’t care,” he said, so faintly she almost missed it.

Well.  We can’t have that.

She couldn’t let skepticism take root in the heart of a seven-year-old child.  She just couldn’t.

Um, why not?  Nathan’s informed attribute is his intelligence and precociousness.  Seems like skepticism would be right at home in the heart of such a seven-year-old.

Joella urges Nathan to go with the whole “love your enemies” thingie, and is thrown when Nathan turns it around on her (I know, shocker, right?) and asks her if she loves Jordan.  Which, of course, she kinda does, even though she hates what he’s done and manipulates him and tried to keep from him the fact that half the town wanted to rip his lungs out even before the whole decorations debacle.

Jordan, meanwhile, is driving around the countryside, seriously considering just packing it up and dealing with the mess from his office in Atlanta.

But Dad!Uncle Billy is waiting for him back at the house, and seems to want a heart-to-heart.

“We really have put you in a pickle, haven’t we, son?”

OH GEEZ, DAD, DO YOU FUCKING THINK SO???  JUST COMING TO THIS CONCLUSION NOW, ARE WE?

Now, now, Ruby, don’t be so harsh.  This could be a breakthrough.  Maybe at least one of the Uncle Billys isn’t quite as criminally negligent as you thought…

“It’ll work out.”  [Jordan said]

Hope brightened Mitchell’s face.  “It will, won’t it?”

Well, scratch that.  Actually, it will almost certainly work out better now, since the mill workers weren’t going to be paid for December before, but now that Jordan has (as Vermic so aptly put it)  “tak[en] upon himself the blame, scorn, and punishment for the sins of others,” at least one crisis has been averted.

And hey, all it cost Jordan was his good name and the love and respect of a woman!

Jordan and Dad!Uncle Billy converse for several pages about Jordan’s mom, and how she loved running the mill and giving people a place to work, and I’m finding that hard to square against the fact that the whole place is failing and the workers have never had a decent wage and live in shitty little houses.  Are we meant to assume that this is just The Way Things Are, or that the Uncle Billys ran the place into the ground and the low quality of life has only been a phenomenon of the last ten years?

I would have guessed the latter, but Jordan’s takeaway is Door #3: it is all his fault for not taking up the running of the mill himself.

Because I guess it is a huge sin not to want to take over the family business.

CURSE YOU, JORDAN, FOR WANTING TO LIVE YOUR OWN LIFE AND HAVE YOUR OWN CAREER!  CURSE YOUUUUUUU!!!

And all this simply cements in Jordan’s mind that he has to finish this, and protect the Uncle Billys from the whole consequences-of-pissing-away-the-retirement-account thingie.