UNITED STATES—Christmas is a funny thing. The build-up is blisteringly fast: one barely enjoys rekindling Christmas memories and the next thing you know, the calendar page has been turned. Robbie Caine, successful as he was, seldom, if ever, got all his ducks in a row before Christmas. It all passed by so shamefully quick. He came to an assessment of his skills in managing the Christmas spirit, and the score came out thus.

Generosity: 9.5

Buying gifts in advance: 0

Having something wrapped and ready by Dec. 25: 0.2

It was not unusual for Robbie to be regretting the passage of Christmas when he had just warmed up fort giving gifts. The advantage, if you could call it that, was that by the time Robbie got ready to choose gifts for his friends and loved ones, the calendar page had already turned and things were on sale in the stores, 50 percent off. Also, there were more candy canes left over than anyone knew what to do with. Wasn’t it lucky?

Robbie conceded suddenly on the brink of the after-holidays that the break-up of a marriage takes two to tango. Indeed. Revolution ought to start among intimate friends and a keen knowledge of how opinions (those scabrous things that in polite society are deemed opinions) cloud the fickle lens of perception. Without that interference, what most abounded was clear and achingly beautiful as a rule: sunsets from the 20th floor and pure clear water from country streams (the best drink ever invented), the exquisitely sweet prickly pear guarded by a battalion of thorns, the intricacy of willow leaves finely powdered by dust, dogs (no adjective needed) dogs dear dogs, and indigestion—byproduct of holidays well lived. Holidays, dear holidaze.

Here Robbie was, washed up on this strangely new and untrod beach called January, muting his interior screams, and muting the volume on other people’s. Which he could keenly sense though they usually went unheard.

As usual, Robbie was walking the giant schnauzer, Rolf, or rather, Rolf was walking him down the street. Even if Rolf was sniffing head-down and Robbie acquired the same stance, his sensitive sensory apparatus know that somebody else was passing with a white Pyrenees dog, in a straight unremitting line down the sidewalk. She was attached to the leash.

“Hello, Nola,” Robbie said in a sudden access of bravery. It didn’t take too much bravery since –quite obviously– the dog was walking her and her eyes were glued to the coarse uneven surface of the sidewalk.

Then, as she paused to take in Robbie’s glob of unenunciated words, she paused briefly. It was just enough time for the white Pyrenees to start sniffing the hind quarters of the giant black schnauzer with a touch of white frosting asserting itself on his thick black fur. They started to turn in slow circles around each other.

Instead of shivering and leaping away, as Rolf usually diid, the black dog joined in the circular dance.

She spoke curtly to the white dog:

“He’s not your friend,” and then yanked him sharply away from Robbie.

The fluffy white Pyranees, which radiated an aura of just-shampooed freshness, whimpered at the jolt felt on his dog collar. Robbie looked at the woman. He had seen her somewhere before, but where?

To be continued…

Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)