Tuesday, January 26, 2010

COLUMN: Holiday Roundup

Ho, ho, ho! Season's Greetings to one and all! Deck the halls with...

Wait, what? The holidays are OVER? ALREADY? But my tree's still up! There's still an animatronic dog on my coffee table that barks "Jingle Bells"! I'm still in the mood for more presents!!

The fun thing is that, at least for me, the holidays are NOT over. Because I lead the world in efficiency and time management, I like to bang out every major holiday in one big, wintery thrust. First, it's Christmas. Then BAM! it's New Year. Then five days later, it's my birthday. As I write this, I remain a young and spry 38-year-old. By the time you read this, I will be old and haggard and 39 and likely mired in a deep well of despondency. For now, though, I'm still surfing on a wave of holiday bliss.

And, as you'd expect, I've been having a holly jolly season full of the kind of awkward and uncomfortable situations that make my life little more than a 3-D comedic nightmare. On the up side, we've got LOTS to write about.

For instance, on Christmas Eve my girlfriend and I went to one of those candle-lit church services, because those are super pretty and festive and full of warm fuzzies, no? Well, I wouldn't know, because we got to the church to discover that a recent incident involving no less than a flaming wreath had put a moratorium on the candle-lighting tradition. Instead, they provided these weird little plastic faux candles that flickered with glowing LEDs like little holiday lightsabers.

Weirder still was the cute little nativity scene set up at the front of the church. This would have been warm & fuzzy, had I not noticed a striking similarity between the nativity's Baby Jesus and something altogether different.

"Umm," I whispered to Amy, "Don't look now, but did Mary just give birth to a King #11 Hobo Combo?"

She may have responded with the don't-crack-jokes-in-church evil glare, but there was no denying it: that baby looked a lot less Savior and a lot more like a sub sandwich from Hungry Hobo. And when the minister began gently cradling it during his sermon, I couldn't help but feel hungry. And then, I'm afraid my earlier comment caused my goody-two-shoes girlfriend to ALMOST laugh out loud in church when the minister unwrapped the baby Jesus to reveal... a loaf of communion bread.

And later, when the Three Wise Men showed up in a reenactment asking, "Where is the King? Where is He?" and Amy whispered to me, "I'm pretty sure we just ate him," I knew I'd officially corrupted my true love and could cross off "accidentally descrate religious ceremony" from my to-do list.

Another tradition that runs deep at the holidays is spending time with family. MY family members have all had the good sense by now to die off or move to distant lands, so holidays with the Browns are usually low-key affairs with me, my mom & dad, and gobs of presents. This is how I enjoy Christmas.

Amy, on the other hand, has a family tree the size of a deciduous forest, and they all live and thrive within five miles of the Quad Cities. And if there's any excuse for all kajillion of them to congregate at someone's house and eat mountains of food, they're doing it. Don't get me wrong, I like her family a LOT -- but for someone with as much social anxiety as myself, it can be a little daunting.

This brings us to New Year's Eve, and a drop-in to a Clan Amy shindig at her aunt's house. We're welcomed warmly at the door and ushered to the main room, where we're told a board game is afoot and we "have to play!" Okay, fine, I like board games, I'm in.

That's when I discovered the game they were playing was "Things." If you've never played it before, umm, don't. Here's how it works. Somebody draws a card. On that card is an incomplete phrase, like, "Things you should _________." All of the players then fill in the blanks secretly on little slips of paper and give them to the guesser, who reads the answers and then must accurately guess which player wrote which answer.

Sounds fun, right? It's not. Imagine my turn as guesser, and the card I draw is: "Things you should never swallow: ___________." As I read the little slips of paper, the answers began tame but - as you could imagine - grew more and more perverse. Like, the category may as well have been "Things you can never reprint in a family newspaper: ___________."

So it was then my task to determine who wrote which marginally obscene answer. Let's see... was it my Christian schoolteacher girlfriend? Or perhaps her Christian schoolteacher mother? Or her dad, whose approval and respect may or may not hinge on when I accuse of him of writing, umm, That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named? Maybe it was this Random Family Member who I've never met before tonight? Or good ol' Uncle What's-His-Name?

Instead, I chose the easy way out by turning red and giggling like an 8-year-old who just said "doodie" for the first time. The good news is that I escaped playing Who's-The-Pervert-In-Amy's-Family. The bad news is they now probably think I'm a meth-head.

We capped off the week with a wonderful pre-birthday romantic dinner at my favorite fancy restaurant, which may or may not rhyme with "Konnie's Italian Steakhouse." Well, it would have been wonderful and romantic, had they not sat us within earshot of The Tragic Family. I know nothing about The Tragic Family, and there's a chance they may not even BE a family, but they were seated 8-deep at a party table, spoke about 20 db over the legal sound limit, and featured some of the greatest dinner conversation of all time. Among that which we inadvertently heard:

"...can never have another child again, what with the ripping and tearing and bleeding..."
"...tumor the size of a cantaloupe..."
"...six months later, there was still an oozing hole in her gut..."
"...couldn't stitch up the open wound from all the infection..."

I kid you not. And all this while I'm attempting to enjoy a delightful bleu cheese-encrusted filet oozing with goodness. Or possibly oozing with infectious pus. Happy Birthday to Me. Sigh.

But on the whole, it WAS a happy birthday, just as it was a happy new year and a happy Christmas -- all because I got to spend it with the people and places I care about. I hope your holidays were equally as awesome and as free of open wounds as possible. Now then, I'll talk to you people later - I've got to go become old.

No comments: