I know it ain’t hip to admit, but I dig Christmas. The shopping, and obligatory gifts I can do without. But the gluttony is divine! The sparkly lights, the pumpkin pies, the boozy warm drinks, and the smell of pine in the air. Ahhhhh. I go around, shovelling it all into my face holes like a sugar plum fairy just released from santa’s root cellar. Hell, I even like the Christmas carols, as long as they are classics.
So carol goes: “There’s no place like home for the holidays.” This is true, there IS no place like home for the holidays. Of course, if you live anywhere other than your hometown, going home for the holidays can bring it’s own cruel shade to the silver and gold eggnog party. Even if you’ve got a friendly family like mine, nostalgia can sneak attack. Memories come unbidden! Right in the middle of watching Rudolph on TV! Or, noticing your reflection in a shiny tree bulb and BAM! Suddenly you’re back in 1992, and standing in a snowbank crying, without pants on. EVEN IF YOU HAD NOTHING BUT GOOD MEMORIES—-TIME ITSELF is a bitch. If you haven’t seen your relatives for a while, you’ll note that they all look older. And this must mean that you look older too. Why not? Bitch, you ARE older. And then, And in the din of perry como’s chorus, you have this thought: “We’re all getting older, and someday we’ll all……. die.”
Last year, in anticipation of this strange wave of home-for-the-holidays blues, I bought a neon red christmas sweater. I hoped that it would act as a talisman to ward off my demons–at least until I was safely back home in the Bay Area, and able to process everything with my shrink.
I’m happy to report, my talisman worked well! For awhile. Until the night the Gingerbread Universe exploded.
Last year, on Christmas Day, my parents and my little sister Laura picked me up from the airport and brought me home to St. Paul. After opening our Christmas gifts, and having some chili, we all proceeded to get loaded and descended to the basement for karaoke. Some midwestern dads have tools and guns and prize fish mounted to their walls in their man caves. My dad has disco lights, vintage beer signs, a hundred santa candles, and a karaoke setup.
My family may have its differences at times, but karaoke is where we can all find harmony. We’ve always loved singing together. And, when things get whipped into a frenzy–say, with a Crosby Stills and Nash three-part harmony song— out comes the maracas. WE HAVE THREE SETS OF MARACAS PEOPLE. Want to try out a song you’re too embarrassed to try at a karaoke bar? Why not try it in a festively lit basement that smells faintly of cat urine while shaking a set of maracas?
After karaoke, everyone retired to bed. Since I was still on California time, I laid awake for awhile. Without my glasses on, the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling looked like bioluminescent blobfish. I tossed, I turned, I twitched and groaned. I stared at the blobfish until they melted into the ceiling. The more I struggled, the more I felt something distinctly dark and oppressive pressing down on me. Something…sinister. Was it indigestion from my mom’s chili? Or was it the ghost of christmas future, pointing a skeleton finger toward some dreadful fate?
The next day, the promise of pancakes erased all the previous night’s ills. After breakfast, I donned my neon red gay apparel yet again, stuffed myself into my parent’s car, and we all drove out to Ridgeland Wisconsin to the big Skjerly Christmas gathering.
It was the first time seeing some of my aunts and uncles in nearly 15 years! I hugged everyone, and I gabbed with everyone. I ate some of my aunt Annette’s hot prune soup (which was the best thing at the buffet table, by the way) and sang “Have yourself a merry little christmas” with my cousin Sam.
“Man, I’m getting really good at this christmas cheer shit,” I muttered to myself, as we left the party. “All thanks to my trusty sweater.”
I fell asleep that night happy, and with no forebodings of evil pressing in on me. The next morning, I awoke to a fresh blanket of snow outside.
“Ooh, so pretty!” I said to my sister Laura, smiling at the blinding whiteness. “Sparkles!”
That’s the thing about living in California. Snow is a novelty item you can enjoy, and then fly away from. And December snow is the best snow–fresh, pillowy, and glittering. By March, it’s just one grimy dog-piss snowbank after another. By march, everyone secretly wants to off themselves. But then, that one magical day comes along, somewhere in Mid-March, that creeps into the 60’s, and the promise of spring saves millions of lives once again.
“You think it’s pretty. I think it’s a pain in the ass cuz I’ve gotta shovel it.”
“I’ll shovel it!” I said to Laura, gulping down my coffee. She just stared at me. I stared back.
Moments later, I was cheerfully cutting my way around the perimeter of Laura’s house with a shovel. The snow was fluffy, and mercifully light. I hummed a little tune as I shovelled, pausing here and there stretch my arms, and to admire my work.
After shoveling, my sister and I had second breakfast. Then, we held a strategic meeting about the Gingerbread Universe we planned to build later on, with my cousin Terri and her family. I took out a pen, and wrote up a checklist.
“Okay, we’ve got the jellybeans, the gumdrops, m&ms and pareils. How much powdered sugar?”
“A bag and a half.”
“Hmm. we might need more. Do we have any licorice whips?”
“No, but we’ve got pixie sticks.”
“That will have to do. “What’s the status of our gingerbread?” I asked.
My sister and I had stayed up late the night before, baking endless batches of gingerbread shapes. We used all her pans, and all the flour.
“Oh shit! It looks like Dewey got into the gingerbread overnight.”
She gestured to an entire table of gingerbread shapes that had gotten busted up overnight by her troublemaking cat.
“Fucking cats,” I spat. It was not the first, and certainly not the last time, that a meddling cat attempted to foil my creative vision.
“Please…Please don’t tell me you want me to make more gingerbread, or….I will kill you.” she begged me. My sister knows me well–especially when I get blindly demented with a vision. I actually HAD done some quick “could we still bake some new gingerbreads in time for the party later?” calculations. Damnit.
I sighed heavily. “We’ll have to make do. But we’ll definitely need more frosting to patch the broken bits.”
Why a gingerbread universe, and not, y’know, a simple gingerbread house like everyone else? Please don’t insult me. That’s for pansies. Nevermind that I’ve never built anything out of gingerbread in my entire life! Nevermind that my spatial skills border on the retarded end of the spectrum and I can barely screw a top on a jar. I’m shitty at following directions, and even worse at keeping my creative ambitions humble. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I think far outside the box, but once I am there, I realize I’m standing in a dirty snowbank without my pants on. Fortunately, I’m also a good improviser and at least half of my projects turn out awesome. The other half explode or collapse, or start on fire.
When my sister and I arrived at my parents house that afternoon, with our sacks full of gumdrops, sugar, and busted up gingerbread shapes, I revved my engine a few times, and put on my neon sweater for the third day in a row. PARRRRRRRTY! I cranked some festive tunes, and carefully laid out all of the bobbins and gumdrops on the credenza in individual dixie cups.I then proceeded to set up the hors d’oeuvres and white wine in the kitchen and prepared for magical togetherness family times.
About a half an hour before my cousin Terri and her family arrived, I began to feel suddenly very, very fatigued.
“Well, it’s no wonder” said my mom. “You’ve been going on like a frikkin maniac the last few days with the gumdrops and gingerbread and the whores devours. Why don’t you sit down and rest for a few minutes for Pete sake.”
“I know!” I said, thinking I’d just hit a temporary wall. “A coca cola will perk me right up.”
I sat on the couch drinking a coke, watching the football game on TV, feeling my life force hemorrhaging out with each sip I took.
A half hour later, my cousin and her family arrived. After showing them the gingerbread universe activity station, and getting them settled in with some drinks and snacks, I sat back down on the couch. It was a strange and ominous kind of tired.
Terri and the kids began futzing around with the gingerbread, strategizing on what to create. I wanted desperately to join them, to share some of my big ideas about the castle, and parapets, etc. Unfortunately, I couldn’t physically get up from the couch.
“Are you okay?” Asked my sister. “You look kind of….gray….”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I feel really weird. I think mom’s right, and I just need to rest for a bit.”
“Well, at least pizza is coming soon.”
As if on cue, a pizza commercial appeared on the television. As soon as I saw a slab of greasy cheese stretching across the TV screen like Freddy Kreuger’s face in a taffy-puller, I clutched my stomach, ran to the bathroom, and violently exploded from every corner of my body.
When I finished emptying myself, I wobbled out of the bathroom. The gingerbread universe construction was now in full swing, with everyone gathered around the dining room table holding a broken gingerbread shape in their hands . I whispered in my dad’s ear, in the voice of a small child: “Daddy. I threw up in the garbage can. It’s behind the shower curtain. I’m sorry.”
I sat on the couch, trembling. How could so many things come out of me at once, and with such velocity? Is my body waging a war on christmas?
My sister Laura sat at the edge of the couch, and offered me some water. “You know, sometimes bud helps with nausea,” she said. (Note: Never take medical advice from a stoner. Especially if you are yourself a stoner. ) “I left a doobie up stairs.”
By the time I descended to the dining room, high as fuck and sweating icicles, I saw that the gingerbread universe had already collapsed in on itself, like a gingerbread black hole. The giant gingerbreadman who had appeared so lordly the night before when we baked him, was now broken in several places, and being mended together with globs of white frosting. The gingerbread house had apparently been erected, but then fell, and was being similarly repaired. There was frosting and candy everywhere. When I sketched out the gingerbread universe in my mind a month ago I saw it as something out of willy wonka. Something with castles, parapets, forests, and churches made of marshmallows. Like this:
What it actually ended up looking like was this:
God bless my cousin and her family for making the most of this overambitious experiment. They truly put in their best effort. But as soon as I fixed my bloodshot eyes on white frosting oozing out of the heart of giant gingerbread man, I ran to the toilet to hurl yet again, this time in superstoner technicolor. Hooray!
After the gingerbread universe explosion, the karaoke party started up in the basement. I sat upstairs on the couch watching TV and feeling death very near. Every 15 minutes or so, I’d get up to barf again. As I held my wastebasket full of bile, I could hear my cousin Terri singing Margaritaville at the top of her lungs. In the midst of my exorcist moments, was glad someone was enjoying themselves.
At about 4:00 am, I stopped barfing, and became lucid again. My face in the mirror was nearly transparent. I was completely empty. I was a ghost. The ghost of christmas future! Perhaps the evil presence that visited me that first night in my old bedroom was GOOD OLD ME.
I peeled off the red sweater, threw it across the room, and crawled into bed, shivering. Visions of vomiting sugarplums fairies were soon replaced by visions of going home to Oakland, and snuggling with my cat Ralph for the next few days. I started mentally planning the netflix movies we’d watch together , and drifted off to sleep, unaware that my Hella Days were only just beginning.