Tis the Season
My first foray into raising a cup of kindness was the City Paper staff holiday party at Red Maple, an intimate affair at which normally intelligent adults get high-school drunk—puking, falling over, making-out-in-the-bathroom drunk. Although I indulged in the free drinks, my co-workers were putting me to shame. I knew the night had started to get out of hand when people started dancing. It’s just disconcerting to see your office mates shaking it poorly on the dance floor, especially when they’re respected investigative reporters.
When I hit the cold night air, I’ll admit, I was feeling superior. I wasn’t making a drunken fool of myself—or so I thought. I ducked into the Hippo to grab a pack of smokes before I headed home only to walk into the middle of the club’s bingo night. I tried to be inconspicuous, but apparently I wasn’t as smooth as I had imagined. When I finally made my way to the cigarette machine, I tossed a $5 bill in the change machine beside it and filled my hands with quarters, only to realize that the cigarette machine doesn’t take change. I turned to the bar and plunked my useless booty on the counter. The bartender didn’t say a word. He just handed me dollar bills with a look that said, “You sad, sad drunken girl.”
Holiday Party No. 2 was at the house of one of my favorite couples. They’re adorable, the kind of couple that I always imagine sitting in their sweet Lauraville home saying, “You’re so cute,” “No, you’re so cute.” Their parties guarantee good conversation and a spread worthy of my favorite holiday party activity—grazing. But I made a mistake that would cost me this party. I waited until that day to start my Christmas shopping, and after six hours of fighting for parking spaces and trying to pry the last copy of The Wire DVD set out of someone else’s hands, all I could do was lie on my couch in a catatonic state of horror.
The next weekend I had two holiday parties on the same night. First I headed to the party of a friend’s family in a beautiful Roland Park house with a decorated tree, a roaring fire, and contented old people cooing over their grandkids. I felt like I was crashing. I couldn’t find my friend anywhere; I was just some stranger who had wandered into a Norman Rockwell painting. I finally found some of my friends huddled on the back porch smoking cigarettes and wondering where the hell our host was.
Fortunately, we did have a host of sorts, a man we came to call Captain Double Breasted Kitchen Bitch. The captain was an older man with snow-white hair in a turquoise turtleneck and a suit jacket who cursed in French, told other people they weren’t real Canadians, and happily announced that, at his home, he was the “kitchen bitch.” He asked one of my friends her name by saying, “I don’t even know your name, so how are we going to have an affair?” And as his wife sat on a sofa, eating and rolling her eyes at her gregarious husband, my friend responded simply by saying, “Oh, Captain.”
From there I headed to my neighbors’ annual blowout. They know how to throw a party. The invitation was a DVD with a Behind the Music style film on it in which they played the fading rock stars. At the party, people wore costumes and caterers walked around with trays of hors d’oeuvres. When I asked where I should put the beer I brought, they shrugged and suggested I partake of the kegs of microbrews on the back porch. They are exactly the kind of hosts that I secretly want to be and know I never will. I’m more of a beer-in-the-bathtub, hide-the-mess-in-the-closet type.
My next festive occasion was at police headquarters. The Baltimore Police Department’s holiday soirée was a picnic-style affair with fried chicken, potato salad, and soda where the beers should have been. Most of the guests were from local TV news stations, oddly familiar people with very done hair wearing perfect makeup that real people can’t do by themselves. I didn’t know many of their names, so I spent the night saying things like, “So, how long have you been with the station?”
Holiday Parties Nos. 6 and 7 were supposed to be an office party for the arty set and the Ottobar holiday party. But on the day of the first one, I got a call from my father. My mother’s mother had died. Suddenly, I was headed home and the next two gatherings I attended were a wake and a funeral. I looked at a woman I had loved but never really known lying in a casket. She had always been simply my grandma, purveyor of sugared cereals, the person who taught me to play cards and listened when I complained about my brothers. Now she was lying there with her face frozen in a solemn expression I had never seen her wear in life. I spent Christmas Eve watching my mother weep and my normally stoic grandfather shake his head and cry, “Doris, Doris, why did you leave me?”
What started out as a fun, if overwhelming holiday season became one filled with death. When I returned to Baltimore after a Christmas that didn’t feel like one, I found out that my friend Mark Harp had died. Mark was a large guy who was always laughing at his own strange jokes, and I was sort of relieved that he didn’t want a funeral. I just couldn’t imagine seeing him a box without the smile I can still so clearly remember.
By the time New Year’s Eve came around, the official end of the holiday party season, I didn’t feel much like celebrating. But I put on a party outfit and hit the streets of Hampden. Every year on 34th Street, amid Christmas lights whose gaudiness are renown, a lighted ball drops at midnight and a very hairy man runs around in a diaper proclaiming himself Baby New Year. The street was packed this year, but I found a group of friends and passed around champagne as we waited for 2005 to start. And I looked up and saw the window of Mark Harp’s apartment. He lived right next to the Miracle on 34th Street; he even had a web site dedicated to it (www.christmasstreet.com). So when the hour hit, I kissed my boyfriend, and my friends, and I raised a glass to 2005 and to the people who didn’t get to see it.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201