Thursday, December 25, 2008

mixed nuts: xmas 2k8 pt. one

fade in: it was december 24th at 5:45, pitch dark already as the wind whipped through the eucalyptus trees on the farm relentlessly and the fat raindrops assailing the house were drowned out by a cheerful perry como. I was on my hands and knees by the miniature tree decked with miami beach blue lights and iridescent fake snow, wrapping the last of the presents my mom hadn't had time to finish. they were travel coffee mugs for all of the men in the family, which is quite useful considering the average gift you might find under the tree, but easier said than done to actually get covered properly without it looking like someone handed it to a toddler with a ball of yarn, some scotch tape, and some shiny paper with "ho" print on it and told them to go to town. I stared at one of my finished products feeling vaguely unsatisfied with the shoddy outcome and shrugged to myself as I tossed it into a shopping bag with one hand while sipping a glass of pomegranate champagne with the other. we were running late, but that was to be expected.

all of the ruggeri clan were supposed to have arrived at the bromley compound by 6 o'clock sharp, so as to appease the reliably demanding whimsy of the smith family. pete is the eldest grandchild and he's married, in addition to being the proud parent of two young kids who apparently couldn't stand to stay up an extra hour like all of the rest of us had as wee barnes. this isn't the first time or the last that everyone else was given instructions on how to behave that translated to something akin to, "we're not playing favorites, we just like them better." in the suburban on route to the soiree my mom went off on a grumbling tirade, and I, on the one hand, was disinterestedly fiddling with the cap on my peppermint chapstick, as we slalomed our way through the pothole riddled puddle obstacle course that linden street turns into in the wet months.

"really," my mom continued, "who starts a christmas party at 6pm?! who?"

"apparently, we're related to them."

"it's just ridiculous! the sun is hardly down. I'm not even hungry. you know what? we should just keep driving."

"oh, okay, thelma." I laughed, patting her on a padded shoulder. my phone started to ring and I dug it out of my purse to answer it. it was my cousin scott.

"yo, dude. where are you guys? patty's freeee-eeaking out."

"I'm sure she is."

my mom interjected, "tell them we're on our way to vegas."

"scott, my mom says to tell everyone we're headed to vegas and they can all go fuck themselves."

"I'll be sure to pass on the message." he chuckled, "but seriously, where are you?"

"we're just going to do some rails of cat tranquilizer off of the dash here and we'll be there in five." I sighed. "we're on linden. see you in a minute." as I was hanging up my mom threatened to start a christmas revolt if all the champagne had been imbibed without us.

when we arrived on the scene moments later, I was showcasing my "I don't have to be good, I'm cute" cat sweatshirt to my mom when her boyfriend wordlessly slunk out of the shadows holding a fruit and cheese basket, unintentionally startling me witless. "sorry," he said to me and then turned to my mom, "but I'm not going in there without you."

"we don't blame you." I said, without a hint of irony.

"what's your neice's fiance's name? the monster truck driver guy?" he asked.

"phil." replied my mom.

"phil, phil, phil, phil. how am I going to remember that? phil, like punxatawney."

"that's perfectly fitting, actually." I said, reaching for the front door. "here we go!"

once inside we all began the rounds of pleasantries to all 15 of those who can proudly say we're from the same gregarious irish italian bloodline, plus a few strays that managed to weasel their ways in over the years. I'd been forewarned that my crazy aunt (who usually provides me with all the material I need for holiday entertainment) would be in attendance with her ex-con boyfriend that she had reconciled with after having him dragged out of her house by the cops during a "psychotic episode" just a week before. when I got there her absence was glaring, as she is usually quite loudly terrorizing the company with diatribes of all kinds of exceedingly inappropriate natures, so I asked where she was and peggy threw up her hands in exasperation.

"she's not coming!"

"what?!" I asked, incredulously. this would be the first family dinner sans crazy 'nee 'nee since I was a toddler.

"brian is sick, so she's staying home to take care of him."

"ohhh." I said.

"I can't believe I went to all the trouble to hide the good silver because he was coming over and now she just cancels!"

"you hid the silver, peg?"

"well, you know," she said, leaning in and lowering her voice as well as her eyebrows, "after thanksgiving, I was missing a spoon."

"you were missing a spoon? like a serving spoon?"

"no, it was a small soup spoon."

"how could you tell?"

"well I counted them before and after dinner and afterwards, one was missing."

"that's terrible." I said, backing away, trying to disengage from the cutlery conspiracy and get back to the baked brie. halfway across the kitchen I had absconded with a small plate of hors de oeuvres when my aunt patty stopped me in my tracks, picking up the lock of hair on the left side of my head that bears a pink streak that hadn't yet been debuted to the family members that skipped the turkey day festivites this year. patty has gained notoriety amongst family members for her strict family values that preaches but does not necessarily practice, and also for being the eldest sister of the four aunts with a textbook classic case of self martyrdom.

"what," she paused dramatically to look underneath the hair that she was holding with her thumb and pointer finger as if it was a rotten banana peel, "is this?"

"it's hair?" I replied, cringe smiling. she didn't respond, so I continued, "I'm working at a salon right now, it's just a different look I wanted to try. it washes out."

"that's nice." she said, placing the hair back in place gingerly. "that's nice, honey." I looked over her shoulder to see my little brother giving me an enthusiastic politician's double thumbs up and I crossed my eyes in a silent response.

soon after everyone piled in to the dining room and sat down for prayer that I apparently missed because I had committed my attention to getting the party popper from my plate to open. this year everyone had been served salad that was waiting for them when we got to the table. I pointed to the leafy greens in front of me.

"what's going on here?"

"they're vegetables, christina." said my mom.

"no, that is salad rape." I replied, looking askance at a baby carrot. scott laughed under his breath and patty shot me a look.

"just eat it." said my mom, nudging my knee under the table. I put the crown from my party popper on my head, and the other cousins followed suit. looking down the table to see who was indulging in the holiday headgear was a pretty accurate indicator of the "cool ruggeris" who all gather together after the stuffy ones have departed to participate in the traditional midnight graveyard run. every year we all pile into a van and go to the graveyard to sprinkle vodka and glitter on my dearly departed grandma's grave, and we leave a "bow-quet" of all of the ribbons from the opened christmas presents. arguably the coolest ruggeri of them all, my nana certainly would have approved.

dinner itself was relatively uneventful because of nee nee's absence and the fact that no one had had enough time to get drunk first and the raviolis were soaking everything up. after everyone was sufficiently stuffed (so much so that there was hardly a scrap left on the table) we all retreated to sit around the tree and wait for pete's two babies to hand out the presents, knocking over most of the beverages in the room as they toddled around. I made off with a couple of checks and a black thermal hoodie from patty that appeared to be wearable until I noticed that it had an airbrushed sacred heart surrounded by phantasmagoric floating crucifixes on it. scott was definitely spot on when he bestowed me with a flask that said "hot mess" in scrolling purple letters.

I held it up triumphantly, and scott, feigning a resigned apathy said that he was ready to be part of the problem.

"no, no, scott. this is merely a solution." I said, thanking him.

soon the great divide came about and the family sects began to break up and start planning their escapes, so jack and my mom and I piled into the car and headed home for our private swanson party before the graveyard run.

when we got back we opened another bottle of champagne and jack was on the couch playing with my mom's geriatric miniature weiner dog, mitzie. mitzie is a nervous creature, weighing in at about 7 lbs. and she was never properly house trained, so she (and the apartment) often quite literally smell like shit. this was not the case tonight.

jack smelled the dog and made a face but the following question wasn't what I had expected:

"why does mitzie smell like raid?"

"oh, I sprayed for ants earlier." replied my mom, matter of factly, "don't lick any surfaces in the apartment."

"or the dog, for that matter!" I said, casting a sympathetic gaze in mitzie's direction. she shivered before launching herself off of the couch and running to the sliding glass door to bark frantically.

to be continued...

No comments: