Christmas is not just around the corner, it’s here. Salivating and chest heaving, it’s pounding on the front door like the Tasmanian Devil in a Daffy Duck cartoon. I can’t believe I used to throw a big Christmas party every year. Of course, that was when I wasn’t so approaching middle age and had the energy. If the holidays didn’t bring enough tasks, stress and Things To Do, I had to add cooking for 3,075 people in mid-December.
I used to make the best chili in the history of cooking. I know. I know. You’ve seen photographs in magazines about posers at the world championships, guys in cheap Stetsons with beer bellies preceding them by a quarter of an hour and Marge-like mavens in towering blue beehive hairdos holding trophies. Every Christmas, I used to take days to prep and fill three giant 5-gallon cowboy pots. Two bubbled with the con carne (seven kinds of meat) and one was vegan, for my many pursed-lipped insufferable friends who were either modern dancers, mimes or Democrats.
Fifteen gallons of chili. The ingredients cost me like a month’s salary, but, it was worth it, destroying the intestinal linings of so many near and dear to you.
These three cauldrons began simmering the night before. One Christmas, oh sweet Mary, Joseph and the entire Castaic Rotary, did I blow it. I love hot food. But, come next dawn, I shuffled down to the kitchen to taste the night’s feast. I had to spit out my own cooking (not back in the pot, but in the sink, for the benefit of any attendees still living). The chili was so spicy, it could have been used to initiate the Death Penalty to any of the deserving in our California penal system. I’ve got a zillion people coming over for dinner in a few hours and 15 gallons of chili that would melt the nylons off a Canyon Country streetwalker (phone number upon request). I had to run to the store to buy a wheelbarrow-full of canned crushed pineapple to de-toxify the unholy recipe. Actually? It worked. The chili was still hotter than my imaginary prom date, the famous Italian actress and model, Monica Bellucci.
Excuse me. I’m going to pause in the writing of this Christmas nostalgia missive to sigh and think of Monica. The errors we make in life. Monica and I? We should have wed. Had children. Argued bilingually. Hamina hamina hamina …
OK. I’m back.
The guests were sweating, but they couldn’t stop eating the chili.
The price of admission for my Chili Party was that you had to bring a Christmas ornament and a pint of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. My dear childhood pal and musician, Curtis Stone, had been touring for the past few holidays and finally could make the party. He asked if he could bring anything and I told him about showing up with an ornament (a NICE ornament) and a pint of ice cream. Curtie misheard. He shows up with bags-full, 80 pints — 80 BLANKETY BLANK PINTS — of designer ice cream, which today, would have been the same price as Monica’s (my imaginary wife?) Lamborghini. In addition to the OTHER 80 pints the guests brought, I was flush with ice cream for several minutes.
These parties were in the 1970s-1980s. I always took pictures of the couples and it was lovely on two fronts. I’d hang the photos from previous years all over the house. The ones who were married (usually out of wedlock) in junior high, could admire how nicely they were aging together. The other group, tattered remnants from The Sexual Revolution, were rather randy and switched partners more often than Madonna (Canyon, Class of ’71) changes her underwear. I’d pose a friend with his/her date for a new photo, but, I’d position them in front of the photo of last year’s date. Amen boy howdy. The trouble caused when a beautiful girl in love turns around, startled, only to see her man in a photo, in front of the Christmas tree, arm around — Another Woman. Ahhhh, mischief. It’s one of the 7 Important Food Groups.
My kid brother-like substance, Hondo, would always be there. Just love the guy. One year, he made a giant Christmas tree ball with decoupaged holiday slogans, like, “You’re Fat,” “Morbidly obese,” “Chubby,” “Fat Brain,” etc. all around the orb. Saner guests brought embarrassingly expensive decorations. One year had been financially trying and I had painted several houses to make a buck. Hated it. Hay-ted it. A friend donated an ancient paint brush with “1983” painted on with glitter to hang on the tree. Har. Dee-har. Har-har.
Cleanup was like rebuilding Europe after the second world war. I’m still touched to my very soul at how many non-Curtis friends stayed afterward to help minimize the damage. We had a commercial dumpster and trip after trip, filled it with trash bags.
There’s nothing like a lit Christmas tree, overflowing with decorations your friends brought or made, nothing like hearing that reassuring din of conversation and laughter. Gifts are great, so’s eggnog. But Christmas? There’s an eternal magic, feeding your friends, remembering that you had been children with some and now you hold theirs. There’s nothing like the retellings of “remember when’s” or spanning a crowded room filled with people that you just love so much and the very planet just couldn’t exist without them on it.
I think I’ll call Curtis up this weekend, tell him I still have a few pints of Häagen-Dazs left in the freezer and invite him over. Of course, I won’t. Curtie lives in Nashville and to lure him all the way back to Newhall, especially over the holidays, for non-existent ice cream, seems a pinch cruel and a little too Not So Much The Spirit of Christmas.
Probably do it anyway … (:- )
John Boston is Earth’s most prolific humorist/satirist. He wishes all of you, even the vegans, a Merry Christmas and best of holidays. Not too late to visit his johnbostonbooks.com for a last-minute gift.