Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas in the Foothills (Again)

I had intended to spend Christmas in the Midwest, traversing the great snow prairies. Due to complications and reconsiderations, I found myself spending Christmas again in the greater Los Angeles area, bounding along the great rain-spattered freeways, scheming ways around the traffic as I crawled resolutely to La Verne. I would be spending the 25th with my mother, my sister and brother-in-law and their three children, and two other couples and their kids ("friends" of my sister and her husband). This post is largely about one of these friends, a man called Jon.

(I'll interrupt to here to say that it extremely unlikely any of the people at the Christmas gathering would actually be reading this. But I will acknowledge that it is a possibility. So - sorry.)

I have encountered Jon at a few other family gatherings - Thanksgiving last year and a long ago Super Bowl (one which the Cowboys won so you know it was a long time ago). At Thanksgiving last year he went into an extended discussion (in front of all the children, including two of his own) about how he preferred receiving "spa massages" from men instead of women, about how "men just know what to do." He spoke glowingly of the new massage guy at the Newport Beach spa he frequents. Shortly after that his wife spoke of her disdain for the new masseur, explaining that she preferred women. A few minutes later, his wife told me (again, in front of the entire gathering) that she admired my handsome face with its "Egyptian cheekbones." Arguably, she had a point but again it was uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner material. Jon made several other fascinating and inappropriate comments that Thanksgiving but my memory fails me. What he said yesterday is fresher in my mind.

My brother-in-law and his male friends are huge wine snobs. Their wives don't bother with the pretense of having wine expertise, preferring to say things like "I just like what tastes good. If it tastes good, keep pouring." A few years ago my brother-in-law and his own brother discussed the "earthy terroire" of a new French wine (loud enough for the gathered audience to hear). I don't know much French but "earthy terroire" sounds redundant. Yesterday, Jon was eager to try an expensive red wine that had just been opened. I don't know who brought the wine but I do know that the wine I brought was left unopened in a dark corner of the kitchen for the entire day. I had purchased the $9.99 red wine with the cool graphics on the bottle from Ralph's (the only grocery store open in town). Along with the wine I bought three Best Buy giftcards for the niece and nephews. I bought all this at precisely 2:23pm on Christmas Day. Dinner was being served at 3:00. Yes, I made it in time.

So back to Jon and the wine. It seemed that Jon still had just finished a different red wine from his glass. As the entire gathering sat, ready to enjoy Christmas dinner, he loudly requested that someone get him another glass so he could enjoy the new wine, not wanting the sediment from the first wine to interrupt the experience of the new one.

Now this is not an unreasonable request at, say, a wine tasting or some other wine-centered event. But there were two problems with him requesting the new glass at Christmas dinner. One, it was rude to expect someone - anyone - to stand up from their plate and get a new fresh glass (did I mention that, in addition to his emptied wine glass, he had a clean unused water glass directly in front of him?) Two, the dude is a complete idiot and likely didn't know what the hell he was talking about when he discussed wine or any other subject.

I have written here about my mother, in both a guarded and unguarded fashion (see my cousin's blog entry for more brilliance about my mom.) I will say that her reaction to Jon's request was one of the greatest things she has ever said. She said, "why don't you just get up and wash your glass?" referring to the wine glass he had just drank out of. I immediately thought of Curb Your Enthusiasm. When there was a particularly bad spill at a dinner table, Larry's mother-in-law yelled out "Somebody get a sponge!" Larry, recognizing that she was closest to the kitchen, said, "Why don't you get the sponge? It was then that I realized that my mother is Larry David, that the utterly self-involved motivations of his character on Curb are familiar to me because that's how I was raised.

Oddly, it seemed that no one other than me heard my mother had said. What she does not share with Larry David is an ostentatious way of speaking. She mumbles her put-downs. You need to listen carefully. I listen carefully.

(I actually don't remember if anyone got him a new wine glass. Or if he just accepted that it could be poured into the empty glass in front of him.)

Later, many of us gathered in the family room to watch the end of the Lakers-Celtics game. Now I love basketball more than just about anything else on earth. I enjoy watching basketball. But the inane behavior of Jon - seated, unfortunately, next to me on the couch - made me not want to watch basketball again in the near future. Emboldened by all the wines he tasted, he insisted on engaging in a fist pump with me whenever the Lakers did anything good. Dude, I thought, it's the third quarter of a regular season game. This is not worthy of fist pumps.

(Meanwhile, one of the other friends that my sister invited engaged in hugely racist mocking whenever one of the (non-white) basketball players was seen arguing on TV with a referee. I won't repeat it here. I'll just say that his imitations of Kevin Garnett and Eddie House arguing foul calls set back American race relations at least 10 years. Yes, it completely wiped out the Obama victory.)

During a lull in the game, Jon engaged me in conversation about my job. He asked about the neighborhood around USC, whether it was safe. I said it was mostly safe but that yes, being located in the heart of a major city, there was some crime. He then asked me "What about RAPES? Are there a lot of RAPES around there?" (emphasis his, not mine) I don't know why he was asking this. Maybe with his daughter (seated nearby) approaching college age, he didn't want to put her at risk by sending her to USC. More likely, the guy is just plain weird and is fascinated with RAPE. I answered his question honestly, noting the two sexual assaults on and near campus from a few months ago and telling him I really didn't know the overall statistics for the entire area. He then asked me about USC's business program.

Eventually, the game continued. The Lakers won. I had moved away from the couch because I was sick of fist pumping and I actually kind of like the Celtics now, a miracle considering how much I hated them in childhood.

At this point on Christmas day, considering all the travel and life-related upset that the past few days had brought, I decided that the rest of my La Verne visit could be spent in the downstairs bedroom, watching old episodes of Flight of the Conchords (the Bowie episode) and Big Love (the amazing hotel episode) on my mother's flat screen. Somewhere in there I retreated upstairs for dessert and to check if my "table wine" had been opened. It hadn't been.

For all my complaints, I guess there is something reassuring about spending Christmas with my family and their friends. It beats being alone and it gives me something write about. Still, I intend to plan ahead for Christmas next year. And I intend to stick to my plan.

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