Happy New Year, everybody! In honor of another successful negotiation of the holiday season, and to celebrate the running of yet another tinseled and ornamented gauntlet, I’d like to reflect on what ended up being a truly ridiculous Christmas, if only because writing is therapy, and I need all the help I can get.
It all started when I missed a flight out of Atlanta Christmas morning. I had checked a few days prior and saw that my standby flight was almost guaranteed on an empty airplane, which, on Christmas Actual, because of bad weather and cancellations, turned into the ass-end of a thirty-person standby list for a flight that had one seat left. Which wasn’t even the biggest problem, as it turned out.
Word went around fast that the extremely popular biscotti cookies that were being given out in honor of Christmas were tainted with some rabidly aggressive strain of E-Coli, or a bug similarly hostile to the human digestive system, and the plane’s passengers, even before takeoff, were beginning to show signs of intestinal distress. To make matters worse the only seat available was all the way in the back, wedged between the lavatory, for which there was already a line, and a screaming kid who had judiciously decided to avoid the line, taking it upon himself to create his own personal lavatory in his underpants.
All the standby fliers sitting at the gate were tugging their collars nervously at the thought of a mass evacuation of diarrhea at forty thousand feet. No Christmas destination was worth that. A few people came up the jetway, green and gasping, surrendering their seats to the more intrepid travelers, whose threshold for human rot and decay was somewhere on the level of emergency room medical personnel and Navy Seals trained to withstand extreme forms of torture. None of us knew what was worse, missing the plane or actually making it onboard.
“What type of world do we live in when harmless and delicious cookies suddenly turn into aggressive little terrorists?” said a man sitting next to me, his fists clenched in anger. “We can’t even trust food anymore.”
I waved him off, taken as I was with a Christmas news story on CNN about a 400-pound bearded woman who had stabbed a man in the neck in a dispute over a cigarette. I sensed a certain suppressed mirth in the otherwise staid reporter’s detail, as she kept reiterating that the woman was “again 400 pounds, and had a beard,” which basically eclipsed any other part of the story. The woman, “400 pounds and bearded, mind you,” was caught after she fled the scene. She was caught fifteen feet away, gasping and panting, her bearded face doubled over her 400-pound girth as police handcuffed her, the bearded 400-pound woman.
“Is the man okay? The stabbing victim?” said the anchorman.
“Did I mention this female behemoth had a beard?” said the reporter.
Hypertricosis is no laughing matter. Neither is obesity. But somehow, when the two conditions coincide, it makes it alright to laugh about it. Don’t know why. Just one of those inscrutable truisms.
The smell from the plane was slowly seeping up the jetway while we waited for our names to be called, like the lottery of the doomed, so we could be led down the gangplank to certain horror. I could see through the window that even the pilots were freaking out, and they had their own private room up front with a locking door. They fanned the air wildly, radioed up to the gate for the agents to get the plane ready for takeoff, and to get an extra supply of barf bags, and to stop fucking around. They promised to drop all the oxygen masks immediately upon takeoff, and to even leave the plane door open a crack for the whole flight just to air it out.
The man who had termed the biscotti cookies “tiny terrorists” ended up being the last person on the plane. We watched him as he paused at the door, turned to the rest of us, gulped and disappeared.
No travel for Paddy the Duke, so I went back to my neighborhood to search for a restaurant open for holiday business. The pickins were slim. I eventually settled on a new restaurant called, “Wasted–A Grub Shack.” Catchy name. I had the wrong idea though, as the sign wasn’t referring to inebriation, but to exotic foodstuffs–worms, crickets, dogfish, larvae and such (actual grub)–items usually deemed unfit for consumption by western standards. This was the new holiday gourmet.
“Keep an open mind and an open mouth,” the husband and wife team of owners declared as I was seated at a table. They wished me a fond Merry Christmas and offered me a menu. I couldn’t decide between the worms or the pupae platter, so they just started me out with “yartsa gunbu” tacos, which is a Tibetan caterpillar fungus, and a chia shake. They told me that chia was a superfood, gluten-free, rich in protein and anti-oxidants. All the rage in certain health circles, which meant that the chia pets of the eighties would soon be extinct. Chalk another fragile species up to human interference.
Instead of “It’s a Wonderful Life” the mounted television was showing the old Jean Luc Goddard movie “Alphaville,” an experimental film so eerie and strange that even nihilists and the Goth culture won’t have anything to do with it. I moved on to my main course, the Death’s Head Moth burger with a side of critters, as I told my hosts about the E-coli outbreak on the plane I was supposed to be on.
“All our food is guaranteed E-coli free,” they boasted. Sure, I thought, even E-coli wouldn’t be caught dead in this stuff. E-coli, as it turns out, actually has some dignity. I thought about ham, I thought about turkey, I thought about pumpkin pie, stuffing, gravy and egg nog. I wished for a traditional Christmas, never knowing how good I had it. I got a sample of mollusk meatloaf and dung beetle lasagna and finished the whole thing off with a cup of Kopi Luwak.
“How does it taste?”
“We knew you’d like it.”
More Alembics to come.