Jewish Christmas in Kingston
Thursday, December 25 2003
Christmas. I've been pronouncing it in the Mexican style lately, "Kree-mahs."
The first thing I did this morning was start grouting the wall tile backsplash I began yesterday. I avoided grouting all the seams in corners so I could come back later and caulk them with fancy sanded caulk instead.
After I'd finished the tile work the behind the holes where the faucet would go, I applied myself to getting the new sink up and running. Early in the process I discovered that dishwashers (we never use ours, by the way) only use the hot water supply. Later in the process I had a bad experience at the hands of Price Pfister's surely-patented quick-connect technology. The whole idea of designing a proprietary connector that attaches quickly without the use of tools is to save on time, but what good is it if there is no obvious way to disconnect the connector or other wise diagnose the problem in the probable case that it will spray leaking water when first tested? Debugging leaky plumbing, either in a bathroom or in the funky cabinet beneath a kitchen sink, is probably one of the most miserable ways one can waste time outside the confines of a Turkish prison. The quick connector was used to attach the faucet hose to the control mechanism in a nearly-inaccessible space behind one of the two basins. Once I determined that it was leaking, I couldn't manage to disconnect it, and I couldn't tighten the place whereby the quick connector technology was threaded into older, more reliable, unpatented slow-connector technology. So I was forced to loosen the entire control mechanism and pull it (along with its attached hoses) up through the countertop. I could only just barely do this, since the quick connector technology was nearly too big to fit through that hole. Once I had it through, I could (as the directions suggested) "wrench tighten" the quick connector to the faucet hose, but it didn't stop leaking until I'd "overtightened" it, an act the instructions were careful to warn against. I wonder how many other people have fallen prey to Price Pfister quick connector?
Gretchen does her part to maintain traditions from my family, so in honor of secular Christmas, she prepared me a stocking of candy, Paul Masson brandy, and mixed nuts. Several of the candies were goofy Christmas gags. One package featured rough-cut lumps of what appeared to be coal but which were in fact licorice candy. Another was a chocolate pie made to look like reindeer excrement, if a reindeer happened to be experiencing diarrhea. (I've never seen reindeer poop, but I assume it - like deer, goat, and antelope droppings - resembles piles of currants.)
Later we practiced Gretchen's Christmas tradition, one I've enthusiastically embraced: Jewish Christmas. This was to be my third year of Jewish Christmas, and I'd been eagerly anticipating both of its constituent parts: first dinner at a Chinese restaurant and then a blockbuster movie at a local cinema. The irony, as Gretchen pointed out over dinner, is that I don't particularly like either Chinese food or movies.
The Chinese restaurant we went to was the one in Uptown Kingston we went to moments after we were married. I can't remember what it's called, so I usually refer to it as "Chop Suey" since those words are written in the biggest letters above the door. We weren't certain at first whether Chop Suey would actually be open on Christmas (supposedly the Chinese restaurant in Woodstock had been closed last Christmas, but that might have been a consequence of the weather). But as we approached, we saw there were people inside. Great, it was open, and we were the only customers. "Where are the Jews?" Gretchen asked in that middle age Long Island housewife voice she uses on such occasions. It turns out that we were a little early, because customers came quickly once we'd placed our orders. There were four other tables occupied by the time we left, although Gretchen insisted that only three of them were of people participating in Jewish Christmas. In keeping with the contrarian traditions of Jewish Christmas, I ordered shrimp with cashews.
Driving out to the Hudson Valley Mall on Albany Avenue, we passed another Chinese restaurant that appeared to be packed with people. Jewish Christmas is apparently live and well in the Hudson Valley.
The movie we were going to see tonight was called Bad Santa, which didn't quite qualify as a Jewish Christmas blockbuster, since it had a theme based on the traditions of American Christmas. You see, for the Jew on Christmas, a movie is a vehicle of escape from the cloying realities of the Christian world. But Gretchen had read good things about Bad Santa and it seemed like it was going to be our kind of movie. Its humor had been described as "black" and one reviewer had even suggested that its producers were going to Hell. Given the sad quality of the other movies currently showing, this one seemed like our best bet. We had no interest, for example, in suffering through the last of Peter Jackson's joylessly ponderous Lord of the Rings sequels.
To see Bad Santa, we snuck into the megaplex at the Hudson Valley Mall. All we had to do was leave our coats in the car and then never even glance at the ticket taker as we walked past him. The poor guy only earns minimum wage, and it's just easier for him to read body language when it comes to asking for tickets. There are plenty of people have to get back in after cigarette breaks, and they don't want to be hassled about their tickets a second time. We could have been those people.
Wow, Bad Santa was an awesome movie! Its humor tended to be of the basic gross-out variety a lot of the time, and many of the gags had a basic slapstick quality, but it was all built upon an exquisite framework, with all sorts of unpredictable plot twists and zany novelties. For example, have you ever heard of a wooden pickle? No, I hadn't either, but in this movie the wooden pickle was matter-of-factly introduced as a gift idea. The reason Bad Santa's humor might be called "black" might because of the complete absence of moralizing. It's a wonderfully refreshing thing in a Hollywood movie. When characters drink, have anal sex with random people, and casually steal BMWs from unwitting victims, part of what the process of making a movie seems to require is that a poorly-cloaked message beside each of these things telling us that they're all wrong, wrong, wrong, and we're not supposed to do them! It's always an insult to our maturity, but it's as unavoidable as the sunrise. It's as if there's a Hollywood union rule that requires the voice of morality to have a role in every movie. But somehow in this movie,it had no role whatsoever. In its absence, it almost seemed like it wasn't really a movie. Either that, or it completely transcended movies as we know them. I'm here to tell you, the effect was profound. Still, this didn't prevent Bad Santa from managing an uplifting ending or giving us the experience of positive character growth. Those things happened as well.
What with my smuggled-in flask of brandy, I felt a real bond with the main character, an alcoholic safe-cracker who doubles as a shopping mall Santa. Billy Bob Thornton was excellent in this role.
a walk down memory lane with Christmasses passed:
1996: Pantera and lousy pot at a friend's, then chicken at home in Staunton, VA.
1997: cornish hens for dinner with my parents in Staunton, VA.
1998: Christmas dinner at a Jack in the Box in Ocean Beach, San Diego, CA.
1999: Christmas with BTG and her relatives in the vicinity of Detroit, MI.
2000: Christmas all alone (with stimulants) in Los Angeles, CA.
2001: Jewish Christmas in Brooklyn, NY.
2002: Jewish Christmas (sans movie) during a snowstorm in Woodstock, NY.
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