A Man Like Me

I’m a little late with Christmas this year…fell in love with a bunch of beautiful stamps.

I’m charmed not by the many mansions in our little village, but by the boxy little houses and the beer-colored light pouring from their windows.

One place in particular always catches my eye. I think the dad is gone. I no longer see him or his car, so now it’s just Mom and the kids and this cozy, beautiful, well-lit little home.

I hope they know that in many ways they have it all. I hope they realize they’re making holiday memories they’ll carry forever: wrapping gifts, making cookies, cuddling on the couch sharing popcorn.

Seriously, do memories really get much more resonant than that?

We came late to Christmas this year. Didn’t get the outdoor lights up till the weekend – we hang them ourselves, which probably seems dated as churning your own butter. Yet, by tradition, we Chevy Chase our own lights.

“Oh no.”


“Dad’s on the ladder again…”

Thummmp. Medic!!!

We have yet to buy a tree. At this point, do we even need a tree? How about I just decorate this nice gin bottle over here?

We did get cards done, with photos from The Wedding and family activities from throughout the year, including a shot of my niece Amy, who recently fled LA for Chicago, so I included a shot from our spring boat ride on Santa Monica Bay, just so she remembers sunshine.

But that’s about it: the outdoor lights, the Christmas cards, though we have yet to actually mail out the cards.

In my defense, I bought a bucket of overly beautiful Christmas stamps the other day. Instead of sending off the cards, I just stare at these magnificent stamps.

In my defense (part 2): Exceptionally beautiful things – people, stamps – have always made me a little stupid.

Meanwhile, we’ve been busy with Smartacus’ 18th birthday bash, which nearly destroyed the house, such was the celebration. The laughter alone curdled the paint and blew out half the windows.

For a party, he requested a pizza-making contest with his sisters and their various consorts. Went well enough – actually was a blast, and I highly recommend it as a holiday activity for you and your bubble mates.

So easy. Buy pre-made dough and sauce at Trader Joe’s, then add your favorite toppings and bake at 475 for 10-12 minutes (pre-cook the sausage or most other meats).


I sound like I invented pizza or something. I think what I invented was this super-convenient way of making pizza, which might be the accomplishment of my life.

Knowing my life, you probably agree.

Should you decide to make pizza on a competitive level like this, just don’t invite the lovely and patient older daughter, who insisted on squash blossoms on her pizza, and then a fried egg. Bleeeeak. So California.

And no sauce. Seriously, no pizza sauce. Who raised her?

No kidding, don’t invite her under any circumstances. Worst-case scenario: She’d come to your house, ransack your kitchen, then tell you what was wrong with all your dinnerware.

I love her though. Oddly, since she’s been married, I love her even more, since she’s happier than I’ve ever seen her. Her wedding-day glow never really left. Now she has December in her cheeks and a gorgeous new puppy. By gawd, this beautiful daughter of mine….

Anyway, that in no way excuses her omission of pizza sauce. My older daughter tried to offset this by using a homemade ricotta (recipe here), which she paraded around the kitchen in a big jar, like a major scientific breakthrough.

“So easy!” she said of the ricotta.

For the record, Shakespeare used to say the same thing about metaphors.

So, flour flew during this homemade pizza competition. It was like gunpowder swirling in the air…the scent of impending war.

Our pizza contestants.

I am not a competitive person really, which in the eyes of some makes me not a person at all. I think competition, like greed, ruins everything.

I’m more into appreciation than competition – or simply sitting back and watching a ton of TV.

Probably, if I actually ever won anything, a single lousy contest of any kind, I might feel differently about the value of competition.

I never win anything, though as I was telling my hiking pal Reesa the other day, I once ran an 18-minute 5k, which is pretty respectable. I was 23 or 24 at the time and probably half-full of Budweiser, or I’d have performed even better. Mighta won the thing.

As a kid, I was a semi-decent horn player, and won a scholarship to music camp at some godforsaken school in downstate Illinois. To this day, worst experience of my life.

“I don’t do chord progressions,” a fellow camper explained.

“What do you do?”

“Modes,” he said.

Long pause.

“Have you always been an idiot?” I asked him.

This season is full of tiny hazards, self-reflection being one of them. Herbal non-gluton crackers being another. And beware of those non-dairy non-cheeses.

Needless rivalry is another tiny hazard of the holidays. Can’t get carried away with décor, or gift exchanges, or Vegas-style light displays.

I suppose we can’t help ourselves, huh?

If you graded our Christmas, I would probably lose that too, though I have been getting better at gifts. I make lists starting in October. Then, as befits a man like me, I am late ordering them, and have to pay extra for shipping.

By habit, I always have to race out to Macy’s for one last item on Christmas Eve, then grab a drink with an amazing, somewhat-Asian food writer I used to work with.

Then I race home, slightly buzzed. I start to wrap gifts in my signature way – duct tape and sports sections, sometimes plastic tarps, wrap, wrap, wrap…wrap, wrap.

Once I get on a roll, I wrap everything. Dog toys. Nuts. Fireplace logs. Pretzels. Smartacus.

“Anyone seen Smartacus?” his sisters will ask.

“Not me,” I mumble.

And voila! Christmas happens again.

Yes, defying the challenges, the lousy lockdowns, the long, long odds, Christmas happens again.

About these Gingle Bell Balls: If you signed up for this week’s holiday bash, please note that there are now three parties on three different nights: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We had to do this to accommodate the requests and didn’t want to turn anyone away. Invites have gone out by e-mail. Be sure to double-check which day your Zoom invite is for. Sorry for any confusion, technical glitches or inconvenience any of this causes. Soon we’ll be able to do these in person. Cheers!

9 thoughts on “A Man Like Me

  1. Thanks for a smile-inducing, spirit-lifting Holiday themed column. It is so comforting to be reminded that as long as we are with out loved ones, the Spirit of Christmas is there, even if nothing else looks the same anymore. And “amazing, somewhat-Asian food writer” is my favorite phrase of the week.

  2. I’m not into competition, either, unless it’s with myself, and then it ends up being self-defeating. Vying for what ? It seems such a waste of time. And un-Christmassy too. But everyday life will trap you into it, unless you are a monk, and holiday food competition is a given. I’ve been in a couple of legendary races for approbation, with eggnog and spice bread the annual heated arenas of angst. “It’s got the wrong brandy”, “the rum ain’t aromatic enough”, “you didn’t whip the yokes ’till they were watery and beyond”, “it just doesn’t have that hard edge that drifts up your nostrils and makes you think of fire and snow”, etc., etc. Ditto for the spice bread. Maybe this just goes with Christmass; maybe it’s just a part of it we somehow need. So I’m with the daughters–lovely, older, patient, happy: on with the show! Felis Navidad !!

  3. Thanks Chris for always being able to put a small on my face,
    Happy & healthy & safe holidays to you & your family.

  4. Another sterling missive. Thanks for the smiles once again. I’m down with homemade ricotta but eggs and squash blossoms on pizza?? No way, I’m a Jersey girl, remember?
    Happy everyone’s happy though, Cheers!

  5. Priceless! As usual, evocative of so many wonderful Christmas memories from childhood to adulthood. However, a codicil; being Italian,and from Brooklyn,weird stuff on pizza, no. The worst offender, PINEAPPLE! Who thought of THAT abomination! Anyway, Christmas blessings on your beautiful family!

  6. Love the pizza making contest holiday activity idea! I was raised on Barnaby’s, Rosati’s and Lou Malnati’s however, so the fried egg makes me nervous. Who cares if you’re late to Christmas. Christmas waits for everyone. Oh I had fun at the Gin-gle Bell bash! Thanks! 😊

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