My first Christmas in Humbug was one of the best I had ever had – which likely reflects poorly on my childhood. Since telling Lyle Duerr that my mother was murdered on Christmas day, yet still allowing the local clergy to convince me to put up Christmas decorations at the bistro, not a single Humbugger wished me a Merry Christmas. I can’t tell you how nice it is to actually have people respect your beliefs and not try to include you in their religious festivals. If you are a Christmas celebrating person then perhaps you could only understand this by living in a Muslim country through Ramadan for several years. I felt so free being absolved of all the obligatory salutations, holiday gluttony, and fiscal insanity.
On top of all this, Humbug is an almost surreal place to spend Christmas. The snow hangs from rooftops to the ground, piles up in the street, and just wafts about in such excess that it gives one the impression of living in a cartoon snow globe. Humbuggers decorate the hell out of their town at Christmas, and all the multi-coloured lights and ornaments contrast so much with the snow as to create the impression of ripened fruit just popping up in some geometric pattern on a white dessert. The overall impression is compellingly reminiscent of an illustrated children’s book. As I walked down Main Street I couldn’t help but hear Christmas Carols in my head – and I actually enjoyed them a little.
To add to my Christmas euphoria, I was actually going to have an excuse to close the bistro down for a few days. I’ve often shut myself in for the Christmas season but this time I was going to do so after working so many hours that the juxtaposition was like being freed from some wrongful conviction after twenty years. When I thought of actually taking a few days to just cook some simple dishes for myself and watch some old movies, I actually salivated. I planned every detail to provide myself with the perfect little holiday.
I bought myself some nice liqueurs and planned out some recipes for Amaretto mochas and Frangelico teas. I also purchased some smoked oysters, specially canned asparagus, Danish blue cheese, and some quality snacking crackers - all on the company card. If I wasn’t going to get a paycheque then the least that I deserved was a small ration of comfort foods. I rummaged through some boxes that I hadn’t had time to deal with earlier and found some missing prizes from my jazz collection; among them a wonderful set of Glenn Miller’s lost recordings and secret broadcasts. I even ordered some special editions of Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, and The Great Escape on DVD. It was all I could do to keep from watching these movies before my holiday.
I told almost everyone I met that I would be off skiing for the holidays, just to make certain no one would come looking for me. I decided that I would spend my holiday in the restaurant so that I would have access to the espresso machine and my better computer for listening to music and watching my movies. Everything was perfect, and all I could think was, “I love it when a plan comes together.” In keeping with that theme, I was not going to be getting on any airplanes either.
Now it’s just about at this point where a more cruel author would start to foreshadow some imminent disaster; perhaps a fire or some terrible illness. Please, I want to comfort you by letting you know that nothing awful is about to happen and you can completely relax and imagine a delightful, blissful solitude that transpires completely uninterrupted. The only hiccup in my plan was running out of tobacco near midnight on Christmas Eve. I hadn’t had much time to smoke with all the hours I had been working so I completely miscalculated how much tobacco I would need for my holiday. Left to my own devices, and consuming all the liqueur spiked espresso beverages that my heart desired, I smoked like a wet cedar bough on a bonfire. I didn’t want to leave the safe confines of my little fortress of solitude – but I wasn’t about to ruin my holiday by going through withdrawals.
I was a bit nervous leaving the bistro to run up to the convenience store to get a new pouch of tobacco. I didn’t want to be spotted and invited to some ridiculously loud celebration, so I actually ran up the alley. I snuck around the store from the unlit side between the store and the dumpster, peeking around the corner to ensure I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew; the coast was clear. Upon entering the store I thought that there must have been a riot. The shelves were almost completely empty, several cooler doors were open, and merchandise was strewn all over the floor. The clerk cowered behind the counter and he looked like he had just been sodomized. He seemed almost afraid to see me and he stuttered, “H-h-hello.”
“Hi, are you ok?” I asked.
“I’m getting through. I’m sorry, we’re out of eggnog and Coke,” he preemptively apologized.
“That’s fine. Do you still have tobacco?”
“Oh, yes!” he exclaimed.
“I’ll take a pouch of whatever you have,” I said.
“Wow, you sure are relaxed for Christmas Eve,” he said.
“Very. I’m having a wonderful day.”
“How can you? Everyone in town is frantic tonight.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t celebrate Christmas.”
I smirked at the irony of this horribly overwrought fellow wondering why anyone would not be taking part in all the gluttony and frantic family visits. I answered, “Because it leads to irrational splurges in purchasing and eating that cause a person to behave like an animal – often times abusing convenience store clerks at the height of the ceremony.”
“That’s true,” he agreed, “but I HAVE to celebrate Christmas because of my family.”
“I have been completely liberated from such commitments. You see, I murdered my family on Christmas day in 1994,” I said, “I got out in ten years because of good behavior and now I am free to enjoy the holiday to my every whim and fancy.”
“Wow,” he said, “You sure are lucky.”
“Kill your family, my boy, kill your family,” I said, paying for my tobacco and departing.
I had no idea if that young fellow failed to react to my ridiculous story because he was so overworked, because he believed it and was terrified, or because he believed it and was envious of me. Regardless, I had tobacco and I returned to my fortress of solitude, slipping stealthily back down the alley.
Other than my brief excursion for tobacco, I had three days of completely uninterrupted bliss. I began each morning at the crack of noon with a serving of brioche and chocolate. I spent the next several hours drinking various herbal teas, listening to my jazz collection, and re-reading my favorite Robertson Davies novel (no, I will never tell you the title). By late afternoon I began adding Frangelico to my tea and snacking on crackers that I carefully layered with the smoked oysters, blue cheese, and asparagus. As evening ensued I watched a classic movie and began to drink Amaretto mochas while eating sliced meats and bread. Each night, I set the computer to play some more of my jazz collection at a depleting volume as I fell asleep. I have never experienced a more exquisite three days in my life. The only aspect of my holiday that wasn’t completely utopian was that it could only last for a limited time.
As I arose from my bliss on day four I realized that I had to start doing prep work to re-open the bistro. It was very difficult to adjust to the return to work and I have to say that I viewed the kitchen with the eyes of a cat dangling over a bath tub. To gently re-acclimate to the world decided that I should I begin by drinking some herbal tea and reading the news. To my shock, the major headline that day was about a young Humbug man who had murdered his family on Christmas day. I immediately destroyed my receipt for the tobacco and got straight back to work.