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Many American children whiled away Christmas Eve dreaming of sugar plums, or at least wondering what sugar plums are. And then perhaps wondering why they didn't have some sugar plums right now, and questioning whether their parents really loved them because, if they did love them, wouldn't sugar plums be the first order of business for Christmas? Or any other day? The kids in that poem were dreaming of sugar plums – were they rich? I can't remember. The point is, sugar plums weren't some kind of impossible, or surreal vision. Those kids had likely eaten some sugar plums before, probably recently. OK, yes, sugar plums don't really dance so in that respect the dream had an element of surrealism to it but that's just the nature of dreams. Images drag themselves from your subconscious and take unusual shapes or shift context but the fact is we don't dream of anything we can't conceive. So if these kids were dreaming of sugar plums, surely a big bowl of fresh sugar plums weren't totally out of the picture. Or they would have drawn the distinction between "dreaming of" sugar plums – suggesting a priori knowledge – and "fantasizing about" sugar plums, which is what some kids probably did on Christmas eve, because their parents are simply awful. Awful and selfish, and maybe they'd benefit from spending just a little less time hanging stockings with care, and a little more time getting their shit together vis a vis sugar plums.

So, while those other kids were dreaming of sugar plums or dying on the inside, I was reeling from the carb-shock of too much pizza. Pizza was eaten because I found myself too depressed to cook and the burrito place had the good sense to close on Christmas Eve. My day laid itself out as such: After returning some hideous pants that had been impulsively purchased as an extension of some far-fetched fantasy that I might successfully play the role of Caucasian – being white is my personal sugar plum, and knowing how ridiculous I look in tartan plaids and broken-in chinos is my personal Vietnam – I dropped in to see a 5pm screening of the new film, Closer. Closer is a strange movie. At one point, Natalie Portman's character is asked to comment on an exhibit of tremendous Avedon-esque portraits of strangers. (Portman is out of her depth in this film, by the way. She plays the giddy moments wonderfully, but she plays coy and vicious like a seven year-old girl clomping around in her mommy's shoes.) She believes the show is a lie – it's a collection of images of sad, lonely, broken people, made beautiful through the photographer's process so the viewers can feel something uplifting regardless of the subjects' misery. I found this comment very telling since Closer is essentially a film about exquisitely beautiful, desirable people acting sad, lonely, and broken. Jude Law, don’t cry! Finish up this scene and several hungry mouths will be waiting for you in your trailer, ready to kiss your skin. The only true moment in the film – which is a somewhat excellent and devastating film in a lot of respects – is when Julia Roberts says, "I'm disgusting." Faced! Julia Roberts, you are now feeling the shockwaves of the "OH SHIT EFFECT™!"

Spending Christmas Eve amongst last-minute shoppers, and then to creep into the dark to see a movie about hurt, deceit, and the unfortunate and necessary compromises of love, only to follow that up with a one-man pizza party is kind of like embarking on a spiritual quest to vacuum all of the joy from one's life. The only activity missing from my holiday celebration was watching a baby freeze to death in the snow.

[A few words on eating pizza on Christmas Eve. I've possibly written about this before, and I've certainly spoken about it, but when I'm feeling sluggish and depressed I have a funny (and some would say counter-intuitive) method for comforting myself. I order a whole pizza. This is not an act of gluttony; I'm not one of those saddies who swallow their pain down with a tub of frosting. Actually, my motives are even more depressing. I regard the act of someone making a pizza especially for me like it's an act of genuine love. I somehow believe it means someone cares enough about me to do something unique and special, like make a pizza to order. There's really no other take-out cuisine like it. Chinese food is a handful of ingredients from a bunch of buckets and, on your plate, it has no beginning or end. Hamburgers are sort of the same, and a bit effortless. But pizza is as close as you can get to having something made from scratch. The dough needs to rise. It emerges from the oven whole – all yours. You open the box and you fool yourself into believing someone loves you enough to bake for you. I never finish the pie, even over several days, but being a little wasteful helps to perpetuate my necessary cycle of existential malaise and indulgence. ("You're just here, making more garbage. You make me sick. Now finish your root beer.") And, apropos of not much apart from a small bit of coincidence, I'd like to take this moment to point out that, as I'm typing this, my computer is serenading me with the old Philly soul song, "Lost The Will To Live." Subtle.]

As I walked into the pizza place I noticed the counter was bare, and one of the employees was Windexing the empty display cases. I already felt like a tremendous imposition, asking for pizza on Christmas Eve, so I turned to leave. One of the employees shouted to my back, "No, we open. We open. Whatchoo want, boss?" I decided this gave me permission to order, but I made sure to do so with a tremendous amount of lowered glances and prostrate apology swirled in for holiday cheer.

The pie guy (my optometrist says it doesn't matter how many times a pizza place changes management, as long as they have a good pie guy) seemed very frazzled, no doubt anxious to get home to his vast collection of illegal pornography. He was wearing a felt Santa Claus cap, and its colors appeared darker, and more intense, from having been soaked through with his head sweat. One of my favorite Christmas details – and by "favorite details," I mean it only in the Diane Arbus sense of the word – is seeing funny-shaped, awkward, and miserable people decked out in holiday accessories. Like homeless guys in Santa Caps. (a team of homeless guys in my neighborhood went caroling in those hats last weekend. It was clearly a spontaneous plan, and the results were hysterical. They used the holiday as a chance to walk along a crowded thoroughfare, screaming made-up Christmas songs at the top of their lungs, and asking for money from the very people whose peace they were disturbing. I think it was a pretty inspired form of revenge.) Or the thick-waisted, vaguely masculine Amtrak train conductor who decided today was a nice day to wear dainty little hanging earrings with red ornaments hanging from them. And, of course, the chubby, sweating, mustached pie guy who rushed my whole, fresh pizza into the oven while a Mexican teenager mopped the pizzeria floor around me.

[P.S. Apropos of nothing and everything, I hope you won't find this overbearing and preachy but I think it would be nice if you'd donate some money to relief for the impossibly large numbers of flood victims in Southeast Asia. This is a good place to start, if you want to see which relief organizations operate with the lowest overhead.]

WE FIRST MET ON 12.29.2004

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