Bonus feature during my Christmas Countdown, here are my favorite holiday memories growing up, part one.
I was originally going to make this about Christmas, but then realized that I really don’t have enough Christmas memories to make up a full article for the simple reason that for most of my adult life, I haven’t really celebrated it. I don’t see the point in decorating, and I certainly don’t see the point in everyone going into a consumer frenzy over each other. I do enjoy using Christmas Eve as the opportunity to get together with old friends, though.
That consumer frenzy part is what I most remember from my childhood Christmases, really, and being an only child from a somewhat well-off middle class family, there was many a Christmas morning that I’d be buried in presents, a few of which were exactly what I had asked for in my letter to Santa, but a lot of which always felt like “Mom saw it at the toy store and threw it in the cart” because she had a some kind of “gift quota” to hit with me.
Some of those presents were awesome, and I don’t remember getting clothing ever, even not as I approached adulthood. But the ultimate lesson there is that they were just stuff, a lot of it probably meant to keep me busy and out of the way (q.v. “only child”) while Mom tried to do housework, and all of it has long since vanished into the past.
I can’t think of a single childhood Christmas present that I still have, but that’s okay. The point is that watching this holiday buried under the weight of materialism really put me off traditional celebrations of Christmas.
Want to make me happy for the day and beyond? Here’s a hint. Don’t give me stuff. Give me your time and company and conversation because those are more valuable and lasting than any material thing.
With that said, here are my favorite holiday celebrations so far.
The Spelling Christmases
These happened for the years that I worked at Spelling Television on several shows. They would always take place at some amazing venue, and would include the entire cast, crew, everyone SOs and family, and a lot of invited celebrity guests.
Okay, they always included a lavish dinner and extravagant gift, but I can only remember two of this. One was a mountain bike with Melrose Place branding on it and the other was a 7th Heaven lunchbox.
The back tire on that bike went flat almost immediately and I didn’t have a lot of incentive to get it fixed, so I left it behind when I moved. As for the lunch box, I still have it, sealed in the original plastic. I think there’s a thermos inside, too.
But the great part about it was getting to hang out not only with my immediate co-workers, but to spend time with the crew from up at the studio that only some of us occasionally got to spend a couple of hours every six weeks with in a strictly working capacity. This included the cast as well, and for the most part they treated us as peers and made us feel like real people. The only ones who seemed aloof were execs from the production company and studio, but this may be because they never interacted with the crew directly.
Well, except for me. I was on the phone arguing a writer’s case with Standards and Practices (the network censors) all the damn time. That was part of my job.
The Cesar Christmases
I had the most of these of any company Christmas party — 10, in fact — but three of them stand out; The first one, the one at exactly the half-way point, and the last.
The first was an elaborate party and feast that we had in our offices and spent all day setting up for. I had only been there for five months at the time, only about two of those after having been promoted from temp to full-time staff. So it was a great opportunity to really get to bond with my coworkers, and a lot of those people are still friends to this day.
Not long before, when I was working for Warner Bros. and making really good money, I’d bought a video cam that used DV tape — that is, digital video — because I could finally afford it. This was in the days when cell phone cameras were still potato quality, but not long before smart phones came along and even the earliest cameras out-performed anything this one could do.
But I spent the day of set-up and night of the party shooting endless footage, including interviewing my co-workers, just getting artsy random shots, and so on. I cut it together into a pretty extensive video and posted it to YouTube.
Unfortunately, at some point that video got deleted due to copyright issues. Meanwhile, the edited copy I had on my hard drive had gone out of sync anyway and the original editing files that basically told the software which shots to take from what files and put where were gone, so there was no easy way to reconstruct it.
On top of that, with my next computer change, the camera was no longer modern enough to be compatible, so I couldn’t even load footage from it. I’m sure that I can get a DV cassette to USB adaptor and load everything onto my computer again.
One video from the year after that with a lot of the same people lives on though, and comes from an office trip to the L.A. County Fair — an experience I’m glad I had once for free and will never repeat. Here it is in all of its 240p glory: Deep Fried Everything.
The halfway party with Cesar was after I’d worked there for five years. It was held in the parking lot at our second office space — after Cesar’s company had split form the Dog Whisperer production company — which meant that it was enclosed within four walls but open to the sky.
That year, I decided to write a couple of Dog Whisperer-themed Christmas Carol parodies, so asked my boss, the CEO, for a budget, which he gave me. I repurposed the lyrics to two songs, hired six actors to come to the party and sing them, and they did.
It was one of those times when taking a chance changed my life for the better.
Cesar was blown away and asked our CEO, “Who did this?” he pointed me out, and by our next work day, I was suddenly removed from the world of product manager and promoted to Head Writer (or ghost writer or content creator or whatever), which is what I did for the rest of my time there.
The last party was very bittersweet, because it happened about three months after I’d been laid off and changed to freelance — and this after a lot of other people had been laid off or quit in anticipation. The company was dying. It was obvious that this was our last gasp.
I hadn’t even been invited, but had gone by the office the afternoon of the party, more to hang out with my friends working there than anything else. The CEO asked me if I was going and I told him that I hadn’t been invited, to which he replied, “Of course you’re invited,” so I went.
It was at a very fancy Korean BBQ in, of course, Koreatown, and was the last chance to hang out with the gang. Of course, of the current gang, only two of them had been at the original Christmas party and had taken the entire ride with me.
Oddly enough, one of them, who had been the old company’s first employee, was responsible for getting me my current job about a year ago — and he had gotten the position that allowed him to hire me from… the former CEO, so it’s kind of like a small remnant of that whole time remains.
Halloween in WeHo
Then we come to what are known as the Gay High Holy Days — Halloween week, which is an even bigger deal in West Hollywood (and other gayborhoods) than even Pride week.
Again, I lived in WeHo for seven years, and I was a half-block walk north of Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of Boys’ Town, which is the East End of the city. This meant that I didn’t have to worry about parking and could just stroll down the street and into the thick of it with no problems.
Of course, Halloween, like Pride, started to become really commercialized, especially after corporations discovered the shocking truth: “Gays and lesbians have money!” That, and the early 90s were also when straight people started to turn out in droves.
They did this for two reasons. One was to be supportive allies. The other was that it was safer than the straight celebrations in Hollywood.
But here’s a bit of advice to so-called allies: If you’re going to invade gay spaces en masse while bringing your opposite-sex partners/spouses and showing PDAs or, worse, bringing your kids to events that are supposed to be queer-safe spaces, then you’re not being an ally.
So, please — no more fag-groping bachelorette parties at gay bars, no more Nuna baby strollers rolling your infant crotch fruit past the S&M tent at Pride.
The Halloweens I experienced before this, though? Fantastic. And, actually, the last one I did pre-COVID was also pretty awesome, because I was able to take public transit from home into WeHo, then meet up with a friend who lives in the city and venture out with a group to stroll the streets.
We didn’t go into any clubs or bars because we didn’t feel like paying an arm and a leg for the cover and then another limb per drink, but that was okay. It was enough to wander the streets. Oh, and taunting the hell out of the Westboro Baptist Church morons face-to-face was worth the price of admission.
All that, and I got to crash in WeHo and take the bus and subway home in the morning. Maybe, someday, after this damn virus, I can do it again.
To be continued…