17 December 2009

Christmas Mem'ries

Season's Greetings from New Orleans, Y'all! When I was asked to guest post for Paul's blog, naturally I was flattered. I delved deep into my imagination for things to write about. I wanted it to be holiday-themed and relevant for this time of year, but I have found it very difficult to get into the Christmas Spirit so far. With the holiday itself merely days away, I find myself distracted with the reality that I have completely left everything until the last minute. I haven't bought a single gift or mailed even one Christmas card so far. I could blame the horribly unseasonable weather in New Orleans or a demanding work schedule, but what it comes down to is my own supreme laziness. At least I own that. Originally, I thought that a New Orleans Christmas Card would be nice. A post filled with images of yuletide on the river, the Festival Of The Bonfires that lights the way for Papa Noel along the levees in the Parishes farther down the Mississippi. Pictures of graceful Creole Townhouses with cast-iron balconies festooned with garlands and lights, reflecting on the wet, worn cobblestones of the Vieux Carre. That would have been nice....

Then I came up with a few stanzas inspired by Christmases' past spent with Paul as his next-door neighbor in Florida. We always had such a time! Christmas was a big deal on 7th Avenue and was indeed a celebration to last the whole year long. A few lines of poetry were very inspired while others were just too weak or vulgar to be included here. I wouldn't want Paul's blog to get flagged as inappropriate just for the sake of a few penis jokes, but some of the decent ones are too good to waste, so I render them here for you. Ahem......

"Christmas Mem'ries"
By Brandon Bergman

Christmas memories as a child were magic and all,
But the most memorable ones were with our dear Uncle Paul!

We'd arise on The Day, some with Champagne in hand,
And gaze at Paul's tree,
Oh the presents! How grand!

We would tear open gifts, paper and ribbons in piles,
Peaches and Toenisha would create ethnic hairstyles!

We would sing and we'd laugh. Even play some jazz,

"Another glass of Champagne for the Lady Shabazz?"

It all went downhill from there, sort of how the holidays themselves would just disintegrate into shameless episodes of alcohol consumption while the temperate Uncle Paul would watch in bemused horror as Kevin and I opened another case of Prosecco. Ah, the good old days. They were good. They were old. They were days....

Then I remembered the Christmas of 2006. A day that will not soon be forgotten. Our dear sister Kevin had regretfully gone to North Carolina for the holidays, leaving our Christmas table in person but certainly not in spirit(s). I had befriended a couple of New Orleans Katrina refugees, Angelique and Zak, the previous year and invited them to spend a lovely Christmastide at our table along with a friend of theirs named Steve. The weather was warm for St. Petersburg in December and a grand al fresco meal was planned. Zak had brined a turkey and brought the raw bird to roast in my well-used oven. The other side-dishes were waiting for their turns in the oven while the turkey bronzed and crisped.

Meanwhile, we had a few hours to kill, so we began drinking a lot of red wine and carried on such marvelous conversation on the balcony. Allow me to remind everyone who doesn't know, Paul does not imbibe of the grain or of the grape. As he had Christmas Joy to spread in Tampa, Paul took off to return later when dinner would be served.

He returned to find three former and one future New Orleanian rip-roaring with the "Spirit" of Christmas. Dinner was served and I believe that it was delicious. I cannot remember what was served, but with such accomplished cooks in the kitchen, how could it have been anything less? God, I wish I could remember...I remember the wine, however. And unfortunately, the next series of events... I couldn't block it out if I tried, nor would I want to, as these are the days of our lives.

A little back-story: For my birthday the previous August, Paul had gifted me with the unanticipated present of liquor. Not just any liquor, mind you, but a bottle of Absinthe. Ah yes, The Green Fairy. The stuff that Van Gogh drank that inspired him to cut his ear off and send it to a no doubt, horrified and perplexed lover. The same drink that many a Bohemian artist had lost their minds from imbibing regularly. Thanks again, Paul!

Anyway, after dessert was served and the party had been in decline for several hours, I suppose that our dear Uncle Paul craved a little after-dinner entertainment. The fact that we had no spinet to sing carols around made no difference. I was ready to bid our new friends adieu, when Paul suggested "Why don't you bring out the Absinthe?" Ever the shit-stirrer, but a wonderful idea, nonetheless. I rounded up every cordial glass that I could find, set out the appropriate number of sugar cubes and chilled ice-water for the louching of the Absinthe. What an elegant way to end such a marvelous evening! I proudly poured the Absinthe into the little glasses, carefully poured the chilled water over the sugar cubes through the little slotted spoon that came with the bottle and watched the alchemy as the liquor changed from chartreuse to a milky jade color. Magical! Such promise was held in those little glasses! I distributed them to my guests, a toast was made and I drank the contents in one shot as though it were the free Apple Pucker that they give out at the bars here in New Orleans. BOOM! The stuff hit my gut like the blow of a jackhammer and was violently expelled from my gut over the side of the balcony. My guests sat in stunned silence as I retched. And retched. Feeling the need to mark the occasion with words, I made the declaration "It is poison. Don't drink it." To which Angelique replied, "Oh no..." I mean, what else can you say? I went to the bathroom to clean myself up a bit, and returned to the table, still surrounded by my uncomfortable guests, only to have Paul point out the streak of black vomit on the left side of my shirtfront. What happened next is but a foggy memory, but none the less, a memory, unfortunately. Zak entertained us with a delightful and erotic strip-tease, exposing everything to us as if we were a team of doctors out to discover a problem within his urethra.

He even gave us a little wink to punctuate the burlesque, but not with a beaded-eyelash, if you know what I mean. I believe my lover of the time had punched the other guest in the ribs for telling an offensive joke while Zak and I ran around the courtyard in our underwear in some kind of Bacchanalian celebration of wine and revelry. I'm not sure what Angelique was doing. Counting the number of times she'd seen this behavior in the past, I guess.

We finally bid our guests "Goodnight, and Merry Christmas!", and "Let's do this again sometime!" Needless to say, that time has yet to be repeated, thank Christ! I remember waking up the next day with a strange and deep gash on my leg from a falling broken wine glass and a vague, but still painful memory of the night before. As I related that story to Kevin on his way back from North Carolina the next day, I realized that Paul had gotten up much earlier on Boxing Day, and had told him his version of the events of Christmas. I wonder to this day how they differed.

But Paul, as I gaze at the lurid red glow of my Christmas Tree here in New Orleans, I think about you. I wonder how you are spending this Christmas without the antics and melodrama that you no doubt enjoyed in previous years, in the company of myself and our dear sister Kevin. I know, for me at least, that those were the happiest Christmases of my life. So organized. So memorable. I also think of the lurid red glow that comes from my front window in the Treme and think, "Might passers-by think that this is a brothel?" One can never tell in the City of New Orleans. The history of prostitution in this city is so vague.

Brandon Bergman is the author of "Where The Sweet Olive Grows", an insightful blog, dedicated to the preservation of New Orleans culture.


  1. Oh me oh my. Thanks for this Brandon and I agree with you 100%, Christmases from 2001 to 2007 were indeed the best ones of my life. I never really understood the full extent of Christmas joy until those years. The hilarity, the gift-giving, the great food and better company will stay with me for the rest of my life. Even while we were living those times, I knew that they weren't forever. I just knew that it was only a matter of time until life intervened and that all of us would end up moving on to chase bigger dreams. Christmas this year feels hollow but I'll get over it eventually. Some year, maybe next year, I'll start some new traditions and maybe some mirth will come back to 7th Avenue. Maybe.

    In the meantime though, you and Kevin gave me the best gifts I've ever received during those years --fantastic memories and even better stories. I cannot go out on that patio and not see it brimming with Yorkshire Pudding and pear tartines, or turkeys so perfectly browned they looked as if they'd been shellacked, or empty bottles of prosecco and champagne piled to the rafters. More than even that though, I can't go out there and not see my table surrounded by the smiling faces of the people I love most in the world. I miss having you next door and Kevin on the corner of course but I feel that loss keenly in the approach to Christmas. God speed my dear friend and thank you!

  2. I just got around to reading this today and am laughing like a mental patient. Your post brought back some good - and vague - memories of my first experiences with absinthe. We were living in Japan at the time and visited our local liquor store. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that green bottle way up on the top shelf. I've been a fan ever since.

  3. That post has had me cackling like a loon since yesterday too. I remember all of that so clearly. I was sitting there, the sober as a stone ring master remember. Ordinarily, sitting at a table of drunk people bores me out of my skull, but this was high comedy. The air of regret and shame that hung over the neighborhood for the following week was nearly as fun as orchestrating the shenanigans in the first place. Brandon's absinthe spoon still sits in my silverware drawer and I don't think he ever wants to see it again. I think it speaks volumes about his housekeeping by the way. Think about it. He not only had cordial glasses but sugar cubes just lying around. I can't think of any one else on earth who has the equipment to be able to serve absinthe properly and at a moment's notice. Out of my own morbid curiosity, did you louche your absinthe in Japan Melody?

  4. B. they were the best of my life too. As I wrap thing up here now I cannot believe the times we had in St. Pete. I love you guys and I always will. I hope we get a Christmas together again. Even if we don't, we broke the mold on what a Christmas can be. Thank you for loving me and thank you for being a part of my life.

  5. I can't believe that I missed this post the first time around. Thanks for sharing it, again. It is a great Christmas story and I think I love your friends.

  6. I'm feeling really jealous of having missed out on these experiences with people I've never even met. Sounded fantastic. Like Melody I was laughing out loud. I must go find out where to buy some absinthe ...

  7. Our Christmases were legendary and they usually lasted for a solid two days. They'd start on Christmas Eve when I'd have everyone over for my version of the Feast of Seven Fishes. I was the only one interested in the anchovies I'd set out and everybody else concentrated on the cheese plates I'd assemble. Those Christmas Eves came to be known as "What a Friend We have in Cheeses" parties and a new tradition was born. Brandon was always the best cook in the bunch so he always took over the main dishes. However, loading the table with desserts is how I learned to bake.

    There are times in life when you just end up with people of your own ilk. For many years, Kevin, Brandon and I were all neighbors and I think they'd agree when I say that those two and I made some of the best memories I have. Oh the stories we could tell. The post above actually cleaned up the shenanigans and debauchery of the Christmas in question.


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