There were only a handful of people at Anna's for Christmas Eve and it seemed that everyone was in a really bad mood. Not the staff --- they were great. C was bartending. She'd made a special point of asking me to come in, telling me that she was going to have hot buttered rum and egg nog.
So I asked her for a hot buttered rum --- a very traditional British winter drink, one I've had only a few times and that maybe twenty years ago. C told me that she and the owner had figured out the recipe, which involved melting a whole lot of butter in the microwave and then adding rum and then microwaving it some more. I tried it and told her that perhaps her recipe needed a lot more work. I told her that I wasn't all that familiar with hot buttered rum, but I thought it was supposed to taste like rum flavored with butter and not butter flavored with rum. So she helpfully added quite a bit more rum, which was quite nice of her and helped, but not enough.
So I switched to egg nog, which came out of a carton from the dairy, so at least the recipe was more or less right.
Egg nog. It's one of those Christmas things. I've never known people to serve it except at Christmas time. It's supposed to be a special treat. I suppose there are people who actually enjoy it, but.... Well, the best one can say is that it's not as bad as fruit cake, which when I was a boy people pretended to specially enjoy at Christmas time. (``Oh, I do so look forward to your wonderful fruit cake!'') Somehow, though, the people of my generation caught on to the fact that fruitcake is really a pretty dreadful concoction, and now it's the sort of thing commedians joke about. It's a very heavy sort of cake, very dense, and what's in it is not actually fruit but dried fruit and maybe dried dates and pieces of gummy candy.
As to egg nog. I've never known exactly what it is, except you buy it in a carton from the dairy. My dictionary, though, says it's made from milk and whipped eggs. And then one puts rum or brandy or whiskey in it, although people can also drink it without liquor.
Anyway, when I came in Christmas Eve, there were not many people there, but the only seat really free at the bar was next to a guy who usually comes on Fridays and who is one of those people who makes me usually avoid Fridays. He's not actually faculty at the university, but he's that sort of personality --- he should be in one of the science departments. Anyway, he started asking me all sorts of questions about my work which I really didn't care to answer, and so I tried to answer rather evasively, and he kept being persistant, and then finally I said, ``We're not on the same wavelength at all,'' which for some reason shut him up. (He actually knows I don't like him, which only makes him more persistent; that's the sort of guy he is.) It occurred to me that the next time somebody does that sort of thing with me, I'm going to say, ``I don't think you know the difference between a conversation and an interrogation.''
Then some people left and I got a chance to move over to another spot at the bar which is one I prefer anyway, since I can see the room from there.
A bunch of cops were having a private party upstairs, and the upstairs bartender had decided not to serve them any more liquor, since they had gotten so rowdy. But one of these cops came downstairs and started talking to me. A guy with a heavy ``local'' accent (although my guess is that he could speak more standard English if he wanted to), so I could understand very little of what he was saying. He was pretending to be super friendly, but actually being quite obnoxious, constantly putting his arm around my shoulder and insisting on shaking my hand and putting his face right up in mine. After a while, I started getting angry, and I could see that was what he wanted. So I let myself get very upset instead, shouting at him in a high pitched voice, ``You're being a complete asshole; I'm too old for you to fight, why are you trying to pick a fight with me?'' I guess it's a sort of aikido in a way. I could see that the guy would have really liked it if I'd punched him, then he could say, ``Why are you attacking me? I'm just trying to be friendly.'' But instead of trying to defend my ego, I just let myself go into the role of a poor helpless old man who can't cope with this young aggressive guy. At that point, the bartender told him he'd have to leave, which she was about to tell him in any case. And he did leave. I don't think he was a bad guy, he was just drunk and in a bad mood. Being a cop is a very stressful profession.
Anyway, C and the waitress apologized to me (not really necessary) and gave me a free drink, which was certainly nice of them. And the truth is, I was genuinely upset a little at that point, because confrontations always upset me. But it was the quickest way of getting the guy to leave me in peace and quiet.
The waitress said to me afterwards, ``I've noticed that lots of times you have a calming effect on people. So that when people who are over-excited sit next to you, lots of times they calm down. So I was waiting to see whether you might have that effect on this guy.'' Maybe I could have, if it had been a different night and I'd been in a different mood. I think it's a matter of looking the other person in the eye and really listening to them and really paying attention to them. That's what most people really want. But this time, Christmas Eve, I didn't want to be bothered dealing with some overly excited drunk. The guy walked in wanting to pick a fight and being intentionally obnoxious, and I just wanted a nice peaceful evening.
In America, we have a word for this kind of person. Passive-aggressive. Somebody who is pretending to be passive (or in this case, pretending to be friendly), but doing it in a way that is actually very aggressive.
Anyway, I should not have been so surprised that everybody would be in such a bad mood on Christmas Eve. For a lot of adults, Christmas time is a really rotten time of year. You, dear friend, are so lucky that you have a family and friends that you can be really friendly with. Here, lots of times people get together with their family, all those parents and uncles and aunts and so on that they haven't seen for a year, and right away they start arguing. And they don't stop arguing until everybody goes home again. Somebody I know was telling me about having dinner at Christmas on the Mainland with a the family of a friend of his, and at the dinner table everybody was shouting. And in the house across the street, they could see another family having dinner and all arguing. And then somebody in that other family picked up the turkey off the dinner table, before they even had a chance to start cutting it up and serving it, and threw it right through the big picture window in the living room. And my friend and the people he was having dinner with looked out and saw the other family's turkey sitting outside in the snow with its legs in the air. And somebody said, ``Well, at least we're not as bad as them.'' But, my friend says, they were pretty close to it.
Christmas day was fine for me. I woke up about noon and never even reached the point of wanting to go out of the apartment, so the fact that everything was closed didn't bother me.
New Years Eve at Anna's was a lot better than Christmas Eve. New Years Eve, as I've told you, is the number one drinking night in the US, when night clubs and a lot of bars charge a really high admission. I've never really seen the point of it, because as far as I know, when you pay that high admission you don't get anything for it except the chance to drink some really bad champagne and yell Happy New Year at midnight. At best, one might get kissed by several pretty girls, if they're drunk enough.
Anyway, at Anna's no admission fee. And almost nobody there. Just people who usually work there (although most not on duty at the moment) and their friends. And three very kitsch girls (as you would say), who were at least fun to look at and listen to. We were provided with assorted noisemakers, which we were all too sober and mature to actually use very much. (Yeah, people were actually not especially drunk.) And lots of firecrackers going off outside. As it turned out, three houses were burned down because of aerial fireworks, which have always been illegal here, but which people always shoot off every year. There are always fires, every New Years Eve, but maybe now, after three houses burning down, they'll try to do something about enforcing the law.
Anyway, we didn't know about the burning houses at Anna's, of course. They were out of Pete's Wicked Ale, so I drank Anchor Steam, which is a beer I drink a lot in San Francisco, and at midnight they served what has to be the world's worst California Champagne. (The bartender, C again, joked about it, but most customers did drink one glass, just for the sake of the holiday spirit.) And I went home slightly early.
Oh, and about three fairly nice looking women did kiss me. But only on the cheek --- French style. So that doesn't really count.
Love & kisses,
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