760 Boulevard Athens Georgia: A Christmas Story

Dec 20

I like Christmas. But I used to hate it. Does that sound like a Christmas story to you? A bad one, at that-the most repeated theme of the holiday special from Scrooge to the Grinch. But it’s true, I did hate Christmas…so gather round children and hear the tale of the Christmas that almost wasn’t:

It was so long ago and my life was so different that it feels today like another incarnation, some weird past life that I led in my twenties where it was always night-time. I lived in a Arts and Crafts style house on Boulevard in one of Athens Georgia’s historical districts. It was a picturesque place to live, but despite its visual appeal, there were certain disadvantages. The chief of these, was that, in the winter, you froze your ass off in that house (and in the summer you fermented in your own juices, a story for another day, perhaps). No matter how hard we cleaned, it still seemed dirty and the lighting was always shadowy and dim. The place was even haunted.

Athens during the holidays is somewhat desolate: all the students and much of the University staff leave town to be with their families. Businesses slow down, the streets are nearly devoid of traffic, sort of resembling a post-apocalyptic film. A natural spirit of contemplation comes with the quiet and the cold, as well as some reflection. Who am I? What am I doing? And for those of us who don’t want to look for answers, feeling awkward with our inner conversation, try to find a way to distract that voice of the mind. Generally, this meant going out to holiday parties thrown by those of us left in town or going out to the bars where it was almost a sure thing to run into someone you knew a long time ago and reconnect (this was in that distant, barbaric time before Facebook). I always made sure that I was out and about, catting around with friends. Getting wasted and glutting on party food was part of the holiday season for me as a twentysomething in the early 1990’s.

But there was one day on the Holiday calendar this was especially difficult to accomplish: Christmas Eve. It seems like none of my mates were ever available-as much fun as we had during the rest of the month, this one night, the worst night to feel alone in a dark, cold house always culminated in myself sitting at home, alone, watching bad holiday specials and then going to sleep.

One year, things were a little different. A friend of mine that I worked with was having some problems at home and we both decided to go out and get hammered after work in protest of the mean season. Work ended a little late-and as it turned out all the bars we went to were, sensibly enough, closing early. Wherever we went, we just missed our chance to get something to drink. I’d forgotten to buy alcohol earlier-a real surprise in retrospect. But as time wore on, our chances to get a buzz to wrap around our brains became slimmer and slimmer.

As the night wore on, I kept saying, “Don’t worry, the magic of Christmas will come through. You’ll see!” a jest on the simple minded hopefulness of every holiday cartoon I’ve ever seen. But as I repeated the age old refrain, I got the weirdest feeling. It was like an invocation, like I was calling some sort of power down to earth and offering up my humble plea.

We went back to the house empty handed. So much for the Magic of Christmas. The deeper night was coming full on and I couldn’t even meet it with the dignity of a drink in my hand. But then, headlights, an engine. A car pulled up outside. Doors slamming shut, voices, a knock at the door. Two men, reeking of alcohol and grinning toothily stood on the porch, looking for a room-mate of mine that was gone for the holiday. They asked if they could come inside and I of course, offered up my abode, as humble as it was, to them. They brought some cases of beer. It turned out my friend had left his Laserdisc player at my house and in no time, we were drinking, laughing, watching Star Wars and inserting the sort of jokes those who have seen it a million times over would recognize (wretched hives of scum and villainy, bulls-eyeing womp-rats, there ain’t no invisible force guiding my destiny!). Later, through a voice slurred with drink, I repeatedly said, “See, the Magic of Christmas came through! The Magic of Christmas came through!” And indeed it had. Eventually, the two men returned to the night from whence they came. I never saw them again.


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