Susan Luzzaro 5:30 p.m., Dec. 7
Christmas Eve was easy. Rocio’s parents opted for an early meal, breaking with their traditional midnight dinner, and they ate tostadas up the hill while I cooked up two large pots of clam chowder down here. The rain, which had threatened to be steady and strong, instead gifted Baja with a quick and relatively harmless series of sprinkles that fell quietly with lazy disinterest in seriously wetting anything at all. They were home early, and were even hungry when they arrived, so we enjoyed sandwiches and cheeses and chowder and I was in bed by ten o’clock, serenaded by fireworks outside that became more sparse and distant as I slept.
I am not, by nature, prone to violent thought or violent behavior unless my primordial subconscious is somehow tickled or teased in such a way where, as with anyone, some sort of instinctual reflexive response throws a switch and I find myself wishing to beat the snot out of someone. I have a neighbor who, at irregular intervals, is one of the few humans on this planet with this gift. And it isn’t just me, he seems to provoke everyone into realizing that we are, after all, only animals sometimes with habits of instinct that are only realized in extraordinary circumstances. I don’t know his name, so I call him Ted.
Ted enjoys metalworking. Ted’s favorite time to fire up his grinder is after midnight. Ted’s grinder is loud, and so is Ted, he enjoys yelling at his family, in English, especially three or four hours before dawn. There is a story about me chasing Ted off of my front porch one afternoon with a knife that I was using to cut up some pork, because I wouldn’t give Ted money to fix something that I didn’t own which prompted Ted to use English while insulting my mother. Ted stays away from my front door now.
At two o’clock in the Christmas morning, Ted decided to light off his arsenal of explosive devices. Between explosions, many of which dwarfed dynamite by comparison, Ted cursed his lovely family in both English and Spanish. Ted sounded drunk. Rocio, Anna, and Sharon slept right through everything, and if it was any other neighbor, I might have also just slept for a few more hours, but Ted made sure that I was not only enraged but totally wide awake. The fact that it was thirty-eight degrees outside probably saved Ted from an impromptu visit to the Red Cross, as I decided to come downstairs and make coffee rather than to go over to his house and beat the hell out of him.
People like to show up for breakfast here, for whatever reason biscuits and gravy – a food so foreign here that it defies explanation – is probably just as much of a draw as is the turkey dinner. Rocio’s parents came down the hill along with Rocio’s sister, Elizabeth, and then Bibiana, Juan’s occasional girlfriend showed up. While everyone was consuming breakfast, I was busy stuffing the turkey and oiling it up, then covering it all with foil. The turkey went into the oven at eight-thirty. Ted, almost assuredly, was still sleeping.
After they ate, presents were opened. Anna got her digital camera, Rocio got a nice coat and some kitchenware (that I will delight in using), and I got another jacket. I have more jackets now than anyone on this planet that does not own a clothing store. I also got a magic ratchet and socket from Juan, who we spoke with over the internet from where he is deployed in Iraq. Then, everyone decided to go shopping on Christmas day while I called my own parents to wish them a happy Christmas, and Rocio napped.
Ted, obviously, was also napping.
My rice is not so simple as boiling it in water, I steam it first and then cool it, so I got on it right away. I cooked while Rocio napped and everyone else went shopping. I almost hoped that Ted would have found more explosives to detonate, but the early morning activities probably wore poor Ted right out. By the time that Rocio awoke from her nap, I was already heating up the clam chowder from last night, and prepping potatoes and sucking the juices from the turkey pan in order to make gravy. Anna came back with pictures.
Everyone snacked while we waited for the turkey to cook. Once that the rice cooled, I scrambled a few eggs and cut up some cooked, leftover chicken from a couple of nights ago, fired up the wok, and fried everything into a soy-infused yummy mixture that went into a casserole dish and into the oven. Anna mashed potatoes and I made gravy, cooked some corn, and got the rolls ready as the turkey came out to rest before the unveiling.
Oh, and Merry Christmas, Ted.