Merry Merry Solitary
Though Christmas with the relatives is the ideal, tippling a bit of nog with a witty aunt or sussing out the weaknesses of the nickel defense with a precocious younger sibling, rarely does decking the halls amount to such familial bliss. But suppose you find yourself alone on Christmas in San Francisco, whether due to unfortunate circumstances or the desire to give your ulcer the holidays off. How should you celebrate the day?
I set out to divine the best possible Christmas-for-one in the city. So if you find your typical gang of wise men whittled down to one this year, hark, the solo angel sings.
No Christmas morning should go without at least some gilt garland or pretty paper torn from a mysterious box. And if indeed you're truly alone, you've no choice by to give yourself a prezzie. But how to gift oneself while still maintaining the level of surprise a genuine gift confers? I puzzled over this very conundrum for some time, trying to imagine by what calculus I could dupe myself into forgetting what I'd purchased the week before, until I lit upon perhaps the perfect solution.
Armed with a plan, I marched into the Castro's newest men's shop, Union Made. I described my plan to owner Todd Barket, and set the wheels in motion. As I'm already a fan of much of what Barket peddles in his newly-opened shop – he sells clothes and accessories in lockstep with the recent trend in high-fashion Americana – I suggested I give him $50, my sizes, and general predilections and return in a few days time to collect my present. By narrowing down the scope to a single shop and leaving the actual picking to someone else, I managed to both assure that I'd get something I like while not know what precisely it is.
I returned this past Sunday, collected my gift and brought it home to sit under the tree. In the interest of this story, gentle reader, I absolved myself of my otherwise hidebound conviction that all gifts should be left for Christmas morning. When I opened my Union Made package last night, I uncovered a handsome leather Bisonte coin purse. Would that all our nickels were so dashingly housed.
Now that you've received, the time has promptly come to give. Though
you may be spending the holiday alone, one must remember that there are
San Franciscans who spend nearly all their time as such. Our city has
no small share of essentially isolated elderly, though thankfully we've
also got the good work of Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. The
San Francisco branch of Little Brothers has been around for 20 years,
and I decided to put in an evening's worth of phone banking at the 909
Hyde Street offices.
One of Little Brothers' biggest missions is to deliver meals and a bit of good cheer to lonely elderly folks on holidays. And in order to determine who's around, who needs a meal, and that all important holiday question: Water or apple cider?
In the course of my evening shift I must have made 20 calls, which doesn't sound like many, especially since only five people picked up. But when I considered that this could be the only phone call a solitary 85-year-old in the Inner Richmond gets all week, those 25 minutes we spent discussing her dog, truculent landlady, and variety of ailments started to feel like some of the most precious moments of my day.
All in all, I arranged for four meals to be delivered Christmas Day, a meager accomplishment by any standard, but perhaps the most rewarding, and truly moving conversation was with a woman who didn't want one at all. I was utterly thrilled and deeply moved to learn that this chatty resident of the Tenderloin had an Amtrak ticket to go see her daughter in Santa Barbara.
Now that you've given a proper gift, it's time to kick up those heels
for a proper bit of exercise before settling in for an evening of
consumption. Though San Francisco is hardly a mecca for winter sports,
there does exist one yuletide pleasure reserved explicitly for the
urbanite: the open-air ice skating rink.
I paired up with my pal Miyoko Ohtake – one-time member of the Canadian Junior National figure skating team (this woman routinely ripped off triple axels!) – and hit the ice at the Holiday Ice Rink at the Embarcadero Center for a primer in skating alone.
But before we got to the stroking, skulling, and power pumping that propelled me around the rink, Miyoko gave me the inside track on choosing skates. "Run your fingernail gently down the sharpest part of the blade," she instructed, "and if a bit of the nail comes off on the blade, that's the pair for you." My first pair was found wanting. The second pair fit the bill.
We took the ice for only my second ice skating session, but in no time she had me gliding about, adroitly weaving amongst the careening children. And though I was having a ball, the solo skater has two critical lessons to learn: how to stop and how to get up once you fall (which I did, twice).
As we skated around the rink, I couldn't help envy a couple gamboling romantically around the joint. Taking Miyoko's hand I asked her, should the solo skater spot a fetching young thing across the rink who herself seems to be gliding solo, how after charming her to best skate as a pair. Holding her mittened hand, I was told that just as in walking, falling into stride is critical. Push off with the same foot as your partner so as to avoid kicking each other as you stroke along.
"You know what's even cuter, though?" Miyoko asked as she dropped behind me and grabbed hold of the belt of my jacket. "Tow me!" If I can leave you with one lesson, let it be this: Wear a belted jacket.
At this point you've worked up an appetite, and are perhaps just getting the littlest bit sick of Christmas. What better way then to satisfy that craving for egg rolls with a piping hot side of ethnic irony than heading to the restaurant New Asia on Pacific St. for the 17th annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy show?
I caught up with comedian Lisa Geduldig, who organizes and performs in the show at the El Rio bar on Mission Street, where she produces the stand-up showcase Comedy Returns to the El Rio. Her act was funny and kvetchy, and her take on her Christmas institution was the same.
"When I first started Kung Pao Kosher Comedy I was calling around the city looking for a space and trying to explain the whole phenomenon of Jews and Chinese restaurants on Christmas," she told me. "But then I realized that what I should have been saying was really, 'Do you have a banquet room?'"
Having laughed and supped, you turn now to a nightcap. Now should you be the retiring sort, and nothing sends you more gracefully to bed than a hot beverage consumed in your pajamas, then mulled wine is assuredly for you. On a hot tip from a foodie friend, my wife and I nipped down one rainy evening to the Front Porch on 29th Street to chat up the bartender on the secrets of the drink.
Carrie ladled me a mug of the spicy, biting brew and set about describing how she makes it. Here's the recipe from my initial mull, which was based largely on her advice.
Two bottles of red wine, one hardier (cabernet sauvignon) one fruitier (Beaujolais)
Half as much apple cider as wine
A good splash of brandy
Several good shakes of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves
A handful of raisins (suggested by another Front Porch employee on our way out)
Pour all the liquid, spices and raisins into a big pot and set it on the stove on low heat. Don't let it boil, or even simmer. Cover it if you like (though half the joy is how sublime your house will suddenly smell), or just let it all steam away for between one and four hours. Garnish with the orange peel, noting that the rind's acidity will quickly leach into your cup.
The results were decidedly sweeter and stronger than what I had at the Front Porch – no brandy in that stuff, and no raisins – and seemed to walk the line between a sweet, spicy cider and the earthier kick of the Front Porch brew.
It was delicious. But even more importantly, I was totally in control of the record player and the lights and just how much I drank, and slumped and generally flopped about the house.
It's been a long day by now, and you're likely to want to do a bit of flopping yourself. And as you're all by yourself, no one can tell you otherwise. Merry Christmas!
If you want to take part in Little Brothers' Christmas work, and I hotly urge you to do so, get in touch with volunteer coordinator Elese Polk at firstname.lastname@example.org