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Monday, December 24, 2012

my gift

So here we are.

In our first Christmas together, back at the turn of the decade in 2010, I gave you a little poem:

holiday warning

If your meat’s in a mound
And your french fries are drowned
And your chocolate fudge sundaes
Are whipped cream crowned
Then it shouldn’t astound
If you gain a pound
And a pound and a pound
Until you are round

Last year, I gave you an external YouTube link to the timeless Jack Benny Program’s Christmas shopping episode, but it has since been removed. I’m sorry about that. 

This year, I am giving you a true story about a Christmas gift I once gave, exactly seven years ago today. Enjoy...

The year was 2005, and I was set to depart my long Broadway run of “Avenue Q” on Christmas Eve. 

This would be my third and final Christmas with the show. In the past, I would just give communal treats to our cast, crew, and house staff. This year, since I was leaving, I would give as many individual gifts and notes as I could, not just as a Christmas present, but also as a farewell token.

Most people were easy to shop for, since they were my friends. A trickier gift was for the daytime stage doorman, who I’ll refer to here as “D.” “D” was older than dirt, and only slightly warmer than mud. He spoke few words, but when he did, it usually was in reference to “the War.” He’d met his wife “in the War.” He’d traveled “in the War.” But because he seemed to only converse with one cast member who happened to have a German surname, none of us were sure exactly which side he’d fought on “in the War.”

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my go-to gifts is candy, and so I figured that would be a safe bet to give to “D.” I’d seen him eat sweets, so I knew there wasn’t any dietary sensitivity. I wasn’t sure if “D” would even expect a farewell gift from me, but what the hell. He was a decent enough fellow in that he’d kept us all safe from intruders for the two and a half years that I had been there, and that was good enough for me. 

For “D,” and also for the nighttime stage doorman, I picked up some Harry London candies at Bloomingdale’s. Chocolate-covered caramels, in a nice green and gold Christmas tin. Lovely. 

Cut to my last day on Broadway, and my last show, a Saturday matinee. As I arrived early and entered the stage door, I handed “D” his tin of chocolates and a short handwritten thank-you note, and he handed me the dressing room key. The exchange involved few words, mostly from me, but that was not unusual. 

The next few hours were a flurry of emotions, sweat, and tears. There is no need to go into them here.

After the matinee was over and I had said my goodbyes and made my way back down the stairs of the Golden Theatre one last time, my arms and my husband’s arms overflowing with flowers and cards and makeup and the very last of my dressing room belongings, “D” stopped me as I headed out the door.

He said, very simply, “I don’t eat anything from London.” And he handed the chocolates back to me. 

Yes, you read that correctly: he handed the chocolates -- my gift to him -- back to me

Dazed by the events of the day, I think I just replied, “okay” and took the tin with the tips of my fingers. The sheer rudeness of his gesture did not fully sink in until we got home, when I dumped my armloads on the floor. Still, this was not my primary concern.

Until you’ve originated a role that you’ve performed about a thousand times, you cannot know the feelings that churn in you after you have cut the cord and feel the finality of things. It doesn’t matter what your next adventure is. When something that meaningful in your life is done, it feels done, in every horrible and wonderful way. But again, this is not about that.

My husband had to “run an errand” (read: shop last-minute) after we got home, so I was alone for an hour or so, as Christmas Eve darkened around me and our tree twinkled on, oblivious. I sat on the sofa, staring into space, numb. What now?

Then I remembered my rejected-gift candy. 

I picked up the tin of Harry London caramels, removed the outer plastic seal, and cracked it open. Nothing tastes better on an empty, sad stomach than a chocolate-covered caramel. I could feel the buttery sweetness instantly enter my bloodstream.... and holy crap, they were gooooood.

As I settled into the sofa and finally breathed a bit, I looked at the bottom of the tin to see how much caloric damage I was doing. And that’s when I saw it:

“Manufactured by Harry London Gourmet Candies, Inc., North Canton, Ohio.”

Ohio. Made in freaking Ohio. Oh, “D,” you foolish knee-jerk reactionary maybe-a-Nazi you. You idiot.

I laughed a maniacal laugh. “D” unknowingly got his just deserts that Christmas Eve... and I just got his dessert. 

Merry Christmas to me. 

So, this holiday season, just remember: no matter what gift you unwrap, try to be gracious... or at the very least, fake it... because you never know. 

Yes indeed. Welcome to me.

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