Monday, April 14, 2008

Danny Ross: "A Jewish Christmas" ( Part 3 of 3)

12/25/07 – Christmas Day, Uno Spin

We woke up Christmas morning like most American children, to a vicious game of ping pong. I came out the victor in overtime, drenched in sweat and emptied of adrenaline. Cousin Madison was pretty skilled for a 4 year old. Talk about a backhand.

Since we already opened our gifts on Christmas Eve over egg bake and special cider (See blog post below for details), we spent the morning waiting for guests to arrive for a 4:00 Christmas dinner. I felt like I was living in South Florida all over again, at Boca Pointe Country Club’s Early Bird Special (Try the brisket).

Dani’s dad built a really sweet new house on Lake Madison (complete with a sauna, or as us Jewish folk say it, a schvitz), and even took us golfing there earlier last year. Let’s just say we were the renegade crew on the course (we got busted with too many people on a cart…twice). It was my first foray out of mini-golf, and it was frankly jolting to putt without a windmill. It was also a little intimidating for me, as Dani was a third place contender at The 1999 Madison Junior Invitational.

But I digress. I got some pretty great gifts from Dani’s dad and extended family, while I was happy to give him The Band’s The Last Waltz CD. Soon afterward, I would buy Music From the Big Pink and their self-titled record. Their old-time American lyrics about characters like Virgil and Chester are a great resource for any folk-oriented songwriter. I’ll be naming my first child Virgil Chester Ross, male or female.

Next thing you know, Mrs. H, Grandma, Dezi Dog, Uncle Rich and Aunt Diana were all playing Uno Spin as Jane was finishing up dinner. And what a meal it was: Savory Christmas Ham, creamed corn, strawberry salad, cheesy-scalloped potatoes. I felt like a goy, but mm was it good.

It was also one of the few meals I’ve attended where somebody said grace, just like they did on “Family Matters” and “Home Improvement.” I was getting the full gentile experience.

So after stuffing our faces and feeling sleepy, it was probably a bad time for Aunt Diana and Uncle Rich to project a slide show of their recent trip to South America (also straight out of “The Wonder Years”). As interesting as it was, I think Grandma of all people was the last one awake to see the finish.

After an intense game of Uno Spin, in which Dani’s dad won twice in a row (I’m convinced he’s a professional Uno Spin player by trade), I made my way downstairs and had successfully endured my first Christmas Day.

12/26/08: Christmas Lights, Cheeseballs

Now that Christmas was over, what’s left to do in Madison, South Dakota? Hit the streets of course! See the big city! And so we went to the wonderful 2nd Street Diner and had ourselves some world-famous cheeseballs. By the way, let me put it out on the open now: I do plan on opening Madison’s Famous Cheeseballs here in New York City, serving a variety of cheeses and dipping sauces. That idea is trademarked, so hands off corporate America!

Back on the tour, we saw the old high school, the Naked guy’s house (self-explanatory) and even the La Boca Vista Trailer Park. I wrote a song called “Madison Bound” for more stories on the small town.

That evening was a Heinemeyer family tradition. We all loaded up in the car, got some boxes of pizza, and drove around town, judging the town’s best Christmas lights. I heard some great stories, including when Ross and his friends moved some decorative wooden deer around in provocative positions. It was a great night, and this kind of thing definitely reinforced that sense of warmness and family in the Christmas tradition. In that same vein, we finished the night with a viewing of Knocked up. “You look like Robin Williams’ knuckles”

12/27/07: Meeting the Mayor, Hunting Pheasant

Today we were able to stop by the Zimmerman-Smith Museum. We saw relics of Madison’s past: rifles from the Civil War era, a 1919 Oldsmobile and learned of Lake Madison’s worst boating accident.

Fortunately for me, Mr. Heinemeyer was the city’s Finance Officer, and we got to meet the Mayor and go to a City Commission Hearing. As a politics dork, and a staffer for a Congressman here in NY, this was actually a very exciting moment for me—hearing about local airport policy, saying goodbye to the city attorney upon his resignation. I was wondering if Barack would turn up to make a speech.

We capped the night by stuffing our faces at the Midwest’s most delicious restaurant, Johnny Carino’s, seeing Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd, and playing beer pong at a buddy’s basement while watching The Lion King. (An effective combination as predicted) Apparently, from what I was told the next morning, I insisted on referring to Ross’ friend as a “Cosby sweater.”

On a side note, I was asked by a few different people on the trip if I was interested in shooting pheasant with a rifle or pistol. These were scenes straight out of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I always quickly changed the subject…

12/29/07: The Wedding

We finished our trip by attending the wedding of Dani’s high school friends, Jen and Chris. Besides hunting, this was probably our biggest cultural difference: South Dakotans marry young, New Yorkers wait till their 30s.

This of course meant another trip to church. Twice in five days. But there was no glass breaking like Jewish weddings. And “Here Comes the Bride” was blasting on the pipe organ. We scurried in just as the ceremony started, and right before the bride and groom walked down the aisle. It might have been embarrassing if we ran past them to grab decent seats in the pew.

Speaking of which, what’s the deal with that awful pew exit system? It took us 5 hours to leave the church.

Then it was off to the reception. It wasn’t shrimp cocktail and fresh crab meat at The Tribeca Rooftop. Again, a cultural shock. But it was a nice affair and the groom’s 16 year old brother made the funniest wedding toast I’ll possibly ever hear:

“I've been told that the best man's speech should be as long as the groom's lovemaking. So thank you and have a good night”

Then we danced to the “YMCA” (I guess some things don’t change), and “Achey Breaky Heart” (and some things certainly do).

And that about does it for this Jew’s first Christmas. Hope you had as much fun as I did. See ya next time!