The holiday season is when our complex web of hometown memories converge on reality, as hometowns across America call their lost sons and daughters back home. This is when we must all promise our moms, with the sputtering vigor of a torture victim confessing to crimes he didn’t commit, that they really do make the best baked ziti we’ve ever had. We cringe at the faux-cheer in our own voices as we ask our nieces and nephews what colleges they think they might want to apply to. We snack on Great Value Chex Mix and avoid eye contact with other members of our high school graduating classes in dive bars.
Yes, folks, it’s Christmas, and that means figuring out how to get drunk in your hometown without having to explain your career to your sixth-grade social studies teacher. But have no fear — just adhere to these principles and you’ll have, well, as good a time as possible.
Bring a Christmas Hostage
A romantic partner is the ideal Christmas hostage, since that person is obligated to love you no matter how many times they watch you get a noogie from your middle-school bully in a bar called Sullivan O’Finnegan’s or The Elbow Room. But a good friend will do the trick. The key is to sniff out holiday loneliness in your social circle and then pounce on it. Is one of your friends on the outs with her aunts because she refused to sell LuLaRoe? Did someone have an untimely breakup that led to his becoming a holiday orphan? Do you have a friend who is — how can I put this delicately — Jewish? All these friends make for excellent Christmas hostages.
I love bringing people to my own hometown, Washington, D.C., particularly because D.C. is often maligned by white-collar nerds, and yet, I feel like I can show my friends a lot of really special stuff there. Better still, bringing friends or lovers back to your hometown allows you to see the place through different eyes. You can play tour guide, pointing out all the bushes into which you once vomited pure Fireball, or all the liquor stores that you’re technically banned from to this day. It gets old fast for them, but freshens up even the stalest hometown experience for you.
A Christmas hostage is also a great pretext for implementing rule 1A: Don’t stay at home if you can avoid it. I love my mother more than anyone else in the world. She lives in a cozy little one-bedroom apartment, and yet for some reason, she and I both keep thinking it makes sense for me to crash with her when I visit D.C. You may have more space at home than this, but I still think the sight of grandma’s crocheted bedspread or your brother’s Little League trophies will infringe on your holiday drunkenness. Do you really want to puke in the same trash can that your mom clipped your nails into when you were four?
And so, when I bring my boyfriend with me, it forces my hand — we have to get a hotel. He gets to split the cost with me, and my mother and I get to enjoy my visit without the threat that one of us will strangle the other.
In the weeks leading up to your visit home, your brain will play a terrible trick on you whereby it convinces you that you badly want to reconnect with the girl who sat next to you in sophomore year pre-calc. Or the dude whose mom drove you both home from soccer practice.
I cannot emphasize enough that this is a lie. You don’t want to spend your limited visiting time in a bar with one of these people. When did you ever hang out one-on-one before? But something about the earth’s particular magnetosphere between December 1st and December 20th convinces your brain otherwise every time. So you spend every hour of your visit “catching up with” people you never knew that much about in the first place, exhausting yourself in the process.
Of course, I make space for the friends who are already special to me when I visit home, but for these pre-calc-and-soccer-practice-type friends from my past, a night of holding court will do. I’ll text each of those friends that I’ll be at, I don’t know, Haydees Mexican Restaurant on X date for Y number of hours, and that I’d love to see them if they can meet me at that date and time. Then I’ll show up with my Christmas hostage (see rule #1) and get us a pitcher of margaritas and some fajita platters. By the time our margs and fajitas have run dry, we’ll be almost finished holding court, and we will have seen as many of my acquaintances as I need to see. And we will all be drunk. It’s a win-win-win!
When in Doubt, Don’t Go Out
I know that MEL’s readership exclusively comprises jocks and cheerleaders, but I’ll be candid: I didn’t have a good time in middle or high school. The fun I did have during those years was mostly not with people my age who were in school with me. The idea of spending time with my friends from high school, reliving those lonely days as if they were glory days, doesn’t appeal to me. I may love my hometown dearly, but I don’t love my memories from 2000-2009, which is most of what I relive when I see those people.
So what do I do? I don’t go to the places where I know my former classmates hang out, any more than I go to high school reunions. I don’t go looking for painful memories. I have dinner with my mom and drinks with friends who met me once I was a fully-formed adult wearing non-Tripp pants. I go to bars and restaurants that belong, in some meaningful way, to me — not to people who I never got along with in the first place.
In hometowns that are smaller than D.C., this may become a tricky proposition. After all, D.C. is a big ol’ city with lots of nooks and crannies, and I had ample opportunity to make memories there that didn’t center around high school. Other places aren’t so big or dense. In other towns, you may have to give up on the whole town if you want to give up on the places where you have horrible memories. Even home itself might not be safe. You may be visiting out of familial obligation more than desire. What do I know?
I do know, though, that visits home always have an end, and that if you need to spend that limited time in a state of intoxication more appropriate to a tranq’d up horse being transferred across state lines, that’s okay. It’s only three days, or five, or seven or whatever your family managed to squeeze out of you. Those days will test you, sure. You’ll be tempted to regress to whatever state of adolescent petulance you were in when you finally decided to leave, but remember, it’s all temporary. The pain, or joy, of visiting home for the holidays can be whatever you make it. Just take a deep breath, stay the course and do that third shot — your Christmas hostage will drive you home.