Holidaze

The spectacle of Counterfeit at the Victoria, and the emotion of a Castro reading of "A Christmas Memory"

My Christmas memories are few and far between. I could say that I remember last year, but it would be more truthful to say I know what I did: There was assuredly a stack of movies to watch and the smell of spiced tea wafting from the kitchen. My young siblings, who look nothing like me but bear all the most notable family traits of my mother's side, undoubtedly wrestled across the big, well-worn couch that dominates their house, barreling over me and my quiet pile of reading material with shrieks of laughter and pointy fingers that burrow between tender ribs. My mother might have murmured something indistinctly authoritative, waving a hand of vague disapprobation, but it's more probable she just pulled an old satin comforter over her head as if to say, "If only I could disappear." My father no doubt was snowboarding (as he will be this year). I was likely invited to join his thrill-seeking pursuits in more snowy states, but I chose, as I do most years, the warmth and vagueness of this little house between a marsh and railroad tracks where my mother made a home long after my departure. It's a very nice place to visit for Christmas, filled, even as it is, with memories that are not my own.

I do remember one Christmas drinking wine on the beach with a boyfriend from England whose delight at the madness of drinking wine on the beach at Christmastime made it seem worthwhile. And I remember another Christmas many, many years before, high in the mountains of Oregon, in a huge drafty log cabin without electricity or hot water, where the stars on the other side of my bedroom window seemed so bright and cold they could freeze my thoughts. It had been a difficult winter, for more reasons than the stranded pickup truck and the snow piled high outside, and I had finally written my father, asking that he take me away. I didn't sleep at all that night, at least I didn't think I had, but when I arose at dawn the wood-burning stove was already hot, and the kettle was simmering, and the tree -- a pretty little thing my aunt had cut down with a chain saw a few days before -- had been utterly transformed. Covered in tinsel and ornaments and chains of cranberries and corn and topped with a cherub and strung with what seemed a thousand tiny lights, each carefully, patiently circled in angel hair -- that tree shimmered like magic. I don't remember the sound of the gasoline generator that must have accompanied the twinkling, but I do recall thinking that if all the faeries my aunt carved into the deadwood around her land were real, she must have enlisted their help to create that tree. The first vision of it wholly obscured the gifts and hugs and food that would follow, as well as the tears and anger that would swell in that cabin in the wake of my father's and my abrupt retreat from Jump Off Joe Creek Road. I have never seen, before or since, a tree as lovely as that.


"Our tree last year was rad," exclaims Sean Claire Treidler, a pale, willowy boy ensconced in latex and black-and-silver fun fur. "We decorated it with condoms and airline liquor. Colored condoms and tiny little bottles of vodka, whiskey, and Kahlúa tied with little red bows. They sort of clinked together if you bumped into the tree, and when friends came over we could offer them a nip off the tree. Unless they were a really good friend; then they could have a cocktail and a rubber."

Treidler and his companion, a small woman in a tattered tutu and striped stockings, purchase a couple of boxes of candy at the concessions counter and disappear behind the double doors of the Victoria Theatre like two missing extras from A Nightmare Before Christmas. They are not alone in their sketch-gothic finery. The crowd gathered in the long-faded opulence of the 95-year-old theater for Vinsantos' holiday spectacle, Counterfeit, is awash in high style and black lace.

"It's December," purrs Jill Tracy from behind a piano on the lip of the stage, "and, if you're like me, you're teetering on the edge somewhere between sentimental and suicidal."

The crowd titters appreciatively, clearly at home in the dim, ruddy wash of light that just illumes the stage.

"I told Vinsantos the only [holiday song] I know is about a suicide that took place on Christmas Eve in 1941," says Tracy in a voice that is like the inhalation of clove cigarettes. "He said, 'That'll be perfect.'"

The ivories tumble, and Tracy creeps through a Christmas requiem about a man found in a hotel room with nothing but a sextant by his side. It seems that even at the end, he was trying to find his way by the stars.

A grainy, black-and-white "home movie" flickers to life on a screen overhead: Happy young parents sit on a couch bouncing their infant in the air. Cut to the smiling face of the swaddled child. The child falls to the ground.

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