So there we are, playing touch football with a world-class assortment of misfits and malcontents, achieving a level of snarkiness rarely seen outside of big-city taverns and newsrooms.
Naturally, it was Christmas Eve.
Don’t judge, because it was early in the day, and even if some of the dads had used the game as an excuse to dodge their duties, others had used it as incentive to finish holiday chores and shopping early, so that they could participate in this annual gesture of friendship and tomfoolery.
As the old song says, we were happy in a million ways.
It’s a funny tradition, Christmas. It’s even funnier when shared with the misfits and malcontents who make up this, my second family. A long time ago I decided that we didn’t have enough angst and dysfunction in my regular family, so I adopted these idiots.
It’s working out pretty well. In the course of a game, you should hear us quibble over the stupidest stuff. About half of them are attorneys, or pretend to be.
When the game was over, we enjoyed a nice post-game spread. I shoveled mayo on some very good Jewish rye, just to provoke a couple of my buddies, who find such a gesture ungodly.
On sore schnitzels, we limped off to our cars, later exchanging photos and emails, as we have for almost 20 years of these rigorous and sophomoric games.
“All credit goes to the Commish,” Burly emailed the group. “While he looks like a pack of rhinos just ran over him, he has a wonderfully purposeful and hilarious handle on our slippery existence.”
That’s me, the “Commish,” or league commissioner. I often find myself in charge of activities no one else would ever think of doing. That’s really what leadership is about — stepping up when others show far more sense.
Fatherhood is that way too. For an entire week, I carried the heavy packages from the car or handled various minor emergencies. For instance, my family knows that there are circuit breakers; they just don’t have the faintest clue as to where they are or how they work.
Again, I step up.
I cleaned the fireplace too, as I do every Christmas Eve, almost religiously, or as religious as I get these days. We’ve endured our share of crud this year, after all. In times of stress, some folks get more religious; others begin to question the entire concept.
At 1 a.m. Christmas morning, for example. One of the smoke detectors began to emit pulsing beeps about every minute or so, signaling a weak battery. Everybody heard it, but only one was brave enough to rise from a warm bed, slip on his goofy Chevy Chase pajamas and try to hunt down the offending smoke detector.
First, I thought it was in the hallway, and then I thought the living room, or perhaps the basement. I like going into the old basement — it is my grotto, my Graceland — but not at 1 in the morning. It was cold, and since the entrance to the basement is from the backyard, I was pretty sure I would be shot dead by a tanked-up neighbor who, in good faith, was only trying to keep us all safe from prowlers in Chevy Chase pajamas.
After pulling down four alarms, I finally isolated the beeping detector near a bedroom — remember, it emits the beep only once a minute, so that there you stand in the middle of the night of nights, waiting for it to beep, or not.
In a million ways, we had a very challenging holiday.
In the run-up to Christmas, our dear daughter Rapunzel accidentally splashed some soup in her eye — “Ouch, Daaaaaad!!!” — and later I thought I was coming down with the flu, before realizing that I was accidentally drinking decaf again.
But there were good times too. Bruce and Judy sent us a pile of oysters, just because, and Rapunzel learned to use an oyster knife. So she will never be without employment again. If you can shuck an oyster, you can shuck almost anything.
Also, at the big church, the lovely and patient older daughter and her boyfriend (Jason) were chosen, at the last minute, to carry the replica baby Jesus to the altar at the 10 o’clock Christmas Eve Mass. Which was as amazing as a power chord by Handel.
And in our holiday memory banks — with great feasts and Happy Honda Days — will reside this silly-stupid touch football game, which was followed by a short tailgate party and lots of stories from the good old days.
After all, family is where you find it. And Christmas is where we live.
Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @erskinetimes.