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Christmas eve is tomorrow (again), and thanks to my family’s spectacular celestial fragmentation, the phone calls have started (again). My sister wants me to know that she wishes I could come to Arkansas to see her, as well as my niece and nephew—5 and 3 years old respectively—whose pictures hold a sacred space in my wallet, but who I’ve never met. Another sibling, another unknown niece, will call soon from Kansas City to say the same. My mom’s way out in Austin (I’ll call her). My stepsister’s in New York (I don’t think either of us has the other’s number). My cousin’s in Harlem (he’ll call me Christmas night, wasted, at 4 a.m.; probably on his boyfriend’s phone).

All of them would like to see everyone with whom they share a last name (or custody) this holiday season, and this will lead to much fretting over logistics. A few years ago, I realized that the easiest way to tell someone No, I am so sorry, but we cannot fix this broken mess of a family by flying around for two-hour visits, was to make myself unavailable.

The first time I skipped Christmas was when an old girlfriend asked me to play the Goy during her family’s Hanukkah celebration in D.C. I had never been to D.C., and Christmas in Central Florida is exactly what you think it is, all the mall Santas chugging Listerine in between photos to mask the smell of meth mouth. So I explained to the warring factions that expected to possess me simultaneously on Christmas day that I would be far away that week, and I would see them whenever and please don’t cry because my plane leaves in an hour and I really don’t have it in me to do this right now.

The year after that, I was single, and ditching my family was easier, due to the fact that a few more siblings/aunts/cousins had moved away from Florida. So I tagged along with my fraternity brothers to someone’s mountain manse in North Carolina, where we huddled in a jacuzzi and took gravity bong hits out of a Gatorade bottle and did our best to avoid speaking about why we weren’t wearing any clothes and why we weren’t with our families.

Last December, I volunteered to house-sit for my girlfriend’s aunt and uncle in Maryland. When the phone calls started—the “Where will you be on Christmas day?” phone calls—I just sighed and pouted and said that I had to help out a couple who really needed somebody to watch their flatulent cat Hemingway and their blind dog Missy and their deaf dog Max. And on Christmas day, while the various limbs of my family tree were fighting about God knows what around various half-empty dining room tables all over the continental U.S., my girlfriend and I sat around with our friends’ disabled pets and ate Lean Cuisines and watched Dog the Bounty Hunter on a 60-inch HD TV.

This year, however, I’m going back to Orlando for Christmas. I haven’t taken a genuine vacation in the 16 months I’ve worked at the City Paper (the one time I took off for more than a day was to report a freelance story), and this snow is fucking killing my sunny disposition. But more importantly, it’s been years since I heckled a mall Santa, argued with my dad about drug legalization, or taunted my younger brother about his accent. I won’t get to see everyone, but I’ll make an effort to see as many people as I can. It will be stressful and sad and freeing all at the same time. Sweet tea and cheap cigarettes will dull the pain.

When I come back to D.C., I will train a new listings editor. Then I will start a new job, and that, too, will be stressful and sad and freeing all at the same time.

Merry Christmas, Washington City Paper readers. Don’t get scammed.

Photo of a skinny person courtesy of the freaks at anti-meth.org