Some twenty-plus years ago, when I was thirtyish and divorced, a co-worker and I decided to become roommates and we rented a small home in the Minneapolis suburb of Robbinsdale.
Emphasis here on ‘small’.
John Lloyd, my new roommate, had one prized possession that had to be a part of the new set up: a full-sized, 1960’s
vintage pool table he had inherited from his grandparents. What better for a hip bachelor pad than a pool table? One problem: the pool table occupied our entire dining room and still jutted a good foot-and-half into the living room. Even then, when shooting from wall-side of the table, or the dining room wall end, you had to hold your cue at an 81-degree angle in order to shoot. Minnesota Fats would not have been at home in ours.
Our ‘nose pool’ (using your nose as your cue) became legendary.
Having moved in late that summer and thrown a swingin’ house-warming party that co-workers and friends were still rehashing, we logically decided a Christmas party was a must for our first holiday season in our cozy abode.
John and I were co-workers at a small radio station in the Minneapolis suburb of Anoka. ‘Small’ again comes into play; the station was by no means a player in the Twin Cities market. What the station lacked in basic amenities, technical quality and signal strength, it more than made up for in ownership and managerial dysfunction and sheer comic relief.
What kept the place functioning and an enjoyably quirky place to work was that we also had a very talented, close-knit and fun-loving staff: a dandy core-group for a top-notch party, as we had proved with our summertime housewarming.
KANO boasted a truly eclectic mix of old-school broadcast veterans winding down their careers, and twenty-something guppies straight out of broadcasting school with dreams of stardom and underdeveloped reality checks, and a forty-something, mid-life career change newbie finally living his dream.
A typical week of chaos at KANO made WKRP seem like a weekend in cloisters.
This was no wine-spritzer and brie crowd; radio people genetically predisposed to being allergic to the mundane. Add in their assorted significant others, and a few folks from other parts of our various lives, John and I had invited quite the eclectic and enthusiastic crowd. They wanted, and now expected John and me to deliver, plenty of party action.
Thus was born the centerpiece event of our epic Christmas House Party: Bobbing for Pine Cones.
We had started planning this extravaganza not long after the summer soiree. Somewhere around Halloween, when bobbing for apples was en vogue (Anoka proclaims itself ‘The Halloween Capitol of the World, so we had a lot of experience with such things) the idea occurred to us that this whole bobbing thing had some definite Christmastime applications – with a few modifications. The first tweak we made was to replace apples with the more festive, holiday-oriented, easier-to- grip-with-yer-lips pine cones. Secondly, boring old, not-all-that-competitive (or interesting) water was replaced.
Pure genius, it was. What, agreed John and I, says ‘holiday party fun!’ more than bobbing for pine cones in turkey roasters filed with eggnog?
The night of the party came, and with it, all the high expectations for a rockin’ around the Christmas tree good time. We were truly able to deliver, due in large part to a factor we didn’t have for the house warming party: his name was Jim Holt.
Jim was a fairly recent addition to the station, fresh out of Brown Institute of Broadcasting (the alma mater of both John and I, and a number of other colleagues) but wise to the ways of the world. You see, Jim was a married guy in his early forties; being a disc jockey had been a dream of his for many years. He had been working in the construction business, and when the company he worked for went belly up, he used the opportunity to go back to school and be retrained as a broadcaster, of all things, eventually winding up on KANO’s doorstep where he used his business acumen in sales during the week, and picked up weekend and evening shifts as a part-time announcer. He was having a kid-in-a-candy-store blast and we were glad to have him.
Jim was neither fish nor fowl, so to speak. He was certainly a radio neophyte, which we seldom let him forget, with a wide array of on-air pranks and booby traps pulled on the guy, but he was much farther along the chronological and maturity scale than most of the rest of us.
At least, in some regards.
Okay, he was older than most of the rest of us. He reveled in the role of rookie/old dude; for Jim, it was 1969 all over again – only done better this time around.
We had set up the Bobbing for Pinecones as an eight competitor, three-round tournament – poster board tourney bracket taped to the dining room wall to document the fun. Jim arrived fairly early with his wife Kathy, and signed up eagerly for the bobbing. Kathy, as she was during the whole mid-life career shift for her husband, could best be described as…warily supportive.
The party zipped along quite nicely for a couple of hours; food, libations, people and laughs in abundance: at one point, John counted over 30 people in attendance. Sardines-in-a-can analogies ran rampant and getting from one point of the house to another meant holding your food and/or beverage high above your head, lest you find it smashed into your chest. About ten o’clock, we got folks quieted down and announced that it was time for the big event; Bobbing for Pine Cones. (Grand prize for the winner: a new Fram oil-filter and a generic trophy we had found at a garage sale. We shopped at Class- R-Us.)
We asked those that had signed up to step forward (most actually did) while friends helped us spread out plastic all over the living room floor. Then we brought out the aluminum turkey roasters and the pine cones, placing them on top of the plastic, as we explained the rules: contestants were to kneel in front of their roaster, hands behind their backs, and using only their mouths, were to bend over at the waist, and pluck as many pine cones as they could in one minute from the roaster, dropping them onto the plastic next to their tubs, then repeating the process until we said “times up!” A good sense of balance was crucial. We had an ample supply of pine cones, and would continue to add them to each roaster as play continued, should someone pluck their entire supply of pine cones. (Nobody did, though Jim came close in round one.)
I’m not really sure if people didn’t read the sign-up sheet closely, or maybe we even forgot to put it on the poster – who can remember? I was pretty sure that we had told people, and maybe they just forgot, about switching out the water for egg nog, but when we brought out the nog and started filling the roasters, there was definite surprise and apprehension from some of the participants and a noticeable uptick in the level of crowd anticipation.
Of the eight bobbers, there were a few I didn’t know; dates of various guests who decided to sign up on a whim and were never seen again dating those coworkers. (Go figure.) Our station engineer Dan Zimmerman made it through round one, if I remember correctly (Dan was hard to forget; competitive eggnog bobbers should probably crop their beards/goatees before a competitive event) but the true break out star of the night was Jim Holt.
We got the first two competitors lined up on the floor, gave a countdown and said “Go!” to instant shouts of encouragement and exclamations of “Ewwww” “gross” and “nasty” from onlookers. Things quickly got a little…umm….messy.
Once the competition started, we realized a few things very quickly; it is one thing to dunk your head in water, and inadvertently suck some in, then come up for air. It is a whole different thing when you accidentally inhale stuff the consistency of rich, creamy, dairy-fresh holiday eggnog – Its a much different sort of gasping for breath.
We also learned that a human face hitting a tub of eggnog with any velocity makes more of a ‘bluorp’ sound than a splashing noise.
The first round went pretty quickly, as most of the competitors had little natural ability at the sport, or were just laughing too hard to effective bob/grab/drop. Not so, our pal Jim. He took to bobbing in eggnog like a young penguin takes to belly sliding on ice. Truly a natural.
After successfully plucking a pine cone with his mouth, he quickly dropped it on the plastic and went back for another. It was never a contest; the competition was just not up to matching Jim cone-for-cone during a round, beer-for-beer between rounds. Plus, he was one of those athletes whose natural charisma just showed through, which got the crowd quickly on his side. Jim would come up for air at the end of a round, shaking like a wet St. Bernard – his sopping, floppy moustache spraying the crowded-around onlookers with ‘nog. It was a glorious thing to watch.
From as far afar as you could get in a house that small. You don’t sit in the front row of the Shamu show at Sea World and expect to stay dry. Same principle applies for pine cone bobbing in egg nog.
After the first two rounds, we were ready for the championship. Jim and the other finalist had another beer, as we prepped the tubs with fresh eggnog for the finals; nothing but the best for our competitors. We also had a slight competition ‘tweak’ for the finals; just like the World Series, or the Super Bowl, any great sporting event needs a little ‘sumptin’ sumptin’ for its championship round.
The nutmeg was meant to spice things up, of course. Which it did in unexpected ways. What, after all, is eggnog without a sprinkle of nutmeg on top? It is traditional serving method and we felt it only fitting that the finals of our little event should be…showcased a bit. Plus, it added a touch of holiday class.
And, unwittingly, a sneeze factor.
Once the final round started (two minutes, not the typical one – twice the fun for the finals!) We learned very quickly that inhaling large quantities of nutmeg makes one sneeze, and that adult males sneezing into tubs of nutmeg-laced eggnog makes something akin to eggnog ‘depth charges’ as little geysers of the stuff were flying up from the living room floor with each sneeze. (Spreading the heavy plastic over the living floor was a very smart move on our part). Jim of course, won going away. It was quite a show.
Fortunately, our friends and other guests were agreeable to helping us clean up the mess – so the party could continue, if nothing else. At the end of the night, a sticky, haggard Jim proudly clutched his oil filter and trophy as designated-driver/wife Kathy walked him out to their car, shaking her head in awe. Or disbelief. It was hard to tell.
End of the party, not the end of the story.
As was related to us later by a still incredulous Kathy and Jim: At about 2:30 in the morning, Jim wakes up screaming that he can’t open his eyes. Kathy gets up with him, and realizing that her husband indeed, cannot open his eyelids fully, takes him to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital. There, the attending E.R. doc determines the problem; Jim had forgotten to remove his contacts before the festivities, and some traces of eggnog and nutmeg had apparently dried on them, essentially gluing them to his eyelids. I do not know the correct medical terminology for this condition. As Kathy related the story later, the doc and the nurses just shook their heads and tried not to giggle while they repeatedly flushed Jim’s eyes with saline solution before sending him home with a bottle of Visine and a suggestion to take up other forms of holiday recreation.
As with all good stories, this one has a ‘part two’.
The eggnog-glued-eyes event had its sequel the following summer, when the KANO staff participated in a celebrity donkey race at the Hennepin County Fair. Jim got tossed off his donkey upwards of twenty times (13 by our count before the race had actually begun) usually right over the donkey’s head. Jim would get tossed, then quickly scamper back up on his donkey, repeat the process. This then necessitated another late-night, same E.R. visit, this time for a dislocated shoulder. The attending doc this time around quickly diagnosed the problem, asked how it occurred, as he was checking Jim’s file, said “I see you were last here in December for….ummmm. Oh my. That’s interesting.” much to Kathy’s chagrin and Jim’s uh…justifications.
Following the donkey escapade, the next time I saw Kathy, her first words to me were; “Jim can’t come out and play with you guys annnnnnnNEEE more!”
The man had become a legend for the Christmas party (and radio station) ages.
So this year, as always, I will indulge my own passion, quaffing a tasty mug or two of cold eggnog, toasting along the way the competitive spirit of bobbing, friendships forever (and eyelids temporarily) bonded. Here’s to John; best roommate I ever had. Here’s to my old KANO pals; “Gooood times…gooood times, my old friends”. Oh, and here’s to ya’ Jim, wherever you may be today.
A little free advice, should you want to enliven your holiday gathering with a BFP event: . Bobbing for Pinecones is an exciting, competitive event with broad appeal and accessible to a wide range of ages and talent levels. Just go easy on the nutmeg, and don’t forget to have competitors read and sign the ‘wearing contacts’ waiver.