I firmly believe that, regardless of the prevailing circumstances, a good eggnog is essential for the holiday season. The ingredients of the best recipe, IMHO, consist of organic, grass-fed fainting goat heavy cream, the separated yolks of free-range quail eggs, toasted Zanzibar coconut sugar, true Ceylon cinnamon, fennel pollen, ground Tahitian vanilla beans, Ramlösa mineral water extract of French saffron, powdered Cypriot mahlab, and ground Kerala Malabar mace (instead of nutmeg), combined with a respectable amount of Martell XO cognac. After mixing everything, I usually also beat the separated egg whites into stiff peaks and then fold them into the liquid.
Of course, for various reasons, not everybody can obtain those ingredients, but fortunately, there are many, many quite acceptable alternatives within the procurement and budget parameters of nearly every sophisticated household in the Washington DC metropolitan area. And in previous years, I have been privileged to enjoy quite a few interesting interpretations of this venerable celebratory beverage at various Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa parties. But not this year, naturally.
Undaunted, however, Cerise and I got a fairly early start on my favorite eggnog this evening, and were having a splendid time drinking it as an accompaniment to an assortment of holiday pastries and demitasse cups of Dallmayr espresso. Then my land line rang. Caller ID indicated it was my brother-in-law, Hank. Okay, on one hand, Hank proved to me years ago that my sister Rose should never have married him. On the other… oh hell, this is my family, isn’t it, and when it comes to family, what can you do? So I answered it, and put the call on speaker so both of us could talk to him.
Hank: Hello? Tom?
Tom: Hello, Hank. I’m here with Cerise drinking eggnog with Italian Christmas pastries and espresso in lieu of going out to a holiday party. What are you doing?
Hank: I… I… I’m on my cell phone talking to you.
Tom: Uh-huh… right. Okay, so why did you call?
Hank: It’s…. about Shannon.
Cerise: What about her, Hank?
Hank: Oh, hi, Cerise. Um… well, she went home to Chicago for Thanksgiving, see, and…
Cerise: She did what?
Hank: Went home… for Thanksgiving.
Cerise: To her huge Irish Catholic Chicago family?
Hank: Uh… yeah.
Tom: The family who are all rabid Trumpistas in red MAGA hats, jumping around like monkeys on a string in response to every outrageous lie or conspiracy theory the President or one of his accomplices feeds them? That family? The one where everybody refuses to wear masks because they think that would brand them as Socialists? She traveled to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving 2020 with them?
Hank: Um…What’s a Trumpista?
Tom: Excuse me for sounding dense for asking, Hank, but what in the name of Jesus H. Christ Almighty possessed her to do something as reckless, foolhardy and downright dangerous as that?
Hank: Um, well… you know Shannon, right?
Cerise: Meaning what?
Hank: Meaning, uh… that getting together with her family during the holidays is very important, I guess…
Cerise: In that case, why has she never left that survival bunker in West Virginia you two have been hunkering down in to visit her husband and children in Fairfax County for all of those Thanksgivings, Christmases and Easters since you ran off with her during the Obama administration?
Hank: Oh, come on, Cerise! These are the End Times, can’t you see that? And we’ve been up here preparing for them, because they’re coming soon – the Tribulations will be here before you know it!
Cerise: And what makes you so sure of that?
Hank: Damn it Cerise! I’ve told you why over and over again! Haven’t you been listening? It’s because Obama is the Antichrist!
Cerise: So what does that make Trump? The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, maybe, accompanying War, Plague, Famine and Death? What’s he supposed to be, anyway? Cowardice riding a yellow horse? Greed, riding a golden horse? Stupidity, riding a stubborn mule? Ignorance, riding a jackass?
Hank: I donno. I’d have to go back to the Book of Revelations and look it up.
Cerise: Good luck doing that, oh great and distinguished Doctor of Eschatology.
Hank: What’s Eschatology?
Tom: It’s the study of the End Times. If you’re going to survive the Rapture and the Second Coming, Hank, you really ought to do your homework, you know.
Hank: Okay, okay, you and Cerise are a couple of brainiacs, that’s no secret. Look, probably Shannon would know about that stuff, but that’s the problem, see? She used to have all the answers to wiseacre questions like you two ask, but now, I can’t ask her what they are.
Tom: Why not?
Hank: Well, I was getting to that. See, she got really steamed up by the radical liberals trying to make everyone stay home for Thanksgiving, and…
Cerise: Radical liberals? What are you talking about, Hank? We’re in the middle of a pandemic! Avoiding large gatherings like Shannon’s family Thanksgiving feast are public health measures, not political statements! My God, Hank, you and Shannon both went to college! How can you not realize that?
Hank: Shannon said the pandemic is a hoax, just like Trump told everybody, and she had to do something about it.
Tom: Which was what?
Hank: Own the liberals by going to a big Thanksgiving dinner with her whole family with nobody wearing a mask or doing any of that social distancing crap or opening the windows in Chicago in the middle of November like that socialist Dr. Fauci said, that’s what.
Cerise: Own the liberals? You think doing something harebrained like that affects the people you disagree with politically?
Hank: Uh… I guess she did, anyhow. Everybody in her family thinks the same. It was all over the Internet – Own the Liberals on Thanksgiving.
Cerise: Shannon and her entire family believed that recklessly exposing themselves to the risk of contracting a potentially deadly disease would somehow… do something… to the liberals who insist on masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings and crowds?
Hank: Shannon told me it would make them all afraid and furious.
Cerise: Well, let me tell you this, mister: as a proud liberal Democrat, I can assure you we don’t find a bunch of moronic Trump supporters getting together to breath covid-19 all over each other the least bit frightening or upsetting. Do you want to know what we think of it?
Hank: Um… what?
Cerise: We call it cleaning out the bottom of the gene pool, that’s what!
Hank: Now wait just a minute there! Shannon and her family are not the bottom of the gene pool!
Tom: Just what do you mean by that, Hank? Are you trying to tell us something?
Hank: I… I’m trying to tell you that Shannon seems to have gotten very… um… very sick.
Tom: As of when?
Hank: As of about… ah… eighteen hours ago.
Tom: I see. That’s about nine to eleven days since exposure.
Tom: How did she get to Chicago?
Hank: We drove there.
Hank: Yeah – Shannon, me, and three other members of the survival team. She invited them. They wanted to own the liberals, too.
Tom: Of course they did. And the five of you drove back to your survival compound in West Virginia after Thanksgiving, I assume?
Tom: And about how long did that take, each way?
Hank: About twelve, maybe thirteen hours.
Tom: Sure. And how are you feeling?
Hank: Okay, I guess. It’s kinda strange, though.
Tom: What is?
Hank: The candles.
Hank: We have all kinds of ways to make money here at the survival compound. We have bee hives and sell wildflower honey from those, we forage for ginseng and sell that, you know, all kinds of stuff like that, and last year, Shannon started using the local herbs and flowers and plants from the garden to make scented candles to sell on the Internet. Which was cool, but sometimes when she got done making a batch in her scented candle workshop, hell, especially the lavender candles, it would come pretty close to knocking me right on my butt, you know? Only yesterday, when she collapsed while she was working on a batch of lavender candles and I found her in the scented candle workshop and had to go and get help so we could put her to bed, I didn’t notice anything at all.
Tom: Sounds like you’ve lost your sense of smell.
Hank: Damn! You think so?
Tom: When did you last eat?
Hank: Lunch today.
Tom: What was it?
Hank: Uh… you know, I’ve been so busy worrying about Shannon, I didn’t pay much attention. It was a ham and cheese sandwich, I think. And potato chips. And a pickle. And a Coke. I think. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what I had.
Tom: What was on the ham and cheese sandwich? Mayonnaise? Mustard?
Cerise: Ketchup on a ham and cheese sandwich? Jesus have mercy! Henry Pawlikowski, you really are one genuine, authentic, certified philistine aren’t you?
Hank: What’s a philistine?
Tom: Never mind about that, Hank. Do you remember what your lunch tasted like?
Hank: Um… Now that you mention it, no… I don’t.
Tom: Where are you now?
Hank: In West Virginia.
Tom: Yeah, sure – but where in the survival compound? Can you get to the kitchen?
Hank: I’m in the kitchen now.
Tom: Good. Look in the refrigerator and tell me if you see any horseradish.
Hank: Uh… Okay… um… yeah, here’s a bottle of it. What now?
Tom: Get a teaspoon, dig out some horseradish and put it on your tongue.
Hank: Ah… all right… just a sec… Okay.
Tom: Now, tell me what you are experiencing.
Hank: Oh, [expletive]! Tom! I can’t taste it! Straight horseradish and I can’t…
Cerise: Tell me Hank, are you aware that loss of the senses of smell and taste are common symptoms of covid-19 infection?
Hank: They are?
Tom: Yes. Among other things, the virus attacks the nervous system.
Hank: It does?
Hank: Except that doesn’t matter because the virus is a hoax!
Cerise: A hoax? There are fourteen million confirmed cases of covid-19 infection in the United States! If that’s a hoax, I’d sure hate to see the real thing!
Hank: Well, there wouldn’t be so many cases reported if they didn’t do so much testing for it in the first place!
Cerise: Sounds like wherever your secret survival compound is in the wilds of West Virginia, you still get plenty of Fox.
Hank: Oh, hell, we get NewsMax, OAN, Hannity, Dobbs and InfoWars and all that stuff – we have a satellite uplink that runs on solar panels.
Cerise: So you’re smart enough to rig up something like that but still so dumb you don’t realize that calling a pandemic a hoax doesn’t make it go away, or that testing for a disease doesn’t cause it. Incredible! How do you and Shannon and your friends manage it?
Hank: Hey, Tom – I just thought of something.
Cerise: Really? My goodness, will miracles never cease?
Hank: Oh, come on, Cerise quit raggin’ me, okay? Look, Tom, what if this horseradish isn’t really horseradish? Or what if it’s old or something and lost its punch, you know?
Tom: Okay then, got any hot sauce?
Hank: Oh yeah, sure, there’s plenty of hot sauce bottles here in the fridge. The guys put that [expletive] on everything. Here’s some ghost pepper sauce…
Tom: No, no, not that. Ghost pepper is like nine hundred and fifty thousand Scovilles. See any smoked chipotle pepper sauce?
Hank: Oh, yeah, sure… here’s some.
Tom: Okay, that’s only eight thousand Scovilles, max. Try a teaspoon of it.
Hank: Right. Just a sec… Damn! I can’t taste a thing, Tom. Nothing at all!
Tom: But your tongue is burning, I assume?
Hank: Yeah, definitely, it burns, but no taste.
Tom: Well, Hank, I’m not a doctor, but I would advise that you go get checked for covid-19 as soon as possible.
Hank: How would I do that, Tom? The nearest hospital is an hour and a half drive!
Tom: Not relevant, Hank – you don’t go traipsing into a hospital ER and ask for a covid-19 test.
Hank: So what should I do?
Tom: Get on the Internet and find the nearest covid-19 testing center that’s open tomorrow and go there.
Hank: They have those?
Tom: They’re all over the state. Since it’s West Virginia, you shouldn’t have to wait in line either, because hardly anybody in West Virginia uses them. They’re mostly either like you, Shannon and your buddies in the survival compound and don’t believe it’s real; or, otherwise, they do believe it’s real and figure that Jesus is going to save them because covid-19 is God’s wrath poured out upon the sinners. And then there are the ideologically pure Libertarians hiding in the woodwork up there who basically say, “Let the fittest survive and the weak die.” You see, Hank? That’s the problem with projecting your belief system on something like a viral epidemic. Misapplication of any philosophical epistemology, no matter how complex or how simplistic, to strictly natural phenomena without regard to the scientific method inevitably leads to…
Hank: Hold on! Just a sec! I’ll be right back!
[Two minutes elapse.]
Hank: Holy [expletive] [expletive], Tom! Another person collapsed! This time it was in the ammo room! Josh just passed out and keeled over on the shotgun shell loader table! And Shannon’s gone into a coma or something! She’s turned blue! What the [expletive] should I do?
Cerise: Dial 911! Call an ambulance, you pathetic imbecile!
Hank: Ambulance? Out here? No way!
Tom: All right, Hank. Understood. Who or what do you use for health care there at the survival compound anyway?
Hank: We have a member of the group who used to be a Corpsman in the Navy.
Tom: And what does he say?
Hank: Nothing! That person is Josh!
Tom: Okay, in that case, since you are symptomatic but still ambulatory, you need to quarantine. So have one of the people who accompanied you to that godforsaken Thanksgiving dinner drive Josh and Shannon to the nearest hospital ER while you go to your room and stay away from everybody else at that prepper loony bin of yours for at least ten days.
Hank: No can do, Tom! The other three people were Josh, Mike and Cindy. And Mike’s in the bathroom puking his guts up and Cindy is in bed with a fever of one hundred and seven!
Tom: So you’re going to need four ICU beds. Or maybe five if you don’t last for the next couple of hours, Hank. Come to think of it, I’d be surprised if this hospital that’s an hour and a half drive from you guys has five available ICU beds. Hell, I’d be surprised if it has five ICU beds, period. But you gotta go there, Hank, and fast! Find somebody to drive the five of you to that hospital, right now! Do you know how to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?
Hank: Yeah, yeah, of course I do! I was a lifeguard at the YMCA pool in high school, remember how I told you about it? I got to lock lips with the homecoming queen after she knocked herself out on the high dive board trying to do a back flip!
Tom: Oh, yeah, now I remember. Well, Hank, looks like now is your big opportunity to spend an hour and a half locking lips with Shannon.
Hank: God damn it, Tom! You know she and I have never been… physically involved! You got a dirty mind, that’s what!
Tom: It’s a medical emergency, Hank. You can explain it all to her when she wakes up.
Cerise: If she wakes up!
Hank: What the hell do you mean, “if she wakes up?”
Tom: Despite her obvious lack of tact at the moment, Cerise has a point, Hank. Now go lock lips with Shannon and breath some life back into her before she takes a trip to Irish Catholic Heaven. And between breaths, you be sure to yell out nice and loud that you need a volunteer driver for that trip to the hospital, okay?
Hank: Okay, Tom. Got it. Goodbye!
A long moment passed as Cerise took another bite of pastry and a sip of eggnog. “If I hadn’t already witnessed so many comparable acts of idiocy during this pandemic, I would say this entire episode is absolutely beyond imagination.”
“That’s exactly what makes it real,” I responded as I drained my demitasse of espresso, “stuff this absurd, you just can’t make up.”