Hot damn, I finally found it. Photographic evidence of that weird thing I did back in junior high.
For several years, I used our family’s Christmas Eve party as an excuse to throw my own. Guests were encouraged away from the dinner table and into my bedroom, for a look at what I called THE CHRISTMAS TIKI HUT.
Basically, I transformed my bedroom (which by that point was a large room downstairs) into party central. A huge table at the back was covered with all sorts of store-bought snacks and drinks, plus goofy appetizers of my own design. (Uh oh.)
I was big into Tiki culture, owing to Archie McPhee and our one local Polynesian restaurant. Remember the bar from Goodfellas? This was my version of it. Christmas lights mixed with ceramic Tiki tumblers. An ambiance best described as “yard sale with food.”
This photo only tells part of the story. My entire bedroom was decorated for the occasion. You know those little Santa hats that they sell for pets? They were all over my action figures. And my God, the entertainment! Christmas movies playing all day long, and by “Christmas movies” I of course mean “Return of the Jedi.”
My family indulged me, not because they wanted to eat cheese that had been sitting out for sixteen hours, but because it was obviously so important to me. For a few years, I cared more about my Tiki Hut than any other Christmas-related thing.
The best part might have been the shopping. Every year, I’d beg someone to take me to Price Club, which was the precursor to Costco. Using money that couldn’t have been mine, I’d load up on jumbo-sized packages of snacks that only a thirteen-year-old psychopath would dream of serving for Christmas.
People nibbled, but most of the spread was still fully intact by the end of the night. Since much of that spread consisted of the same junk food I already lived on, I didn’t mind. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I was never anything but alarmingly bloated.
The Christmas Tiki Hut worked like a cocktail hour, or maybe a cocktail half an hour. Everyone would pile in. The adults would pretend to eat and drink. The children would actually eat and drink. Soon enough, they’d be back upstairs for the rest of the party. (I took no offense to how long anyone stayed, as long as everyone showed up.)
When I zoom into the stuff on that table, I’m surprised that they were so agreeable. Many of these foods would’ve been questionable even if they weren’t being served in a kid’s filthy bedroom. On Christmas Eve.
Giant bowl of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish!
You know those huge cartons of Goldfish that are generally only found at warehouse stores? This was that, emptied into the world’s biggest salad bowl. The menus of my Tiki Huts varied, but Goldfish crackers were always there.
There were Tiki cups all over the table, for decorative use only. (Heaven help the person who drank from one of my beloved Tiki cups!)
Most were gotten from Chinese restaurants. Sometimes they’d let me have them for free. Other times, they charged me six bucks or something. I still have most of them, including this “Fu Manchu” character.
Note the coconut accessory. My understanding of Tiki culture was and remains perfectly cliché.
Cheese and crackers!
You can tell that this was the work of a child. Triscuits and plain old Saltines, joining three tubs of God Knows What Cheese. For added appeal, I garnished the platter with loose piles of cranberries. Huh?
The coffee carafe full of Slim Jims!
Using a rusted carafe as an odd bowl, guests were encouraged to eat their weight in spicy meat sticks. The reason there are so few isn’t because anyone actually did that. It’s because I spent the week prior gorging on my supply. (The speed with which I plowed through a 48-pack of giant Slim Jims still ranks as one of my greatest shames.)
Goofy Tiki straws!
Well, duh. You can’t have a Christmas Tiki Hut without goofy straws. Each had a foldout something-or-another, from palm trees to exotic fruits.
(I pushed those straws pretty hard, too. Since the food was so weird, most of my guests opted for a simple drink. They might’ve regretted it once finding out that it was illegal to drink my fruit punch unless you used a goofy straw that’d been sitting in a dirty Tiki cup.)
Fancy hors d’oeuvres!
First are many chunks of cheese. Looks like I couldn’t settle on any one style. Some of it was cubed. Some of it was in neat slices. And some of it was apparently whittled into the loose shapes of kayaks.
But even better was my ultimate specialty: Hardboiled eggs topped with too much cheap caviar. (“Red monkfish caviar” – the kind grocery stores leave out at room temperature for years at a time.)
NOBODY ate those, nor did I expect them to. I just refused to let any Christmas season slip by without getting funky with dyed fish eggs. We all had our quirks.
The Olive Christmas Tree!
I wish I had a better photo of this. The Olive Christmas Tree was such a triumph.
I’d inherited an oddball Christmas decoration – some green tree made out of foam. With the help of toothpicks, I covered the entire thing in pimento-stuffed olives.
I WAS SO PROUD OF THIS.
My family doesn’t read Dino Drac. Not right now, at least. Someday, I’ll end up on a special report, and they might want to pinpoint the exact moment where everything went wrong. It could lead them here.
So guys, if you ever read this… I’m really sorry that I made you eat olives off of a foam Christmas tree. Your patience was the stuff of legends.
The Almighty Tiki Shrine!
And here it is! The crème de la crème! All of the other things in my Christmas Tiki Hut were just small waves, lapping up to this big giant rock.
For many years, I’d spied a strange wicker wishing well in the corner of our attic. I didn’t know what it was, but I NEEDED to make it a part of my bedroom.
In 1993, my parents finally let me drag it out. The well had been a mainstay at our family’s bridal showers. I don’t know if this is a still-done tradition, but brides-to-be would receive small, practical household items, all of which were thrown into the well. This thing had been in our family for generations, marking only the most special of occasions. And then I turned it into a goddamned Easter Island shrine.
On top is a moai statue that my brother found in Disney World many years prior. He eventually let me have it, and it’s still one of my prized possessions. That statue was a key component in all of my Christmas Tiki Huts… and Birthday Tiki Huts… and much rarer Independence Day Tiki Huts.
Even today, it’s one of the few things that I’m actually careful with.
So there you go. One of my most important childhood traditions, finally revealed.
I used to decorate my bedroom like Fake Hawaii, and make everyone eat Slim Jims.