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Easy on the eggnog, Cinderella

So I’M ON THE ladder, hooking Christmas lights over the gutter in that awful way suburban dads have, teetering so as to catch that extra bulb or two and praying that the paint on the eaves holds out just one more winter -- or else what are we going to do?

“Don’t step on the lights,” I call down to the little guy, who is helping me decorate.

“What lights, Daddy?”

“The ones you’re stepping on,” I tell him.

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Yep, the holidays are upon us. Grog, moonshine, Merlot -- they’re just everywhere. We have two parties to attend later in the evening, which is, like, a record for us. I mean, I wasn’t even invited to my own wedding reception (“sorry, no room”).

So two parties? Total coup. For one night, Cinderella made the A-list.

“Just don’t do too much,” my wife warns as I scamper down the ladder to grab more lights.

“Why?”

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“I know how socializing wears you down.”

This is true. Cocktail parties are a lot of work for me. I am currently “cocktail party smart” on only a few topics:

* The benefits of a good box spring;

* Ohio State’s bowl prospects;

* The best way to eat crawfish.

After that, it goes downhill pretty quickly. I could pretty much blurt out anything but usually refrain. I try to leave the interesting stuff to others.

“I once went out with a fish-cutter from San Pedro. . . .” begins my buddy Doug.

“Nobody dated the Radcliffe girls,” my friend Steve is saying. “They all smoked Gitanes cigarettes and never shaved.”

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It is a dazzling party. The backyard glows. The fireplace crackles. Frosty the Bartender keeps the spirits flowing, and his accomplices stroll the party like wandering wine minstrels, expertly refilling glasses before they bottom out.

A few months ago, I switched from Merlot to Cabernet, and I don’t regret it one bit, though my poor, road-weary palate can barely discern the difference. Shame to say, but if they poured Welch’s grape juice in my glass, I’d probably take one sip, grab the elbow of the host and rave, “This is wonderful. Where’d you get this?”

So we prepare to leave this first party, one of the nicest you could ever imagine. A Pasadena outfit is catering, and they’ve done something with pomegranates and cheese that you’d never believe, and the lamb was moist, and how the heck did they do these Brussels sprouts anyway?

“We’d better go,” my wife says.

“Why?”

“You just ate your napkin,” she says.

The other party is equally terrific. As is my tradition, I immediately plant myself next to the guy at the party who’s lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Hiya,” I yell, since drunk people are usually deaf.

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“Huh?” he says.

“More Merlot?” asks the waiter.

“Make mine a double,” says the drunk guy.

Honestly, I consider a holiday party a success if I don’t contract chicken pox or some other highly communicable disease. There is lots of kissing and hugging, and that’s just among the husbands. I try to keep my distance, but they just keep closing in on me.

“There’s a big difference,” I’m telling a nice guy named Michael, “between success and significance.”

“Interesting,” he lies.

“Success is easy,” I say, growing louder. “Significance is hard.”

“Whatever,” Michael says, and excuses himself to find a bathroom.

I don’t know where I came up with that whole “success vs. significance” thing. I think I was glancing at book jackets. Or maybe I read it in a fortune cookie. I make a mental note never to mention it again. Ever.

“We should go,” my wife finally says.

“Where?”

“Home,” she says, “before you fall in the pool.”

“You brought my flippers?” I ask hopefully.

“Let’s go,” she says.

So my wife and I weave our way out of this holiday party, in a zigzag pattern that we stole from the Harlem Globetrotters. For us, this weave toward the door is always a two-hour ordeal that requires collecting kids, telling friends good night and hugging the hostess, which is my favorite part. I try to keep the hostess hug to under 10 minutes or it threatens to become foreplay.

“Enough with the hugs,” says my wife.

“Merry Christmas,” I tell a passing waiter.

“Don’t hug the waiter, dear,” urges my wife.

Spoilsport.

--

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

For more columns, see latimes.com/erskine.


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