Comments & Curiosities: Brawls and the jolly guy in red

We've been through a lot of them, no? We've seen lots of Christmases and the stories that go with them on these pages over the years, and in just a few days, another one will be upon us. Happens every year just about this time and every year, I try to come up with something inspiring for you, something uplifting, one of those stories that makes you teary-eyed and reminds you of why we are here and what the real meaning of Christmas is.

I couldn't find any of those this year. Not one, nada, zip, niente, bupkis. But I did find some really sketchy Christmas stories about people who behaved badly this holiday season and need to sign up for the next "Christmas-Hanukkah/True-Meaning-Thereof" at their earliest possible convenience.

Company Christmas parties can be tricky. They usually start out fine, with people in festive attire being warm and friendly and smoochy and wishing everyone the merriest whatever. But every now and then, once the rum punch or the Stoli or the Cabernet, or maybe all three, kick in, people get warmer, less friendly and occasionally, just plain dumb.

According to CBS-2 Los Angeles, that's pretty much what happened at a company Christmas party this week in Montebello at the Quiet Cannon restaurant — a name that will prove to be ironic. Somewhere between the bacon-wrapped dates and the pfefferneuse, a heated discussion grew into an argument, which grew into an all-out brawl, with screaming and punching and furniture tossing, which caused a 911 call to be placed to the Montebello Police Department.

Not the first company Christmas party that ended badly and surely not the last, but what made this one interesting is that the "company" in this case was the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the guests who forgot their party manners were Los Angeles deputy sheriffs who work at the Men's Central Jail. Two deputies were treated for injuries at the restaurant — that's the Quiet Cannon restaurant. An unidentified source told CBS-2 that everyone at the party was intoxicated and the melee started when one of the deputies asked "...why it takes so long to escort inmates into the visitor's area."

If that's what started the brawl, I'm guessing that "intoxicated" is a figure of speech.

L.A. Sheriff's Department spokesperson Steve Whitemore told the Los Angeles Times that it is unclear if alcohol was involved, but "it was a Christmas party, one could assume there was." You know, Steve, I know you should never assume things, but when a bunch of men start shouting and swinging at each other and throwing furniture because one of them wanted to know why it takes so long to get an inmate to the visitor's area — I'm gonna go ahead and assume there was alcohol involved. I know the final report isn't in yet, but I'm willing to go out a limb on this one.

It's a long way from Montebello to Abu Dhabi, but that's where you can find a jaw-dropping example of culture gap. Stop by the sumptuous five-star Emirates Palace Hotel and you won't have any problem finding the 40-foot Christmas tree in its decadently upscale lobby. I'm not sure why a hotel in Abu Dhabi has a huge Christmas tree in its lobby, but the hotel claims it is the most expensive Christmas tree ever, costing more than $11 million. Wowski. I know live trees are pricey these days but I had no idea. Along with traditional ornaments and lights, the tree is decked out with hundreds of diamonds, pearls and other precious stones. Could you misunderstand the meaning of Christmas any worse than that? I don't see how.

Lets' see, what else? Oh, I know — bad Christmas movies. Every year someone does a "Worst Christmas Movies Ever" list, but the No. 1 pick is always the same, always — "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" — a startlingly cheesy 1964 film that not only has become a cult classic, but is so bad that it ends up on a lot of worst movies of all time lists.

Story summary: Martian kids are nuts about the Earth's Santa Claus, who they have gotten to know on Martian TV. Why there are stories about Santa Claus on Martian TV is never explained. Martians are dispatched to Earth, where they kidnap two little kids to lead them to the North Pole so they can snatch Santa. Why Martians know how to travel millions miles through space to Earth but need two little kids to show them how to get to the North Pole is never explained. The Martians drag Santa and the kids back to Mars and the rest of the movie is about how the big chubby jolly guy and the kids try to get back home, which they do, just in time for Christmas — the end.

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" trivia: One of the Martian kids is a 10-year-old Pia Zadora. The case could be made that her career went downhill from there.

I think that's everything. A Christmas brawl in Montebello, Santa Claus and Pia Zadora on Mars. It's all connected. I just don't know how. Have a safe and excessively happy Christmas and may God bless us every one. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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