A Hollywood Christmess story

Pub crawls, bonhomie and midnight Mass do not transfer to sunny LA, says Robbie Williams’ party friend, Corkman Mark Hayes

Is that Slash? Hmm. Is he looking at me? Hmm. Not sure. Is it him? Is he real? Am I drunk? What’s going on? Hmm. I’m going back for a kip.

Next morn. Stephen’s Day. Boxing Day? Not sure what they call it here in L.A. Eyes open. I’m on a couch at Robbie Williams’ house. Awake. Alone. Alive. Stiff back. Slept awkwardly. No sign of Slash. No sign of anyone. All left? Or upstairs? Sleeping. Sensible folk. Unlike me, and my dry mouth. Tastes like glue. And so this is Christmas.

Until a couple of years ago, my Christmas Day was food and family fun in Cork. A day of rest. On Christmas night I’d go to my grandparents’ house in Passage West and eat more food. My family and relations would be there. Play charades. Computer games. Partake in a quiz. Watch TV. Eat more turkey. Wash it down with trifle. Then go home. Happy as Larry, whoever he may be.

Past two Christmases have been different. Still do the same things. Charades. Quiz. Eat. Turkey. Just not the same as home. Now I can be found in an abode high up in the Hollywood Hills. Rob’s Christmas night party. Come along. Have fun. Big group of people. All walks of life. Musicians. Actors. Models. Prancers. Producers. Me. Maybe 30 or 40. Not sure. I’m bad with numbers. But between five and 100 people. Roughly. Mostly expats. One Pat. Handful of Americans. Tiny Tims away from our original homes. All bringing our own Christmas spirit to the party. Keeping the dream alive. Rob makes sure there is Guinness in the fridge for me. Mighty host.

Thing is, though, Christmas is not big in L.A. Not at all, at all. You have to go out of your way to find it. The spirit, anyway. Decorations are up. Festive offers blared in your face. Fake ‘ho’s’ all round. Christmas is on display everywhere. But no one cares too much. Thanksgiving is their big one. Christmas is an after-thought. The after-birth, you might say.

The roasting-hot weather doesn’t make it feel like Christmas. People are, apparently, not allowed to call it Christmas. Must call it ‘the holidays’ in case they offend someone. Huh? Why? Pardon? Tut. Highly odd, as is the lack of hearing Wham! and The Pogues on the radio, which is, maybe, the biggest factor for the zero Christmas buzz. Kind of feels… Hmmm. I won’t say different. Usually, that suggests something is worse. As in, if a girl has ever said to you, “Well, that’s not usually how I do it. It was, ahem, different...” do you think she’s implying it’s a good or bad thing? Exactly. Great analogy. Thank you.

Let’s just say that, usually, Christmas is the time of year when the day of the week is irrelevant, whereas, here in Hollywood, last Christmas Eve felt like a Thursday. To instil some Christmas cheer to the locals, I introduced the mighty ‘12 pubs of Christmas’ to Hollywood. It’s one of my favourite traditions in Cork. Group of buddies meet up to go on a pub crawl. Pint per pub. At least 12. Additional shots are encouraged, but optional, of course. Banter levels are always high. Finally: No girls allowed. Lads’ night out and all. One of the best nights of the year. In Cork, at least.

First year I attempted ‘12 pubs of Hollywood’? Horrendous. Calling a spade a shovel, close to zero interest. Majority of people leave town for Christmas. Those left here were all a tad depressed. Single. Driven. Lonely. Stuck. Hope gone. Zero Christmas spirit. Dodge on.

Most folk thought my invite was a spam email, as if I was trying to sell them something. Didn’t get it, even after I explained it fully again.

This led to me breaking my first rule: No girls allowed. Ergo, mass email sent out to anyone I knew. Wonderfully received. Again. Most reply with: ‘Who’s this?’ The rest thinking it was a date… ‘Love to meet for a drink. Movie afterwards?’ ‘Sounds awesome, quiet drink, just the two of us.’

In the end, it was just my friend Charlotte and I. Two Tiny Timmys. We did also pick up a straggler at the third pub, a Russian guy named Boris who wouldn’t acknowledge that Yugoslavia was no longer a country.

At the time it was entertaining, until we realised nine of the pubs on my planned route turned out to be closed. So, we had to listen to him for large chunks without booze being served.

To cap the night off, we then got stuck in Hollywood rush-hour traffic at midnight, listening to why Yugoslavia will one day rise up again. Now, that was a fun night. Speaking of keeping traditions alive, I always make sure to still go to Christmas Day mass. The guilt of my Mum ever finding out that I didn’t make it would be too much. So I go. Catholic guilt has me hooked for life.

First year I went, I lost my bearings a tad. Ended up in a Methodist gay-and-lesbian church. Never knew there was such a branch. Looked the same as the Catholic one. I got out before prayers were said. Lucky escape.

Almost worshipped the wrong version of God.

Across the road I go. Look around. This feels more like it. I’m in the right church. Now we’re dancing. Seems like mass at home, just an amped-up version. More open.

People taking their worshipping up an odd notch or two, as if they were on steroids. In Ireland, everyone at mass looks solemn. (Serious? Annoyed? Polite? Forced?) Here, everyone smiles a lot. Big, huge, white smiles. Joyous delight. Looks like they’re on something. Lucid. Filled with the love of God, no doubt. Bellowing out their prayers. Intense. Strange people.

At one point, I’m saying Our Father while holding hands with a clammy old man in a dodgy, lopsided wig. I saw the people in front of me holding hands as they raised them up like the priest, so thought it was the thing to do with whoever was next to you, until I copped on that they were a family.

Couldn’t shake ‘wig man’s’ hand off of mine, though. Tried pretty hard, too. Got to a point where he was almost fully facing me. Praying at me. Slowly mouthing words. Ignoring the altar. Lifting my hand up as far as he could reach. Testing me. Strange experience.

At least I had communion as my escape route away from the ‘wig man’. This led to the priest filling me up full of wine from his chalice when he realised I was Irish (he claimed to be Irish, but was blatantly American). So, I think that got me drunk.

Then mass ended, with ‘wig man’ chasing me down the street, asking if I ever modelled before. That old man could move quickly. Have I mentioned mass is an odd experience here?

I would also, later, come to know ‘wig man’ as ‘orgy Joe’, but now is not the time or place to get into that. It’s in my book.

Kind of went on a ramble. Back to my overall prevailing point: Christmas in Hollywood is weird. Random. And, at times, dumb. Also, I think I slept on one of Slash’s top hats. Say nothing. Obviously. Shh. Subject, change. Just thought of a joke from earlier: ‘What did Santa say when he saw the Kardashian sisters’? ‘Ho, ho, ho’! Ba-dum. Thank you.

I feel I should end with something more traditional. A Hollywood Christmas saying, perhaps... Forget the past, you can’t change it. Forget the future, you can’t predict it. Forget the present, I didn’t get you one. Wahey! Merry Christmas from ‘orgy Joe’ and myself. Trifle. On.

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