There are many reasons why Christmas may not be a cause for distinct celebration to some. Judaism, for one. Or maybe it’s just not something one does. Even if the day itself is not directly relevant, usual life is still effectively on hold and a certain solemnity is in the air.
I was going to suggest that those who find themselves alone this December 25 go rent Fanny and Alexander and spend the day drinking cider and eating the sweet breads left over from holiday parties. But there are only three video stores in town that carry the Swedish Christmastime saga, leaving an indeterminate number of holiday loners in want of a good itinerary. Then I remembered that a certain lavishly horned deer relocated to these mountains this past September, to enjoy a much-deserved sabbatical — well, almost.
Rudolph L. May, known for his luminous navigation of flying sleighs, insists that this year’s break, his first since 1939 is not a retirement. “I’m not going down in history yet,” he says with a laugh.
I visited Rudolph’s apartment on the fourth floor of the 21 Battery Park condominiums. He was sitting in an overstuffed recliner, hoofing through a Mountain Xpress, which I thought he was doing just to placate his visitor until he exclaimed, “I just love Clubland. There’s so much going on at night.”
Rudolph explains that, although Christmas Eve is presumed to be his only active night all year, he usually spends most of the fall and winter in training. “The summer has been my only break, if you call it that.” When the weather warms up, Rudolph and his friend Serge, a polar bear who shares Rudolph’s love of the outdoors “in any climate — not just the featureless tundra,” head south to Greenland “with just our bathing suits and some back issues of Sports Illustrated” to do some snowmobiling.
“But enough about the great North,” Rudolph says, “I’m really excited to test-drive the guidebook I’m working on.” Rudolph explains that a large part of why he came to Asheville was to “cook up a travel guide, in the manner of Rick Steves, but with a twist.” Tentatively called Reindeer Games: Awakening Your Red Nose on the Fly, Rudolph’s manual holds naiveté as “an exciting way to travel. My travel guide is a compass for those who don’t know how to use a compass — guaranteed fun.”
Reindeer Games has a special section, Reclaiming Christmas: It’s Just Another Quiet Day Alone, that fits our purposes like a mitten. “The title is a little rough still, but the premise is solid,” Rudolph says. “I’ve enjoyed being the ‘ninth reindeer’ and everything — maybe not as much as kids have enjoyed the fruits of my labor — but I enjoyed it.” Rudolph says that the revelation that he could do something on Christmas other than Christmas came to him as he flew over Asheville three years ago. “It was weird,” he admits. “I saw a leafless bough in the red light of my nose and it just clicked.” He sent his son, Robbie the Reindeer, to Asheville the next Christmas to do some preliminary research. “Robbie has been, well, a true Rudolph. I am really following his direction.”
We’ve culled a selection of Rudolph’s suggestions and arranged them in chronological order. Rudolph had one more important directive before I walked from his door, which, perhaps not surprisingly given his recent venturing out, bore no wreath. “Tell your readers — who seem great, don’t get me wrong — that if they see me having an egg sandwich at Waffle House, don’t talk to me.” He’s not mean-spirited, but rather “it will ruin it. It’s like what Rene Crevel said: ‘Solitude is the loveliest festival.’”
8:00 a.m. — It’s Christmas! Wake up! Just kidding. Go back to sleep! In your dreams, it can be any day you want. Seriously. It’s a beautiful morning and it will be even if you’re sleeping. It can be beautiful around you.
10:00 a.m. — OK, it’s time to get up. Sleeping is fun, but for a day to be special you need to approach it with open eyes. Don’t take a shower — you’re not going to see anyone anyway. Just pause to think that, for most people who have opened their presents, the day is basically over. For you, though, the day has just begun. Start decently with a cup of coffee and a bagel, muffin or little box of cereal. Asheville has this cute place called Starbucks, 62 Charlotte St. 225-3753, open 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. I like the name because I am both star and a buck.
11:00 a.m. — Don’t you feel like you’re flying? Good thing you went with the raspberry cruller. I could never eat them when I had to work. Pastries rob one of that certain finesse necessary to smile into the freezing winds of the upper air. You have some time to spare — not kill, because time is life! — before your 1:00 or 1:20 appointment (more on that anon), so take a walk. Follow Charlotte Street south until you get to the tree-lined perimeter of the First Baptist Church, 5 Oak St. 252-4781. There is probably something going there today — at this exact moment. Just walk through the parking lot with your head up or down in wistful contemplation of the lives of others and your relation to them. Remember: The best way to celebrate your fondness for people is to not be around them!
Noon — Hungry yet? Fiore's Ristorante Toscana, 122 College St. 281-0710 is open from 11:00 a.m. until 7 p.m. A source at the fine-dining establishment said there would be some wild game specials — perfect for our wild reindeer games, what!
1:00 p.m. — It’s time for the greatest indulgence other than Chinese food that’s still available on Christmas Day — the movies! The Fine Arts Theatre, 36 Biltmore Ave. 232-1536 shows two movies at a time, with matinees at 1:00/1:20 and 4:00/4:20; nightly shows (weekdays) at 7:00/7:20 and 9:00/9:20 on weekends. You could just see two movies in a row, but then you would miss dinner!
4:30 p.m. — After a long walk down Tunnel Road, you’ve reached the ham of the table of the day: Christmas dinner at Waffle House, 1444 Tunnel Road 298-8138! The spirit of this place makes me wish I liked waffles (which you may, but I don’t. They’re so distorted!) Stay here a while. Get ten coffees and then get an iced tea. The tables may be crowded and the groups contain many people, so get a stool at the counter. I like to read Canterbury Tales on Christmas, but you should read any book you want. Other recommended authors for this time of year include Truman Capote, Nora Ephron and Fydor Dostoevsky.
8:00 p.m. — Whew. It’s been a long evening at Waffle House. Are you as jacked-up on java as this anthropomorphic reindeer? Let’s walk back to town and hit …
9:00 p.m. — Broadways, 120 North Lexington Ave. 285-0400! This place is institutional in the sense that it’s there! And they have to know you’re name because you have to be a member to enter. Or, you can pay a “member for a night” fee (this is what I did) and you’re in. You may not get your members-only jacket, but nobody does! I think I’ll order my favorite drink! A Red Stag (that’s cherry bourbon! Kid Rock loves this stuff! They have it on tap! Liquor on tap) …
What follows in Rudolph’s itinerary is not printable. But, be sure, it is not advisable either. Happy Just Another Quiet Day Alone!