In keeping with our totally non-denominational holiday theme, we asked a bunch of local notables to answer two totally non-denominational and extremely open-ended questions:
1. If you could give a gift to anyone, who would it be and what would you give?
2. Tell us your wackiest, weirdest, funniest or just plain most dysfunctional family memory.
Here's what they told us:
Executive Director, Florida Institute for Community Studies, Inc. (FICS)
1. "I would give two gifts — equally needed. The first would be for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of this country and risking their lives in order to do jobs no citizens want to do. They still believe in the American Dream, and many do achieve it, but I would give them a better chance through a new amnesty program where they could immediately regularize their immigration status. The second gift would be to the families of the soldiers in the Middle East; I'd give them their loved ones for at least one week, safe and sound."
2. "One day a colleague of my father brought us a Chanukah bush. It was very, very gaudy. My dad put it right there beside the television as my mother just stared at it in awe. It was bright pink, about 3-feet tall, with fake spray-on snow, and we didn't know what to do with it. My best friend, who was Sicilian, told me we should put ornaments on it but we didn't have any, so it just sat there, kind of lonely, for eight days. Come to think of it, I guess my parents threw it out because I never saw it again. This probably explains why the Chanukah bush didn't really become the commercial success the Xmas tree did.
Guitarist/Vocalist, Urbane Cowboys; Co-host, WMNF's 11th Hour (Sundays)
1. "Given the fact that she dresses like a blind, insane child with ADD, I would give Christina Aguilera a mirror. I'd give Thomas Jefferson a Dawn of the Dead, Pet Sematary-style killing-rampage resurrection, so he could wreak havoc on Washington, D.C."
2. "When I was in the ninth grade, we lived in Pakistan, which is mostly Muslim — there's a small Christian contingent. During the Christmas season, I remember exactly one billboard and one commercial [for Christmas stuff]. They were both for the same bakery, advertising this crappy little cake that said 'Happy Christmas.' But it was only depressing because we were away from our mom, and the routine we had every year. When you're an adult it's drudgery, but when you're a kid, it's still exciting."
Co-Proprietor, Mise en Place Restaurant, Tampa
1. "Peace of mind to my mother who has Alzheimer's. Intelligence combined with heart to our leaders in government."
2. "I tend to be overzealous in trying to make a great holiday. We had this Thanksgiving planned, even though we had just moved into this retail space on MacDill called The Market. It was our first Thanksgiving there. It was huge. We served hundreds of turkeys for carryout. I had planned still for family to come into town and asked local people to join us. After having a complete breakdown in the afternoon — 'I was on the phone saying, "There will be no Thanksgiving!"' — we just invited people to The Market. We ate out of pots, leftover turkey and people had not only to help me clean up their dinner but the restaurant.
"You know what? It was successful. It always reminds me my family and my dearest friends know that I always put more on the plate than I should, [but] it all comes together in the end."
Well-known atheist (hes the guy who raised a ruckus with his invocation to the Tampa City Council in July)
1. I would give the gift of a rational, compassionate and sane mind to political and religious conservatives everywhere. It would be my hope that they might cease trying to dominate everyone and everything, and that they would recognize the pathological folly of trying to self-fulfill their inhuman, Bronze Age-mythological prophecy of Armageddon.
2. It is an old Italian tradition among more prosperous families to have a seven-course dinner on Christmas Eve, comprised of antipasto followed by courses of various types of seafood cooked different ways, augmented by cordials and red wines. The debauchery lasts all day, as any good debauchery should. On or about our second Christmas together, my ex-wife and her sister undertook the noble task of increasing my girth (and that of Grants my then brother in-law) to Pavarotti-sized proportions. Words cannot convey the beauty of the antipasto, or the calamari stew over gnocchi. After consuming this rare treat, the heavens opened, angels sang, demons wept, I burped, Grant farted, we both giggled, then fell into a deep-fried lethargy, followed by an advanced state of alpha-wave semi-consciousness, ultimately resulting in a nerve-deadening deep sleep accompanied by immense involuntary drooling. If there is a moral to this story I must direct it to my fellow men: In matters of the stomach, as in matters of the heart, its always best to pace yourself.