04 N1212P66024COnce a year, like the Kraken, a horrible creature arises from the depths of the sea to terrorize those of pure in heart and gastric system. Naturally, I speak of the unspeakable — the fruitcake. Before delving into the origins and misuses of the fruitcake, let us look at its milder cousin — the Kraken. The Kraken was a giant sea monster that lived off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. It looked like a giant squid or octopus. Technically, scientists considered the Kraken to be a member of the cephalopod family. The cephalopod family was apparently even creepier and ookier, mysterious and spookier than the Addams family. The Kraken would lie on the bottom of the ocean until it saw wooden sailing ships float overhead. Then, rising like a Phoenix out of Arizona, the Kraken would suddenly break through the surface of the ocean. It would wrap its tentacles around the ship, pulling it down into Davy Jones’ locker. The hapless sailors would then be eaten at leisure by the Kraken, like so many apples bobbing in a barrel at an Amish barn dance.

Our old poetry-writing pal Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a poem about the Kraken back in the 19th century. Here is your cultural corner from the day, quoting Lord Al: “Below the thunders of the upper deep/ Far, far beneath the abysmal sea/ His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep/ The Kraken sleepeth/... Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green/ There hath he lain for ages, and will lie/ Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep/”
As we all know, it is best to let sleeping dogs and babies lie. The same advice goes from Krakens. If you see a sleeping Kraken, don’t wake him up. If you see a fruitcake, don’t wake it up either.

By now, if you are still reading this stain on world literature, you are probably asking yourself, “Self, why are Krakens better than fruitcakes?” Well, here is the answer. Krakens surface rarely, fruitcakes show up unbidden at least once a year during the Yuletide shopping season. Personally, I would rather be eaten by a Kraken than have to eat a piece of fruitcake. A fruitcake is the only thing that will survive a nuclear attack other than Twinkies and cockroaches. The fruitcake contains unidentifiable ingredients, which are held together by a concrete-like cake structure that is denser than a black hole. Nothing escapes from a fruitcake. Once those tiny little green flakes of some hideous fruit are captured in a fruitcake, they can never escape. Fruitcakes make excellent door stops. Some paleontologists suggest that the pyramids may have been built out of fruitcakes, allowing them to exist for millennia. Fruitcakes are indestructible. They are just as good the day they are extruded from the fruitcake trough at the factory as they will be 10,000 years from now.

And every year around Christmas, fruitcakes rear their ugly heads. You never see a fruitcake in July. Like the Kraken, fruitcakes lie somewhere on the bottom of the ocean, or in some dusty factory in New Jersey, biding their time, waiting for Christmas. A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless — Bill Drewry — recently threatened to give me a fruitcake this Christmas. He actually tried to hand me a fruitcake. The horror. The horror. This “gift” was without a trigger warning and sent me into a state of fruitcake toxic shock syndrome, thereby generating this column. The only good things about fruitcakes is that I don’t have to eat them.

However, seeing them does tend to set off a series of Christmas memories. My mother loved fruitcakes. We had them every Christmas. They could last until Halloween with no change in their complexion or texture. They would lurk at the back of the refrigerator, daring to be eaten. I would rather eat a giant sea worm than a fruitcake.

As children during the Christmas season, we would always drive up to Washington, D.C., to see my grandparents. This was before the miracle of I-95. It was a 10-hour trip from Fayetteville to D.C. on Highway 301, which was replete with little towns and stop lights. Ten hours in a car at age 8 is a trip from here to eternity. A highlight of the trip was stopping at Stuckey’s, which was a roadside attraction filled with many wonders. Chicken thermometers, Santa figurines, funny postcards, toy guns in real leather holsters. All the good stuff an 8-year-old boy loves. We would buy orange juice and visit the head.

If you were really lucky, you might be able to get your parents to buy you a valuable trinket. On one trip, I was able to score a Famous Drinking Bird through massive wheedling. The Famous Drinking Bird had a red head and big red boots and wore a black top hat. The Bird was filled with a mysterious red liquid, which may have been Kraken blood. Through a miracle of physics, if you put the bird next to a glass of water and dipped its beak into the water, the bird would bob up and down for infinity, or at least until the water evaporated. It was bigly wonderful. I took good care of the drinking bird. I brought it with me to college many years later, where it dazzled and amazed countless roommates.
Gentle readers, I trust you will have a great fruitcake-free Christmas. No fruitcakes were harmed during the writing of this column. To quote Tiny Tim: “Merry Christmas, and God bless us everyone.”

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