I woke up at 4:30 Sunday morning, and could not sleep, because of a nasty sinus headache. It may shock you that there is historical precedent for this – that as a child I would awake early Christmas morning, tormented by visions of sugarplums instead of globs of coagulated mucus. I would lie in bed for as long as two hours, occupying myself with old Calvin and Hobbes collections or the Chronicles of Narnia, while my x-ray eyes stared at the digital clock through the pages. Mom and Dad, you see, refused to wake early so I could raid the tree. Whether this was exhaustion or sadism, I cannot say – although I remember one morning, en route home from church, when instead of rushing home to open gifts my father drove us in endless loops around a downtown rotary, laughing manically. So I suspect the latter.
So help me God: though my heart may be two sizes too small, a little fist of gristle in my chest, I still love Christmas. I love Christmas because, in a childhood of mental illness, Christmas was one of the few things that occasionally met my stratospherically high anxiety-augmented expectations. I didn’t enjoy wasn’t Christ’s Mass itself, which was either boring or scrupulosity-OCD-triggering (Santa may have given me a pass that year, but his boss had much higher standards. In the Catholic hierarchy Santa was an affable, bumbling middle management-type, the Michael Scott of the celestial spheres). Nor did I take much satisfaction from the actual opening of presents – it was inevitably disappointing, a desired gift would be missing or would have broken in the package, and I would be crushed by a realization of the futility of existence. No, my favorite bits were the days leading up to Christmas, and those following it.
And, weirdly enough, these fond memories are inextricably intertwined with the much-bemoaned capitalist/corporate interest that allegedly corrupts the holiday. We had weird traditions: in particular, driving to Saugus to see the decadent light displays, animatronic trees and decorated reindeer, inflatable Snoopies that quivered like Jello. They were tacky, and awful, and in our energy-conscious recession age I suspect they sucked more juice than a small town. But the horribleness of it was part of what made it wonderful – our appreciation was ironic and post-ironic, equal parts sneering and wonder.
I liked shopping for presents, too. The malls were always a mess, but that was made it fun. When I was in middle school, Sears was an alien temple and I was Samus Aran hunting space jellyfish. There was absolutely nothing in Sears that made sense to me: indoor swingsets you could not use, faceless statues without arms, little glass vials of fluid in glass displays. So at Christmas I was an explorer. And although I spent time, and my own money, it was for my family and that gave me purpose. My dad and I would excavate the mall to find my mother an egg-beater, or a William Sonoma can opener, or whatever exotically practical object she’d requested. I think that’s why so many people line up for Black Friday foolishness: doing something annoying for the benefit of care about is satisfying. We don’t always have so many opportunities to do this.
And of course there were the days immediately following Christmas – Rechristmas, if you will, where there were gift cards to be spent and terrible sweaters to be exchanged. Why be sad about the end of the season when there was still primo shit out there to be plundered? My family marauded bookstores and strip malls; my sister and I were merchant princes, bargaining for the cool swag we’d really wanted in the first place.
Consumerism gets a bad rap on Christmas. I’d like to argue it has its virtues. Christmas capitalism can allow us to commiserate with loved ones, or to tangibly demonstrate what they mean to us; it brings tacky spectacle. So raise a glass of eggnog for Sally Brown, demanding cold hard cash from Santa; raise a glass for razor-voiced Alvin, and may he receive his hula-hoop. The spirit of the season may elevate even their bullshit concerns.
I did my duty for my country today. I am a writer, and despite my absolute lack of qualifications sometimes when I am in the bathtub I like to pretend that I am a journalist (“Stop the presses!” I shout to my rubberduck assistant, and “Bring me pictures of Spider-Man!” because as I understand it these are things that serious journalists frequently shout). And when you are a journalist, sometimes you need to do things for The People, and The Truth, and America. Today I took a bullet: a delicious, sugar-frosted star-shaped 290-calorie bullet. Today I ate the Captain America donut at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Davis Square in Somerville. I ate it not because I was hungry, or because I particularly like donuts, but because it was there and I could not in good conscience neglect to report on it for my audience. Also I didn’t have lunch today and I’m kind of buzzing on sugar and caffeine right now so this post may be a little weird, Christ guys I am sweating so much my arms are bleaching out the finish on the table at the coffeehouse where I am writing about Captain America: The Donut.
Captain America: The Movie is coming out on Friday. It features Chris Evans, Second Evil Ex of Ramona Flowers, as the protagonist. The film takes place the 40s, dude punches some Nazis, this is not a premise that requires extensive explanation. This isn’t X-Men where there’s a complex web of shifting allegiances and ridiculous superpowers. There is a man named Captain America, and he fights Hugo Weaving who is a Nazi without skin on his face, and this is like maybe one tenth of a standard deviation away from Superman in terms of purity of concept.
I think they really missed the ball not releasing the film on July 4th, but that would have required they go toe-to-toe with Transformers 3, and that’s how much of an institution Michael Bay is in our culture, guys: the greasy-haired motherfucker can stare CAPTAIN AMERICA, PUNCHER OF NAZIS down on the Fourth of July and not even blink. But while Cap missed the opportune tie-in date, he has something better. He’s got this monster:
This beast is fiercely American in so many ways I need to enumerate them. We will begin with the straightforward ways and proceed through increasing levels of irony:
1) It is a donut. Americans love donuts.
2) This donut is covered with Stars, Stripes, Frosting, America, etc.
3) It was created in honor of Captain America, a superhero created by Jack “King of Comics” Kirby and Joe Simon, who punched Hitler in the face before it was cool or even socially acceptable (it was a year before Pearl Harbor, Hitler was just this disreputable racist guy we were tangentially aware of, imagine a comic book today where Hellboy or Scott Pilgrim punches Silvio Berlusconi in the face and you’re like “damn, I didn’t even know I wanted to see that guy get punched, but now that I have I am so into it!”).
4) It is also a donut produced by Dunkin’ Donuts, and everyone loves Dunkin Donuts.
5) Furthermore Dunkin Donuts is a major corporation, which is also pretty American according to some political literature I have read.
6) Even better: the donut is the sexy baby of corporate synergy, part of the multimedia campaign to promote like the fiftieth goddamn summer blockbuster this year. The donut based on intellectual property that became wildly profitable without compensating its authors, and that is currently stewarded by subsidiaries of the Disney Corporation seventy years after its original publication.
7) This donut contains HELL OF preservatives, which is how we like our junk food, and in another bit of brilliant synergy many of these ingredients sound like they could be supervillain names: Enzyme, Dextrose, Xanthan Gum, Maltodextrin and Carrageenan. Fatty Acid and the Yeast are in there too and they sound they could be supervillains but goofy supervillains, like from Dr. Horrible or The Venture Brothers. (Fatty Acids could also be a hip-hop group, now that I think about it.)
So this donut is America in so many ways. It is multifaceted, like a gem. I think everyone can get behind this thing. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy it earnestly or ironically or post-ironically because you’re still shoving that sugary donut down your gullet, son. I can’t even quantify my own reaction to this donut, I’d need like a hipster PhD in irony algebra to sort through the complex emotions stirring in my soul, because all I knew was that I saw that sweet treat and every cell in my body was like OM NOM NOM harmoniously.
So I went into Dunkin’ Donuts to ask for it, and let me tell you it’s a bit of a trip to say the words “Captain America” in that sequence outside of a comic shop – I was ready to start discussing Ed Brubaker and Bucky Barnes and the “Fear Itself” crossover right there with the Indian mom-aged cashier lady, just from reflex. The Captain America Donut was a jelly donut which I’m not usually so into, but this object has a tasty ace up its sleeve which is thick frosting, and that made it work for me in a big way. Sadly, my particular Captain America donut only had a single blue star sprinkle, but considering the entire damn thing is just a giant fucking star of donut that’s still a much higher ration of star-derived calories then you find in your everyday American donut.
As you can probably tell, this whole thing was sort of an ordeal for me. There were many complex emotional reactions, and I need some time to sort through them. Also I think I need to eat some actual nutritive food because otherwise I might pass out soon. But it was definitely a unique experience, and one I recommend, if only for the opportunity to reflect on patriotism and consumerism and intellectual property while enjoying a tasty snack. I can state with some certainty that Captain America: The Donut will prove more memorable than Captain America: The Movie.