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Benjamin Leatherman's Cheese Pizza Christmas

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Christmas comes a little early to Chow Bella this year -- in the form of some darn good holiday storytelling. Today, Benjamin Leatherman sings a tune of Christmas past.

As an audience of hundreds watched on in shock and amusement on a Christmas night many years ago, I was making a complete jackass of myself while seeking karaoke glory.

Covered in sweat and shaky with adrenaline, my voice had become hoarse while roaring out an off-key cover of the Reba McEntire/Bobbie Gentry power-ballad "Fancy" during the finals of a karaoke contest aboard a Christmastime cruise bound for Mexico.

"I might've been born just plain white trash/But Fancy was my name," I sang, accentuating each verse with fist pumping, chest thumping, and awkward break-dancing attempts.

My trainwreck of a performance wasn't the byproduct of intoxication (at least, not this time), but rather infatuation. Amongst the hundreds in the crowd was an enigmatic twentysomething barista and fellow cruise passenger named Athena who'd taken a shine to my skylarkings.

In those days, my warped cosmology dictated that getting women didn't entail stylish clothes, a silver tongue, or the so-called "Mystery Method." It required jackass karaoke stunts and spastically bad singing in the futile hopes of attracting the opposite sex with some extreme chutzpah.

After myriad nights of futility and sweat-drenched karaoke sessions, it finally worked. And during a family cruise to Ensenada, no less, where my kith and kin forwent the usual Christmastime gifts and gorging for a maritime vacay.

Athena was a quirky and winsome lass. A smoky-eyed mystery wrapped in a size six black dress who approached me in the ship's lounge one evening early in the cruise after an energetic episode of singing antics qualified me for the karaoke contest.

"I thought you seemed really confident because of what you were doing," Athena told me.

She was a little into Paganism, a little into danger, and a whole lotta into me, a fact that blew my mind. We spent the next few nights roaming the ship and discussing the universe, the supernatural, occultism, synesthesia and other ethereal concerns. It was like Mulder and Scully meets Jack and Rose. Admittedly, I occasionally quaffed a few overly potent and overly priced alcoholic beverages that are the trademark of cruise ships for liquid courage during the conversation.

Athena cheered me on in the karaoke finals on Christmas night (where I won third place) before suggesting we adjourn to the ship's windblown bow afterwards to celebrate and "ponder the stars." Outta nowhere, she grabbed me by the lapels for a breathless necking session in a stairwell that seemed to last forever.

Then this femme fatale performed her next trick: Running off into the darkness, she pretended to throw herself overboard and hid while I was left stunned. Thirty seconds after chasing her and hollering for help, I heard Athena's quiet voice from behind. "What's up? Just fucking around."

Jesus.

The waning hours of Christmas were spent huddled together in a 24-hour café on the lido deck eating many slices of bad cheese pizza before parting ways. We never saw each other again after that night, but during our only meal together we laughed about my frantic panic over her prank and had what remains many years later the most memorable and surreal holiday dinner of my life.

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