The Beauty of a Terrible Jack in the Box Taco on Christmas Day
Jack in the Box tacos are absolutely disgusting. But nestled in their greasy shell is a profound Christmas truth.
One of my best friends also happens to be the friend I’ve known the longest. I met the guy in kindergarten.
For more than forty-five years, Tom and I have been meeting on the evening of Christmas Day, after our families go to bed, to go for a walk. As boys, we talked about what we had just received for Christmas. Now we talk about everything else, although we always also make an ironic point to briefly discuss our Christmas gifts.
Tom is the funniest, gentlest, most interesting guy I know.
Every year, we stay out for hours, walking roughly the same route, but we usually grab a bite to eat too.
In high school, I once gave a class presentation, “The Healthiest — and Least Healthy — Fast Food Items,” and the deep-fried tacos from Jack in the Box came in dead last.
After that, Tom and I began stopping by the local Jack in the Box on Christmas Day Eve to get some of their infamous tacos. It helps that Jack in the Box is always the only restaurant open.
Keep in mind, eating these tacos is mostly ironic. They’re terrible for you, but I think they taste terrible too.
But in a way, I also love their taste. To me, Jack in the Box tacos are a thing of great beauty and joy, at least on Christmas Day Eve. They represent a deep and abiding friendship.
At the end of 2017, Michael and I left America to travel the world as “digital nomads.” We’ve made it home for Christmas a few times since then, but at least half the time, we’ve been in other countries, far from family and friends.
This year, for example, we’re on a Christmas cruise from Sydney, Australia, to New Zealand. Which means — to my great dismay — I missed Tom’s and my annual Christmas Day Eve walk.
Fortunately, back in the U.S., Tom took part of the walk on his own, and he live-streamed it for me. But he didn’t get a Jack in the Box taco by himself, because — let’s face it — some things are sacred.
When Michael and I left America to become nomads, one of my biggest concerns was that we’d be lonely. How in the world would we meet people?
We quickly discovered it’s much easier to make friends outside of America.
I liken expats and long-term travelers to students their first few months at university: everyone has been uprooted from their old social networks, so they’re very receptive to making new connections. But for Michael and me, even locals have been easy to befriend, at least once you get outside the tourist hubs.
When we left America, I also worried that I’d lose touch with my existing friends back home. Ironically, nomading — and growing older — has actually strengthened many of these friendships, like the one I have with Tom. I don’t ever take them for granted now.
Which may be why, like those terrible Jack-in-the-Box tacos, being away from home for another Christmas leaves a seriously bad taste in my mouth.
My father died earlier this year. He was ninety-four years old, and he had expressed many times in the past few years how he had led a good life and was ready to die.
The truth is, I most vividly remember him forty years ago, when he was in his mid-fifties. It was after my brother and I had grown up and left for college, but before my mother got sick and died from early-onset Alzheimer’s. Back then, my parents were both still fit and active — and so vibrant. They quickly embraced their newfound “freedom,” spending time with friends and family, but also traveling the world.
My dad was exactly the age I am now.
I love my life as a nomad, and the last six years traveling the world with Michael have been among the best of my life. But at the same time, you can’t have everything in life. You have to choose. And whatever you choose, you don’t get to keep it for long.
Forty years from yesterday, if I’m very, very lucky, I’ll be up too late, sharing a terrible Jack in the Box taco with my old friend Tom.
Whether that night happens or not, I know I only have so many terrible Christmas Day Eve Jack in the Box tacos left.
This Christmas, I’m reminded — and I’m reminding you — that they’re so beautiful, the precious Jack in the Box tacos of our lives.
Don’t take them for granted. Savor every greasy, terrible bite.
Brent Hartinger is a screenwriter and author. Check out my new newsletter about my books and movies at www.BrentHartinger.com.