Media Mix THEY PUT THE "X" IN X-MAS: This just in, from a friend who actually works for an institution commonly referred to as one for "higher learning" (and I quote): "Thursday is the office Christmas party, only legally we have to call it the Holiday Employee Appreciation Gathering."

We've come a long way, Scroogey.

HO-HO-HOJO'S: Being veterans of late-night revelry all year 'round, we tend to think of New Year's Eve as "Amateur Night"...a night on which we're more than happy to hunker down at home, safely out of range of friendly fire. But a mandated vacation coinciding with an irresistible invitation to spend the holidays with a family even crazier than our own has led to an unlikely turn of events here in the waning days of 1997: We're goin' to Florida!

So while you, dear reader, are digesting your Honey-Baked Ham, we'll be waving good-bye to our parents' white Christmas in Chicago as we catch our connecting flight to a place even sunnier than Arizona. Like hell there's no place like home for the holidays! Bring on the pooka shells and fresh-squeezed orange juice! Give us Disneyworld or give us death!

And while we're donning our gay, Hawaiian-print apparel, we thought we'd go whole hog and make a big spectacle of New Year's Eve as well. Apparently, there's no place in Florida like Key West on this special night, when the human population actually outnumbers that of the insects, albeit by a narrow margin.

Way back in November, we enlisted the help of a travel agent for hotel reservations in this furthest point of the Florida Keys. At first we were informed the entire area, for miles around, was booked solid. But then we discovered Howard Johnson's, that bastion of budget travel, was just three miles from Key West, and still had space available. Hallelujah! Peace on Earth, good will toward HoJo's.

As good Americans we're well acquainted with the laws of supply and demand. So we were prepared to pay a premium for what amounts to a night of very little sleep. Guessing a normal rate to fall somewhere below the $50 mark, we figured even twice that would be reasonable. But nothing in our consumer experience prepared us for the friendly voice on the receiver: "That'll be $229 a night, plus tax."

We couldn't help ourselves: "You've got to be kidding?!" Our travel agent was good-natured, but definitely not kidding.

After the initial shock and disbelief, we warmed to the idea. In fact, we became downright intrigued to see what a $230 room in a HoJo's could possibly offer. What strange luxury items might await? Monogrammed HoJo's pajamas with orange trim? A TV bolted down with diamond studs? A remote control that linked to a private HoJo's satellite? Perhaps a complimentary audio-book of Giddeon's Bible; or a tropical fruit basket accompanied by a bottle of Riunite on ice. Riunite, so nice. Oh, yeah. We had to check this out. It's the Keys, man! When would we ever be in the Keys again? A month passed.

We called again, feeling magnanimous. Did they still have room at the inn? Sure. Two-hundred thirty dollars, right? Two twenty-nine, plus tax. Even better. Book us, HoJo! After all the preliminaries of smoking/non, single/double, credit card numbers and addresses, we hit a snag.

"New Year's Eve is a black-out day," we're informed. "Arrival must be before or after that day." Though the friendly clerk, whose hesitant manner suggested some sense of shame about personally profiting from this obscenely capitalistic endeavor, never could bring herself to utter the phase "two-night minimum." But that's what it boiled down to: no less than $458 for a hard bed and all the coffee and danishes we could eat, tax not included. Our round-trip airfare barely cost that much. Needless to say, the New Year--in Key West, at least--will once again ring in without our participation.

PREDICTION: Don DeLillo's Underworld will top the list as the most acclaimed contemporary fiction almost no one has actually read. (Reading the prologue, which appeared as a short story in Harper's in 1996, doesn't count.) We predict this will not prevent long-time followers from proclaiming it his best work yet. TW

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