'TIS the season to be jolly and to be shopping as thoughts run to gift wrapping and gift giving, to spending time on the home front sipping egg nogs with family and loved ones, discussing world peace and . . . the NFL play-offs. But that will not be the case for me (violin music please). It's about this time when I make my annual migration back to the States, just in time to catch the play-off fever and debate with friends which will be more exciting to watch: the Super Bowl or the NFC title game (which will probably be Dallas v San Francisco again) or Perry Como's Christmas Special. And as we throw the Nerf football back and forth out in the street, just in front of my driveway, we will wonder what happened to San Diego, who charged out to a 6-0 record only to lose five of their next eight and whether we can sucker Buffalo (7-7) and their fans into buying another ticket to the Super Bowl. But more than the weather, MTV, the brothers, Grandma's kim chi, Mom's nagging and apple pies, I will miss . . . the driveway. Growing up in the 'burbs, that steep nine by six yards of inclined gravel area was a child's basketball court and baseball infield all rolled into one. With a leaning tower blackboard and hoop on the roof just above the automatic garage door, this was our 'Forum' where many a legendary H-O-R-S-E game took place. That same garage door was the perfect catcher, stopping all wild pitches and rolling the ball back, for all the games of the Whiffle ball World Series (Mr Johnson's geometric, Edward-Scissorhands scrubs was the left-field wall), with the games that seemed to last as long as childhood, but in reality only lasted until my father came home and parked the car right over our batter's box. But no, I am stuck here for the holidays, surrounded by non-Americans and more importantly, non-football fans, who ridicule the NFL play-offs. They ask, for example, if all the teams make it to the play-offs, why bother with a regular season at all? Little do they know, not all teams make it into post-season play. Houston, Cincinnati, and Peterborough United (an English football team) have been eliminated from this year's NFL play-off picture. Then there is the concept called parity, which the NFL suits introduced to prevent a few teams dominating year after year and paved the way for a bunch of mediocre clubs (with cheerleaders faster than the wide receivers), giving them (the teams not the pom pom girls) a shot at post-season play. That is why with two games left in regular season, 22 of the 28 teams are still in the play-off picture. This makes it more interesting, the NFL says, and it's the American way where every one has a shot, er, chance at the big time. But I say it creates an atmosphere ripe for a team like the Buffalo Bills, who will try for a record fifth straight trip to the big game, only to get roasted again like so many chestnuts over an open fire. Is the NFL great or what? And if I was home, I wouldn't have to explain any of this, because I would be too busy explaining why I never phone home. By now, you are all thinking, Oh spare us. Stop whining and go home then. Ah, there's the rub. I wish I could, but as the saying goes, I can't go home again. I am from a place (Orange County) which has recently filed for bankruptcy. Any time now, the banks will be foreclosing the streets, repossessing the freeways and auctioning off the trees and even . . . the driveway.