Here we go again.

Glitches in plans longstanding and last-minute. 
Travel that dooms any sense of thankfulness and reinforces the theory that hell is other people. 
Family that threatens to do the same. 
Eating to the point of bursting seams, guilt and depression. 
Continued drought...or early snow. 
Black Friday mania and marketing run amok.
The dreary trek back home.

Happy Hellish Thanksgiving!

An SNL Thanksgiving (Videos)

Thankful for Adele.

Adam Sandler's Take

Debbie Downer Thanksgiving

A Hildegarde Thanksgiving

"The Incomparable Hildegarde" (1906-2005) was a star for 70 years. At her peak, in the 1940s and '50s, she was the top supper club entertainer in New York. Despite her Wisconsin roots, she had a sophisticated European air about her: She wore long gowns and opera-length gloves. Her ever-present handkerchief served a role comparable to that of Steven Tyler's scarves today. She was best known for the song "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup," which was written by her lover/manager Anna Sosenko.

Why the history lesson? Because Hildegarde plays a supporting role in one of my most hellish Thanksgivings.

The year was 1983. I wouldn't say Hildegarde was at the height of her powers, but at 77 she was still breathing, and for a legend that's enough. For years I'd heard stories about how my well-heeled grandparents would travel from Washington, D.C. to New York in the postwar years to take in some theater and see Hildegarde. My grandmother, known as Mimi, was born the same year as the chanteuse, and Thanksgiving that year was her own 77th birthday.

When my mom and I saw that The Incomparable Hildegarde would be performing in Manhattan at the same time that Mimi would be up from Washington for Thanksgiving and her birthday, we decided to surprise her with tickets. We needed something positive because things had gotten somewhat shaky in our family--so much so that Thanksgiving dinner was actually held at my one-bedroom apartment in Queens.

There were six of us comprising three generations: grandmother, mother and four grown and almost-grown children, including the only "man" present, my younger brother. Mimi was selected to carve the turkey, which I recall did not make her happy. To her, a Thanksgiving table without a patriarch was like a Norman Rockwell picture entitled "Failure."

We dragged the kitchen table into the living room, added in both leaves, and threw a sheet over it as a tablecloth. (What can I say? I was young and no one had yet had a reason to throw me a shower.) Needless to say, the dishes were mismatched and whatever I put into service as a turkey platter, I'm sure it had not been designed with that use in mind.

Dinner was tense. Blame was flung and tears shed. The ever-stoic Mimi was able to stay focused on reminding everyone how much better her life had been than ours were shaping up to be. It was a relief to be done with it all. And finally it was the moment to present Mimi with her Hildegarde tickets and give her the good news that tonight we would all be seeing the show together.

Mimi took one look at the tickets and burst into tears. None of us had ever seen her cry before, even when her husband had died. She was more of what you might call a carrier: she caused tears but didn't have much first-hand experience with them. It was quite a shock. She composed herself quickly, though, and explained that even just seeing the name Hildegarde had brought back vivid memories of better times before her disappointing grandchildren had been born. (OK, she didn't say that last part, but it was implied.) She had mixed feelings about going: what if Hildegarde's voice was shot and she was a pale imitation of her former self? And, more importantly, what would we all be wearing? Did we even own decent clothes, because obviously what we were wearing didn't measure up.

Well, to fast forward through the subsequent arguing and transportation issues, we all calmed down and went. Hildegarde sounded great, and everyone had a much-needed brush with elegance. We might not have been the most stylish members of Hildegarde's audience, but I'll always know in my heart that we were the most dysfunctional.

Originally posted Thanksgiving 2010.

Turducken... (Videos)

You Say Turducken...

Peking Turducken

The most disturbing part is that the Dr. Pepper is not the most disturbing part.

A Very Jimmy Halloween

The 5th anniversary of watching parents humiliate their kids and show off the poor parenting skills that created these tantrum-throwing sugar junkies.

Hungry for more? Here are the previous four editions.





New Year's Resolution Song

"Just raise the bar to walk effortlessly underneath." Words to live by!

No One to Kiss

I wrote the following post seven years ago but never published it. I guess it felt too raw, too maudlin, too self-indulgent. Maybe I didn't want my recently moved-on husband to know how much I was hurting - like he read my blog! 

A year earlier I'd coined the term and launched the website "Hellish Holidays." The irony of my own fresh hellishness was not lost on me.

These days, I've not only embraced life's complexities, I can laugh at them again. I even performed a one-woman show a couple of months back about my years of online dating: "All the Wrong Men." Hell, if I can laugh at 73 "one and dones," being single on New Year's Eve is a mere chuckle.

Here's where I was on New Year's Eve 2007. I'd like to think I've come a long, long way. Thank you, friends, therapy, cabernet and Tinder!

It's just past midnight and I have no one to kiss. My husband is with a woman 25 years younger than he is and my son is staying over at a friend's house. I went to a party where I knew very few people and no one I wanted to kiss except the hostess, which wasn't a thrill, even though she's hot. I just don't swing that way.

My son is a freshman in high school and I had planned not to get divorced until he was a freshman in college. What's that they say about the best-laid plans? I guess the operative word is laid. My husband moved on and now I guess it's my turn. Trouble is, I don't know how. There are lots of books about getting divorced but nothing that acknowledges that your divorce feels completely different because it involves you.

I don't quite know what happens next. It feels like a lot of time has passed, yet I know I still have decades ahead and I don't want to spend them alone. On the other hand, I appreciate my time by myself. That's divorce for you: It's a ping ponging of emotions. I love my freedom. I miss being a family. On the one hand, I have no other hand to hold.

It feels good to have moved past this place of pain and confusion. Not that I'm always happy and have everything figured out, because if that were the case...well, is that the case with anyone? As the late Gilda Radner used to say, "If it's not one thing, it's another." We must learn to survive that rapid succession of "things." Looking back, survival looks a lot like progress. 

Even if I still have no one to kiss on New Year's Eve 2014.

Dec. 26th Hellishness

Macy's shoe department. I took one look and ran!

Christmas for Atheists

Despite the title of my blog, I semi-love the holidays. Lighting the Hanukkah candles, baking cookies, wrapping carefully chosen gifts, decorating the house, creating Jib Jab cards with pictures of friends and family, Christmas Eve dinner at my aunt and uncle's house...when I'm not having an emotional breakdown tied to a broken oven or lost shipments, I mostly revel in the split personality of the Christmas/Hanukkah season.

Then there's the religious aspect. Sure, there's less and less "Christ" in "Christmas" every year, but Jesus' birthday is still the raison d'etre of the holiday. As an atheist with a Jewish son, I've carefully honed my skills at avoidance, denial and obliviousness. Fortunately, these come fairly naturally to me!

I grew up going to church, so carols and Christmas-themed hymns bring back vivid memories, and good or bad, those memories of our youth hold significant power. I recall the tension caused by my parents' different religions, the negative messages spoken and unspoken. I recall the last Christmas my parents were together (1972) and realize how hard they must have been trying to keep it together. And the first Christmas after they'd separated, how awkward to bisect our celebration.

Perhaps most vividly, I recall sitting with my mother and youngest sister in the front row at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on Christmas Eve 28 years ago, right before I left New York for Los Angeles, and all of us sobbing uncontrollably at "Silent Night." (I had the same reaction to the movie Platoon around the same time. Hard to believe I had such mixed feelings about moving cross country!)

These days, I get lots of requests to participate in caroling, Christmas performances, such as Handel's Messiah - even midnight Mass. Occasionally I give in, and try to enjoy some bonding and/or aesthetic fulfillment. But since I'm not a believer, those songs ring hollow and feel like an uncomfortable melding of mawkish and fraudulent.

For atheists, 'tis the season for hiking and movies!

Hellish Letters to Santa

If you ever find yourself in northern Michigan, make sure to set your Waze for Frankenmuth. This year-round Christmas town features Bronner's Christmas Wonderland. Don't worry if it's July and you're covered in cherry juice from the roadside stands: At Bronner's it's always frosty and jolly in the most December 25th sense of that term. The place is a city-sized Christmas merch mecca.

According to Michigan-centric website MLive, Bronner's invites kids to submit letters to Santa and this year received the au courant yet typical marketing-driven pleadings for "iPods and iPhones, tablets, 'Frozen' paraphernalia, LEGOs and Zoomer — an interactive toy dog."

I've seen arm-length wish lists before, both from my own child and as a participant in a charity-sponsored event to purchase something for an underprivileged child.

I only did the Santa charity thing once because most of the lists asked for at least a dozen very specific and expensive items: video game systems and games, computers, electronic toys... Almost everything included a brand name. You just knew these kids were not going to be happy with some random gift from a toy drive. They wanted what they saw on TV and even the most well-meaning donor couldn't come close to satisfying their desires.

I realize that Christmas is commercialized. That it's (almost) all about the presents. But seeing wish lists adding up to many hundreds of dollars is depressing regardless of the financial situations of the children's families. I still wonder where I went wrong every time I look at what my own teen son craved, both in quantity and specificity.

Luckily the joy of Christmas morning comes from being with family and giving of yourself - not just taking. No matter how high the greed level and how impoverished the household, the magic can still happen. All it takes is a different kind of list.

The Death of Santa

I didn't want to kill Santa Claus, but ultimately he had to go.

It all started innocently enough. Every Christmas, presents appeared under the tree, one or two bearing gift tags from Santa. Santa always brought Greg something special.

We were never the kind of family that leaves out milk and cookies out on Christmas Eve - after all, our last name is Cohen! - but around age eight Greg insisted. He felt it was the least he could do in return for the cool gifts. He was thrilled when Santa left a thank you note in return.

Due to the timing of his lost teeth, Greg never noticed that Santa's writing closely resembled the tooth fairy's. Every time he lost a tooth, he would leave it under his pillow and the tooth fairy would take it, always leaving a note on a hand-made TF notecard with the requisite payment.

And so fantasy became reality in our house, Even when Greg hit age 12 said his friends were denying Santa's existence, we told him to make his own decision - then had "Santa" leave a begged-for electric guitar that Mom and Dad had told him he couldn't have.

Psych-out accomplished. Surely Santa was real. Who else could have overcome parents' objections to get the guitar under the tree? The fat man who was able to come down our narrow chimney and fatten up further with the cookies Greg had left him. Greg returned to school insisting he had proof his friends were wrong about Santa.

Naturally this came to a bad end. I realize now we should have given him the guitar ourselves and let Santa fade out of our lives. Greg's vehement schoolyard defense of Santa was of course not just shot down but derided and I had to take the blame for "lying." 

A Musically Hellish Christmas (Videos)

Yes, the Chipmunks are always nauseating, but there’s plenty more hellish Christmas music.

It’s the acting that’s hellish, not the Ramones.

The new holiday classic!



Shake those Christmas disco balls!

The ultimate hodgepodge: jarring yet compelling.

For the Rich Survivalist on Your Holiday Gift List

Top Christmas present for the paranoid on your list: Just One Eye;s $12,500 Ulysses Tier 1 Disaster Relief Kit, seen here,

In case of emergency, break out the big bucks for this package, designed in consultation with a former Navy SEAL for the fashion-forward fallout shelter.

If you expect your New Year to hold disaster, whether an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, terrorist attack or plain old extended power outage, this one's for you - or could be if you have a someone who loves you enough to save you with the very best.

Inside are items to sustain you (a water purifier and nutrition bars), protect you (pepper spray and a holster - as a red-blooded American, you're probably already armed) and get you powered up day and night (solar panels and hand-cranked lighting). A satellite phone will let you reassure your fans that you're not quite ready for the "In Memoriam" section of the next awards show.

There are more than 50 items altogether. The Ulysses is a survivalist's dream: night vision goggles, sleeping bags, a flashlight, helmet, binocular and gloves, a solar/crank radio, an emergency beacon and tons of tools - plus of course batteries - all housed in a rolling, waterproof case. A reassuring touch of luxury comes from a cashmere blankie.

For you maltie-poo or puggle, a mere $500 adds in the pet essentials package. 

Since batteries comprise my entire survival kit -and since the apocalypse is looking increasingly likely - I'm putting this on my wish list. Come on, Santa, put a little future-proofing in my present!

I'll Be Home...and Stoned...for Christmas

Dent May - "I'll Be Stoned For Christmas"
Mississippi musician Dent May has come up with a refreshingly original take on the holiday song: "I'll Be Stoned for Christmas." Belying its revolutionary title, the song is a dreamy, '80s-tinged pop-classic-in-the-making. It perfectly captures the experience of returning home for the holidays.

So long, Mariah! Hasta la vista, Chipmunks!

"'Tis the season to be high." And now, thanks to Dent, I'm high on music.

Friends Are the Family You Choose

Thanksgiving 2014 is more than two weeks past and I'm just now able to talk about it. Hellish, truly hellish.

Despite running a blog called Hellish Holidays, I'm not actually looking to have them myself. I figured I'd write about the holiday traumas of my youth and then post stuff about OTHER people's bad times today. I thought those nightmare Thanksgivings were over for me. Then I had dinner with friends.

To be clear, I had dinner with two friends who hadn't met before, and a friend of a friend I hadn't met. We ate at the recently relocated Palm in Beverly Hills, which none of us had visited since it left its longtime, beloved location in West Hollywood. That's a lot of new variables for a "traditional" meal, and the unknown is the enemy of comfort level.

I'm known for the diversity of my friends. A few are compatible but most would never have anything to do with each other if they didn't have me in common. Some would actively avoid each other. And it turns out that two of those in that last category were thrown together at my Thanksgiving table.

It started with bickering, moved on to one-upping and climaxed with insults. The friend-of-a-friend stranger and I bonded in the way that siblings bond when their parents fight. We tried to stay out of the way, tried to change the subject, tried to find points of agreement between the two...nothing worked. A Venn diagram of our table would be four separate circles.

Add to this the fact that the new Palm looks like a small-town Hyatt restaurant and the turkey dinner was mediocre and you can see why I left there feeling angry, betrayed and broke. We kept ordering wine but it was never enough to stanch the flow of vitriol between those two. 

And note to the Palm: One big-ass ugly mural is not a viable replacement for a lifetime of customer caricatures. 

Next year I go to a friend's house and join her family again. This is what I've done for the past few years but two of my friends suggested a special dinner out. I'd never taken that route before. Now I know why.