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Halloween Date From Hell

It just seems wrong to complain about a Hellish Halloween. After all, isn't that the whole point? Yes, there are parades and parties and dressing up. But the holiday's very nature is to be creepy. It's about scaring small children, TPing and egging, eating too much candy, getting separated from your hard-to-recognize friends...there are so many ways this gruesome holiday can go bad. Here's one you may not have thought of before.

One October in my twenties I was single and going through a dry spell. OK, large chunks of my twenties were dry, but that's another (hellish) story. I went out to dinner with a couple of girlfriends, and one of them brought her brother, Andrew. Andrew was, like me, a writer, but unlike me he actually had published several books.

Andrew and I hit it off. Sure, he was short, pudgy and bald, but at least he was funny. Ask my friend Peter--for years my main dating credo was "Looks Don't Matter." I believe the way he put it was, "Well, no one could accuse you of having a 'type.'" Frankly, Peter was always unable to differentiate between laughing with my dates and laughing at them. But I digress.

After dinner Andrew offered to walk me to the Fifth Avenue bus. I was living in Chelsea, and as we walked we talked about our upcoming Halloween plans. I figured I would catch the infamous Halloween parade in Greenwich Village and go to a couple of nearby costume parties. He asked if he could accompany me. I figured, why not? I rarely had dates on any of the major holidays. By major I mostly mean Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, but Halloween as a party night is also pretty major. Just not ideal for a first date, as I discovered.

We had a brief discussion about what costumes we would wear. He was noncommittal. Yes, he would wear one, but he had no idea what it might be. Certainly we would not be in anything coordinated since we barely knew each other--and by the way, I dislike it when couples coordinate their costumes, so that was fine by me. I generally wore something pretty girly since, well, what the hell. (There was the year I put a box over my shoulders and went as a table with my head for a centerpiece, but I was engaged by then and had different priorities.)

At the appointed hour Andrew rang my doorbell. I opened the door in whatever mildly sexy get-up I had adlibbed for the evening. He was standing there in a loud, patterned shirt, white pants that cut off just above his ankles, and white shoes. From the neck up he had done nothing. He was still bald. Oh, and of course he was still short and chubby, too. He carried a straw hat which he put on his bald head with a flourish. (I know I seem to be stressing the "bald" part, but after all he was the one who had chosen a costume where baldness was highlighted, and not in a positive way.)

"What are you?" I asked with what I hoped did not sound too much like horror.

"An old Jew!" he proclaimed proudly. "Straight out of Miami Beach!" He spoke in a heavy Brooklyn accent.

"Wow," I said. Sort of the way people say, "That sure is something!" when what they're really thinking is "...something hideous and misguided." It felt so anti-Semitic, even though he was Jewish. It felt less Halloween, more Purim, less a costume and more an insulting impression.

"Do you like it?" he asked, with the inflection of a star of Yiddish theater.

"Wow," I repeated inanely. Just as one's life supposedly flashes before one's eyes in the moments before death, various possible exit strategies presented themselves and were instantly rejected. How could I say the parties had both been canceled? And the parade? He would never buy that! I obviously hadn't sprained my ankle. Or fallen down a flight of stairs. But it wasn't too late! I still had to get out of the building...oh, I had to face the truth: I was going to attend parties given by people I liked and respected with someone for whom I felt neither of those things.

At the last minute it occurred to me that I could wear a mask. If only I'd had the prescience to buy one.

All night, if I saw someone I knew, I veered quickly. I managed to make it through both parties without introducing Andrew to anyone. Unfortunately that meant I didn't greet or thank the hosts, but the tradeoff seemed reasonable, even for someone as hung up on etiquette as I am. The parade was a blur. A couple of times I thought about edging away and getting lost in the crowd, but that just seemed too cruel, despite the seemingly endless Jewish jokes and that nails-on-blackboard accent.

I finally came up with an alibi to cut the evening short: my dog, the shoe-eating Harley. Of course! I had to get back and walk him! It had been a whole...two hours! He could NEVER go that long without a walk. (The fact that I had a full-time job and was gone for 10 or more hours at a time wouldn't cross Andrew's mind, would it? Oh, at this point who cared!) I was looking forward to never seeing him again. As the New Yorker cartoon says, "How about never? Does never work for you?"

The plan backfired somewhat when Andrew insisted on going with me and Harley to Union Square Park. "What kind of a gentleman would I be if I didn't escort the lady on All Hallows Eve?" was how I believe he put it. I protested, but that old Jew sure was persistent and I gave in. After all, I knew his sister, and that had to count for something.

As we walked to the park I was almost lighthearted. I could see that the night would not in fact be the bottomless chasm I had previously envisioned. It would actually end at some point, although certainly not soon enough. We watched Harley do his business--always a fun way to end a date--and returned to my building without incident. I said goodbye downstairs, declining his repeated offers to "come up and see me some time." And so, finally, he walked away, telling me, "Hey babe, no promises."

Originally published October 29, 2007.

Stupid Last-Minute Costume Ideas (Videos)

The Flesh Mask...Shudder!

I'm not that kind of girl.

You Won't Win Any Awards But...

As Advertised

Is it the language barrier? Nah...These are truly stupid!

The House from Hell

For nine years I lived in a freak house. I'm not talking about my family, necessarily, but about the house itself. I lived in one of the most upscale suburbs and school districts in the country--but our house was a falling-down rental at the end of a long, rutted driveway. It wasn't exactly The Glass Castle, more like Grey Gardens without the money.

Today that driveway is a smoothly paved road through a development of multimillion-dollar houses in Westchester County. But in my memory it lives on as a hellish byway of broken asphalt, ancient patch jobs and loose gravel that scared away parents and children, and ruined Halloween (and many other days as well).

When the access to your house involves a quarter mile of bottoming out, you'd better believe you won't have too many visitors. Factor in darkness and you've definitely got the place to yourself. I remember when I used to be driven home by dads after a night of babysitting: they would stop their precious Benz or Caddy at the beginning of the driveway and shine their headlights to guide me as I stumbled home. Hey, thanks for the ride! By the way, your son's a pyromaniac!

Once you got all the way to the end, it was pretty spooky, even in the daylight, and even on days that weren't Halloween. The property had been a nursery, and had several leaning outbuildings--two garages and a greenhouse--as well as a rusted old gas pump. When I was younger, the acres of overgrown fields, the woods, the apple orchard and even the crumbling greenhouse held immense charm. As I hit puberty, however, I learned to be ashamed of the way we lived. Like generic rice puffs and knee socks that wouldn't stay up, our house was a mark of failure, a manifestation of how we didn't measure up to those whose driveways were short and smooth, whose houses were sturdy and professionally decorated, whose cabinets were filled with Cap'n Crunch and drawers with socks that didn't droop.

On Halloween we kids had to make our way down the driveway to join friends for trick or treating at "real" houses. No one ever trick or treated at our house. My parents thought this a benefit--imagine the savings on Fun-Size Snickers! But then they also enjoyed the beautiful setting and unavoidable privacy in a way that a self-conscious adolescent just could not fathom. My mother actually looked forward to mowing the massive yard that she personally carved out of what had looked like a wheat field when we moved in. Who could make sense of that?

After trick or treating I would return to our house, with its clawed-foot bathtubs, its extension cord running up the stairs to provide electricity to my own personal attic, its dank basement and odd layout of bedrooms. I would replay the comments I'd heard during the course of the night: "Do you live in a haunted house?" "How do you go down that driveway? Aren't you scared?" "Do you ever get any trick or treaters?" I would recall my swaggering answers, all bluff and bluster: "I hate new houses!" "There's nothing to be scared of. I feel sorry for people who live in boring houses." "We don't get trick or treaters but that just means we get to eat all the candy ourselves."

And then I would eat all the candy myself.

Halloween Is Going to the Dogs (Videos)

Peedy and the Halloween Candy Dish

It's not nice to talk back to the skull.

Work Harder on Your Dog's Costume!

Boxer Seeks Gun

At what point do these people recognize animal cruelty? Even the weiner dog is laughing at the poor pumpkin-garbed boxer.

Countdown to Black Friday

BFAds.net guides you to Black Friday ads as they are made available. This year seems to be getting underway early, with Half Price Books already posting their deals.

The site also provides information on store opening times - which seem to get earlier every year, often before the pumpkin pie is served!

Happy Capitalistic Thanksgiving...oh, and Happy Halloween too!

New Year's Resolution Song

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

DIY Ugly Sweaters (Videos)

Got any extra lights, balls, Santa hats, garland, Spode dishes or any other Christmas detritus lying around? Well, hell, get out that glue gun and start "enhancing" a sweater that was ugly to begin with!

 If you need some step-by-step directions, this is the video for you:

I thought the whole point of an UCS competition was to scour Goodwill stores and estate sales to find the castoffs of little old ladies? These guys make it way too simple (and expensive - seriously, $65 when your cost is $12?!).

Unlucky '13

'13 proved to be a bad-luck year with lots of low points. Here they are set to music and sung rather hellishly:


Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Guide

Want to see some Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties in action? These can help show you how it's done!

The 2006 holiday season marked the fifth anniversary of the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, BC. From my extensive research, it appears that this is the earliest known sighting of this phenomenon, which is reaching epic proportions.

A popular theme for parties these days is to make an ugly sweater mandatory for entry. One invitation reads, "The uglier the sweater, the better the party." Check out Craigslist and you'll find posters desperate for cheesy Christmas sweaters.

Whether it started in Vancouver or elsewhere, we applaud this tradition, which epitomizes hellishness. Want to throw an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party yourself? Or maybe you've been invited to one and don't know what to do--after all, your holiday clothes are so tasteful that you don't have anything appropriate! (Yeah, right.) Here's a helpful guide.

1. Think Ironic. You probably have fond memories of your older female relatives at holiday gatherings wearing sweaters with Christmas trees and Santa Claus. The Ugly Christmas Sweater Party pokes fun at these wardrobe choices, and no one wants to be mean to Grandma. So mentally separate the Grandma sweater from the Party sweater. Pretend she wouldn't be hurt by the concept. And for God's sake, don't tell her about it.

2. Think Thrift Shop. Whether going or throwing, you might want to pick up some special specimens, and you won't find a better source than Goodwill. And you can't beat the prices. Just plan on spending a little extra for dry cleaning.

3. Think with a Twist. Move beyond the sweater. Add in a turtleneck,


or a tie.

4. Think Regional. Florida, Hawaii...not the right spots for this concept. Compromise! Hold an Ugly Christmas Tights, Sunglasses or a Hawaiian or T Shirt Party instead so no one passes out unless it's for the right reason: eggnog overdose.

5. Think Unsexy. There's nothing hot about a Christmas sweater, unless you're wearing it in Hawaii (against our excellent advice). No bare midriffs, especially on guys.

6. Think Prizes. Kick it up a notch and add a contest to the mix. And what do you give the partygoer with the uglist, tackiest, most heinous Christmas sweater? How about Christmas socks ? Or everyone's favorite: Fruitcake!

Originally published on Friday, December 15, 2006

Hellish Insurance

‘Tis the season not just for shopping and overeating but for committing to a health insurance policy. The Obama administration just announced a one-day extension of the registration deadline, tacitly advising Americans to spend Christmas Eve selecting a policy that's the least of deductible and provider-choice evils. Ho ho ho.

I’ve spent hours this month on Covered California as well as numerous insurance company sites. I was trying to find a policy that includes Cedars-Sinai Hospital as a provider. Not so easy. Apparently Cedars, the best hospital in town, is also the most expensive, and no insurer wants to subsidize the highest quality. Only the second-rate, the mediocre, merit funding.  

When Clinton announced “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a military policy, it was groundbreaking. Imperfect, but a step forward, a step leading to the current gay-friendly policy. The Affordable Care Act, too, is a step forward. Unfortunately, that fact is being obscured by a poorly handled roll-out and the fact that insurance companies still hold almost all the power. But without this agonizing, infuriating, hellish step, 20 years from now there will still be families losing their homes over hospital bills. The first step is the hardest, but don't take it and you'll never reach the finish line.

What He Said

I love this lazy approach to Christmas decorations.

Turkey Lurkey Time

Wonder why this holiday song never caught on...

The Same Old Things

Another Thanksgiving
drunk in the kitchen, post-turkey
exhausted from family time
“Alice's Restaurant” playing on the radio.
(Damn, that song is long.)
Why can't we spend holidays with friends?
Then we wouldn't fight over:

showing up late
bringing a loser
setting the table
saying grace
carving the turkey
bored with the bird and I thought we were going with Honeybaked this year
cheesy decorations
watching too much football
Iraq and Republicans and let's not fight about the election
not eating enough vegetables
white meat is healthier than dark or is it the other way around?
the freakin' Pilgrims
out of wedlock still means something to me
washing the dishes
the same old things

The same old things.
They should be reassuring.
It should put me at ease
that some things don't change
but I'm down on my knees
praying we stop
going round and round
with the same old things.

Originally published November 16, 2007

Black Friday Mania

Black Friday started early this year, with idiots shoving, threatening, even assaulting to get what they want. They skipped time with family (maybe not such a sacrifice), dinner, even football, to line up in bitter cold for cheap flatscreens, Michael Kors purses and toys that will be discarded by New Year's Day. Seriously guys, it's not worth it!

I Said No Cuts!

Remember Me to Herald Square

Appreciate Your Own Family...(Videos)

...Just compare them to these:

Thanksgiving After-Dinner Joy?

From the unfriendly mom at the sink to the immobile grandparents abandoned at the cleared table, to the beastly kids, this one just screams Hellish.

The Thanksgiving Fight

What's more disturbing: the fighting or the number of stairs this couple has to climb to get to their apartment?

Post-Dinner Scrabble

Brings new meaning to the expression “Just shoot me.” From Columbia, Missouri.

Make It Yourself!

Tip of the Day: Don’t tell the cook that his homemade holiday dressing tastes like puke when he is making the Thanksgiving grocery list.

More Football, Please!

Given a choice between football and listening to family members fiddling, which would you choose?
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